Jonah Okah the pioneer director in the Directorate of Legal Services at the Bayelsa State Georgraphical Information System, was a close aide to Timipre Sylva when he was governor of Bayelsa State. In this interview with Ben Obinwa Nnaji, he spoke on how he suffered persecution because of his relationship with Sylva, the current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. Excerpts
Let me first take you on the government of which you up served as speechwriter to then Governor Timipre Sylva, now Minister of State, Petroleum Resources. What is your objective view on the person and capacity of Timipre Sylva in terms of public service delivery?
Without any bias and sentiment, having worked closely with him as his speechwriter, Sylva is a selfless leader. He loves his friends more than his friends love him.
Sylva can give out his last meal to his friends. He can inconvenience himself for the comfort of his friends. He can give his friends what he can’t do for his biological relatives.
Yet, he has been betrayed and backstabbed by persons he thought were his trusted friends and close allies and the more they do, the more he forgives them. That spirit of forgiveness has become more of his strength spiritually and in corporal terms.
That is his guiding spirit in growing from strength to strength. He has very deep fear of God.
As a human, Sylva may have his foibles, but he is a kind-hearted man.
On the other hand, Sylva is an intellectual. I had this special encounter with him as governor. Having prepared his speech for a programme, he took a look at it with the eye of an eagle. He attempted and insisted on making some changes. I simply smiled at him with all sense of civility without confronting him that what he was trying to effect a change in the speech was wrong, I rather looked straight into his eyes and said; ”Your Excellency, in my candid opinion, we will be over flowing if we effect the change you are suggesting”
The then governor looked at me, simply nodded and allowed the speech to remain the way it was.
He is a good listener to good opinions and ideas. That is the strength of character of a good leader which he has demonstrated time without number in his public service to this nation.
Look at the Petroleum Resources Ministry; he has initiated fundamental reforms at the ministry within the short period he took over as the Minister of State. I can assure you that by the time he leaves that ministry, he will leave behind a shoe too big for any other future minister to wear.
Sylva is a man who sees the future and he doesn’t allow pedestrian issues to distract him.
While he was governor, the general opinion was that he did not perform well and that was the reason he was denied a second term.
That is for another day. However, let me seize this opportunity to state the obvious for the record.
Sylva was a victim of power game right from the day he got the ticket of PDP to run for the office of governor. Some of the people involved in the power game in Bayelsa State believed then and till now that it is either them or nobody else. He is a child of destiny and a man after God’s own heart. I have a strong conviction that the second tenure which he was denied will one day be fulfilled. It is a question of time; it may be delayed but God’s time will present itself in the fullness of time.
When he took over as governor, he gave out 85 percent of his cabinet appointments to critical stakeholders, yet the political hawks were not satisfied and continued to blackmail his administration.
Within one year in office, the Sylva administration constructed over 50 internal roads at a sweep, which was unprecedented in the history of this country. The contracts were awarded to local contractors to boost the economy of the state and avoid capital flight; he also built one of the best judicial complexes in the country. He built the Nigerian Law School of Yenagoa Campus, the education subsector received the best and urgent attention in the history of Bayelsa State and so many life transforming projects. Today, even his detractors who blackmailed him are regretting.
The federation allocation then was between N2.5 to N3 billion. It took a lot of ingenuity to even pay state workers. He entrenched transparency and accountability in governance.
At the time he took over as governor of Bayelsa State, it was the peak of militancy in the Niger Delta, with Bayelsa as the epic entre. The Amnesty programme, which has brought about relative peace in the Niger Delta, was initiated by Timipre Sylva.
He prepared a memo to the then President Musa Yar’Adua on why the militants in the Niger Delta should be given amnesty. This was coming at a time the price of crude oil was at its lowest ebb and Yar’Adua administration was about to confront the militants with fire power. Sylva saved the situation by the singular memo he wrote to President Yar’Adua which set the tone for historic laying down of arms ceremony in Yenagoa.
In spite of these landmark achievements, the same PDP government denied him second term.
Power is given by God, I believe strongly that one day Sylva will return to complete that second tenure to correct that injustice done against him.
So the warped opinion that Sylva didn’t perform was more or less part of the power game script written by the powers that be at that time just to give a dog a bad name in order to hang him.
