Former Secretary To The Bayelsa State Government, Steve Azaiki spoke with Abuja deputy bureau chief, MADU ONUORAH on the national awards.
GURDIAN NOVEMBER 17, 2011
WHAT: do you make of the crititsms that have trailed the calibre and number of people who were bestowed with national awards?
The awards are becoming too easy to get. Although I am a beneficiary, I believe that but for people like Alhaji Shehu Shagari who recognised me, I have not done enough to merit a national honour from my country. I am aware the Bayelsa State Government has nominated me twice. In 2005 my name was published but I was not in the final list.
I also believe that national awards should not be given to people in the office. The award should be after you have served the country and your country recognises you. But when you are still serving in a position to influence decisions the award should not be for you. I believe that the award should be given to people who are not even in government. We don’t even know what is in stock after the award has been given.
Alhaji Aliko Dangote got the highest honour of the day the GCON. It is the only such time the nation’s second highest national honour was given to a Nigerian who has never held public office. We know what he has done and what he is doing, the kind of image he has given to the country and the honour he has brought to Nigeria. But if that award had been given to a minister or governor, then that would have been unfair. The awards should not be reduced to the level of sharing to people because they are in government.
We should amend the criteria and the procedure for the awards. It must be spelt out clearly that you can not get it if you are in office at that particular time. There could be special cases like those who die in service, our Military men serving in international missions etc.
So how do you feel about the award ?
A friend has called me to say that former president Alhaji Shehu Shagari wanted to reach me. When I now got in touch with him, he said that a letter was sent to him by the National Honours Award, Committee to nominate a Nigerian and that he had nominated me. I have only known Shagari and his family when I was the president of the World Environmental Movement for Africa,now World Environmental Foundation For Africa.
We collaborated with Shehu Shagari Institute and we did some work for the Niger Delta. It was a suprise for him to nominate me. Of all those he could nominate, he nominated somebody from south – south for this prestigious honour of OON. I dedicated the award to him. This is to encourage those who stand for unity, good leadership, those who transcend regional, tribal and religious sentiments, Shagari stands out as a role model, a man that does not look at regional agenda.
The non-clearance of Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva Bayelsa for the People Democratic Party (PDP) primary is raising a lot of issue especially as he is an incumbent and the president is from the state. As a former secretary to the State Government, how are you reading the situation?
There are social, political and security implications of this announcement by the PDP. However, an organization that calls it self Bayelsa Voter’s League had in advertorial said that Sylva has been cleared and PDP is saying that Sylva has not been cleared. The President is from Bayelsa and we all must sit down and discuss it. I believe that the president is going to call a meeting on Bayelsa elders very soon. After the meeting, if PDP still stand by it decision, then I believe that the President will communicate that to Sylva .
When that is done then it will be left for
We are at a crossroads until we have a clear understanding or a clear candidate that will run for the governorship. It is imperative we worry about the development of the state and this is why who becomes governor is important. We should consult widely, discuss so that we don’t move in the wrong direction. And of course the opinion of the president is important because he is from the state. It is important that we all know his opinion so that we don’t work at variance with him.
Mr. President and the people of Bayelsa to look at who should replace Sylva. But things happen fast in this country and in politics. It is not over until it is over. Sooner than people think, there could be a new thinking, new resolutions, reconciliations, amendments and horse – trading and Sylva could be cleared. So until we get to the primary, we don’t really have a confirmed road map on whether Sylva is going to run or not because the President has not made any statement on Sylva. So far, it is still between Sylva and the party. We will hope that the President is going to, not as President of Nigeria, but as an indigene of Bayelsa, try to meet with the elders and will communicate what he thinks and what the party thinks to them. Then, we will discuss. As a member of the Bayelsa advisory council, I believe that we should worry about the betterment of the people instead of politics. We should not play too much politics because Bayelsa needs to move to the next stage.
