Ekiyor Konrad Welson is the chief executive officer of the Campaign for Democracy and Development in Bayelsa, a non-governmental organisation that has been campaigning for enthronement of true democracy in Bayelsa State. Welson, a one-time chairman of the Bayelsa State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and a one-time publicity secretary of the Ijaw National Congress (INC) is now a lecturer at the Niger Delta University (NDU), Wilberforce Island.
In this interview with Samuel Ese in Yenagoa, the former Chief Press Secretary to former President Goodluck Jonathan while he was governor of Bayelsa State says it would be risky for any political party to ignore CDDB with its over 200,000 strong membership in the forthcoming governorship election in the state.
Next governor of Bayelsa
Before we talk about who becomes the next governor of Bayelsa State, let’s talk about who become the next set of Assembly men in the state, who become the next set of House of Reps members representing Bayelsa, who become the next set of senators. Sammy, there is a very strong and serious malady in Bayelsa as we speak today. People are not coming up to serve. I’m concerned about it. The quality of leadership that Bayelsa people are going to have, you would have thought that by now three or four people would be jostling for positions in every constituency in Bayelsa State. You would have thought by now almost every political party would have people jostling for positions to go to the House of Reps. So, same thing for Senate before you even talk about the governorship. Unfortunately, we are not seeing people coming out to a point where the incumbents are almost taking for granted to have another term. Then you have those who incumbents gunning for higher positions when they gave not served the people. And the people do not know how to key in to this atmosphere we have created for participatory democracy. And somebody will explain that it is because of the level of poverty. The level of poverty is so much that people cannot even put up themselves for service. People cannot throw their hats into the ring to contest election. They don’t even have money to buy forms. And to them, somebody deliberately impoverished people in the state so that they will not be able to participate. Then that somebody will now pick the kind of people they want. That’s one side of the argument. Therefore, for us to even sit down and ask ourselves, who are the people that would form the next set senators is very, very difficult. All the senators representing Bayelsa today have completely failed. You’ll see the governor going about talking about restructuring, talking about 13 percent is not enough: the question you ask yourself is what are the senators saying in the Senate? The representatives, five of them in the House of Reps, what are they saying? What kind of struggle are they into? What kind of fight are they into? They are keeping quiet. That is my worry for now?
Now, for who is going to be the next governor, it’s going to be the person the people have chosen or the person the people will choose. And with the kind of mobilisation going on, Bayelsa people are beginning to see the kind of people that should lead them; and they are beginning to see the character of the kind of people they want. And I know they will pick the people that have the character they are looking for. We have done our own work, we have let Bayelsa people know where CDDB stands as far as the quality of leadership is concerned in Bayelsa State. We believe the bar must be raised and we have raised the bar. All we are praying and working for now is for Bayelsa people to recognise the fact that there is a particular character that their governor must have; there must be a track record that their governor must have; and there must be an experience that the governor must have. So you have the character, you have the training and you have the experience. Very peculiar, very unique, meaning that it’s not everybody that can be governor. The person must have the kind of character, the person must have a kind of record, the person must have a kind of training.
Effect of other elections preceding the governorship election
Do you know as we speak, nobody is even talking about the House of Assembly elections? Nobody is talking about all the other positions including the Senate and House of Reps. All Bayelsa people are concerned with now is the one that directly affects them, and that is the governorship. Now, whether these other elections you mentioned come before the governorship or not, Bayelsa people know that these other positions do not have any kind of direct impact on them. Completely. The assembly people, the representatives, the senators, they are alien. They are even operating in such a way that they don’t have the kind of interaction with the people. But the people know that if they have the right governor, that right governor is almost like seeking the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and every other thing following. That’s what we are looking at now. So, the forward movement of the state is tied to the governor. That is why in our slogan, we say something like moving Bayelsa forward together. The way Bayelsa can move forward is for us to have the kind of state leader with the right character, the right training and with the right experience. So, this is what you are seeing now going on. All other positions are such that they are very personal. They are personal. Somebody goes to the House of Reps, they are about 308 there, so it blends into the 308. Nobody feels the importance, but there is only one governor in every state. And that one governor occupies the Government House. So, it’s very, very clear and his one decision affects all the people in the state.
