As Bayelsa state gets ready to elect another governor next year, a governorship hopeful, Mr Keniebi Okoko, in an interview with JOY EMMANUEL bares his mind on the politics of the state and country generally.
What are your impressions about the conduct of the presidential and NASS elections?
Well, I am not omnipotent or omnipresent. I wasn’t everywhere in Nigeria and in the part where I was in my state, the elections seemed to have gone well. But if you want to go by the accounts and reports of what we read on the social media and the dailies, there were complaints of irregularities, malpractices and violence. But I cannot attest to what I did not see. I can only attest to what I saw within my geopolitical zone. In my small ward, voting went peacefully. The outcome is, however, a different thing. Nigeria is at a time when we need to grow our economy to create more jobs. Nigeria is at a time when we need to try and strengthen our currency, she is at a time when we need to unify the country and avoid ethnicity and religion. And at this point in time, I am not seeing that coming forth. I am an optimistic person, though, and I want to believe that President Muhammadu Buhari has the good intention to unify Nigeria and grow the economy.
In the last election, you tried to compare Bayelsa state and Singapore. In what sense, sir?
If you go to Singapore, it is more or less a small island surrounded by water. Singapore has no oil but has refineries. She exports a lot of fish products and is doing extremely well, economically. Bayelsa, on the contrary, has oil which is called Black Gold. She has vegetation for rice farming; I can use the Peremabiri Rice Farm as an example. We have a good texture of soil to grow crops. Bayelsa is bigger than Singapore in size and in population if I’m not mistaking the fact. What is so difficult in developing Bayelsa? That was why I made that comparison. We have more resources.
And what do you think is the problem?
Well, I believe that Bayelsa as a whole needs to focus on education. Mental poverty is worse than financial poverty. If a mind is not developed and equipped, that man cannot give what he does not have. Our people are not completely exposed to good education systems; they are not well travelled like other tribes. The Ijaw man is determined to succeed if you give him the enabling environment. So, I believe that what we should do as a people is to focus on education. Classroom education is one aspect and outside classroom education is another aspect. Not everybody can experience education in the classroom or to the university level. There is a proverbial saying that all fingers are not equal but one can balance the gap of the fingers by creating skills acquisitions centres with the right personnel to man them. For example, if you go to China, you have where they train people on ICT, you have where they train people on brick laying, you have where they train people on every artisan job. When the amnesty programme was going on, I was privileged to try to get something for some of the people, so I went to China to look at some of the schools in Wanzu. I was amazed because it was almost like a university of any magnitude but it was just a skills acquisition centre. If we have three in the three senatorial districts that are of high class, it will help to reduce the number of children that are not equipped to fend for themselves, or not equipped to face the future.On the other side, I don’t know what is happening to class room education today. You hear stories of lecturers abusing students; of excessive selling of hand-outs, etc. The educational system has gone down the drain. We need to refocus on the educational system, encourage our people with scholarships to go to school. Sign a contract with the schools that certificates will be issued based on years of service.
What then is your assessment of the educational sector in Bayelsa state?
I think the governor has given it a good try. I think that the intentions are good. I believe that he has genuine intentions for the job and I believe he has tried his best. My duty as a leader is to try and add to what he has done, to build in any way we can help the government to improve on where they have stopped.
Would you really say that the state government has utilised all the money accrued to it for educational development well?
This question seems like a trap. But I will answer you. Bayelsa is being developed. Bayelsa is a work in progress, Bayelsa will get there. That’s what I have to answer you.
You just talked about skills acquisition, are you aware of what happened in Kaiama concerning the amnesty programme?
In Kiagama, some youths and the villagers looted the Vocational Training Centre there.
What led to that?
We don’t have details of the incident.
You don’t need to have details on an incident. Something must trigger something.If a man does not understand the good around him and what it is for, he doesn’t value it. If a man is not part of a project, he cannot value the project. If a community does not understand why this will develop them, over and over again, they will do it. That’s mental poverty. What will develop you is what you are killing, that is the mental poverty. Hope is dead in Bayelsa; the young people don’t have hope, so they are looking for any means. Give them back hope; sell leadership through qualities, be transparent and open to them. Take them through processes of trainings and mentorship and you will see the difference.
What is your impression about heavy military presence during our elections?Well, you know we are in a country where anything goes. The same people who sit down and criticise are the same people who will sit down and do the same thing. So, in every democratic nation, the military man at any point in time is not supposed to be seen by any civilian. His duty post is in the barracks, combatant ready to defend the sovereignty of the nation, combatant ready to defend the borders of his nation with integrity. The duty of the military is to uphold the dignity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have not seen it in any civilised democratic nation where you deploy the military out for elections. I have not seen. Venezuela that is in a problem now, it is rare to see the military trooping out except in extreme situations that the police cannot handle. Venezuela is 10 million times worse than Nigeria now. Their currency has zero value; they have no food and they have to cross to Columbia to get food, but there I still don’t see the military coming out in full force, you can see pockets of them but more of the police. The police is trained to have interaction with the civilians. The police is trained to combat and quell unrest. The military is trained to kill. The military is trained to destroy any adversary of a nation, so who are they going to destroy during the elections. That’s the question I ask everybody. Are we at war here? There is no war in Port Harcourt, there is no war in Bayelsa, but there is war in Sambisa forest. I would rather they deploy those soldiers to Sambisa forest so that our soldiers can deal with Boko Haram once and for all.