PDP has machinery to win Presidential- Sylva

THE SUN Newspaper- Henry Akubuiro

During the Second Republic, former Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, then a top shot of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and aide to the then President Shehu Shagari, had dismissed the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s political comments as ‘the ranting of an ant.’ That statement was to become a political mantra in Nigeria, as the country’s political lexicon swelled with the catch phrase, ‘ranting of an rat.’
Today, it seems that the nation’s political dictionary would have another catch phrase: a political ant, following the declaration of Bayelsa State governor, Mr. Timipre Sylva.

Speaking with Saturday Sun, in Yenagoa, Sylva has described his closest political rival and Labour Party governorship aspirant, Timi Alaibe, as a “political ant.”

The governor, while speaking about what to expect in the April 2011 election, opened the Pandora box in the politics of Bayelsa. He gave reason former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar lost the Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. He expressed optimism that with the victory of President Goodluck Jonathan and whatever alliances of other political parties or groups, PDP would still win.

You have less than five months to the end of your tenure in office. What do you think you would have done differently if given a second chance?
This is a job you come into and you actually wish to do many things and experience the reality. But anybody who is outside will have a plan, but, like an architect whose plan is unstable until the actual development site, you must have the capacity to adjust the plan. Of course, I came into the job with many ideas; but, as we came in, we adjusted them. If I had the opportunity to lead us, there might be some areas I could have adjusted. But, it is so far so good. We have done well. When I look back and I look at what we have achieved, we have done well. I am only going to improve on what I have done.

What challenges did you encounter initially?
When we came in, we encountered some issues that are no longer in existence. The issues have changed. For example, security was very high on the agenda. You must agree with me that it was a very serious, dire situation when we came. We have successfully tackled that. Roads were very serious issues, because there were no access roads at all, just a few. Also, it has been addressed to a large extent. Power was a major issue. We have also tackled power to a large extent. Health facilities have also been tackled to a large extent. When we come back, we will lay emphasis on other sectors. We are going to lay emphasis on education. The educational system is working on a shadow. We are going to lay emphasis on the agricultural system to provide employment. I think the most important thing for Bayelsa today is creating employment.

Some people say you haven’t done anything significant and that most of the things you claim to have achieved are uncompleted projects from your predecessors, which you later completed. Are there pointers to projects you initiated and completed?
There are quite a few projects we have started and completed. My opponents could say that, because these are people who completely don’t understand the development process. When you are taking over from another government, you have to implement and then add; that’s how states and countries develop. If they expected me to abandon all the projects that I inherited and then start my own, there will be a disconnect, and it would be stupid. And it is only a stupid person that can say that. So, when we came, we looked at the projects and tied them into our programmes. I must tell you that took a great deal of ingenuity. For example, some projects we have finished doing, maybe the original cost was at N3. 7 billion, and what was outstanding on the project when we came in was N2.7 billion. If I paid N2.7 billion out of N3.7 billion, what are you telling me? To say that because it was started by somebody, I had not done any- thing is stupid. Some projects, for example, were N6.27 billion, and all that had been paid was N1.5 billion. And if I came and finished the project, will they say that I haven’t done anything? Of course, naturally, we start from where our predecessors stopped. But at the same time, we have done a lot.

We started and completed roads. I didn’t inherit any road project. I did all those road projects myself. If you take time and go round Bayelsa, and you have been in Bayelsa before, you have no other choice than to agree with me that things have changed since we came in. Everything has changed. For example, the Alamieyeseigha administration started the Governor’s Lodge, but he didn’t complete it. When President Goodluck Jonathan was the governor of the state, he didn’t complete it. So, when I came in, some people advised me to start a new Governor’s Lodge. If I had started it, maybe I would not have completed it or may not have, too. But we would have had two abandoned projects. Today, I am proud I completed it at a great cost. If you go round the lodge, you will see things for yourself. In the end, what are we talking about? It is people’s money, not my money. Whatever that have been committed by the past administration is still people’s money. So, we will look for a way of offsetting it. But, if you tie that money in an uncompleted project, it is money that is completely useless. For money to have impact on the purpose, you must complete the project. If you look at it sector by sector, we have accomplished so much.