Getting Reuben Okoya into the consciousness of political leaders
The political parties and their leaders are not living in isolation from the people. Even some party officials also are part of the struggle. So, you have a situation where when there is war, nobody tells a blind man; when there is war, nobody tells the man that is deaf. When you see people running and you don’t hear, nobody will tell you to run. When you hear the noise of people running and you’re blind, you will know something is happening. So, what we are working on now is to create the kind of situation where we’ll have interface with the political parties. The period is still far. At the appropriate time, we’ll know what to do. The strategy is within us where the political parties will be adequately informed of the situation on ground. As we speak right now, in Bayelsa State, our membership is over 200,000. So, as we speak right now, Sam, CDDB has a conservative membership of 200,000 and above. With that membership, it will be very, very risky for any political party in Bayelsa State to ignore us. It will be very, very risky for any political party to ignore us. Only one political party will ignore us, the political party that is not ready to win the next election. And so, at the appropriate time, we will show to the political parties in this state the strength and the stuff we are made of. And the idea is when the people that are going to elect the governor on Election Day tell you this is the person we like to elect, ignore them. When you ignore them, on Election Day, you will look for them.
Addressing vote buying
You know this issue of vote buying has been a matter I have personally taken interest in. Vote buying can be looked at from two perspectives, two perspectives. The first perspective is to buy votes and change a person’s choice. The second perspective is to buy votes and enhance a person’s choice. Vote buying happens in different ways all across the country. I remember Obama’s election, the Blacks in America took it personal. They were very, very personal about Obama’s election and I know the kind of things they did. I will tell you about one particular association, Association of Community Organisers (ACO). It’s an association of black people that extends to every community and Obama was their lawyer, who was doing things with them. So, when Obama entered the stage to contest the election, they took it as their personal project. You know what they did? These people were going from house to house to go and assist people to go and register to a point where they were giving them resources to go and register. So, when a person is very, very poor; the person lacks the ability to even go to the voting centre to vote, what do you do? You assist the person to pay transport and to get logistics to the venue. That is vote buying. On Election Day, Obama’s camp made buses available, what you call coaches, made them available for people to transport themselves from one point to where going to vote. Most of the students were in campuses, they didn’t have the resources to get to their polling units. Buses were provided, coaches were provided to take them to those places. Vote buying. Then while they were in queues waiting to vote, people were given lunch packs. Vote buying. Now, the question you’ll ask yourself: if you assist your voter to get to the venue of polling, what do you call that? Is that a crime? Or is that part of your campaign? There is something they call GOTV on Election Day, get out the voter. It’s part of every campaign strategy including our campaign in CDDB. On Election Day, we’ll develop and design a strategy to get our voters out. This over 200,000 people that we have in our fold, how do we get them out on Election Day? The strategy is there. Therefore, vote buying of a thing is both positive and negative. When a man is set to vote for Mr. Peter because he believes that Mr. Peter can help him, it’s all about who can make your life better, that is the truth. And, on Election Day, Mr. Jones gives him N10 but Mr. Peter gives him nothing, and based on the N10 he collects from Mr. Jones, he votes for Mr. Jones, vote buying has become negative. On the other hand, he has made up his mind based on research to vote Mr. Jones and Mr. Jones on Election Day helps him to get to the voting centre, even though there is no movement in our context here in Nigeria, how do you get to your voting centre? You might need to get to your voting centre a day before. Mr. Jones now says, take, go to the voting place tomorrow and cast your vote for me my supporter; and as you are going, take this bread, take this plate of rice, take this lunch pack and eat. So, you see how vote buying works; voter inducement, in the real sense, it works negatively and positively. What we have resolved today is how to make sure our electors, our voters who have decided to vote for our choice are made to come out that day. So, I tell people, if people collect money to vote for the right person, it is not a sin because you cannot eliminate collecting money. What you can do is to properly guide it and mitigate it. Now, with time, you see, our political development is still very, very low especially when it comes to democracy and election: it’s still very, very low. We are still a primitive society in Nigeria. Democracy, up till now, does not mean much to the average Nigerian. Democracy is a culture, you understand. So, it will get to a point where the average Bayelsa man, the average Nigerian man will not need to be induced to vote, but we are not there yet. It will take us close to a hundred years to get to that point. But, as it is now, what we can do now is to collectively use what is wrong to achieve what is right.
