Commissioner for Budget and economic planning, Hon. Joshua Ebikeme Ongore, recently spoke with Philip Eke on great number of issues. He was one time vice chairman, Kolokumo/Opokuma local government area. Director-General of Due Process, and has also served the state in various capacities, ongore, who is a quantity surveyor and holds a PhD in accounting, in this interview with our correspondents, Philip Eke., he speaks on the leadership style of Governor Seriake Dickson, expectations for 2019 vis-à-vis internal divisions within the ranks of both the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic party, the Ijaw cause, and what makes KOLGA. Stand out in Bayelsa politics. Excerpts.
Politically, you started from somewhere and now you are commissioner for budget and economic planning. Can you give us a brief break down of what your political profile has been this while?
Actually, as you can see, we are all civil servants, but the calling came from my people to contest the 1996 chairmanship election in my local government area, Kolokuma/Opokuma under the platform of the united Nigeria congress party (UNCP). I actually won the primaries, but in Nigeria as we all know, people changed the result to favour my opponent and later by special arrangement I had to run with him as the vice chairmanship candidate. we won the election and we were already in office before the demise of the Late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, which made us to vacate office.
After that I have been here and there and in the year 2000, I got connected to his Excellency, Governor Seriake Dickson, and worked with him in his electioneering organization and campaigns, all through the period he went to the House of Representatives, and somehow came back to contest the governorship election and here we are. He appointed me as Director-General of Due Process, where I served for three and half years, he pulled me out from there so I could contest for a seat in the House of Assembly. I lost in the election. He appointed me (towards the end of his first term in office), as the commissioner for science and technology, where I served for three months before the cabinet was dissolved. In his second term he brought me back and appointed me as the commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning.
You are now the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. How are you enjoying your job?
I am enjoying my job. I have a background of budget activities; I am a quantity surveyor and also have a PhD in accounting. These two areas of study are areas you have to be serious with budgeting.
Let us look at the Bayelsa budget and how the state is going about it. In other states, we hear government’s spending money on irrelevant things. As a commissioner for budget can you say that government is spending Bayelsa money judiciously?
Yes, without any iota of doubt and why do I say so? If you go across the state, you will see the level of development for yourself. monies are properly appropriated and at the end of the day government expenditure are properly managed . The Governor is not the kind of person that throws money around for no reason. There was a time during a thanksgiving day when he jokingly said “this tight hand no be today e start”
You were talking about Governor Dickson and it appears your relationship transcends just this administration, that is to say the two of you have been friends before now?
Yes, our friendship dates back to the year 2000. The name Dickson means different things to different people.
He is your friend; what does he really mean to you?
Well, as human beings you can not satisfy everybody. I know him as somebody who tells you the way it is. You may be his friend but if you are doing the right thing you can become best of friends. You do not have to cover things up but try to be open. Governor Dickson has been adjudged the most transparent Governor in Nigeria, you are aware of the Bayelsa state Transperancy and accountability law.
Can you recall any day in your relationship with him when you felts so bad that he had to put you on the spot?
Ordinarily he is not the kind of person that will make you feel bad. If he gets angry with you, check yourself very well. There was a particular day he was so angry with me, but I knew that I was at fault. I cannot say that he would just go out for no reason and begin to bully you; he won’t receive any scolding from him, but if you do not, then he will just correct you, and you will have to move on.
Let us look at the day you smiled and said I have a good friend like governor Dickson?
Dickson is one person that does not forget friends. In fact, he has once told me;”look, I am giving you this responsibility as a trusted friend, if you like, disappoint me”
The day I knew that Dickson was a good and true friend was when we came back from our elections. Before the election, the charge that was given to politicians, especially appointees like us were “if you fail in your ward, you lose your worth”.
For whatever reason, I cannot even at this moment deciher what really happened, in my ward I lost the election by some votes, and I really do not know what happened. After the election, I really did not have the courage to go close to him. Somehow, I knew I had a friend and a political leader; so I had to go close and say I was sorry for what happened and he said no problem. Thereafter, at the first set of commissioners that were appointed, I was one of them. If you are his friend and you are far away or close to him, it does not make any difference because he knows what to do with you.
