Honourable Frederick Agbedi is a member of the House of Representatives representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State. Agbedi, a former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State is now aspiring to contest the governorship primary election on the platform of the PDP. In this interview, the politician who said he is the best man for the job having spent almost four decades as a politician also promised to do things differently to better the lot of the state especially people of the grassroots. Excerpts:
It is almost unbelievable you have been on the stage for about four decades, you look so young, what is the secret?
It is by the grace of God. Going by my political involvement, I was in the House of Representatives in 1992. Between 1992 and today is how many years? That is 27 years without talking about my other years of service.
What would you do differently as Governor of Bayelsa State?
I have told Bayelsans I am doing to do things differently and that is why I am contesting. I tell Bayelsans first of all if Bayelsa has marginal oil fields and if Nigeria sold crude oil for between $40 and $60 for over 60 years and failed and Bayelsa has access to crude oil raw materials why do you want to sell it like Nigeria that sold it and failed? Rather you should build a refinery so that you can make a lot more money; create employment and boost business environment that is the way to go.
They know this thing you are saying but why are they not doing it?
They are the ones to answer the question. May be they didn’t see it this way as a better option of making more money, creating more jobs, boosting business environment. The same government has issued licenses for private individuals to build private refineries. You have sources of raw materials, some of these people who applied to have license to build refineries don’t even have hope of where to get the raw materials but as a state we already have a source of raw material so why waste your time? Bayelsa is the gas hub of Nigeria and there is a lot we can do with gas and that is why we are saying it is high time we made profit with what is going on. If you don’t do that, then you have lost it completely because if Bayelsa is a gas hub what you need to do is to partner with NLNG which is proposing to build two more NLNG plants which will make them have more revenue. If Nigeria has two other NLNG making it three plants, of course Nigeria doesn’t need to borrow a kobo to fund our national budget. So if Bayelsa is a gas hub, why not speak to NLNG which I have done as Chairman of Gas Resources Committee in the House of Representatives. I have had discussions with them and Shell. We have talked about the process of establishing a gas NLNG. So I need to be in government to drive that process to a logical conclusion and once that comes on stream it is not only Nigeria that is going to make money. Bayelsa would have created job opportunities as well as internal revenue for our state. These are the things we are bringing on board so that you are not just relaying on the feeding bottle democracy we are practicing in Nigeria where at the end of the month you go and collect whatever they drop in your palm and you come and spend but you’ll have been able to turn your economy locally around such that the government will be having a lot more revenue with which they can use to embark on infrastructural development for the state. Bayelsans know the difference I am coming to the table with and that is why they are supporting me.
Now as a grassroots person what is your agenda for the people in the grassroots. We are talking about oil spillage; farmers, fishermen, women and children are affected. What is your agenda for these people when you assume office?
The grassroots people are not outside the state, they are within the state. The grassroots people want employment, they want something to do that will put food on the table and give them income. They also want things that will bring infrastructure in terms of roads, electricity, improving the education system. That is what they are looking for because once you have a robust economy everybody will tap into it and then the issues of environment will be improved. Ogoni is in River State not in Bayelsa but the environmental clean-up is supposed to go across the entire Niger Delta where there is devastating effects of pollution. So if they have succeeded in dealing with the Ogoni situation, they may have moved to other places including Bayelsa that is waiting for the same attention. That is their final responsibility. What can you say a state government can do but to continue to sensitise our people in regard to environmental pollution other than that? You also create partnership in the oil companies that are operating within that environment. Partnership for development to see what relief the people can get to cushion the effect of massive pollution because take for example if your area is polluted and you drink from the polluted water, it is the responsibility of the government as well as the players in the industry to see how they can create portable water for the people. It is the responsibility of government and the players in that industry to see that health services are rendered to the people it is the responsibility of the government to see that the polluted environment is cleaned up, to ensure that our monitoring services create that responsibility that the operators of this industry are a lot more careful such that we won’t be having continuous pollution of the environment. It is the responsibility of government to ensure the facilities they use are up-to-date facilities and where necessary, obsolete facilities are replaced. It is their responsibility of those in government to ensure they have interface with the operators of the industry to ensure they have better environmental condition for the people to ensure they have better environment because we all know that polluted environment is a health hazard and danger to the lives of the people as well as the vegetation. The government must do whatever it is supposed to do as a way of monitoring and interfacing with the operators to ensure that no dated equipment is left in their operations to cause environmental pollution. That is the responsibility of the government not that of the people at the grassroots. So that is the way we would go to ensure that the people you govern get maximum protection and benefits from the environment they live in.
