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Nigeria’s unity desirable, but negotiable — Dickson

By News Express on 27/10/2017

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•Governor Dickson
•Governor Dickson

Bayelsa State Governor, Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson, recently made history when he drove to Aleibiri in Ekeremor LGA, the first time ever a  vehicle would reach the community, thanks to his Government's construction of the Sagbama, Ekeremor, Agge Road. The Governor took time off after the historic drive  to vent his thoughts on a number of national issues, including the failure of the Federal Government to address the increasing calls for the restructuring of the country, the developmental challenges of Bayelsa State and the Niger Delta. He said Nigeria's unity is desirable but must be negotiated to make Nigeria's unity stand the test of time. The Governor, who was speaking recently in a live media chat, also talked about the steady progress Bayelsa is making in education, the landmark construction of the Bayelsa West Senatorial Road to open up the hinterland, public service reforms.

He also spoke on the need for the PDP to urgently put its house in order, ahead of the 2019 general elections, among other contemporary issues. Excerpts.

Question: Can you bring us up to speed on the civil service reforms, generally with particular concern on payroll fraud?

Dickson: You made some remarks in your introduction, which have touched on the core mandate of our administration. One of them is the Sagbama/Ekeremor/Agge road, but I just want to speak briefly about that critical infrastructure project that, we started. The clearing of that road from Toru Orua, that is expected to terminate at Agge was taken over by this government in 2013 and in 2015, the clearing had reached Agge. Right now they are sand filling and it is just a few kilometres to get to Ekeremor. By January, 2018, I am likely to embark on another tour by driving to Ekeremor, because we expect that the sand filling to Ekeremor should be completed by December 2017. For those politicians in your introduction, who asked if roads and schools could be built on water, clearly Nigerians do not know about the challenges we are facing and enough efforts have not been made in that regard over the years to understand the peculiar developmental challenges of this area. Not just of the south-south or the Niger Delta, but the Bayelsa developmental Challenge is different, because the entire state is below sea level.  That is why our leaders wrote to the colonial masters before Nigeria became independent that the emerging Nigeria Nation will not understand our problems and how to solve them. Then the Niger Delta Basin Development Authority and other interventionist agencies were established to address some of these developmental challenges militating against the socio-economic growth of the region.

Just to assure our people that our focus on development of infrastructure and doing the kind of thing that the federal Government ought to have done for us over the years from 1960 till now, they should have done all these roads to Ekeremor, Brass, Agge , Oporoma, Koluama and the likes. Now we are managing painstakingly, as soon as the dredging is completed, I have directed them, even if we have to borrow, they will move over to Oporoma immediately to sand fill from where we have stopped to Angiama, where the bridge will be launched to Oporoma. That is what I want to accomplish before the end of my tenure. We are also talking with major players like NDDC, SPDC and so on, to work with us to see how we can collaborate. The Nembe-Brass road is also critical and that one is commercially viable, because of the businesses in that area.

The second concern you raised was the monkey pox containment in our state. I congratulate the state team, commissioner for health and his health team and all the doctors, nurses and all of them for the wonderful job they have done, in containing the monkey pox scourge.

Now, the question on the civil service reforms; this is one key area that we have been doing a lot of work, since 2012. You are all aware of how we have worked so hard to reduce the wage bill, blocking the leakages and wastages because in this state we need every kobo to be put into development. After paying salaries, we barely have N5m left and we have a very low IGR base, which we have raised from N60-70m to about N500-600m. But, that is nothing compared to what other states are receiving. States around us are raking in N10b monthly and some about N6b, but our IGR is nothing to write home about, because the companies are not here and our people do not pay tax except those in the public service. Therefore, this state needs to be very prudent, which is what we are doing. Some people may not misunderstand it, but we are in need of development and I need every kobo that comes into this state to go into development and it is in the same line that, we are asking for support, in terms of further solving the challenges of leakages and wastages in the salary system in our state. Currently, we have been able to bring down our wage bill to about N3.8bn every month, but we think that is still too high, that is why I want to commend genuine civil servants, who are going to work and are doing very well, teachers, especially the secondary school teachers, who have done so well. That is why, our rating now in all national examinations is improving, but there are still some black legs in the public service and we want to fish them out. Last week, I launched ‘Countrimandirects’ and gave out telephone numbers to enable our people, the stakeholders in this business to reach us, because these fraudsters, who are drawing salaries from more than one pay point, people know them, they are their friends, relations, and colleagues. Those guys, who are falsifying their records of service every day, and year after year, so that they will not retire, people know them. Those people, who are absentee workers, happily staying at home and receiving alert, people know them. I have launched ‘countrimandirects’ with the following under listed numbers:

