Patani is basically a PDP Local government
HE is not a neophyte in the political arena in the Big Heart State, Delta. He is well grounded educationally; he is not given to dodging responsibilities, so he confronts challenges head-on.
He does not fail to give reverence to his maker at every given opportunity, for He has been responsible for his promotion in life. Before assuming his present position as transition chairman of Patani Local Government Area, he served as Protocol Officer in the State House of Assembly.
He virtually served all the House Speakers before he was appointed LG Chairman. Mr. Samson Odafe Akpibere, while in Asaba spoke on his vision and the workings of the local government system including other nagging issues in an interview with Deputy Editor, Weekend POINTER Smart Jikeme and Deputy Editor, Sunday POINTER Gbubemi Ejoh-Etishola. Camera man was Tobore Umukoro. May we know you, sir? My name is Samson Odafe Akpibere. I was born and brought up in Uduophori, I attended Ege Primary School, Uduophori, Uduophori Secondary/Commercial School, Uduophori and the University of Port Harcourt. I read Economics. My wifeís name is Felicia Akpibere and we are blessed with three boys. Before now, I was been a Protocol/Information Officer with the Delta State House of Assembly. I served virtually all the Speakers in the House of Assembly. How has it been since your inauguration in office as Patani Local Government Transition Committee Chairman? It has been quite challenging and interesting in the sense that every man has an ambition to want to lead, so when this kind of appointment comes to you, you feel elated and especially when you are born with the desire to serve. You have prayed to God to use you as a channel of blessing and your appointment came. You see people coming to you, you get fulfilled, that yes people are coming to request for one thing or the other from you and you have been able to attend to one or two things as concerning their welfare. That is why I said it has been interesting. It is challenging in the sense that the pressure is not easy to cope with especially, you know poverty is endemic, its real, practical in the grassroot level, for you to come face to face with your own people, the people you live with, you grew up with in such an environment, you actually know that these people have difficulties in paying school fees, in paying house rents, and meeting some other needs, especially those ones whose parents cannot take care of because of the harsh economic environment. And of course, you know Patani is a rural local government, we have no industries there, even the river that is supposed to be a source of economic life, income to the people, the fishes are not really there, the farmers, to be faced with so many pressures, how many can you meet amidst the lean finances of the council; but I thank God I have been able to go this far. What was the financial situation of the council when you assumed office as transition committee chairman? The truth of the matter is that it has been very bad but I thank God for Patani local government. I am not owing any staff salaries. That is the most important thing when I assumed office, the Governor directed that we know the debt profiles of the councils. I actually inherited a lot of debts, house rents. You know in Patani we donít have any official quarters, so the principal staff, the chairmanís quarters, the SSS, the police, even as I am talking to you, the new magistrate is still on my neck for accommodation, and all that. It has been quite challenging when it come to finances, but I tell you by the grace of God, I will not be able to state precisely the debt Patani council is owing but to a larger extent, the Governor has obliged me, although just two requests so far to pay contractors and we have been paying. It is easy for us to say that council chairmen are not performing, inspite of all the money given to them. From your own experience, why do you think it is difficult for people to see the progress? Yes, I will tell you that development is hydra-headed. You go in there as an individual with a vision to, for example, you want to construct staff quarters when you get in there with your councillors but before now I thought it was very easy, like I said, God gave me the opportunity and it has exposed me to see what is happening at the LG level. But I must tell you, apart from the statutory responsibilities of the council, like I mentioned to you that some Federal government agencies are relying on the council system to survive. I will name them, the security agencies, the army Ė if you go to Patani today, the army is there, the Nigerian Police, the SSS, CIB, Immigration, NPC, Road Safety, Civil Defence and of recent the Peace Corp, but I donít know how far this is true about their existence. I am hearing they are in Patani. All these are agencies (establishments of the Federal government) that rely on the council for accommodation, for other welfare needs and logistics. If you are not there you will think that when allocation comes you will just hear N30 million, N36 million, people donít bother to know how much is the wage bill, the salary, running cost, the overhead, people donít know. Another thing is the political class, the leaders. The leaders, whether you like it or not, your views might differ from theirs, but you will want to also satisfy them. You will want to also attend to their views. And then the people who you actually know and grew up with will come for one financial assistance or the other and these are problems you know are actually there; they are not pretending about it, especially in Patani where, as I said, is agrarian, rural. The youths donít have oil companies to go to. They donít have any other place to go to so they must come to the council. So at the end of the day, you find out that the vision you go in there with, to a larger extent, you might not be able to achieve, on your own, that is, your personal vision, except with strong determination, you might not be able to achieve more than 40 per cent of your own vision, because you must take care of the aggregate interest. But if you make up to 50 to 60 per cent you have succeeded. So, the erroneous impression, however, the truth of the matter is that some chairmen may actually lack vision, focus, but if you are focused, the chairman can perform. There is a way you can let the people know your stand. But chairmen have not been able to do anything because they lack vision, but when they are faced with this pressure, they easily get derailed. What I believe