People’s lives, safety more important to me than cars- Bayelsa Female Councillor who built bridge with her car allowance
Hon. Tyna Miracle Onem is a young female Councillor representing Ogbia Ward 2 of Ogbia Local Government Area in Bayelsa State. She is also the Deputy Majority Leader, Ogbia Legislative Assembly. Hon. Onem was recently in the news for using her car allowance to construct a concrete motorable bridge linking three communities in her ward. In this interview with our correspondent, Kenechukwu Obiajuru, she speaks on how people’s lives and safety motivated her to construct the bridge and the need for youths as leaders of today to serve selflessly when trusted with leadership power.
How did you come into politics?
I was working at the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Secretariat as secretary to the organising secretary of the party since 2010 and then the party chairman, Chief Cloepas Moses saw my loyalty and dedication towards my job in the office and decided that I should contest for the position of a councillor. That’s how I became a councillor. I did not have the ambition to become a politician but as a worker in the Party secretariat, they saw my character and loyalty and how I relate with people and that is how they sponsored my election. They gave me a free ticket. I didn’t spend my own money to buy the councillorship form. They sponsored my election and did everything for me during the restoration administration in the state.
Do you have a political godfather?
I have a lot of godfathers and my number one godfather is the Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Douye Diri. In fact, I have a lot of bosses and godfathers but for now the Governor of Bayelsa State is my godfather. Based on the project I executed, he asked me whether I have a godfather and I told him that he is my godfather.
What really inspired you to go into politics?
My motivation was to change the narrative in the society, to see that my people at the grassroots are carried along and to show that politics is not all about personal interest but about the interest of the common man. I want to give the society what they need and not what I desire and to help the needy in the society.
What motivated you to embark on the ‘Miracle Bridge’ project and how much did it cost?
The ‘Prosperity Government’ released funds for Ward projects for all the 105 councillors in Bayelsa State. Though it differs according to the LGA, in Ogbia it was N2m naira for the Ward project. When I wanted to embark on the project, I consulted with the community to find out their greatest need and I found out that the bridge was the most pressing need of the people.
Before now the bridge was just a wooden foot bridge and many old women and children have fallen down while trying to cross the bridge. So I knew that the bridge was what the people needed most. There were different suggestions that I should renovate the Police station. Others suggested I should provide pipe-borne water but when I took a critical look at the number of boreholes in the community, there were about 15 non-functional boreholes. While some suggested I provide solar light and if I consider the size of the community it will not go round. Also considering what it will take for regular maintenance, it will be a waste of money.
So I had to settle for the bridge which is a lifetime project and will not require regular maintenance and it will serve the people better. And without the bridge, the Otuogori community cannot take their suspects to the Police station. Also the Otuokpoti people cannot have access to their health centre and their farm. You can see that the bridge was the only link between the Police station, the health centre and the farm. So, I considered the bridge as my major concern and I decided that before I complete my tenure as a councillor, I have to finish the project.
Starting, the project money was not enough. Imagine the high cost of materials in Bayelsa State. I bought one 16mm rod at the cost of N16, 200 and a bag of cement at N4000 per bag. Then I bought 2 trailers of chippings. If you do a rough estimate you will see that the money will not be enough for the project. The money was small so I confided in some of my colleagues and friends and they advised that I construct a foot bridge instead but I said no, I will construct a motorable concrete bridge.
Even my community Chief asked me, Tyna, will you be able to finish the project? Don’t do something that tomorrow, people will say that you started a project and you were not able to complete it but I said that with God all things are possible. Glory be to God I now added my car grant because at that time the Governor had approved funds for councillors’ cars.
So, since my people needed the bridge and considering the challenges my people are going through I have to use my car allowance to execute the project. In the process of constructing the project, the Governor saw the project online and called me to know about the project and I explained to him, he then gave me extra money to expand the bridge and complete it. I decided to name the bridge a ‘Miracle Bridge’ because I didn’t expect that the bridge would be completed within such a short space of time. To me, it was a miracle and mind you my name is Hon. Tyna Miracle Onem; am a ‘Miracle’ councillor and we have a Governor who is also a ‘Miracle’ Governor, and who doubles as my godfather.
What challenges did you encounter in the course of executing the project?
In fact, during the period of the construction of the bridge I wanted to give up but I thought within myself that if I give up people will laugh at me. They will ask me, Tyna you didn’t have a car; why did you in the first place think to execute such a project? I said to myself that if God gave me the strength and wisdom to start the project, I should be able to use my own money to complete it.
Only God knows how he does his own things and as you can see, that bridge has been completed. This project has attracted accolades and commendations from far and near. I have received international calls and awards all over. Even the CEO of CG Motors & Real Estate Management called me and gave me funds to buy JAMB forms for my Ward. People are still calling me. Those who are still ready to assist me to carry on other projects should do. If there are funds I am still ready to start work immediately. If you are willing and like what Tyna is doing, assist her with funds from your Widow’s mite. Some people said I should go for funds appeal, but I said no, it is not in my character to go on air to appeal for people to give me money. If you are willing and want to assist the people at my Ward and the society to benefit, you should willingly assist with funds.