07068405809,

07011938880

09083485732

08056085520

These numbers have since been released to the public. And, I want to thank Bayelsans, because they have been contributing robustly. I have been receiving calls and messages. People have been giving me ideas and suggestions and even telling me some of those workers who are collecting salaries that they are not entitled to, those who are falsifying their certificates and I want to thank all of you who have been sending those comments and I assure you that, with the determination we have, we will work with you and with every information we get. Like the information that I have received about the New Waves newspaper, there are certificates racketeering. Those with fake certificates and other vices. But, I won't go beyond that. I read your messages every morning, they are printed out and I go through them. With these lines, you can send me any information. That is why it is called ‘countrimandirect’. We are going to act on the information we get. I also said that, any information that touches on security of this sstate, your communities, neighbourhood, our city; please send it to me, I will read it myself and process it and know what to do.

I thank all of you who have been sending appreciative comments and offering suggestions to support us to stop payroll fraud and keep Bayelsa safe.  You can also send Whatsapp messages. Your calls and messages will be treated confidentially. But if you are not comfortable with giving your name just give us the information. There is also an email:countrimandirect@yahoo.c om and countrimandirect@gmail. com for those of you on twitter you can also be part of this conversation@countrymandirect. These are details we have given out in an unprecedented effort to carry you along. I have empanelled different committees and sub committees dealing with different aspects of the public service that we need to look at and what is ongoing in various parastatals. For example the Bayelsa transport corporation, where you do not have a single vehicle plying the roads and yet you have almost 300 workers there. Now you ask yourselves what these workers are doing for which they deserve to get paid, and that is the situation in all the parastatals. There is a committee looking at that and our primary schools.

Look at the sacrifices our primary school teachers are making, a number of them in some local governments have not been paid for several months. The ones affected most are in Ogbia Local Government and we have checked and we now know what has happened. People have just been putting names of fake people, non-academic staff, teachers, who do not go to work. In all our primary schools, we have a very pathetic situations, not only because of the delays in payments of salary.  All these have to stop. After this reform, one of the areas that I will put a stop to is the issue of non-payment or delay in payment of salaries of primary school teachers. That nonsense has to stop in this state this year. That situation is so, because in almost all the schools you have one headmaster, few teachers and then you have over 40 non-academic staff getting paid for doing nothing, for not even going to work.  The money that ought to have been used for the payment of genuine teachers’ salary is being used to service other people, so teachers end up being short changed. That has to stop. We are formulating a policy which, I will announce in no distant time. It is a policy that will give proper records of all the primary schools in the State, including the number of the non-academic staff that will service each school. Teachers are one of the most important people in the civil service, because of what we are doing in the education sector. Therefore, this policy will not result in the loss of job of any teacher. On the contrary, the report shows that, the state needs more teachers. So, teachers and medical personnel and engineers and surveyors and other technical manpower are people that I will authorize more employments. But, we have to put a stop to those who sit down in the various local government areas and keep stuffing names into our primary teachers wage bill, with those who are conniving with them. We have to put a final full stop to this and you will hear from me this month. I have also set up a high level committee to look into the tertiary institutions like the NDU, the College of Education, and the College of Health Technology and so on. We have studied the report and accepted the findings and recommendations of the various panels. You will hear the policy on implementation very soon. So, in all the sectors we are looking at it, but the over ridding aim is to bring about greater efficiency, to block wastages and leakages in our system.  You also know I have set up a committee to look at the certificates of people in the public sector. We want to be proud of people in the public service and we can't have a situation where the public servants will embarrass themselves or the state, if they are sent somewhere. The preliminary report at my disposal shows something very frightening. I won't say more on it. I will await the submission of the final report by the committee. All I can say is that, for anybody that has been invited and has not gone to submit his/her original certificate or explained to the satisfaction of the panel about the genuineness of his/her certificate will have himself/herself to blame, because we cannot afford to have people in our public service, who have engaged in certificate forgery or racketeering. Because, if such a person grows to become a Permanent Secretary or Director and you send the person to represent us to do any other thing and those facts are known; we want to save the state. So, if you are not sure of yourself or the certificates based on which you have come into the system, this may be a good time for you to honourably take a bow. We do not want to disgrace anybody, I have set up a panel that will handle prosecution. This is one area we would like to streamline. I would not want the next governor to grapple with these issues. I feel that repositioning the state as we are doing goes beyond infrastructure, beyond schools and hospitals and bridges. We also have to look at the integrity of the public service that can carry the weight of execution. The good side is that, at the end of this, teachers and the public service generally would not have salary challenges anymore in this state, with the arrangements we have made. By next year you will also do a lot of training so get ready. Teachers have to go for training, civil servants of all descriptions have to be scheduled for various trainings and we are building the institutions right here in this state. I want all of you to key into this public sector reform and at the end of this, we will have a situation where more people will be employed. So, the young graduates who are valuable for employment, get ready. That is why I am developing a data base and asking you to go and register. Let us know those who are employable, so there are lots of good things coming. People should get ready to make sacrifices in the interest of our state, we want a situation where the wage bill is in control.