is that the local government system is not such that there is a lot of money there. I have been able to know that chairmen can do something. Anyway, itís all determination, we can do something, but not much. This month there will be an LG election by the grace of God, when its time for you to go, what would you say you have actually put on ground? First and foremost, the people of Patani will remember me for good, they will remember me as somebody who is human, I tried my best to complete, (against all odds) a six-class room block. I also renovated the Chairmanís office. I sank two boreholes, for one I assisted the corpersí project, the other one, I did a borehole for the JTF in Patani. Immmediately we were inaugurated, by the governor, we discovered that Bomadi electrification project, myself and the Bomadi Council Chairman, the project has been there, completed for the past two years but it has not been energized and we discovered that nobody was talking about it, so we went into action and presented the matter to the governor at the JAC meeting, because on your way to Bomadi, you have Patani community, such as Odorubu, you have my community off the road, Uduophori and Bulu-Apelebiri, these are some of the Patani communities along the stretch of Bomadi Road, and they are so affected. Government has put transformer, electrified everywhere. We went to Power and Energy, we investigated, we went to JAC meeting and presented the matter, jointly with the Bomadi LG Chairman and he (the Governor) did give a promise that before December, you know we were inaugurated in October, it was in November we had to present the matter to the Governor and before Christmas, just as the governor promised, we got PHCN to energise the lines. This was in 2007. what we did, Patani and Bomadi jointly clearly the high-tension lines to enable the PHCN come to energise. Then, Avekolowari communities very close to Patani, all of a sudden, a security report came, one-time State House of Assembly Speaker, Hon. Basil Ganagana, now Deputy Speaker, by the grace of God, energized the electrification project going into his community, Bulu-Angiama. So the moment that community electrification project was energised, the Avekolowari community, they almost slaughtered the contractor that handled their project. The communities are not far from Patani Ė about one kilometre Ė these two communities. But Patani has been enjoying light since 2000, it was commissioned by Ibori then Obasanjo came to commission it. But I tell you Bulu-Angiama is enjoying light, Patani that is ahead of them is enjoying electricity, but these two communities the project has been completed. Well, when the security report came, I also presented the matter and the Governor directed the SSG to spring into action. As I talk with you, these two community lights have been energized by PHCN through the intervention of the state government. I will tell you, Patani people will remember me for good. Staff welfare, when we got in, staff were not coming to work, itís a general problem anyway, even in the ministries their offices in the local government Patani council is not an exception, you hardly see the staff coming to work. Some of them live in Ughelli, but as I speak if you go to Patani today, you will see that there is a new turn-the staff are beginning to come to work because if you donít come, if for example, one naira is remaining after payment of salaries, if I want to pay claims, I pay to those who come to work. Itís a kind of motivation for others to come. Their colleagues who are pursuing contracts and other things in cities, they donít come to work, so those who come to work, and you donít attend to their needs in the course of their duties, then you would be discouraging them. So what I do, I encourage them by attending to their needs, no matter how small. There are other social services in the council system now. For the past three years, the PHC co-ordinator told me they donít even participate. The woman tried a lot to put the department in order Ė that is the Primary Healthcare. The history of immunisation has not been encouraging but as I speak to you, these activities are performed uninterruptedly. Provision is being made for them to carry out their duties effectively. The Armed Forces Remembrance Day, I tell you before I assumed I noticed they didnít mark the day. The legions were discouraged. These men who fought for independence for the country and maintained peace in the country, and even in foreign missions, they are retired and there is nobody taking care of them. Even to mark their day, they donít have uniforms. As I speak to you, these are programmes we observe, and today they have uniforms. So by the grace of God, a greater majority of Patani people will remember me for good. So, how have women and children benefited from your administration? I just mentioned to you that I completed a six-classroom block. Programmes like immunisation are being carried out promptly. These are some of the benefits that go to the women. My wife, Mrs. Felicia Akpibere is also meeting with the women. In the area of empowerment, we have not being able to do anything. About two days ago (before the interview took place) some of the chiefs came to my office, the women also came and they are happy with my administration. They even wish that I stayed longer, but you canít change the hand of God. There is a purpose and time for everything. For the children, between now and the next two weeks, classroom benches, desks will be provided. The Patani PTA Chairman also came to me and I made a promise that before we leave the council, and the council has agreed in giving the children these things I believe in catching them young. Some of the youths that are disturbing me in the council todayÖ Do you mean you have youth restiveness in your area? It is on the high side. But in my time I have been able to subdue it for the past six months. Well, I tell them the plain truth. The council is not a place you come toÖ they may not listen but gradually they are withdrawing from coming. A majority of them rely on the council. They come and say chairman, you must give us money, but to a larger extentÖ. If I have I give, but when you come intimidating me, I will tell you, you have come to hit the rock. So, they have been able to know that this man is not easy, because itís not business as usual. What are your views concerning restiveness in the Niger Delta? Well, my views about the restiveness in the Niger Delta, is a reaction. These are a people who have suffered a lot of deprivation. In