When you are sworn in as the governor of Bayelsa State by the grace of God how are you going to do things differently from the practice of ‘feeding bottle’ democracy between the state and Local Government because the both tiers of government also have a feeding bottle relationship. What are you going to do differently?
The truth of the matter is be you a local government, be you state or federal government, if you are running any federalist form of government it is not for any of you to inter-depend on each other. It is that any level of administrative structure you must fend to run your administration, that is the essence. So nobody is going to come tell you how to identify sources of revenue within your local government. You think through on how to raise fund to manage your administration then may be contribute to the state and federal level in terms of royalties in taxes based on what the law reveals. But you get a lot more responsible when you work out money yourself because you would be cautious on how to apply it and you apply it unto the best responsibilities that will give maximum benefit to your people. You would be careful how not to waste the funds that accrue to you because if you burn them off it is still you that will look for money to use in solving the problems and of course you know one of the ways to raise money is through taxation. So can you collect tax from the local people and want to use it in an unholy manner? No. So the best way to go as a nation is for the government at any level to continue to look for ways of creating revenue for administration rather than we having three tiers of government and you go at the end of every month for allocation. Yes states accuse the federal government, local governments accuse the state government and then the people are accusing the three tiers of government that is not the way to go.
What is the spiritual backing you have gathered and what is the place of God in all these going with your relationship with God as a Christian?
God is the Alpha and Omega. Anything I do I first commit to the hands of God and whatever He gives to me I render thanks to Him. For me I tell people this is God’s project. It is God that took time to train me though the processes he has taken me through that has matured me to this level of having competence and capacity. So before I embarked on the journey I went to Him, I thanked Him for all He has done for me. I committed the entire context to Him and I invited over 700 men of God and we prayed. It was a massive audience so I betrothed it to the hand of God because He never sleeps or slumbers and because whatever you give to Him is safe and that is why if you check the campaign; Onward Restoration and Transformation Campaign Organisation in which I am the governorship aspirant, it is the campaign organisation that is campaigning most in selling our agenda to the people. It is the one that is speaking to the people as to what we are going to deliver to the people when eventually we are elected to government.
When you become the governor, are you ensuring the women you are going to have more of them in your cabinet unlike other governors in the country?
Of course, if you have been following my campaigns, there is no time women are not at the forefront making comments, raising supports, speaking on political issues defending the campaigns. It is a matter of identifying competence. If you identify competence and you know the competent women you bring them to play. It is not just women but it is a matter of identifying competence. The question you are asking is like the question of saying the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. They are not leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders of today. It is the ability and capacity of the leaders to identify the youths who have the capacity to deliver. That is why I tell people, look at River State when Diete-Spiff was made the Military Governor, all those who worked with him as commissioners were all youths and nobody has broken that record. It is the ability of the leader to identify competent hands that he would bring into governance that will deliver with their knowledge, agility and with their educational background. For me women are in the prime place as well as the youths in our administration.
About forty years in politics what has been the critical lessons for you as a believer, a Christian?
Critical lessons for me as a believer is temptation of corruption and compromise. There was once my mother asked me everybody is coming home with so much and you are not coming home with anything. I said mum all what you see that I come with are not mine. I was sent on an errand. If I convert them to mine then I am a thief. Eventually when I had money and I built my house in the village, after about three years I sat her down and asked has anybody looked for me to this village to say we are looking for this man that he is with our money? I said this is mine. People would like you to double speak and I tell them if you are a liar, if you double speak, it is not because you are politician but it is part and parcel of your character. So whenever and wherever you find yourself, you’ll be a liar you would double speak if it is in your character. That is the truth. There is nothing in politics that says you should steal double speak or lie. There is no such training in politics. When you behave that way it is not because you should do that. It is because it is part of your character that is what you exhibit. So that is the most challenging thing. And for you to sustain truth you must be courageous enough and it is because some of us over the time have courageously sustained the truth and got the bruises of it and be able to come to this level that is why people can stand up to say we trust you we believe in you we understand what you are saying and we would go with you. It is after so long a time of standing and sustaining the truth. It is very difficult to sustain the truth in political arena. You’ll see many people around you they are not as sincere as you think. They even believe that it is better elsewhere than with you. They are checking if they are in the right place. You’ll see so many people around you that somebody will just come and tell them something about you that is not realistic and they will say why are you wasting your time with this man? They would say it is happening better elsewhere and when they lure them to the other place they would find out it is not true. That is the greatest challenge in this game we are in.