People are asking; so much verification what is the result? You are going to see the results now. We are going to collate all the reports, comparing one report with the other. In this state there was actually no record keeping. Now we have been keeping records. From 2012 till now we have a data. We have even the photographs of all in the civil service. That is the painstaking work we have been doing and every month we check it. So, now it is based on this data that we are going to act. We have worked out the names of those certificate forgers, those who have not explained their certificates properly, their salaries would be stopped. They will have to go and explain to the commission of enquiry put in place.  They have to go and prove themselves. Since, I became governor I have authorized the employment of 300 teachers and I have the list. I authorized the employment of forest guards to protect our forest reserves, because I know what that means. I authorized the employment of state protocol officers and then very few appointments. Once you fall a victim, do not worry, your salaries are kept in an account we call unpaid salaries account. This will cut across all the sectors; from the local government system to the school system to the health system and pensions. Those who are pensioners that are collecting N500m every month in this state. I want to know who this pensioners are from community to community, and I will be engaging community leaders to do community verifications of this people.

Since your administration came on board, the state has become very peaceful and safe, but in recent times, we have heard of ‘Operation crocodile smile’ launched by the Nigerian Army and Bayelsans are getting worried over that. What is the Restoration Government doing to enlighten Bayelsans on the Idea of ‘Operation crocodile smile’ in the state?

I would not speak for the military authorities who are organising that exercise. That is a military exercise. The state government is not involved in it, but as the governor of the state, the commanders have come to explain a few things to me and informed me. Once the military want to do anything in this state, I tell them to brief me and I ask them to be as professional as they can be. This state has been very peaceful as a result of the collaboration and the hard work of all the security forces. The security services and the military have been a component of that success story and I give all of them credit for it.

In my view, the military have their job to do and if in their judgment they think that an operation helps them train themselves and prepare for situations, real or imagined. For me, I think that, an exercise, which involved going round creeks in a show of force has the advantage of scaring away the bad guys and limiting the movements of these people, who do not care about the lives and property of people. I recall that, some weeks ago, there were cases of piracy in some local government areas. So, professionally conducted exercises like this, in my view has a way of impacting directly on the safety and security ratings of the state. I have listened to the military officers and the exercise in this respect, has my support and I call on all in Bayelsa to also support them. They have also explained to me that, in the course of this patrols, and a show of presence, they may also in some selected communities carry out community outreach programmes. This is not the first time it has happened. Every year, since I have been a governor, I have had one arm of the military or the other coming to engage and do community service, like what the youth corps members do. So, they want to come and interface and help the communities in their own little way. The military know that, if they do anything that, I or our people consider un-ethical, you can trust me that, I am going to speak up. Community leaders in the areas the military want to carry out the outreach, allow them, embrace them.

‘Operation crocodile smile’ is a patrol on our waterways and has to be supported.

What is your reaction to the rising profile of the state in the education sector and what does it mean for Bayelsa in the future?