We are at crossroads until we have cleared understanding or a clear candidate that will run for the governorship. It is imperative we worry about the development of the state, and this is why who becomes governor is important. We should consult widely, discuss so that we don’t move in wrong direction. And of course the opinion of the president is important because he is from the state. It is important that we all know his opinion so that we don’t work at variance with him.
There are the suggestions that if the PDP insists on not clearing him, Sylva could decide to run on the platform of another party?
That possibility exists. And he has what it takes to win an election on his own. But I believe he is a party man. The PDP has giving the opportunity and privilege and I think that being a man that understands the working of institutions, he will accept the verdict of his party if the party insists not to clear him. It is important that there be negotiations. And even if Sylva is not running, he will need a soft landing. Bayelsa will not want to go through history twice. We will not want a situation where former governor or a serving governor is subjected to humiliation and abuse.
The issue now is to develop our state, and progress and excel where we can. How do we spring up like Dubai? To do that, we will need all hands to be on deck. If we look at it that way, then Sylva should be helped to accept the party decision because there will be political, social and security implications if Sylva decides to contest on another party’s platform. The state polity will be overheated. As an incumbent governor he has many supporters and Bayelsa is just coming out of the era of militancy and we don’t want people to re-arm them and use them. These are issues that I am sure the president and the party will take into consideration when they are making their decision.
Have you heard of insinuations that president Jonathan is not working?
Working is relative. Recently, he was at this economic summit and his speech and answers to questions showed that he has a vision, an agenda. But I think the security challenges are distracting him, with the security issues, his detractors are making progress because their aim is to distract the president form his goals. But this distraction, I had hoped that by this last quarter a lot would have been achieved especially in the area of road construction. Right now a lot of funds will be diverted to security issues and without security development can’t take place.
The president is working because if he were not, the level of threat would have been higher; Abuja could have been on fire and Sokoto, Maiduguri or Yobe would have been constantly under fire. People have died in this unnecessary crisis but it could have been worst if the president is not working.
Has the National Think tank taken a stand on the removal of fuel subsidy?
We are planning a roundtable on the issue. Those who understand the dynamics of fuel subsidy will accept the fact that it needs to be removed. A lot of things are happening. Nigerians are importing fuel that never arrives at the destination. It is called round tripping in the oil industry. They bring in fuel and then send it back and bring it back in another name. And they collect money that is supposed to be for development. They collect money and this fuel never arrives. In Yanagoa, Bayelsa state capital, we have been buying a litre of fuel at N130 – N150 naira. So even if you remove subsidy I don’t think fuel price will be more than that.
There is no fishing trawler in Nigeria that is doing fishing. They simply load fuel and take it to our neighboring countries. Sell the consignment and return. It is more lucrative than fishing. In the northern parts were we have borders with Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin Republic, the biggest business is carrying tankers across the borders to sell fuel. Peoples who have money do this business; top people. The poor man doesn’t benefit.
So, without fuel subsidy, let there be enough fuel and let Nigerians begin to re-adjust their life styles. Instead of having 10 cars and putting them on the road, maybe the owners should put two Cars on the road. Let us begin to consume what we really need, what is necessary and within our needs. I believe government should remove subsidy on fuel.
In Venezuela fuel is so subsidised that a litre of fuel is cheaper than a bottle of soft drink. It is subsidised yet in other areas it is balanced up. Now, if you remove fuel subsidy in Nigeria, will you reduce the cost of education of our children or will there be free medical care? What will we use this money for since we have been subsidising to the tunes of billions and trillions of naira? So now if we remove fuel subsidy it means we will have some amount of money left.
Because if fuel is expensive and cost of Medicare is down and good hospitals are there, schools are good and affordable, then the poor man will benefit. The poor man doesn’t have a car so he doesn’t even care whether you increase price of fuel or remove subsidy. If they are removing subsidy, what is important is approach and communication with the people. If government says it will for example use the money to fix the Lagos-Benin-Ore road or build the trans Niger Delta rail or road network or complete the East West road, then people will agree that it is a good move.