You trained as a lawyer. Are you still into legal practice?
It is difficult to marry politics with other things unless you are just a political appointee. But if you want to hold an elective office, it is difficult to marry that with law practice. You cannot be going to court and contesting election. So I hardly practice these days because I’m still in politics.
You look trim and fit. What is your fitness secret?
(Laughs) I have always looked fit and trim. I try to keep fit. I always check the state of my health. I try not to eat more than two times a day.
You stay more in your Nembe home town these days. Why do you prefer staying there to living in the city?
Yes, I live more in the village. I actually don’t leave the village unless I have a very important thing to do or attend to outside the village. I rarely go to the city because I like to be with my people. I am a politician, and as the leader of my people, I could need their votes at any time. So I have to live with them and identify with their daily issues and challenges so that when I am representing them, I would not be a stranger to their needs. That is why I live here in the village.
You studied Petroleum Engineering and Law. If you were a youth, what would you prefer doing for livelihood in the Nigeria of today?
Initially, I wanted to study Medicine after reading law, just to keep my brain alive, but I could not because of political activities. When I left employment as a petroleum engineer, I decided to concentrate on politics. I was good in the sciences, and that was why I was able to study petroleum engineering. As a matter of fact, except for Religions Knowledge and English, I did not do any other arts subject. I had a good focus on the science subjects.
After Petroleum Engineering, I wanted to read Law because I was always pushed to leadership positions. At that time also, I wanted to study Law because I wanted to be on my own. I didn’t want to continue to work for the government or work for some other organisations, so I started thinking of a profession that I could go into and be on my own. I also studied Law because I took it as a challenge to excel even in the arts despite being a science major.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan said he grew up not wearing shoes. What was your own condition like in your early years?
(Laughs) Well, in my own case, I went to school during the day and fished at night. It was from the proceeds of fishing that I was able to pay for my school fees throughout secondary school.
Who were your role models as a youth?
I don’t really think I had a role model when I was much younger. But something kept me going, and that was the fact that I was in Biafra during the civil war. I saw the industry that was being exhibited by the Igbo then. Though I was still going for fishing at night to sustain myself, I took to trading early in life. That is why when I was in secondary school I didn’t find life so difficult. I had grown up fishing and engaging in small trading. That was the beginning of my business activities.
I remember that after secondary school I went to teach. My salary then was N125. I started business with my first salary. I didn’t even buy any personal thing for myself; not even bathroom slippers. I went to Aba to buy articles, returned to Nembe and sell. My stay in Igbo land helped me because I started speaking Igbo language and I was able to trade with them.
As a child, what inspired you to seek education?
After Biafra, I returned to Nembe and finished primary school. My mother was happy and she encouraged me to go find a teaching job. But I believed in education. And before I left for Igbo land, a secondary school had already been established in Nembe by the Catholic Church in 1965, and I saw how nicely they dressed in white shorts, shirt, canvass and socks and I was in love with it and wanted to be one of them. So I did my secondary school in Nembe, moved to Warri and then to Port Harcourt. But I attended the Law School in Lagos.
What was your experience in Biafra?
I am already working on a book about my Biafra experience. It was quite an experience. I was conscripted into Biafra army at age 16 and had three weeks training. Thereafter, we were to go to the war front and fight. But luckily enough for me, my aunt who I was staying with had a discussion with a colonel in the Biafra army who was a man from Nembe. The Colonel drafted me to S&T (Supply and Transport) and that was how I escaped going to the war front.
When was the turning point in your life?
At the end of my studies, I worked at Elf Petroleum, now Total. And after 15 years, I decided that I was leaving the services of Elf Petroleum. Some people thought I was mad to have taken such a decision because I was in a good position and earning a good salary. But I just decided that I would leave, even as the Chairman of the Elf branch of PENGASSAN. I regard that as my turning point because at that time, I was not ripe for retirement. My age was not up to retirement, but I felt I had to leave.
When I left the employment of Elf Nigeria Limited, which is now Total E&P, I did not go home with any money, because after my gratuity and all other outstandings, I was in the negative by N366,000 because I had taken a loan to build a house and another loan to buy a vehicle. Knowing that the following month I was not going to receive salary, I still took the bold step to leave regular employment, moved to Abuja and went straight into politics in March 1998, during the formation of PDP as a party.