It means good things, a more stable and educated and more prosperous Bayelsa. It means a Bayelsa, where we have less criminality, volatility. You talked about the relationship between lack of education and poverty index. You are correct and that is why, on my inauguration day, you can imagine the significant of that. I wasn't governor, when I was speaking. It was on my inauguration day right there on that day that, I declared a state of emergency in the education sector and it is gratifying to hear that, almost six years down the road, that the senate of the federal republic is recommending that for Nigeria. So, Bayelsans should know the kind of government that they have had in the past 6years. It has not been easy, because investment in education is not something that brings immediate result.

Now, we are seeing our state rising from over 20th position in WAEC to number 5 this year, last year was number 6, rising from over 20th position in NECO, to now number 3. These are visible signs, but what this state will see in the next 5 to 40 years to come is going to be real result. That is when the real results will be seen by all. We pray that, all of us should be around to see the fruits of this investment. This state is programmed to be number one in education. Our plan, before I hand over, God willing in 2020, Bayelsa has to be number one in WAEC, NECO. It's been a painstaking investment. A lot of work, every week I hold meetings to the details of everything, every policy is scrutinised, every project is discussed. I hold more meetings with the education team. I am a team builder that is also one thing that I am instilling in this state. Team spirit, I have a team in every sector, because I do not believe in one man knowing all. I have been running a very serious minded business and we have spent close to N56b in education, and if you check what we have been receiving, education, healthcare infrastructure, road building, is where we spend a lot of our money. Every month, after salaries whatever that is left, we channel it there and other ministries wait. That's what we mean by prioritising education.

I agree with the senate. In fact, if there is anything the Federal government should do as a matter of urgency, it is the issue of education. All our schools have collapsed, including secondary schools that have produced Presidents.  If there is one area we need an emergency, it is in the area of education. I understand the President has directed his minister of education to summon a conference. That is a step in the right direction, but they should move further than that. There has to be personal commitment and vision the way we are doing it in Bayelsa. With the investment we have made, Bayelsa has the best public schools. You cannot see any school like the Ijaw National Academy in any state in the federation, I have not seen, I have not heard and we have not stopped there. The model schools are opening and they are not just purposely built they are boarding and they are free. Look at the revolutionary dimension we have added, they are free. So, even if states have this type of schools theirs may not be free. This is how far we have taken education and this is not just an investment for Bayelsa, but an investment that will secure stability in this state, the Niger Delta region and Nigeria. If there is any state that is investing on peace, stability and order, and prosperity and development, it is Bayelsa. We are investing in people and I welcome the resolution by the senate and also the renewed interest shown by the President and his minster of education and I look forward to collaborating and working with them, so that they can learn from our experiences here in Bayelsa.

Recently, there has been heightened clamour regarding the call for the restructuring of Nigeria as to what will make it a more free and egalitarian society. Times without number you have reiterated your stand. We just want to know, if you still stand by that or whether there has been a change?

My politics is different from the politics of a number of other politicians. My politics is informed by the fundamental interest of my people. That is why, I keep saying that, I am not a politician of convenience whose positions will change according to changes in the weather. I am a politician of conviction and my views on this are essentially what has informed my politics, since the dawn of this democratic era from 1998 till now. I have been part of the struggles of my people. Whereas, I believe that this struggle should be pursued, through non-violent and political means, I believe that, these issues should be raised from time to time. And, therefore, my views on restructuring are very well known. I believe that, if we want a balanced and stable and united Nigeria that will stand the test of time, we have got no option than to review the structure of the country. We have to build consensus, put our cards on the table, our fears as well as the complaints and then find a way around it. The present attitude of the federal government and the President to the issue of restructuring is something that, I disagree with. And, unlike other politicians, I stand with my people. And, I am in politics not for myself, but for my people. As a Bayelsan, as Governor of this state, as an Ijaw man, a Nigerian from the Niger Delta, I believe that, this country has to have a meeting and discuss how we can make Nigeria more stable, prosperous, and, therefore, a Nigeria that can last. We love Nigeria. Those of us talking about restructuring are the true lovers of this country. There are those who feel they have advantages, they want to protect, so they want a status quo maintained.  In that case, you are either talking of an individual that has interest or you are talking of regional interest or an ethnic interest. You are not talking of Nigerian interest.