Patani, there is evidence of pollution in the river, through the exploration of oil companies. The aquatic life was been tampered with. So, you find out that those who want to go fishing cannot, because of the actualities of exploration companiesÖ.the river is just one, so it flows along, when there is oil spillage, for example in Ndokwa area it is bound to flow across the Patani river. These are people who have actually suffered deprivation for a long period. They have not been attended to in terms of development of infrastructure. The Federal government should develop the Niger Delta directly, but you see a situation where administration after administration, set up one commission or the other. But the people are asking for it eg DESOPADEC? No, no one is asking for it. The oil-producing people asked for 13 per cent. The commission is new. If you look at the NDDC, OMPADEC, etc, these are some of the ways the Federal government says they are attending to the needs of the Niger Delta. Look at what hapens once this money comes. Look at Abuja. There is no commission put in place to develop Abuja. If you go there, itís a city you would love to live in. you may not even need to go to London. Why the commission before you develop the Niger Delta. The truth of the restiveness is as a result of deprivation. Youths who have oil companies in their environment without the prerequisite qualification to work in oil companies, what do you expect them to do, they are not being employed, they must look for one way to survive. One is not saying that, abduction and the rest is a legal thing, but the truth of the matter is that Federal government should attend to the needs of the Niger Delta, we hear that their own statutory allocation, the Federal government is not even meeting up with the release of the funds. Is it lip service or do they mean to solve the problem. I am really impressed with the dualisation of the East-West road. The job is going on; by the time government is serious, you will find out that all these restiveness will be a thing of the past. How can leaders ensure that there is peace in their areas? Yes, the leaders are trying. Like I told you, if God did not expose me to go and be chairman of Patani local government I wouldnít know what the Pere of Patani HRH Erebulu II is passing through. Everything that happens in Patani, before my appointment, the DPO in the area was shot by youths who came to town, but they had one or two friends in Patani because they are not from Patani. They came to say that they are in charge and in attempt for the DPO to calm them, the devil went into one of their heads and shot the DPO. When I resumed, if I tell you what the Pere has been doing, spending his own money, formed a peace committee and gave his personal money to this committee to go to the Commissioner of Police, going to Asaba to appeal to the DPO, appealing to the youths to stay away even when they came to the council, the Pere does not rest. He makes sure he talked to the parents of youths. Likewise the political leaders, you find out that, they try to empower the youths, by buying motorcycles, hair dressing machines for them, so that they can be somewhere. If the leaders keep talking to them, empowering them; there are some who want to do transport business. They are being given cars. There are others who want to further their education, their school fees are being paid, before you know it, these youths would no longer be restive. But government is not serious. What they see as restiveness is provocation, they say ďwhy is government doing this kind of a thing to us, okay, if that is the case government will not do this in our area, these oil companies will not do this in our area.Ē When you see such threats and they are not been attended to Ö these are genuine agitations, these are not the ones we are talking about. With time, since government has good plans to develop the Niger Delta, and the politicians are doing their best to empower them. By the grace of God and as the spiritual leaders pray, because these things are not ordinary. Like I told the Bishop during our security meeting, because we have to pray. Some of these children they are possessed by demons. I tell you, life is a battle. We fight against principalities and powers. There are some spiritual implications of what is happening. Our ancestors may have done things that were not pleasing to God. For example, the boy that is going to school, whose school fees is being paid, will just go to school and join cult. Will want to abduct somebodyís child who is paying his own school fees. As if the school fees he is paying is not enough he says he must buy him a car. I told the Bishop, our religious leaders that parents must do something to ensure that they are prayed for so that God would intervene. How ready is Patani local government for the May 10, 2008 LG polls? We are prepared. I summoned a peace and security meeting on Tuesday and you see many of the community leaders were in my office. The security Ė the JTF in Patani, the Nigeria Police, SSS, CIB, Civil Defence. They are very much on ground and we are doing everything possible. Iím telling all the candidates to dialogue with their opponents. What other political parties do you have on ground in Patani? Itís not just PDP. All the political parties are in Patani Ė DPP, AC are in Patani. Do they have offices in Patani? Well, they are not on ground. But PDP Ö like I told you Patani is a one local government party. That is the basic truth, but you have this element of Ö. You cannot please everybody and you cannot force everybody to be in the same party. Some of them when they felt aggrieved in the PDP, of not being attended to, they want to go to another party, that is when they will go to another party to pick ticket, but Patani basically is a PDP local government, you can attest to the fact that the former state party chairman is from there, of the PDP; one-time speaker and the present Deputy Speaker is from Patani; the Commissioner, Lands and Sruvey, Raymos Guanah is of the PDP, all the past leaders, Chris Ghomorai is of PDP. Any leader of thought you can think of in Patani is in PDP. We are doing our best. I have asked the parents to advice their children not to be involved in pviolence or thuggery activities. The security agencies are very much on ground. Some of the candidates may be returned unopposed, because, they are talking. Those who felt aggrieved who went to other parties, dialogue is one. You may be surprised that the PDP candidates may be returned unopposed. There is absolute peace.