Chief Anthony George-Ikoli was appointed as the Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice of Bayelsa State in 2007. In this interview with journalists in Yenagoa, he speaks on his governorship aspiration. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria also explains his feelings and the way forward for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Why are you in the gubernatorial race?
I am very passionate to bring in fresh and innovative ideas to change the erstwhile narratives and bring about a rejuvenation of the fortunes of our beloved albeit beleaguered people. I am seriously embarrassed that I was the only Senior Advocate of Nigeria from Bayelsa for more than a decade despite the wealth of talent that abounds in our State, and I am scandalized by the lack of pioneering zeal and entrepreneurial zest to institutionalize Human Capital Development as the Directive Principle and Policy objective of governance in our State. The Ijaw nation has been a land of the brave and home to the strong. We are at the crossroads where we cannot afford to disdain our heritage or fail our posterity. I am seeking the support of the good people of Bayelsa not because I consider myself better than anyone one of you but because I believe that there are times in history when a society requires a certain type of leader to come in and change the dynamic and indeed the narrative of its people. I believe I am the man to deliver it to them. I lived in Bayelsa for five years when I was Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and I think Bayelsa State deserves better. The current government has done fairly well but I think Bayelsa State requires somebody with my level of exposure and attainment to build upon the achievements of the current government. I have spent quite a good of time diagnosing the issues. We need better and more access to education. The current administration has actually tackled it very well. There is need to sustain and build on that legacy. There is need to empower the people. We need to build trust. We need to create an economy so that we don’t run to Abuja or depend on Federal government handout. I think I can make a huge difference. Considering my track record, what I did as Attorney General, there is evidence that with someone like me in office, the narrative will change dramatically for the better.
How would you assess the performance of Governor Seriake Dickson?
Governor Seriake Dickson has done many great and commendable things in infrastructure. Dickson has done extremely well. He deserves commendation for his efforts in the education sector.
Do you think you can make a difference?
Whilst noting and acknowledging the significant and notable contributions to the overall development of Bayelsa State achieved by the Dickson administration, I am persuaded that it is not morning on creation day. Plenty still has to be done if we are to be able to speak authoritatively of a developed state. Egalitarian, peaceful, inclusive and progressive Bayelsa will always be a work in progress. To hasten the process and provide the solutions on the road to that at this point requires a leadership such as I am presenting best suited to provide.
What are your plans for Bayelsa State?
I’ll create a knowledge driven economy that would make Bayelsa the destination of choice to live, work, recreate and do business. My overall plan for the economy includes the development of 12 autonomous islands around our various seaward communities using PPP funding model. These islands will be structured around the natural advantage and also the strategic advantage they may have. For instance, seafood export hub in Brass where direct access to the Atlantic and the natural bountiful aquatic wildlife can generate billions in revenue for the state. We must take advantage of the natural beauty of our beaches to develop a sustainable tourism industry. Trust me when I tell you that the multiplier effect of jobs and capital on the micro economy will be immeasurable. Bayelsa desperately needs to expand the size of her economy as a matter of urgent importance. Too much of our economy is centered on Government house and the civil service. That must change if not, our mutually assured poverty is confirmed. Bayelsa must be an export-oriented economy, goods, services, manpower. Our population does not have sufficient depth for industrial scale consumption and as such we must fashion our economy in such a manner as to become a net exporter.
What are the judicial reforms you would like to carry out?
When I was in office, I was instrumental to the decongesting of courts and the establishment of the first prison in Bayelsa. We made the judiciary very comfortable, friendly and independent. The support that the executive brought to the judiciary will be intensified. The magistracy as the first ladder of contact with the people will be strengthened. We have a very challenging environment. Some High Courts will be relocated from Yenagoa. Brass High Court is sitting in Yenagoa. It is a question of ensuring that the physical facilities are there to make the judges stay in the out stations. When I was in office, I began the process of ensuring that all deserving lawyers of Bayelsa receive further training. That would be intensified. I intend to continue with that. Unlike at the centre where you have many issues begging for attention, Bayelsa is a very small state. It is to put to bear the expertise and knowledge required from outside.
Some people say it is the turn of Bayelsa Central to produce the next governor? What is your reaction to the issue of zoning?
Beyond it being rumoured, it is not the official policy of either the party or Bayelsans as at now. Factually, all the zones have produced the chief executive of Bayelsa State. No zone has been denied or shortchanged. What Bayelsans want now is the best of the lot. Zoning is not likely to produce the best. I don’t think the people will deny themselves the services of the best governor simply because it doesn’t come from one favoured zone.
Do you see yourself as the best?
I have always been known for excellence, best practices. I think my entry into the race has changed all the equations. There is a ground swell of support for my candidacy by the people. There is across the land jubilation, happiness, joy that at last the Moses has come.