Agitations are normal by the way, so all this heck about agitations from south-south, south-east, I do not understand. Every country is an artificial creation. It is the duty and responsibility of leaders to rise to the occasion and rise to the responsibility of fears, so that even if those fears are imaginary, unreasonable, you explain and you engage. Up till now, our own colonial masters are still dealing with their issues of restructuring, devolution of powers to Scotland to Wales, to Northern Ireland. And last year, the Scottish had a referendum on whether they should be an independent nation or not. Heavens did not fall. Because you engage and create a platform for people to ventilate, I do not believe that, you have majority of people in any part of this country that, will today decide to break up this country. As I have always said, Nigerian unity is desirable. But, do not tell me it is not negotiable. We want to be in a big prosperous strong country. But, we have to stop this issue of every year and every time people are agitating and people are dying and running away and creating unnecessary tension in the country. That is inimical to the growth of the Nigeria we love. So, when we say restructuring in Bayelsa, in the Ijaw nation, in the Niger Delta, we mean that, we sit with our brothers and sisters to discuss issues of how we control our resources, what kind of federation do we have to run? This is a unitary state and that is why you have all these conflicts. We want to be in a truly federal Nigeria and so the federal government should discuss modalities of organising not a talk shop, but I have said there should be a multi-party or a bi-partisan committee, made up of officials of the Federal government, National Assembly, because in the end you are going to talk about a constitutional review. All these talk about true federalism will end in the National Assembly. So, the leadership of the National Assembly, State governors, speakers representing the various state parliaments, the leaderships of the major political parties and other selected interest groups will meet behind closed doors and agree on the issues we need to address now. You do not need to address everything. Nation building is a work in progress and no one generation does it forever and say ok, we are done'. Americans have had how many constitutional amendments? And, they are still proposing more, so that is the kind of thing we need. Therefore, the buck stops at the table of Mr. President. He has to rise to the occasion and unify this country the more. The country is too divided. It has been left to drift for too long, with this division. The divisions are rather getting deeper and deeper by the day and that is not good for the Nigeria we love. Nobody should tell anybody in Bayelsa or an Ijaw man or Niger Delta man and claim that they love Nigeria more than us, they do not even understand the sacrifices we are making to keep Nigeria going. When we talk about restructuring, get it clear, we are talking as Nigerian patriots. For us, our position continues to remain. The Ijaw Nation stands for restructuring and this state clearly will work with all allies and friends and partners and those who share our vision of a restructured and truly federal Nigeria to make Nigeria a bastion of stability and prosperity, because Nigeria is so critical to the world. We are the leading black Nation and yet, because of inability of leaders to rise to the occasion, we are still crawling like a toddler, instead of standing tall like the giant we are meant to be.

The bi-partisan committee does not have to be loud, and the discussions do not have to be acrimonious, so that we can take the first set of amendments. All the amendments that the National Assembly has been making are cosmetic amendments that, do not address the real issues. We have to begin to address those issues. Ask ourselves why a state cannot have more autonomy in the area of law enforcement; for example. We have to ask ourselves what are really the federating units. There is need for a stable and progressive Nigeria? What kind of police we need, what kind of judiciary we need? Why a land dispute in my village should end up at the supreme court of the federal republic? How we fund the police, the judiciary? What kind of governmental system we can run? These are fundamental issues that are imbedded in this call for restructuring.

Whether you look at the issues of resource control or not, the oil is running out. It will get to a point in the life of this country, when we will sit down and ask ourselves, how do we form this federation and the component units? This is why, my position will always be to support a call for restructured and fair Nigeria.

What is the real import of the direct labour agency bill you signed into law recently and how soon are Bayelsans going to see its implementation and feel its impact? Is there any way you can draw the attention of the federal government to the issue of flooding, because I was in Biseni recently and the people over there are really suffering.

Let me sympathise with all our communities and all property owners, whose lives have been affected by the flood. I have been going round. Even, while driving to Aleibiri that day, I saw the havoc that the water is already causing our people. I have driven to a number of communities, including my own community. The flood is terrible this year and we are used to flooding every year, but it is becoming very unbearable. If you recall what happened in 2012, all our communities were almost evacuated.

