IPALIBO GEORGE is a bright young man with ideas and has just won a seat in the Rivers State House of Assembly on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the recently held Rivers State House of Assembly elections and is to represent the people of Asari-Toru Constituency I.
In this interview with JAMES FEBEBEBO, DR. GEORGE expresses gratitude to his people for voting for his victory and promises to bring to them the dividends of democracy.
He says that he will work amicably with other members of the Rivers State House of Assembly for the interest of the state.
He also speaks on other issues concerning Rivers State.
You have just been elected as a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly and congratulations on that but as you were taking this step to run for the House of Assembly to represent Asari-Toru Constituency I, were you thinking that you were going to win?
You know, I could say I knew I was going to win on the basis that if you are expecting a free and fair election because we knew what the tempo of the community was and you could just sample (and know that) I was going to win. It was clear before the election and (with) all the permutations and all the calculations, I knew I was going to win given a free, fair and credibly conducted election.
So, what would you say to your people? They voted for your victory.
I will really say a very massive Thank You to my people. There is this statement somebody made. He said he works best for the party who works best for the community. Someone that is already serving the community that has the community heart at mind already is working for the party, that's what he said. The people voted across party lines. In fact, they didn't even consider parties at all because they saw in this person a person of character, a person of commitment, a person of sacrifice, a person that if they put him there, he will give them effective and purposeful representation. So, they took the risk of punishments and all those things that they could get from their party and all that and they came out on the day and voted massively for the candidate that they felt was the more credible and more qualified, if I should use that word as well, for that position this time around.
You are of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and you are going to be just two members from SDP in the Rivers State House of Assembly when the 9th Assembly will be inaugurated. Out of 32 members of the House, only you and your colleague from Oyigbo will be from the Social Democratic Party while the remaining 30 members will be of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). So, how are you going to work with other members of the House of Assembly knowing that you are in the minority?
Elections are over. It's time for governance. I've never really believed in that concept of opposition. I don't even understand how the term came about because we are all being elected and we are supposed to work together for the people, so, why are some people answering opposition? There's a better term to just simply say minority. So, I'm going there for an amicable working relationship with every other legislator that is there to the end that the good people of Rivers State are the ultimate beneficiaries. We've had so much crisis in Rivers State. In fact, I'm even praying that this 9th Assembly shall be an Assembly that is focused on restoring the peace in the political space in Rivers State. Nobody should come in there and like show 'I'm acting for somebody, I'll try to defend this person, this political clan or clique or something'. We should all go there and be focused on bringing the dividends of democracy to our good people, the people we are called to represent in an amicable working relationship because nobody makes progress in a place of fight and all that. If you look at Syria, they've been fighting for a long time now (and) nobody is graduating in their schools, nobody is talking about building roads or building bridges. They've just been fighting and destroying themselves. So, I believe that there should be peace. There's a statement that Jesus made (and) He said the peace of God that passeth understanding. It's in a place of peace that all of us can come to a place of understanding where we can think and find solution to our various problems. So, I'm not going there to play neither am I going there to oppose. We are going there to work amicably to solve the problems and the challenges that face Rivers people and that's just it.
Governor Nyesom Wike has been applauded for his performance and he needs the support of the Rivers State House of Assembly to do so much more in his second term. You are going to be a member of the 9th Assembly, so, how are you going to contribute your part towards the development of the state by the Rivers State governor?
I would say I was really touched when I listened to the broadcast the governor gave recently in reaction to the judgement by the Supreme Court on APC where he said he was going to run an all-inclusive government and he basically called for a truce. I think I should say that is exactly what this time needs and he has just worked with the time. There's a part in the Bible where the people of Issachar were commended because they knew about timing. The time for now really is the time for peace. I pray to God that everybody would work with this understanding and this proposition of the governor. Everybody should sheathe their sword. Let's get down and think about the people of Rivers State. Look at my Constituency from which I come from. I'm Kalabari. I can actually say that the whole Kalabari is my Constituency as well. From Abonnema, several people lost their lives because of this election. From my primary constituency, Ibisaki Amachree, an INEC staff, also lost her life. Why are they losing their life because of elections? It doesn't make sense at all. So, we are all looking forward to an amicable working relationship. Of course, we hope that the right things shall always be done because it's when the right things are not done that clashes of interest and arguments will start coming and all that. So, we're all hoping that we'll work amicably to the end that the good people of Rivers State would be the ultimate beneficiary and there'll just be peace and progress all over the land.