For example, if you go to the Opolo Hospital, it is probably the best in the country. It was started by me and finished by me. It is the most modern hospital in Nigeria at the moment. We have commissioned 16 health centres. When we say health centres, we are not just building two-room health centres; we are building 20-room health centre around the state. When we came in, our medical school was not accredited. Some of the oldest medical schools have even been de-accredited, but we got accredited because we are able to put all the facilities in place. Before I came, all our medical students were in Benin. Now, they have returned here for studies.

All over the country, including your state, the PDP primaries left a tail of disenchanted voices among some party loyalists. How are you carrying along those who lost out?
You participated in primaries with the intention of winning, and after the primaries, votes were counted, and you lost. Then you began to say, how did he get the delegates? So, if you had won, would you have questioned how you got the delegates? To me, it is not a serious thing to worry about. It is natural in politics for someone to win, and it is not easy to accept defeat, especially when you have expended time, energy and money. We are talking to them (those who lost). Some, of course, will never agree; some will agree. But, if you won the primaries, especially in party, like PDP, it is almost a given that you are going to win at the general election. We are carrying on with the processes, because we want everybody under the same umbrella.

There is a thinking in some quarters that, though you have emerged as the PDP candidate for the governorship election in Bayelsa State, your counterpart, Timi Alaibe, still remains the president’s favourite, and that he will sweep the votes at the coming election…
(Laughs) I don’t know Alaibe can be the president’s favourite in Labour Party. The president, as you, is the standard bearer of the PDP for the presidential election and I am the standard bearer of PDP in Bayelsa, and I know that the president is a party man, true and true. So, I don’t know how Alaibe will become the favourite of the president against his own PDP, or will think that the president will say, ‘Ok, let me not win in my state?’ As far as I am concerned, some people have just become desperate. The president has become a rallying point today in Bayelsa. Everybody will use him to campaign. Even other parties, when they print their posters, they will put the president’s picture with theirs. They do that just to say that ‘we support the president.’ But that doesn’t make any difference. You know, in a house you have a favourite son and other children. But I can tell you that I am the president’s favourite son.

Some analysts saw Bayelsa as a one-party state until the emergence of Labour Party...
It is still a one-party state. Labour Party is only a burial ground where all the people who have failed in PDP get buried politically. So, it is of no consequence at all. I see them shout on the television, but they are of no consequence at all. All the failures in PDP in Bayelsa go there to shout. I think it is their stock-in-trade. We know that some of them have been in positions of authority and they have nothing to show for it. Today, if they say all kinds of things, we will show them the projects they started and could not complete. Do you know, for instance, what the Niger Delta master plan cost us as a country? The master plan provided for a coastal road, a coastal road that is going to cost trillions of naira to build; and you know that is not going to happen because of the length of rivers you are going to cross to be able to do a coastal road. The master plan itself is just a waste, a paperwork that cost N25 billion. Where else do you see Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) projects? We will come out [soon] to tell you the incompetence that was displayed in the NDDC, which we will not accept in Bayelsa. The people will roundly reject such people, and they know it themselves that they will be rejected by the people.

But people think that the fear of Alaibe is the beginning of wisdom in Bayelsa…
Who is afraid of Alaibe? I am sure he is afraid of himself. Nobody, not even the smallest child, is afraid of him in Bayelsa. Alaibe lives in Lagos and he is friendly with the press. So, it is probably you journalists who fear him. We on the ground, in politics here, don’t fear him. In politics, he is my junior. When I was in the state House of Assembly, he was probably working with ACB in an obscure branch in Okrika. So, how can I be afraid of him? I supported Alaibe in 2003; we were the people who made him tick in 2003, and since then, we have been supporting him. Now, I have decided to come out, and he knows that, politically, he won’t match me.

