The battle for the soul of Bayelsa State has become intense among the key political players, ahead of the November 16 governorship poll, SIMON UTEBOR writes
Bayelsa State is on the march again looking for a governor to occupy the Creek Haven – the state Government House – when Governor Seriake Dickson completes his second term in office on February 14, 2020.
Barring any unforeseen contingencies, November 16, 2019 will unveil the winner among the gargantuan number of aspirants eyeing the number one seat of the oil-rich Niger Delta State.
Across the two dominant political parties in the state – the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress, the seething pot has been spilling its contents.
Already, the race is filled with the frenzy, intrigues and drama that come with politicking.
There have been alignments and re-alignments; clandestine meetings have taken over the nights.
Political gladiators are gearing up for the battle of wits, to succeed Dickson or perhaps put an end to his political dynasty (The Restoration caucus) which has held sway since he assumed office.
Political observers in the state aver that in the coming governorship poll which has already started generating heat, whoever emerges the standard-bearer for either the PDP or the APC cannot be a pushover as capacity alone cannot be the deciding factor of who becomes the next governor.
In the 2015/2016 governorship poll that threw up Dickson as the governor, there was an interplay of various factors like security, electoral umpire, capacity, money and propaganda; all these combined to sway the voters’ choices.
This time round, political watchers believe the governorship poll will be a titanic battle with the APC deeply rooted at the central government and the PDP having its firm grip on the state government.
But what will actually define the day at the primary election, which will throw up the candidates of the various contesting political parties, will include a number of factors.
Already, the PDP, for instance, has an unwieldy number of aspirants gunning for the party’s ticket; no fewer than 21 persons in the party alone have indicated interest to succeed Dickson. The number may increase as more aspirants join the race.
At present, the list of aspirants are Dickson’s deputy, Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd.); a former Secretary to the State Government, Ambassador Godknows Igali; a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Chief Ndutimi Alaibe; a philanthropist and businessman, Chief Reuben Okoya; the current SSG, Mr Kemela Okara; and the Chairman, Bayelsa State Board of Internal Revenue, Dr Nimibofa Ayawei.
Others are the immediate past Director General, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Franklin Osaisai; an oil magnate, Mr Keniebi Okoko; a former Chairman of the state PDP, James Dugo; Chief Great Joshua Maciver; and the Chairman of the state Land Use Allocation Committee, Mr Joseph Akedesuo.
Therefore, it is believed that if the party fields an unpopular person or a ‘yes-man’ as its candidate, it may lose the number one seat to the main opposition.
The same permutation goes for the APC which lost the last governorship election in the state owing to disharmony among its rank and file.
It is believed that now that a former governor of the state, Timipre Sylva, who is the leader of the party in the state, has become a minister-designate; the APC will give the ruling PDP in the state a good fight.
On the side of the APC, three persons have so far made their intentions known. They include Sylva; the immediate former Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri; and a businessman and party leader, Prince Preye Aganaba. It is believed that others may join the race as the season gathers momentum.
However, pundits believe that another hurdle the PDP may have to cross if it really wants to retain the governorship seat in the state is the alleged frosty relationship between two major camps – the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan group and that of the Seriake Dickson restoration government caucus.
It is said that the relationship between the two political gladiators has become one of the most difficult conundrums even though Jonathan and Dickson appear to be on the same page in the public.
It is believed that there is still mutual distrust between the two in the area of power-sharing.
While the Dickson caucus is said to be firmly behind the SSG, Kamela Okara, and his Internal Revenue Board Chair, Nimibofa Ayawei; Jonathan’s caucus is believed to be solidly behind Timi Alaibe.
The source, who did not want his name to be mentioned because of the sensitivity of the issue, said it was because of Alaibe that the Dickson caucus decided to swell up the number of aspirants in order to weaken the chances of the ex-managing director of the NDDC who is said to be giving the members of the caucus sleepless night.
According to the source, in a bid to harmonise the situation so that the PDP will not disintegrate as a result of intra-party squabble that may arise from the various interest, leaders of the Dickson caucus and the Jonathan caucus are said to have met in Abuja recently with a former President in attendance.
The Dickson caucus members were said to have boasted that if any person, including Alaibe, was imposed on the party apart from those supported by them, they would rock the boat.
Due to the scenario playing out behind the scenes, it is believed that if the PDP failed to put its house in order, it may lose the state to the opposition APC.
For the APC and its aspirants, one major issue that will work against the eventual candidate is the in-fighting in the party, according to top party sources
About two weeks ago, a parley organised to decide on the mode of primaries to be adopted in the forthcoming primary election for the governorship poll, almost ended in a fiasco. Members disagreed over an attempt by the party chairman to compel them to accept the direct system.
The meeting was attended by key stakeholders including Sylva, Lokpobiri, Aganaba and elected national assembly members of the party.
While Sylva’s camp insisted on the direct primaries for the primary, the Lokpobiri and Aganaba’s camps did not accept such mode, saying they preferred the indirect primary mode.
Going by the current developments, observers believe that if the party has any hope of defeating the PDP that has held sway in the state for two decades, they must first put their house in order or get trounced again by the PDP.
In spite of speculations that Dickson has concluded plans to support either Okara or Ayawei as his successor, the governor has always said God will determine whom his successor will be.
He made it clear on different occasions that his choice of a successor must be God-fearing, capable and must continue his legacy projects which he boasted were scattered across the length and breadth of the state.
