The governorship election in Bayelsa State is gathering momentum. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is calling for continuity. But, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is advocating change. Senior Correspondent MIKE ODIEGWU examines the strengths and weaknesses of the two major parties, their candidates and issues that will shape the poll.
The die is cast between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa State. On November 16, the two dominant parties will scramble for votes from electorate. The PDP has some advantages. The party, led by Governor Seriake Dickson, will be fighting to retain the state.
The umbrella party has been governing Bayelsa since 1999. Therefore, people believe the party has mastered the political topography since it has a better and more entrenched structures. PDP leaders have always insisted that Bayelsa is PDP and most of them claime that the PDP is an Ijaw party. Besides, PDP is led by Dickson, who is believed to be a political war veteran.
The governor has been the master of the game and has always shown that he has the magic wand to deliver at every electoral period. The governor sprang a surprise in 2015 to retain the seat against all odds, despite massive defections of PDP leaders to the APC. Observers believe that the governor is set to lead another political onslaught against the APC.
Though Dickson is not the candidate, he is going to lead Senator Douye Diri, the flag bearer of the PDP, to face the candidate of the APC, Chief David Lyon. The APC will be led by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva. Therefore, it is expected to be Dickson-Sylva show, reminiscent episode when Sylva challenged the second term bid of the governor.
Apart from the vantage position of the PDP, the party is also running on its scorecard, especially the performance of Dickson in eight years. The PDP has seized every opportunity to boast of transforming the state. Dickson has been presenting his scorecards in education, infrastructural development and health, citing the airport, model schools, particularly the Ijaw National Academy, a flyover and others as examples. The party believes that with its scorecards, Diri, who represents the Bayelsa Central District at the National Assembly, will win the election.
Also, PDP is banking on the principles of zoning to defeat the APC. Though the two parties zoned their governorship tickets to the Central Senatorial District, the PDP believes it has a better zoning formula for giving Diri, who hails from Kolokuma-Opokuma, its ticket. Only Kolokuma-Opokuma and Yenagoa have not produced a governor from the centre. Southern Ijaw, where Lyon hails from, produced the first civilian governor, the late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeiseigha.
The PDP and Dickson hope that, in the spirit of balance and fairness, equity and equality, the people will vote for Diri. PDP is also hoping that in reverence to the foremost Ijaw hero, Isaac Adaka Boro, who hails from Kaiama in Kolokuma-Opokuma, voters will choose its candidate at the poll.
Apart from zoning, Dickson and the PDP are parading Diri as having the capacity and experience to govern the state. The party described Diri as the only candidate with the capacity and competence to succeed Dickson. The party referred to him as a committed public official with years of exemplary service to Bayelsa, the Ijaw Nation and the country.
The Secretary Chief Godspower Keku, said the party was happy with the emergence of Diri as its flag bearer after the keenly contested transparent and credible primary. He said Bayelsa was in need of a leader with vast experience in public service, adding that Diri had been a commissioner, a Principal Executive Secretary to the governor, and a member of the House of Representatives and a Senator.
The PDP scribe commended the other 20 aspirants who contested the election with Diri for their display of maturity and respect for the party. Keku called on the aspirants to support the candidate of the party stressing that the primaries could only produce one candidate out of the 21 aspirants, who indicated interest.
In fact, PDP and Dickson must manage the post-primary crisis rocking the party. Members of Dickson’s Restoration Caucus never believed in Diri’s candidature. They worked against his emergence as the flag bearer because they generally viewed him as unpopular. They complained that Diri lacked the capacity to mobilise votes, following his alleged miserliness and lack of acceptance by members of the public.
While some wanted Dr. Nimibofa Ayawei, who hails from Southern Ijaw, others rooted for a former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Timi Alaibe. Other PDP members made a case for Keniebi Okoko and Reuben Okoya. But, Diri emerged against stiff opposition from PDP members including close associates of Dickson. Many PDP members said Diri became a candidate because he was the governor’s choice and the delegates only wanted to please Dickson. While some PDP members have decided to work for Diri, others said they are not inspired by his emergence.