What would you say is the way forward for Rivers State considering that the state had been involved in crises?
The way forward is for everybody to develop a philosophy of commitment to doing things correctly and to doing the right things. Society is supposed to be guided by Constitution. A lot of our problems, as you see, come around electioneering period and it's because around those electioneering period and elections, people don't respect the law. They don't respect the rules of election. They want to rig, they want to fight, they want to manipulate, so let all develop that culture in Nigeria where we commit ourselves to doing things right so that even if it doesn't go your own way and it's going the way of the other person, you just congratulate him at the end of the day so that society moves forward. I think we need to really re-orientate ourselves and it's not impossible. Sometimes, when you say this, they say 'no be for Nigeria here, it's not here in Nigeria' but you are seeing a change in Ghana. You are seeing a change in certain other African countries. So, it's for us to start to change our mindset and to start developing that culture where we are focused on doing the right thing. What the scripture says is that a good man hands over an inheritance to his children and his children's children. It's not just talking about houses and money and land. No! It's talking about what culture are you transferring to the next generation. If we transfer this culture of rigging and shooting and killing in election and we move again from eight Assembly, the ninth Assembly, the tenth Assembly, the eleventh Assembly, we are just passing the same bad things to the next generation. So, I hope that this set will be committed to redefining the culture of politics and politicking in Rivers State so that we will no more be known as the Rivers of blood as some people in the media have started to tag us now. We'll now be known as the Rivers of peace.
How are you going to work with the House leadership in the 9th Assembly?
I believe that the House of Assembly is a Chamber for deliberation, analysis, the sharing of ideas and the argument of points and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to also try to analyze when things are brought up and the aim of all the analysis and arguments is to the end that at the end of the day the most productive decision is taken for the good people of Rivers State. So, that's the end to which I'm going to work just as I've said before. Yes, I'm in minority but if the majority party brings up an idea and it is a good and laudable idea, I'm not going to say 'oh, I'm in the opposition, oppose that', no, I'm going to support that fully and then they bring up something and I think that it's something I don't really agree with, I think I will raise the objection and also point it out because we are all trying to reason to the end that at the end of the day the society is better and we all move forward. So, I think it's just the basic Chamber for analysis, decision making, arguments and counter-arguments here and there but at the end of the day, let everything be done in peace and let everything be done in the way it is supposed to be done and let everything be done with the mind and the philosophy that we're trying to deliver the benefits of democracy to the good people of Rivers State.
How will you describe yourself?
Well, I'm a medical doctor by profession and I'm now getting into politics. I had my Primary School education in St. John's Anglican School in Lagos. I had my Secondary education at Federal Government College, Rumuokoro, Port-Harcourt and I had my medical training at the University of Port-Harcourt. I'll simply describe myself as someone that likes to take my time to think through things before I take any step.
I also believe in doing the right thing and doing the right thing always. I'm a Christian. I believe firmly in the Bible and to that end, I try to live my life in such a way that pleases God and to take my decisions in such a way that at the end of the day, I'll know that my conscience is well served and the rights of other fellow human beings are not trampled upon at all. So, what I think that will bring to bear with my functions in the House is that usually, I'm a very philosophical kind of person but my philosophy revolves around what I learnt as a Christian, so, I believe that the right way is the right way and the right way is the way that will bring benefit to the people at the end of the day and to everybody. There's a song that says trust and obey, there's no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey. It's when we trust and we are obedient to this tenet of interpersonal relationship where everybody respects each other's rights and nobody tramples upon the rights and limits of the other person that as we all work together, I believe that at the end of the day, the whole society will be better for it.
Your people who voted for you have expectations, so, what are you going to do for your people as a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly?