Unfortunately, we have not seen much from the Federal government. I have not been told of anything that, the Federal government has done. Maybe, they have brought things, but I am not aware of any effort the federal government has made in this respect. Bayelsa is actually one of the states that should routinely get support from the Federal Ministry of Environment, through the ecological fund in particular. Last week, I received the team from the Ecological office, but unfortunately we haven’t really received anything from the Federal authorities in this government. I hope and pray that the situation changes.

I will be seeing SEMA next week to get the report of the flooding situation. I know they are working hard. I believe even with closer contact with NEMA, but the last report they gave to me was that nothing has been sent. When I hear from them next week, we will know.

Biseni is always a flash point. The Okordia-Zarama area is a very swampy area. It is one of the first places we get the heat from with communities along the river nun and Forcados. I sympathise with them.

On Friday, I signed the direct labour bill that I sent to the House of Assembly. Right now you have the Direct Labour Agency bill in law of the state. Why we proposed that law to the Assembly, and by the way, I thank the Assembly for quickly passing it into law, is because in a recession you spend your way out, inject more funds, apart from paying salaries and so on. But, we have discovered that, most of the contractors employ a lot of our people, but we want to be free to directly create a mechanism where our Agencies and Ministries and others, directly undertake jobs. There has been no such mechanism. From Alamieyeseigha time till now, there are attempts to propose this bill, but it wasn't passed before now, but I thought it was a good thing to do it again and this time, the Assembly saw to it that, they passed it quickly.

We need to have a formal way by which the government agencies carry out direct labour. It is not every small community development we want to do that, we give to a contractor and pay tax and the contractor will make profit. The focus of this agency is that the Ministries can contract, but in this direct labour, the agency will do direct work. If we want to do any small work or repairs; pot holes and so on, why should we contract it? So, the direct labour agency will employ all our people. When we give them the jobs to do, they will go and hire all the carpenters and bricklayers, who know how to work and supervise them. The engineers, who are available, that is the mechanism we have put in place and it is a structured one and so the Assembly can oversee and I can also at the executive level over sight. That, we believe will carry a lot of our youths along.

As a strong party man, will you say the PDP is well primed to re-launch itself to reckoning at the National level?

After our governorship election, because of what we went through in the hands of the party at the centre, I was very serious about rebuilding the party to take over power at the centre and everyone knows what I did. I did everything to build consensus. But, there are forces within the PDP that are against a cohesive and strong PDP that can take power at the centre but these forces are surmountable if party leaders eschew selfishness and bitterness and work for the interest of PDP. I pray that the party overcomes or realises the need to overcome this forces, within the PDP that are placing selfish ambition and ego above the need to build a strong party that, can take power at the centre. I am very prayerful and hopeful that, these forces that are trying to tear the party to pieces that have the capacity to take the party from one crisis to another and to generate another crisis and be the ones to solve it and move forward and so on. I pray that, the party survives this internal forces. I have always believed that this country needs two strong parties, a strong cohesive party in government, which incidentally the APC is not, but we should also pray for the APC to get their acts together. But the tragedy of our democracy today is that we neither have a strong party in government nor a strong party in opposition. Clearly Nigeria needs a strong party in opposition and I agree with what the former head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar said few days ago, when he said that, the PDP has disappointed, because it has not proven to be a strong party in opposition. That is very sad, because I am essentially an opposition man and I am very comfortable being in opposition. There are not many governors, who can survive the type of election I survived in this state. I believe that, my party has a lot of work to do, we should pray for it, so that the country can have a real taste of two strong parties. That is all I can say.

We are proposing to have a convention. Let's see how it goes. I think that, basically the PDP is suffering from having a preponderance of people, who have never tasted opposition politics. All their politics has always been with a party at the centre, using everything for their elections. They should learn from what we did here. Now, before you forget, note that, I am the only governor, who has won governorship re-election in this state on the platform of a party that is different from the party at the centre. I am the only one in the core Niger Delta states too. Of all the governors now in the PDP, I am the only one that has won re-election, when the centre is of a different party. Later in November we shall see what happens in Anambra State.

A number of people take this background for granted and when we see things and we tell them, they do whatever they wanted. We pray that, the party survives, Nigeria needs PDP and I wish my party and Nigerian Democracy the best.

Source News Express

Posted 27/10/2017 8:11:35 PM

 

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