By Bassey Willie, Yenagoa
Felix Oboro is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Venezuela. He was also a senator in the Third Republic and pioneer Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government (SSG). In this interview, he speaks about politics in Bayelsa, the chances of APC winning the state and reasons for non-performance by some governors.
As one of the founding fathers of Bayelsa State, what is your take on the upcoming governorship primaries and gubernatorial election?
The PDP has been ruling this state for the last 20 years. APC is just trying to breakthrough. Although it may not be very easy for the APC, but we have our strategy; that is why we are working hard to inform our people on the need to vote for APC during the governorship election.
Everybody agrees that PDP has been a disappointment to Bayelsa State. For the past 20 years, all the governors that have ruled us have not really done anything. I may not blame the governors, but the party at the national and state levels, because if the national headquarters is effective, if the president of the ruling party had been effective, most of the things that have gone wrong wouldn’t have. This is because governors and ministers are under the president; he can give directives to them.
Many Bayelsans are of the opinion that the next governor should come from the party that controls the centre for the state to experience meaningful development. Is this necessary?
I will take you back to when politics came to Bayelsa during the parliamentary system and when independence was granted to Nigeria in 1960. The Ijaw people where part of Western Nigeria. Later, the Ijaw in Western and Southern Nigeria requested for a separate state because they recognised that their area was a very peculiar place. So, both sides requested for their own state, and after a long time, the West granted the Mid-West their region, but the Ijaw people were mixed with others. However, as far as I’m concerned, that was a good improvement, but the East refused to do anything about it and we suffered a lot as a result.
It was Isaac Adaka Boro who met Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello. They were all from the North. He told them, “Look, our people want a state of our own because of the terrain of our area. Those people who live in the upland don’t understand our problems, so we want a state.” They told him to be patient. It was not long the coup of January 15, 1966, was carried out and almost all the northern leaders were killed. Some in Yoruba land and the Mid-West were also killed. But none was killed in the East. Aguiyi Ironsi became the head of state.
After the civil war, Ijaw people felt that it was those people from the North who froze them because they wanted more states from the North. So, Ijaw people were voting for the party where northerners were the majority, like the NPN, NRC and even PDP. These were parties northerners were in the majority then. Now the majority party is APC. Bayelsa State has never been a minority party. It is the party that controls the centre that always controls our state so that we find things very easy.
However, the problem started when Goodluck Jonathan accidentally became the president and was able to influence the governors of the East and the South South. In the last general elections, the governors influenced their people on the pattern of voting. That is why we see that virtually all the South East and the South South voted for PDP. But in this governorship election, we have to lead Bayelsa once more to the centre.
Could this pattern of voting affect the two regions in terms of development and attacking federal presence?
For instance, since 2015, our governor in Bayelsa State hasn’t interacted with the federal because he is not in the same party with the president. We are in the minority party, but a tactful governor can interact with the federal; whether they are in the same party or not. You don’t have to break unity with them, because everything an Ijaw man has got is from the northerners. Bayelsa State was created by a northerner; Rivers State was created by a northerner. NNPC and the rest are the creation of our northern leaders. So, we can say that development has not been in this state because we are not in line with the federal; but the reason is exactly what I have explained, although many people will not be able to link this with the state government.
But from 1999 to 2015, Bayelsa State and the centre were in the majority party, why do we still have this issue of underdevelopment?
That’s why I’m accusing PDP. PDP caused this problem of leadership we are having in this state since 1999. In 2007, Timi Alaibe and Goodluck Jonathan contested in PDP primaries. We had concluded delegates’ elections. I was Timi Alaibe’s campaign manager. Alaibe had his own delegates; Jonathan had his own too. So, a panel was set up to hear from all the states and determine which of the delegates’ lists was authentic. I represented Alaibe in the panel and I made a good case, even if it was clear that the panel was under directives to favour Jonathan’s list. But the panel later recommended that Jonathan should bring 50 per cent of his delegates while Alaibe should bring 50 per cent and that everybody should go to Bayelsa to pick their governorship candidate. But after this decision, the president then invited both parties to Abuja and ordered Alaibe to step down for Jonathan. But on the whole, Alaibe was more competent and would have made a better leader than Jonathan.
There appears to be this debate about the primary mode of election, what kind of primary do you prefer?
We in Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri’s group prefer indirect primary, and we are ready to win APC ticket no matter who contests with our candidate. Why we prefer indirect primary is that we have the delegates who are the party executives from wards, chapters and the state level. The problem we will have if we conduct direct primary is that many party members, including myself, have pieces of paper as party card…So, they may have challenges of identifying real party members. But if it’s indirect, all the officials have a register and that election will be held at the centre in the state capital; security will be there. Anybody that wins will be convinced that he won; and if you lose you are also convinced that you lost. But we are still waiting for the directives of the national secretariat.
What kind of candidate do you think APC needs to win the governorship election?
A candidate who will be prepared to listen to those who are guiding him, because one man cannot be a dictator of himself to get things done. We need a person who will listen to not only his followers but his cabinet who should be able to advise him. I was the SSG under then Gov. Alamieyeseigha. The first two and half years of his government, he listened to our advice; that was why he was so respected in the state. Then, if you insult the governor in a bus, an Ijaw man could slap you. But after those years, he was not consulting us anymore. When I saw that things were going bad, I resigned. After that time, he was impeached and jailed.
So, we need a governor that will not see himself as Mr. know all. Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri, the way he approached me and solicited my support, I knew that he is ready to listen to advice. If you listen to his campaign since it started, he has not insulted anybody and he is very careful in attacking anybody in the party; even the PDP. That is the type of governor Bayelsa needs now.
The incumbent Governor, Seriake Dickson, and your candidate are from the same senatorial district. How can you convince Bayelsans to abandon zoning and vote for your candidate?
If zoning was based on senatorial district, all the senatorial districts have produced governors in Bayelsa State. Do you know what is called Asusu? Maybe in an office, 10 persons decide to make contributions, maybe N10,000 monthly. The first person will take, others will follow till the last man, and there is need for them to start again. It doesn’t necessarily mean the first person must start again. Anybody can start, even the last person can take first. If you stop the last person from picking, you may lose the best candidate because the best may come from the senatorial district. So, we thought of it. And apart from that, if you enter into an agreement, reasonable people should follow the agreement. But agreement aside, zoning is actually a PDP thing; it’s not constitutional. So, if people see reasons to do a thing that is not in verbal agreement, they should tolerate it. Bayelsa needs the best; zoning has never been associated with our politics.