What I'm going to do for my people is that, first and foremost, the medical line is my primary constituency, so, I'm very focused and even when I was delivering my manifesto, I did state that health was something I was going to give focused attention to and there are issues within the healthcare delivery system in my constituency. By the grace of God, we are going to channel a system that can be transmitted from generation to generation. I don't want to do something that will not last. I'm going to lay a fabric that connects from generation to generation. I want to set up health systems within the LGA (Local Government Area) that is passed on and on and on and on. So, that's something that we are going to do.
What kind of health systems are you talking about if you could elaborate?
One of the issues in the LGA right now is that a lot of the times an emergency situation develops and you will be surprised that there's no doctor at that time and there's no nurse at that time. You can come to the health facility and the health facility is shut. It happens not just in my LGA; it happens in several places. So, the vision is to have health facilities that are open 24 hours a day and are manned by personnel ready to attend to emergency, ready to take action, ready to transfer patients from there to Port-Harcourt if need be at whatever time of the day and we are also looking at improved maternal mortality. You know, one of the indices for improved healthcare is an improved maternal mortality index which looks at how many of the women are dying during labour and all that. So, we are going to be fully involved in the antenatal care of our mothers from registration down to delivery and those who need Caesarian section, we will also be very involved in that and childcare programmes. We're looking at also constructing a system where we can help those that are indigent or have issues in finance. As I said, it will not be something that when I've gone the thing has gone. It will be something that will be tied to the systems in the community, tied maybe to the CDC (Community Development Committee), tied to people of goodwill, philanthropists, tied to the government in different ways so that it's something that is just passed down from generation to generation within the LGA.
Apart from health, what other things will you do for your people?
I hinged my manifesto at the time on three key issues: health, education and creation of jobs. (We'll focus on education because) so many things are distracting our people (from getting education). People are looking at militancy, and all that, so, the focus is very scattered and altered. Young children are graduating from secondary school (and) they are getting into cult. They are trying to have means to acquire wealth and all that. We want to help re-orientate my people. You can see that when they talk about elections, for example, in Rivers State, the hot spots people normally tag are Asari-Toru (and) Akuku-Toru. Those are usual places they tag as hot spots and it's true and it's because overtime there are some things that have happened (in these places). So, we need an education and we need re-education. I'm going to be focused on something that will re-orientate the mindset of the youths so that our youths are developing along lines of maturity and not moving from secondary school and they don't know what else to do. So, we're planning to be involved with the secondary schools and even with the primary schools. We're going to interface with teachers and provide as much incentives to them that will encourage them to take government-owned institutions like theirs. We want to see the same enthusiasm we see with private school teachers in teachers of public schools. They are the ones that at the end of the day will deliver this training to the kids, so, when they are that motivated, they can now deliver the right product to them (and) we are also going to support them in every other way that is possible.
What about job creation?
In terms of job creation, we will see how we can attract certain types of companies to the LGA and then also see how we can liaise with the LGA Chairman to arrange things that can serve as productive lines to our upcoming youths. What I have in mind is to create a skill acquisition centre within the LGA so that those that just graduated from secondary school and having issues with getting into university, we don't even want them to stay up to two years outside of secondary school and writing JAMB because it's within that period that they totally deviate, so, we will get them to have skills and once they are through with skills acquisition, we will try to also connect them to jobs that they can do and if on their own, they want to set themselves up as entrepreneurs in the lines of skills they have acquired, we will also give them the necessary support. We want to give our youths close monitoring so that their minds will totally shift away from the vices in society.
What more would you want to say?
What I want to say is basically that I hope that peace will reign in Rivers State. It's not a good commentary that whenever they talk about Rivers State, you will be thinking of guns, militancy and all of that. I believe that the people of Rivers State are a bright people. They are intelligent people and God has blessed us with the resources. It's for us to come together and enjoy the peace of God that passeth all understanding. It's when there is peace that people can now sit together and now have understanding of the root causes of their problem and now be able to devise solutions to tackle these problems. So, I really pray that this will be a tenure of peace, a tenure of understanding and we'll just put an end to all the fight in Rivers State.