Diri’s kinsman, Alaibe, has continued to criticise the process that led to his victory at the primary. Alaibe is not giving up his claims that the process was not free, fair and transparent. He has asked the court to invalidate the primary. He complained that he was brazenly robbed of victory through flawed processes.
Alaibe, in the suit filed at the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, the state capital, demanded the cancellation of the result based on procedural flaws. The suit sought answers to questions bordering on alleged non-adherence to the constitution, the Electoral Act 2010, the PDP Constitution and Election Guidelines on the conduct of the ward congresses, inclusion of local government council officials in the delegates list and the procedure for inclusion of three ad-hoc delegates.
Citing specific relevant laws and guidelines, Alaibe asked the court to examine the processes that resulted in the primary and rule in his favour.
Prior to the primary, the Timi Alaibe Campaign Organisation raised objections to what it described as gross disrespect for legal procedures and party guidelines.
Despite going to court, Alaibe is said to be exploring another option of contesting the election in another party as he had vowed to be on the ballot. Pundits believe that, if Alaibe succeeds in joining the governorship race, he will be a third force that will further narrow the chances of the PDP at the poll.
Another setback for the PDP is the general perception that the people are tired of the PDP and will like to align to the centre. Though the governor believes that he has done well for the state, people complain of untold hardship under Dickson. Therefore, they see Diri as the extension of Dickson’s administration and an appendage of the governor. Some critics say unless the PDP candidate owns his campaign and divorces the governor from it, it will be difficult for the PDP to make a statement at the poll.
More worrisome is the issue of the party’s running mate. Party members, groups and other stakeholders descended heavily on Dickson and the PDP leadership for nominating a senator representing Bayelsa West at the National Assembly, Lawrence Ewrujakpor, as the running mate to Diri.
The Bayelsa East Forum for Justice (BEFJ) advised the party that, having picked the candidate from the Bayelsa Central, it was natural to select a competent party man with requisite political clout and popularity from the East. Its Chairman, Monday Eribo, described the feelers that the slot for running mate had been zoned to the West as sad and an attempt to deprive the East.
Following the emergence of Diri, PDP leaders were said to have asked Speaker of the House of Assembly Tonye Isenah to surrender his position to another lawmaker from Southern Ijaw to enable the party garner votes from the council. But, Isenah insisted that he would not let go of his position before the poll.
The Speaker in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Aotendeike Boloigha, said he had served the PDP faithfully, adding that resignation is not a priority.
However, Dickson believes that all misgivings against his party and his preferred candidate will collapse when campaigns for the election begin. The governor also said reconciliation was ongoing to resolve grievances of party members, especially the ones arising from the primary.
A statement by Dickson’s Chief Press Secretary, Fidelis Soriwei, confirmed that some frontline aspirants met with the governor after the internal poll that produced Diri as candidate. The governor was also quoted as saying that the leadership of the party would make deliberate efforts to contact all the other aspirants, with a view to bringing them back effectively to the PDP family.
Sylva, APC strength:
Many people believe that the political dynamics have changed in Bayelsa. Dickson and his party are up against the leader of the APC Sylva, who contested as a candidate against the governor in 2015. This time, Sylva is not a candidate. He is a super minister, who wields a lot of political and economic influence. Sylva understands the importance of winning Bayelsa for the APC, especially in view of giving the party a strong base in the Southsouth for the 2023 presidential election. He is working in tandem with the national leaders of the party to actualise the victory.
Despite the controversial emergence of Lyon, he has more popularity rating than Diri. Lyon has a mass appeal. They look at him as a philanthropist, who is capable of floating economic policies to mitigate their suffering. Unless there is a sudden shift during campaigns in favour of Diri or the entrance of a third force with a better rating, pundits believe that Lyon will dwarf the PDP candidate at the poll.
The APC also has some zoning advantages. Its candidate’s Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, which is likened to the Kano of Bayelsa is always a game changer during elections. It has the second largest voter population after Yenagoa, which is notorious for dry voting. It is better than Diri’s Kolokuma-Opokuma, which has the least voter population in Bayelsa. Almost all leaders in the local government are said to be clamouring for the governorship slot and may likely support the Lyon’s ticket.