Today, the general verdict in Bayelsa is that Sylva has been vindicated as the man who took over, that is, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, who came with the messianic toga, did not achieve one tenth of what Sylva achieved as governor of the State. Bayelsans need to apologise to Sylva over the injustice. It is no understatement to state the obvious that Sylva is the political bride in Niger Delta and represents the light at the end of the tunnel in the politics of development in Bayelsa and Niger Delta as a whole.
What’s your take on the challenges before the governor-elect, Chief David Lyon?
Let me first say this, the emergence of David Lyon as governor elect of Bayelsa State is the handiwork of God. It is a divine mandate and a culmination of the fervent prayers of Bayelsans who wanted change. Like the Biblical David who was a shepherd in the forest and the least to be considered, God made a choice and that choice is David Lyon.
The outgoing governor Seriake Dickson mocked him following his emergence as candidate of the All Progressive Congress, APC, by describing him as a toothless lion. But when God says yes, certainly nobody can say no. Today, in few days’ time, he will be sworn in as governor of the state.
I enjoin all Bayelsans to support him in driving the development process.
You had a running battle with the outgoing government of Dickson administration which led to your arrest and incarceration. What actually led to all that?
I’m working on a book on the issue with details. My arrest and incarceration was directly connected with my relationship with the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, whom I served as speechwriter and personal aide while he served as governor of Bayelsa State. Before now, way back to 2001, I had a personal relationship with Governor Dickson whom we fondly called H.S, which stands for Henry Seriake. At that time, I was a broadcast journalist and news editor with Bayelsa State Broadcasting Corporation.
He was introduced to me by a mutual friend while he was the State Chairman of Alliance for Democracy (AD) which he conducted himself as the official opposition against the government of late DSP Alamieyeseigha.
At that time, we struck a relationship. When Sylva was denied second tenure in 2011 and was later removed from office through a judicial cum political coup, I had an encounter with Governor Dickson. I was still working with the then Acting Governor, Binabo, whom I accompanied to the Presidential Lodge where former Senate President David Mark, the then Speaker of the House of Reps and now governor Tambuwal were seated, awaiting the grand finale of the PDP governorship election. To my surprise, Dickson made a surprise remark about me to David Mark and Tambuwal that; “Mr Jonah Okah was the speechwriter to former Governor Sylva and he’s my friend but refused to work with me because of his loyalty to Sylva and he has abandoned me”.
On that note, I knew I was already a marked man and it would be a question of time he would come after me because of Sylva.
When Dickson finally took over as governor, he quickly assembled his attack dogs as his media team and they launched unprecedented campaign of calumny, demonization and outright blackmail of former governor Sylva.
Having worked with Sylva and pained by the campaign of falsehood against him, I couldn’t afford to resist the temptation to defend Sylva whom I regard as my political godfather. My only offence was that I refused to work with Dickson and my preference for defending my boss, Sylva.
Of course, despite the fact that I was working in the service as a state counsel in the Department of Public Prosecutions, I stuck out my neck to exercise my right of opinion and correct the grossly misleading information about Sylva and his administration. I did it at great risk and I wasn’t surprised when they came after me with trumped up allegation and charge by hacking my facebook account linking me to a publication accusing the Government House accountant of alleged stealing of money. It may interest you to know that I suffered untold prosecution because of my loyalty to Sylva. I was dismissed from service as a State Counsel and I won the case at the National Industrial Court.
My journalist wife and Assistant Director with the State Broadcasting Corporation was persecuted and punitively denied her legitimate salary for months and further deployed her to Agricultural Development programme, ADP and kept redundant all because of my loyalty to Sylva.
They asked me to renounce my relationship with Sylva as if I committed a political heresy in standing on the side of Sylva, yet I refused to give in and stood my ground.
It may interest you to know, that after all the sacrifice I paid for my loyalty, some never do well went about blackmailing me that I had abandoned Sylva and the APC candidate. It was quite a laughable wild imagination, being peddled to achieve their self-serving propaganda. I have forgiven them.
What is your take on the national security challenges and the call on Mr. President to resign because of the security challenge?
It is not an over statement to state the obvious that providing security of lives and property and the welfare of people is the primary purpose of government.
I don’t believe in discussing security issues on the pages of newspaper or news media. We have to be very careful in discussing our national security not to undermine the sovereignty of our nation.
Security challenge is a global problem. I have no doubt President Muhammadu Buhari is leaving no stone unturned in tackling this national menace.
We should not politicise it by calling for his resignation. In other civilised climes, the citizens are united in confronting the challenge. Let’s give Mr. President absolute support in dealing with the issue which he has demonstrated unwavering commitment.