Yet people believe there is a certain mystic about Alaibe?
The so-called mystic about Alaibe is only a creation of the press. As far as Bayelsa State is concerned, Alaibe is a political rat, a politician of no consequence. Why hasn’t he held any political rally in Bayelsa? Why is he afraid to campaign in Bayelsa? He is just a media noisemaker; that’s the only way he can get any attention. The other day, I held a rally in Yenagoa, and thousands of people thronged the venue. I heard he just sneaked into the state recently to take part in voters’ registration and sneaked back to Lagos, where he lives. Even if all his family members vote for him, I will still beat him hands down in his ward and local government. I was waiting for that showdown at the recent PDP governorship primaries, but he chickened out when he saw the writing on the wall. I can’t wait for the showdown in April, where I will show him he is a politician of inconsequence in Bayelsa. Bayelsa has changed for the better under my leadership. We are matching victoriously to take the seat again.

There is the fear that, given the way Atiku Abubakar was humiliated at the recent PDP presidential primaries, the North may throw its weight behind any northern candidate outside PDP from the zone at the general elections. In the event of that happening, what would be the fate of President Jonathan?
I don’t believe that would happen. The North holistically supported the president at the primaries. People are underestimating the depth of this country. Today, this country is more integrated than it used to be. If you looked at the population of this country, you see that population is quite mixed; there are many northerners in Bayelsa, just as there are many Bayelsans in the North. The population mix in every state is almost balanced. In some states, the population of non-indigenes almost compares to the indigenes. So, Nigeria is no longer the Nigeria of yesterday. The South-South will once again vote in blocks for Jonathan. The South-South has, over the years, had a relationship with other parts of the country, and I believe that many northerners have had good political relationship with us. We strongly believe that PDP has a strong political machinery to win general election.

Before the PDP presidential primaries, some people saw Atiku as a super human…
Losing an election doesn’t make you any less person or politician. Are you going to tell me that, because a Senior Advocate of Nigeria lost an election in a court, it is just the end? It doesn’t matter; it just makes you a human being. The problem with Nigeria is that sometimes we look at some human beings as their ‘mothers’, but, in the end, everybody is a human being created by God, and that’s all we realised. Those who saw (Atiku) as above the human probably felt bad. But, for me, I have always seen him as a human. A person losing an election or primaries is nothing to me. What we are saying is, let the party come together and walk together. He could have won or lost, just like in football. It is round; it can go either way. It has gone the way of Jonathan. So, let Atiku join hands with Jonathan and make sure that PDP wins in the end. That’s all.

What did he do wrong?
He didn’t do anything wrong. It is time and chance. If you read the Bible, it tells you about time and chance. That’s it. Maybe he came and the timing and chance were not there. That’s all. He didn’t do anything wrong. He could have done less if the time and chance were in his favour, and he could have won. That’s what happens in politics. You must watch time and chance and be sure they favour you before you run. So, it is not the amount of noise you make on the television that will favour you. Is time and chance in your favour? Today, Bayelsa State is in my favour, and that’s why I am winning.

Some say that development in the state is restricted to Yenagoa…
You have not been around the state. Development is spread. Apart from that, if you were in my position, in a state that didn’t have the status of a capital in the real sense, what would you have done first? Wouldn’t you at least create a capital? If you spread yourself too deep quickly, you cannot create a critical mass. You must put certain things in place. Only a stupid person can go about developing everywhere at the same place at the same time. But that doesn’t mean that we are neglecting people at other places, but, definitely, the emphasis will be on Yenagoa. Only a stupid person will not develop his capital.

Carpet crossing has become rife in Nigeria. What does it portend for our democracy?
It is just the prospect of losing that make people to move. What does that tell you? That tells you that there is no ideology and belief (any more), and such people don’t have any respect. You must have the capacity to believe in a cause, and for us, there is a cause we believe in. It is only rolling stones that gather no moss that just move. If they lose their ticket, they will be back in either Maitama Political Party or elsewhere. Some of them ran to other parties and they lost again; some of them are even back to the PDP. But I have no respect for such politics, because they never gather moss.


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