Is it really true that you have left the Peoples Democratic Party?
I have left the PDP. I left the party when I found that an individual had decided to take over the party. This is not the way it was when we brought the party to Yenogoa. Party leaders were meeting regularly then to take decisions that affected the party. Party leaders allowed primaries and supported winners after general contest. But now, an individual, because he has been elected governor, decided that all the councilors must be his boys, all the eight chairmen of local governments must be his boys. Annoyingly, the person he picks to be his deputy governor is from the same local government with him. I looked at it and noticed that the national body did not do anything about it, so I had to leave for where I can be useful to my people. That was why I left to join APC. Definitely by the grace of God, APC will win the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State.
You said somewhere that your hometown Nembe did not have a secondary school until 1965. Are you happy with the state of education in Nembe today?
This is one of the problems I have with the incumbent governor of the state. Former Governor Sylva, who is from Nembe, established a college of education before any higher institution in the whole area. But when the incumbent governor came, the first thing he did was to move that College of Education to his village. Have you ever heard of that? After that, he has established two other higher institutions within his own area. Does he expect us to be happy with his action?
If you were given the opportunity to go to the Senate again, what do you think you would add?
I am always working for my people. I joined politics because I wanted my place to develop the way the other places are developing. I am also worried about the 13 per cent derivation money. We are the major oil producing community but we are not getting anything out of it. We are getting nothing because the governor believes that the money is a windfall and he uses it the way he likes. It is unlike other states like Abia, Imo, Edo and Delta where they have created oil producing area development committees. Once money comes from the
federation account, that is the 13% derivation, it is shared between the state and the oil producing area development committees, which uses its portion to develop the same communities. But in Bayelsa, it is the other way around.
I think that Bayelsa is one of the states where that kind of committee does not exist, meaning that here, the producing areas do not have any development. You can see that the road from Secretariat to Nembe was constructed by NDDC and STDC. The governor did not do anything. If I am back in the Senate, I will try to see that the money can be channeled directly to the oil producing communities, maybe not by way of cash, but by way of projects. Also the Petroleum Industry Bill that has been lingering for so many years, I would try to ensure that the bill sees the light of day so that the nation can benefit from that if the bill is passed.
You paid your way through school through fishing in the coastal waters of Bayelsa State. How is the business of fishing now in the state? Is it growing compared to the time you were growing up?
It is not the way it was in those days. Then, you could fish and move out of your community. Paddle for just 10 minutes outside your community and you would get a whole lot of fishes. But now, you must move very far into the sea before you can get fish because of the pollution of the water. So we are not enjoying the fishing activities like we used to do in those days.
Your hometown Nembe is about 15 kilometres away from Oloibiri where oil was first found in Nigeria. It is surrounded by about 200 oil wells. How rich is the average person in your hometown? What is the average standard of living in your place?
Well the community is in the hands of the chiefs. I don’t know what takes place in other communities in the whole of Bayelsa State because I have not visited all. But I can say that this is the only community in Bayelsa state where the government is not doing anything in terms of development, because the electricity that we are enjoying is an understanding between the oil producing companies and the community. They gave us generators and gave us diesel to run them. Government does not care whether you have electricity or not. Then the portable water we enjoy in the community was given to us in the early 70s when Elder Spiff was the governor. We service the water system. The community chiefs do the regulation. If there is pump failure, it is the community chiefs that see to it. We don’t have local government activities here because the local government chairman lives in Yenegoa. He visits once in a while to come and pay salaries and returns to his place. Those are the issues.
You have not contested an election in a long while. Do you have a plan to do so?
If I have a space, I will try my best. But power belongs to God. I still have the interest of my people and I believe that they too believe in me; that I can represent them effectively. So if there’s a chance to go back to the Senate, I will do that.
Do you really miss the Senate?
Not exactly, but I am not interested in executive positions. I prefer the Senate because law making is about the development of one’s area and community. Some people may think that executive positions are better, but for me, I know I can contribute to the development of my people more from the Senate