He said anyone who should qualify to fly the PDP governorship ticket must have the requisite qualities of courage, commitment and vision to protect the interest of the state and the Ijaw nation.
Dickson during his media chat recently said the issue of the selection of a governor for Bayelsa was so crucial for the state to commit the process into the hands of God.
He said he would embark on extensive consultations with key stakeholders of the state including Jonathan towards ensuring a peaceful and hitch-free primary designed to produce the party’s standard-bearer.
He stressed that the stakes in the next governorship poll were too high to be left in the hands of “lily-livered politicians who only play “establishment politics” and shy away from the realities on the ground.”
PDP in familiar turf
Without any iota of doubt, the PDP is in a familiar turf as Bayelsa has been under its leadership since 20 years ago. Small wonder, leaders of the umbrella party are eager to tell whoever cares to listen that Bayelsa belongs to the PDP.
The first major acid test of PDP’s popularity was in the 2015/2016 governorship poll in the state after the emergence of the APC at the centre. Most leaders and founding members of the PDP dumped the party for the APC.
The gale of defections that hit the PDP was such serious that the party was almost empty. But Dickson, who was seeking reelection under the banner of the PDP, held the bull by the horns and survived the tsunami.
Without his deft political ingenuity and wisdom deployed during the poll, the PDP would have been history.
Indeed, the forthcoming November 16 election presents the second major test for the PDP. Though Dickson is rounding off his constitutional second term, he remains the war chest of the PDP in the poll having held the party together at its challenging times.
To the national and state leadership of the APC, the forthcoming poll is not a joking matter and the stakes are high. They are poised to win the coming governorship election fair and square.
Observers believe that the life of the APC in Bayelsa has been running on a tripod of activities provided in the camps of Lokpobiri, Sylva and Aganaba.
The three chieftains of the party are the only ones whose ambitions to fly the flag of the APC at the coming election are in the public domain.
While Aganaba’s ambition has not threatened the fabric of unity in the state’s APC, Lokpobiri’s recent aspiration to emerge the candidate of the party has pitted him against Sylva and his loyalists.
Lokpobiri, who has remained adamant about his ambition, recently appointed a former federal lawmaker, Warman Ogoriba, as the director general of his campaign to drive the process of making him the candidate.
The former minister seems prepared for the contest as he has already secured office accommodation in Yenagoa, the state capital, for his campaign office.
Who the cap fits?
Talk, as they say, is cheap. Expectedly, many aspirants believe the cap fits their heads and have been making promises on what they will do when they clinch the governorship position.
A governorship aspirant, Mr Keniebi Okoko, has vowed to tackle large-scale poverty through massive industrialisation when elected.
Okoko made the promise after submitting PDP nomination forms, lamenting that the growing unemployment had negatively impacted on security and pushed productive youths into desperation.
A former member of the House of Representatives, Warman Ogoriba, said the cap fits the head of his principal, Lokpobiri.
Ogoriba, who is the director general of Lokpobiri campaign team, lampooned those criticising the aspiration of Lokpobiri because he is from Ekeremor in the same district with Dickson.
He said the argument did not hold water, noting that there was no time stakeholders sat down to adopt a particular rotational method for the governorship.
Still in the APC, Aganaba, has, however, remained the most vocal aspirant among them. He has been speaking and presenting himself as the most credible alternative to Sylva and Lokpobiri.
Aganaba, who is reputed to have brought the APC to Bayelsa at a time it was like a taboo, said he was not desperate about seeking any position but whenever God asked him to do so he would not hesitate.
He said, “I have what it takes to lead Bayelsa State to the Promise Land of the dream of our founding fathers.”
Various stakeholders have also been drumming support for him to fly the party’s flag. A few weeks ago, Bayelsa women under the banner of Grassroots Leadership Forum declared a prayer session for his emergence as the candidate of the APC.
Before becoming a minister-designate, Sylva himself had had his fair share of endorsements.
Recently, stakeholders under the aegis of Sylva Sure Deal called on the former governor to vie for the ticket of the party.
But whether Sylva will still run or anoint a candidate is still a subject of conjecture.
Another aspirant with political clout and pedigree to clinch the governorship ticket and win the election on the platform of the PDP on a level-playing field is Timi Alaibe.
Fondly described as “the Principal” because through him, many politicians had climbed the political ladder, Alaibe is not finding it funny with some folks in the party.
While the PDPYN claimed that the deluge of aspirants from the party was because of Alaibe’s ambition, Alaibe claimed that Dickson was using the group to cause confusion in the governorship race.
The PDPYN in a statement by its Secretary General, Mr James Oputin, called on the leadership of the PDP to display caution and maturity in handling the sensitive issue of the governorship ticket of the party in the November 16 poll in order to avoid jeopardising the party’s chances in the election.
Oputin alleged that Jonathan, his wife, Patience, and Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike were pushing to give the ticket to Alaibe and should, therefore, note that their actions would not do the party any good.
But Alaibe, in a statement by the former PDP Chairman in the state, Chief Rufus Osiri, said that from the statement released by Dickson’s Political Adviser, Wilson Fyneman, it was clear the onslaught was coming from Dickson.
Alaibe, therefore, urged Dickson to face the delegates and stop demonising him.
As the race intensifies, only time will tell who will eventually become the next governor of the oil-rich Niger Delta state.