Jonathan, Dickson in CDDB project
Now, I’ll tell you something very, very clear. Both are two PDP leaders in this state. We’ll have to set up some criteria to know who is the senior leader, but the two of them are leaders. We can say one is the senior leader, one is the junior leader. But it’s difficult to bring a man that is in power under a man that is not in power. If not, we can conveniently say that Goodluck Jonathan is the leader of PDP in the state while the governor is next. Between the two of them, they want a person that will make them proud. Now, in 2015, Goodluck supported Seriake Dickson. I am sure as things are going now, he must have some satisfaction that the man he supported, to an extent, is doing certifiable things well. In the same vein, what will make Dickson sleep well after his regime is a man that can do better than him. The moment a man begins to do better than Dickson, Dickson takes the glory; that’s what people don’t know. So, this idea of trying to bring in somebody that will protect your interest is analog. There are examples that I can give you that happened in Kenya and Zambia, but I won’t go into that because they’ll take our time. But, the truth is this, it is in Dickson’s interest to work and support a man that can perform, a man that has the right character, the right training and the right experience. And, that is Reuben Okoya. The man has the right character, the right training, the right experience. I challenge anybody to a debate to convince me otherwise. I challenge anybody in Bayelsa State to a debate to say no, this person has better character, better training, better experience. I challenge anybody. Therefore, Goodluck Jonathan and Seriake Dickson, as we speak, are doing one thing. They are observing the political space and they are watching how the people are preparing for the next election. They have learnt their lesson. Dickson said something somewhere. He said, gone are the days that you impose candidates on the party, that only those that are electable from the people, from now on, would fly the party’s flag: and that is an intelligent talk, very, very intelligent talk because he now understands that it is the people. The days of writing results in some covens and in some caves, those days are gone with the advent of the card reader and that thing called accreditation. They have completely changed the political game in Nigeria, and Goodluck Jonathan must take that credit for life as the man who came to change the political process of Nigeria with the introduction of the card reader and accreditation.
What am I saying? The two of them will support the man Bayelsa people have chosen. Bayelsa people today, are in a conversation among themselves on who they think can better their lot. And as we speak, their conversation is centering around Reuben Okoya. Today, it’s either they have finished talking about Reuben Okoya, they are talking about talking about Reuben Okoya or they are about to talk about Reuben Okoya. Why is it like that? There’s no other person that is coming up. There is no other person that is coming up that is interacting with the community, and interacting with the people. They are are still playing the old politics of endorsement. Contrary to what people think, it is not godfathers that are the problem, it is god sons who are not ready to do anything. They just want to be endorsed. So, Goodluck Jonathan, as the leader of PDP in the state and Seriake Dickson as the leader of PDP in the state, both of them will back the man that Bayelsa people are rooting for.
Measuring up to states like Lagos and Rivers
Sam, you will agree with me that a governor does not develop a state, the people do. The governor will only provide the right and conducive atmosphere, what you call conducive atmosphere. The question you should be asking is, are Bayelsa people ready to their state from where it is to where it ought to be? Do they have the capacity, do they have the capability to do it? Are Bayelsa people set to transform their state? The answer is yes. When the people are today, it will be very difficult to hold them back. I’ll tell you one thing, from 1999 till date, Bayelsa people have been alienated from their state. A classical case of the principle of alienation by Karl Max, where the worker is alienated from everything that is happening in the company. The principle of alienation. Bayelsa people have been alienated. Bayelsa people are not put in reckoning and that is why when Bayelsa man wants to make money, he makes money from the state and he takes it out. He doesn’t see this state as a place he should put his money. There are people that do not live in Bayelsa State, but they make money in Bayelsa State. They take the money out. Things are changing. Bayelsa people today, are waiting for the kind of man that will inspire them.
Now, coming to the man that we are talking about, Reuben Okoya; Reuben Okoya has the capacity to build, but he cannot force Bayelsa people to build. He has the capacity to transform the physical condition of Bayelsa State. Who is going to transform the spiritual condition of the people, the social condition of the people? It is the people themselves. The bible says, if you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land. What we are doing today in Bayelsa is to create the kind of society that will make the people and the government work together to achieve progress and development. Let it be bottom-top approach. The people have a problem. They approach their government, their government brings resources to solve the problem, the people achieve their life goals and the government takes the credit. The whole essence is for government to help people achieve their life goals. You don’t take a road to a place where the people are not ready to buy cars. You don’t take a road to a place where the people don’t have anything to do with the road. So, you go to the people. When they tell you we need road to carry our things from here to the market, we need road to take our business, to take our talent from where we are to where we can make money from it; you give them a road. The people tell you, look we need water so that we can produce palm wine, we need water so that we can produce iced water, we need water so that we can take care of ourselves; you give them water. That is what development is all about, and today, Bayelsa people have learnt their lesson. After these number of years in democracy, and years as a state to a point where – Reuben is only coming as a catalyst to trigger that development that will take Bayelsa beyond Lagos. I tell you one thing, Bayelsa will complete with Lagos after eight years of Reuben. Bayelsa will compete with any state in Nigeria after eight years because I know what the man carries. I know what the man carries in him and all Bayelsa people need to do is to key into his leadership. He leads, people must follow. A leader does not push, that is the problem. He doesn’t come behind and push you. He is in front of you is showing you the way, but the discretion is yours whether to follow or not to follow. If you follow him, then he takes you to the place where you will actualise your dream. So, this is the atmosphere that I see in the state now, a collaboration between the people and the political class for development.
I am never alone!