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How Diri Has Effectively Managed COVID-19 Pandemic In Bayelsa –Alabrah

Daily Independent logo Daily Independent 2020-05-25 By Our Correspondents

Daniel Alabrah is the Acting Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Senator Douye Diri, Governor of Bayelsa State. In this interview with MICHAEL JEGEDE, he said Diri’s effective handling of the issue of COVID-19 in the state was responsible for the low number of confirmed cases Bayelsa has recorded. Excerpt:

Your principal clocked 100 days in office as Bayelsa state governor on Sunday, May 24. What are some of the high­point of his first 100 days in office?

100 days in office is a very short time. It is just three months and ten days. It is not a period you would expect that new projects or serious infrastructure would be initiated and completed. It is generally a foundational period for the new government to begin to showcase some of its policy initiatives and direction.

However, the Governor Douye Diri administration came in at a time that COVID-19 had just start­ed ravaging our country. Nigeria had the index case on February 27 just two weeks after the Senator Diri government was sworn in on February 14. As it was beginning to settle down after inauguration, the issues with COVID-19 came up and we started hearing about lockdown, shut down your state and that peo­ple should stay at home.

Regardless of these early COVID-19 warning signs, the government was determined to kick-start its urban renewal pro­gramme. So, one of the first things the governor alongside his deputy did was to visit the Edepie/Etegwe axis where you have the popular ‘Tombia’ roundabout. That area had been earmarked by the immediate past administration for another flyover in Yenagoa, the state capi­tal. During that visit, the governor, based on the already prepared con­struction designs, saw the need for the roundabout to be expanded. He also said that an alternative route would be opened through restart­ing of the work on the AIT/Elebele road that leads to Igbogene in order to decongest and reduce the traffic bottleneck at the Edepie/Etegwe roundabout.

The governor equally visited the Bayelsa Mall project site at Okaka, which he said he would try to com­plete even within the first hundred days. Unfortunately, COVID-19 slowed him down. As you are aware, there is hardly any state (maybe one or two) in Nigeria today where seri­ous construction work is going on. It is a huge challenge to mobilise contractors to site.

There are however things that have happened that have made peo­ple to begin to see the government in a different light. For instance, be­fore now public power supply was a big problem in our state, partic­ularly in Yenagoa. But now most areas of the state capital enjoy bet­ter power supply than before. This was not by happenstance. Immedi­ately the governor assumed office, he held several meetings with the management of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company just to underscore the importance he attached to provision of elec­tricity to Bayelsans. He has conse­quently taken measures to ensure that whatever it was that made us have that parlous power situation in the past was corrected.

Previously, in a whole week, the area I live got public power supply for not more than maybe two hours. But now, we have power supply for three or four days consecutively for about 18-20 hours a day. These days whatever you have in the refriger­ator all get frozen. This had not happened in the last two or more years. And that is the testimony from across different parts of the state capital. So, the Diri govern­ment has been able to address that issue and still addressing it.

How is the governor handling workers welfare and the issue of payment of pension and gratuity?

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The issues of pension and gratu­ity are areas that the Senator Diri administration deserves thumbs up for, particularly in its handling of the gratuity of retirees. The gratu­ity backlog dates back to 2008, about 12 years.

While he was campaigning, the governor promised that he would prioritise the welfare of workers in the state. Whether retirees or those currently working, he vowed to properly motivate them and en­sure that those still in service are efficient and productive. Without mincing words, he is fulfilling that promise and they are all now smiling. For him, the payment of pensioners and their gratuity is a priority just as the welfare of civil servants is. He does not see it as an achievement because he believes it is a responsibility he owes the workers. But the beneficiaries see it differently and they are actually happy. To them, it is an achieve­ment for a government that is bare­ly three months old.

The last government was actu­ally paying the pension of retirees monthly but there were issues with their gratuity. So, what this new government is doing differently is that it sets aside about N200 mil­lion monthly to take care of the backlog of gratuity. Every month, a set of retirees gets their gratuity. For those that have unfortunately passed on, their families are invited to present their documents for pay­ment of even their death benefits. We expect that in a few years from now we would have put behind us the issue of the backlog of gratuity as a state. It is being done equita­bly. It is not that some influential people are collecting theirs while others are left out. The governor di­rected that it must go round, local government by local government and year by year. So, it will take a while before it will be cleared. Any­one entitled to gratuity will get it.

How true is the insinuation that the previous government of Hon. Seriake Dickson, under which you also served, did not leave money in the treasury for the new govern­ment?

This is not a straight Yes or No an­swer. It is common in Nigeria for one administration or for people, often for political reasons, to accuse an­other administration of leaving an empty treasury. But, realistically, is it possible for a government to have an empty treasury when in actual fact government is a going concern? A new government assumes all the assets and liabilities of the previous one, including the revenue generat­ing agencies that daily receive the income accruing to the state. There­fore, it is actually hollow talk when people say a government left an empty treasury. It is more within the realm of political talk than a reality on ground. The question I ask those who make such bogus, unfounded claim is have they seen the financial books of the state?

The governor had said he would form his cabinet three months after inaugu­ration. One hundred days after, he is yet to appoint Commissioners and Special Advisers. What could be responsible for the delay?

In every state, we have only one governor that appoints people into offices. Even me talking to you, I’m an appointee of that one appointor, the governor. So it is his preroga­tive to pick his appointees, whether commissioners or advisers, when the time is right for him to do so. He has said he would make known his new cabinet at the appropriate time. I can assure you that he will make it public sooner than later.

How would you describe the recent appeal court victory of Gov. Diri in a pre-election case brought against him by Timi Alaibe, the governor’s major opponent in the primaries that pro­duced him as the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last Bayelsa governorship poll?

The governor has had four victo­ries already within this period. The first one was at the Supreme Court on February 13. The second one on February 26 again at the Supreme Court, then the high court victory and this one at the appeal court. He has described himself as the “Mir­acle governor.” And if you look at everything happening, these things are miraculous. There is a divine seal to all of these. For him, his atti­tude to all these victories is that of no victor, no vanquished. Whether you like it or not, the persons who are going to court, are expressing their legitimate right. But the truth of the matter is that a lot of Bayel­sans are already saying that let us move on. Bayelsans do not like this attitude of if it is not me, somebody else must not be there.

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