Is the party sure of winning if you become the candidate?
The best thing the party can do is to give me the ticket.
Are you not afraid of other aspirants?
For the first time you have a lot of very good materials indicating their interest in the governorship of Bayelsa State. What would scare me in others? These are government people. I put together a team. I ran a very successful law practice. I went into government and also proved my mettle. The other contestants did not actually manage any enterprise successfully. I am not intimidated by the curriculum vitae of other contestants. I think I am better. I think I am the best. When given the opportunity, the story would never be the same again. I know what I can do. People know what I have done. They are afraid of me. They are afraid of my profile. I don’t see anyone that will make me panic or have undue anxiety. We are hoping that the party will give everyone a fair chance to contest. I will come top very easily. My chances are bright. From my interaction with all the stakeholders, I’m the candidate to beat. I am the next governor of Bayelsa State. First of all, I am a Nigerian, a Bayelsan. I am as qualified as any other person to aspire to any position. I make my living from my practice in Lagos but I have always served and sought to lead my people. My having Lagos connection can only be advantage to quest to lead my people. It shows that I have deep and wide connections. It is not a disadvantage. People are frightened about my cosmopolitan reach and dimensions. I am on ground in Bayelsa State. It is only people that are frightened that are saying I am not on ground in Bayelsa State.
What is your relationship with Governor Dickson?
It is very cordial. He is my governor. I give him his respect. He was Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. He was also in the House of Representatives. When I was Attorney General, we interacted effectively. We are both lawyers. We share a passion to see Bayelsa occupies it rightful place in a comity of states in Nigeria. He ran a Ministry of Justice that I took to very prominent position. He wishes me well.
Do you have the blessing of Jonathan and Dickson?
This is the period of consultation. I have seen the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He has very wonderful things to say about my candidacy. I have also seen Governor Seriake Dickson. All they can do for now is wish me well and encourage me, which they have been doing.
Some critics say you are a mole in PDP? What is your relationship with Timipre Sylva?
The only reason why this question comes up is because people believe that given my closeness to Sylva, it is not conceivable that I would follow a different political path. Those who know me don’t find it difficult to believe that there is nothing between us. I am not his mole in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). I am not at all.
Who are your backers within the PDP?
All PDP constituencies are my backers. I am in touch with every critical segment of the Bayelsa society and national political office holders. The party must present the best for the governorship election. It is so critical that the best man emerges. They know I am the best in the field.
Some state governors are complaining that the Federal Allocation and the internal generated revenue are not enough to settle wage bill. How do you raise money without necessarily over-taxing the people?
Bayelsa State enjoys an advantage. It is a very small state. If you match that with the current receipt from FAAC every month, I don’t see why a sincere governor will not pay minimum wage. Governance is all about seeking, ensuring and protecting the happiness of the people. That will make them more productive. It is a law. Bayelsa will first of all obey the law. I intend within three years to make FAAC a standby facility. It will not be our first point of call for funding our obligations.
What is your reaction to the poor performance of Governor Seriake Dickson?
History judges everyone. The current governor is on his way out. History will write his epitaph. Governor Seriake Dickson has done very well. He has raised the bar. It is for us to raise the bar even higher. Bayelsa State is unique. It is the heart beat of the Niger Delta region. It is also a homogenous Ijaw State. Anyone who governs Bayelsa is automatically Ijaw leader. Dickson has done well in protecting the Ijaw nationality and projecting the Ijaw interest in the larger Nigerian context. He has reasons to be proud of his achievements in education, security, managing the resources of the state and infrastructure. We want to expand the frontiers of education, create more opportunities and better the lot of everyone.
Some APC members recently dismissed Bayelsa State PDP, saying APC will win the gubernatorial election. How do you react to this?
APC can never take Bayelsa State. I am not complacent to the point of saying that it would be a work over for the PDP. The APC will try to wrest power. Bayelsa is the heart of the Niger Delta Region. It is an oil reach state. It is a plus for any party that controls Bayelsa State. APC has no foothold in the region. The party can dream it but can never realize it. We will never give APC a chance. We will take over Kogi and retain Bayelsa. However, let us not kid ourselves; the enemy is at our gates; The APC, not enemies in the sense of war or conflict, but enemies in the sense of values and tradition. I could have left with Sylva but didn’t because then I believed the only reason that party was set up (and as I have being proved right) was to remove Dr Goodluck Jonathan and I certainly would take no part in that! Frighteningly, rather than our Ijaw brothers reject that party for what it is, we find their influence slowly creeping and encircling us. Some of the other contenders in the field may have been in Abuja too long not to be able to tell them the truth. I will have no such liabilities hanging over me. Who will you trust when the battle against RUGA comes? Who will you trust when the battle for restructuring comes? Let’s not kid ourselves with the agitations of IPOB, the Fulani herdsmen issue, the attempt to force RUGA on us, the killings every day in Nigeria. If we allow APC take our state, we might as well kiss our way of life goodbye! Who amongst the field would you trust with the know how to build the regional strategy to win that battle? No one in the field have what it takes to fight for the state, like I can.