Do you in any way regret spending your car allowance on the bridge project?
I am very much satisfied with giving my car grant to complete my project. That’s because there is always a reward in the future. Though I was not hoping that people would give back before I embarked on the bridge project, I know there are better days ahead. Right now I don’t have a car but I know God who is a rewarder of man’s deeds will definitely intervene. I don’t have issues not owning a car. I’m comfortable with who I am, what I am and where I am. I am not bothered because I know power and wealth comes from God and Him alone.
Do you have any future political ambition?
For now I don’t have any. I believe power comes from God and Him alone. I don’t have any intention to contest for any position but if the people say, Tyna you have done well and you are good to go, who am I to say no. As you can see, I really don’t have money to contest any election. If they will sponsor me, I’m ready to work but for now I don’t have any political ambition to contest any position because politics is expensive in this part of the world and I don’t have money.
For now I want to be a philanthropist. I want to have a foundation where people will assist me to help the less privileged in society. But if my people find me worthy to serve them and they say I should go, I have no choice but to accept it because power comes from God and I believe that it is God that will ultimately decide my next step in life.
How do you rate women participation in politics in Bayelsa State and Nigeria at large?
Really in Bayelsa State, I want to give kudos to the prosperity government because there is 60 per cent of women participation in politics. I’m very happy because if you go to the House of Assembly you will find about 3 to 4 women as elected members. If you go to the state executive council you will find about 5 to 6 women as commissioners. Talk about female SAs, there are so many of them. So especially in Bayelsa State there is full participation of women in politics. The prosperity government in the state from available evidence on ground is fully in support of women in politics.
As a woman involved in politics, there are many challenges. Ranging from women not supporting each other, most especially during elections; husbands not encouraging their wives to go into politics as well as the stereotype of calling women involved in politics as prostitutes. There is always this talk that as a female politician you will not have time for your family. They are all lies. As a female politician, before I go out, although I’m not yet married, but as a woman you know your responsibility in your house. So before I go out I try to keep the house in order and prepare food for my younger ones that are staying with me. To me I don’t see any reason people will want to give names to women simply because they are in politics. I am not a party to that.
You mentioned that you bought JAMB forms for your Ward, how many people benefited from that?
Because of the ‘miracle bridge’, the CEO and MD of CG Motors and Real Estate Management LTD, saw the project in the media and called me to say that if this young girl can construct a bridge that links other communities, I think she needs to be encouraged financially to do more. So based on that, he called and said he wants to fund the purchase of JAMB forms for my Ward. Honestly, he gave me money for 50 forms and I added my own money and increased it to 100 forms.
I want to give kudos to the CEO and MD for supporting me to reach out to students who are willing to further their education but don’t have money. From the support, calls and commendations, I am of the opinion that there are still good Nigerians out there. So, that is how I bought the 100 JAMB forms for my Ward. It might interest you to know that not only people from my Ward, people from other LGAs also benefited. People from Brass, Sagbama, Yenagoa, even people from other Wards in Ogbia also benefited from the JAMB forms. I’m still ready to work. I’m ready to do more if the funds are available. I need more financial support to reach out to my people.
What is your advice to women in politics and other young people who are in politics?
My advice to my fellow colleagues, women and the youths especially is to reach out to their people if they are given a position. Try to reach out to your people in the little way you can. Try to be supportive. Some of the politicians if you call them, they would not answer, I’m not a party to that. As young politicians, we should be able to change the narrative. My advice is that if you are given any leadership position you should do what the people need and not what you decide for yourself.
We should be able to consult and know the problems of the people before we take action. We should be ready to work because before you become a good leader, you must first become a good follower. Before I became a councillor I worked at the party Secretariat. Most people don’t even know that I’m an administrative officer. Sometimes I work as an aide; I work as an errand girl, as a computer operator. I even sweep the office. If you want to know, go to the party and ask who Tyna is, they will tell you. That is why they sponsored me willingly without asking for anything; that is how it is. I want to advise the youths especially, please let us change the narrative. Gone are those days they say youths are the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today as you can see I am a youth and I’m also a councillor. So, we are the leaders of today.
What is your take regarding the on-going demolitions of people’s houses and shops in the state?
To be honest with you, I’m in support of the demolition. Though I sympathize with those whose houses and shops have been demolished, but, if you go to Port Harcourt, go to Lagos, go to Abuja, you will see what is called urban development. In fact, if we do not make sacrifices now, Yenagoa will remain a glorified village as people normally call it. I think the demolition has given Yenagoa a facelift. Yenagoa is beginning to experience transformation.
Before this time, if you go to Tombia, to Opolo, you will see the road overtaken by traders and hoodlums. You cannot even drive your vehicle. It was so bad and it was a real problem. I want to say I support the prosperity government for carrying out the exercise because we need Yenagoa to develop; we need Yenagoa to be like other state capitals in Nigeria. So I am in total support of it. The complaints are normal but let me tell you, it is impossible to satisfy everybody. If you really want to work you must be determined as the governor is determined and I want to encourage him to do more, to continue with his developmental strides.