What kind of political leader is he apart from being a friend?
He is dogged, he has a lot of vigor and so much interest for the Ijaw cause. He is intelligent. He stamps his feet on the thing he believes in. He would say, “we can say no when the right answer is no” so when he knows the right answer is no he will stand there and make sure it stays so.
When you look at his style of leadership, do you think that it will be ideal to recommend that he should go for further leadership positions, particularly at the national level with the Ijaw mandate? Do you think that he can fit in?
I think he has the Ijaw mandate already. Just go across boards and ask, you will see that for now in the whole of Ijaw nation I am not seeing anybody, who is so passionate and has the strength (both mentally and physically) to push the Ijaw cause better than him. So, if he leaves this “place” and decides to go forward for any reason, as far as we are concerned and to protect the Ijaw interest, I think he is the right person for now.
Let us look at politics generally in Bayelsa and Niger Delta, the sing-song now is, if you are not in the APC you are not known at the centre. Do you think there should be some form of political correction especially at the centre; I mean being involved in the national politics
I do not think members of the PDP in the Niger Delta states have said that they are not going to work with federal government. The president is the president of Nigeria. If there are any benefits to give to states, Bayelsa is part of Nigeria. So there is no point segregating any state or region. And I do not equally think that Governor Dickson has withdrawn himself from national activities. If anybody is saying we are a PDP state and we are not expected to be at the centre, it is not an APC rally that they want governor Dickson to attend to, but national issues.
Let us review governance, especially the nation’s politics and economic growth. Do you think it is going well with us as a people, the way and manner President Buhari governs the country?
I think the problem with the APC is that they were not ready for governance. They were not ready for governance so they did not have programmes. They did not know what to do and they do not know that they did not know what to do, because they are not putting the right people in right positions.
When the PDP was in power, and when there was a slump in oil price, somehow the system had to do something to keep us a float. We did not hear recession. They were not ready, they were just playing a game and just entered. When they won the election I think they became very afraid of the responsibilities ahead of them.
Most of the fears are the things we are seeing today. Like the Edo and Ondo Elections, do you think the PDP has a future till 2019?
The PDP has a very serious work to do, and I think they made a mistake by bringing in somebody they did not identify very well and that has sabotage the party. You can see that Ali Modu Sheriff and his cronies are working for the APC. I can confidently say so because it was alleged that Jimo Ibrahim campaigned for Akeredulu and as soon as he won, he congratulates him first. Nonetheless, PDP still sit down to rediscover themselves.
The PDP still has an advantage because the APC too has rubbished itself very well. The only weapon now is rigging of elections. Even in the past their members were a bunch of strange fellows. You talk of Jarkaban and Buhari these people cannot move together but for the singular reason of trying to kick out a president, they became one. Immediately that was achieved, you can now see the various interests from all over left right and centre, their different interests are tearing them apart.
By 2019 Tinubu and others may come out with a different party. Is this a pointer to all that?
If you look at Tinubu’s body language now, I think he is totally frustrated and he would not want to be part of this union any further. By 2019 the APC we have today shall be a thing of the past, the name may be there but they will scatter. Tinubu will come up with a new party, I am very sure.
What is the political situation in Kolokuma/Opokuma presently?
KOLGA has no problem, KOLGA has always been very cool. As far as I am concern KOLGA politics is PDP politics.
PDP outing at the last elections were not impressive, especially in Kolokuma. What went wrong during the assembly election?
There was a lot of sabotages from within.
Would you say that KOLGA is a progressive or conservative local government when it comes to politics?
We have always been conservative.
Do you believe and practice godfatherism? have you ever seen yourself as a god-father influencing political directives in that local government?
No, I am not a godfather, but I have suffered from godfatherism. The election that I lost when I contested for the L.G.A chairmanship position was one of such. It was the godfather arrangement that turned the election to favour somebody else.