Who are your heroes in Ijaw land?
Ijaw heroes and heroines have risen to commanding heights in national and international statecraft. I cannot purport to seek to lead Ijaw nation and Bayelsa State in particular without paying glowing tribute to the greats in whose footsteps I intend to follow and whose oversized shoes I dare want to fill. As a grandson, the noble blood of Ernest Sisei Ikoli flows in my veins. He rose from the then obscurity of the backwaters of Nembe meteorically to capture national consciousness and prominence in journalism and the legislature. This is the pedigree to which I cannot be found wanting in a call to serve. The many illustrious others whom I hope and pledge to emulate, include but not exhaustive; The venerated Major Isaac Adaka Boro, Chief Ranami Abah, Chief Melford Okilo, amongst others too many to here mention. Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who rose from very humble beginning in rustic rural Otueke to become the President of our country and one of the great icons of democracy in the world, resonated with these evergreen words resonates more so now than ever: I could make “If it, you can also!” Our state has fed this country for many years and all it has gotten in return is a finger in our eyes. Take the case of Alams – for whatever his offences were, he was ultimately hounded into an early grave; none accused of similar issues have ever been hounded like this in the South West or in the North of Nigeria.. Our very own Hero of democracy Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan- was hounded out of power by a political conspiracy never before seen in Nigeria. Our former first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan hounded and ridiculed while the wives and families of Abacha, Turai Yar’Udua are venerated and celebrated.. Our sister Diezani was hounded into exile, whilst the successive oil ministers of Petroleum from other segments of Nigeria are left untouched. Chief Dan Etete hounded into exile. Our traditional institutions are not respected compared to those of the Emirates in the north and Obas in the West because our region is not respected. My grandfather Ernest Ikoli has never been given the recognition he deserves despite being one of the architects of our independence from the British.
Politics in the Third World is largely reliant on endorsement. What if you are not Seriake Dickson’s preferred candidate, are you likely to quit the party?
I will not leave PDP. If I have not left PDP before now, why will I leave now? I ran for the senate in 2015. I was not successful. It didn’t make me to leave the party. I am a very strong and loyal party man.
Elections in Nigeria are very expensive. How do you intend to win the party’s primaries?
I think I am as prepared as any other aspirant. If you are seeking elective office, there is conventional wisdom. I advocate that you have to spend something to attain power to change the system. I concede that it is a very expensive. I am wondering why it should be so expensive. If you are a grassroots politician, there is cost to moving around. There is cost to structures. There is cost to voters’ education. There is cost to mobilization. All these things cost money. It is just the cost of getting the people to vote for you. Ours may be unique in the sense that it takes quite a bit more. You know our society. If that is what is required to serve the people, then I think it is the price one has to pay.
What is your message to the people?
I stand before you today asking for your trust, I ask you to trust me with your future, with your children’s future, with the future of Bayelsa. I ask because I am the only candidate who can deliver a deserving future to Bayelsans. I am the only candidate who can deliver something new and something wonderful to Bayelsa. The slogan of my movement is something new, something wonderful. I have no baggage. I am very equipped to build on the worthy legacies of the outgoing governor. I have the sincerity. I have demonstrated capacity and competence. The people are excited. There is in the air some spirit of renewal. They are anticipating a rebirth, rejuvenation, something wonderful to happen. Bayelsa will cease to be a one city state. Bayelsa will cease to depend on largely on FAAC. There will be employment. There will be bye-bye to hunger, insecurity and darkness. We will re-engineer the state for greatness and God will help us to achieve all our plans and make our dreams come true.
What is your message to other aspirants?
I want to say a word about the sheer number of aspirants in the field today, whilst it is great we all have been given an opportunity to exercise our democratic right, I believe we should be proactive in solving a problem that may yet face us as a party. Depending on how this is handled, the after effect of the primary has the potential to fracture our party. The winner must be humble enough to reach out to his fellow aspirants and make concessions and accommodations towards a shared vision for Governance in the state and the renewal of our party. I think it is a travesty that APC has seats in our state assembly and represents us at the Federal legislature.
What is your message to PDP leaders?
We need a level playing field. There should be no imposition. The process should be fair and credible. With that, I do not see any issue arising out of the process. I wish our party well. I wish aspirants good contest and as the best man, I know I will emerge victorious.