The party will further benefit from its gains in the last general election. Going into the November 16th governorship poll, the APC boasts of three members of the House of Assembly, three members in the House of Representatives and a senator. It is also benefitting from the grievances of the PDP, which is forcing many of its members to jump ship.
Besides, Lyon, who is a surveillance contractor and oil magnate, has attracted the sympathy of ex-militant leaders in the state. The ex-creek warlords are said to be pushing for the Lyon’s ticket because they have been beneficiaries of his business. Lyon is said to have about 7000 persons in his payroll, including the ex-militant leaders. He runs a scholarship scheme, which cuts across the eight local government areas of the state.
While crisis is rocking the PDP over its running mate, the APC is calm, following its decision to zone the running mate to Nembe in the Eastern Senatorial District. APC is believed to have sealed a better deal when it nominated the Senator representing the district, Biobarakumo Degi-Eremienyo, as Lyon’s running mate.
But, the APC has its fair share of post- primary crisis. Lyon was declared the winner of the primary by an electoral committee constituted by the party leadership. The results were announced by a member of the committee, Senator Emmanuel Ocheja, who identified himself as the Collation Officer. Lyon polled 42,138 votes to defeat five other aspirants. Mrs. Desiye Nsirim came a distant second with 1,533, while Chief Ebitimi Amgbare came third with 633 votes.
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri was said to have scored 571 votes to come fourth while Prof. Ongoebi Etebu and Prince Preye Aganaba got 564 and 354 votes.
Senator Ocheja, who was accompanied by the other national and state officers of the party said he was standing in for the Returning Officer and Governor of Yobe State, Mai-Mala Buni, saying the governor was unavoidably absent.
Lokpobiri, a former minister, believed to possess the credentials to fly the flag of the APC, felt shortchanged after the internal poll. Lokpobiri vehemently rejected the outcome of the primary. He said he was still trying to get details of what transpired in Bayelsa, adding that he and his team never participated in any primary that declared Lyon the flag bearer.
The former minister said there was no way he would be defeated in any election in Bayelsa by Lyon adding that the majority members of the APC were supporting him.
He wondered why a primary was held started in a hotel in Yenagoa and ended in the hotel, instead of sidelining the secretariat of the party.
He said party members gathered at the secretariat and waited in vain for the arrival of the committee saddled with the conduct of the primary. He also queried why the result was declared by someone other than the Returning Officer and governor of Yobe State, who chaired the committee.
Apart from Lokpobiri, Aganaba has also rejected the outcome of the primary describing it as a mockery of the democratic process. Aganaba, who referred to the primary as a political hoax and lacking any semblance of credibility, alleged that the results were written in a hotel.
The aspirant has gone to court to seek cancellation of the poll. Aganaba, a founding member of the APC in Bayelsa, dragged the APC, Lyon and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the court as defendants in a suit he personally filed on Seprember 12.
The aspirant urged the court to make a declaration that the primary scheduled for September 4 across the 105 wards in the eight local government areas of the state did not take place. He also asked the court to make a declaration that since there were no primaries, the declaration of results that produced Lyon as the candidate was illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.
The aspirant demanded an order setting aside the result of the primary, which returned Lyon as the candidate of the party for November 16 election. He asked the court to make an order “restraining the APC from presenting Lyon or submitting his name to INEC as candidate of the APC.”
Many party elders have, however, urged the aggrieved aspirants to sheathe their swords and work for the interest of the state. A stalwart of the APC, Chief Gift Ebiki, urged the aspirants to end their grievances. Ebiki said in every contest a winner must emerge.
Ebiki said that the process that led to the emergence of Lyon was free, fair, transparent and credible. He appealed to the aggrieved to put the party first. He commended APC members for electing an oil magnate and businessman to fly the flag.
He said APC members lined behind Lyon in an orderly and peaceful manner. He described the direct primary as credible and transparent. Thanking the people for their belief in Lyon, Ebiki assured them that the APC candidate symbolised prosperity, development and job creation.