Bayelsa politicians

Inside Bayelsa State’s crowded guber race

RECENTLY, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) formally signified the beginning of the struggle for the governorship seat of Bayelsa state which is now up for grabs as incumbent governor, Seriake Dickson, wraps up his second term in a couple of months. According to the commission, the guber election in the state will hold on November 2, 2019.

Expectedly, the race towards Creek Haven, as the Government House is called, is now a frenzied one, with aspirants, party leaders, community leaders and other stakeholders working round the clock in their various bids to tilt the balance in favour of their preferred contenders. Of course, many of those who have shown interest in the top job have been described as mere pretenders seeking political attention.

Similarly, the two frontline political parties in the state, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) have been expressing preparedness for the forthcoming decisive election. Both parties, according to reports as well as party sources, are very optimistic of emerging victorious at the November governorship poll.

According to Governor Dickson, victory is sure for his party, the PDP, come November as the party is currently strategising for victory ahead of the election. “We are promoting harmony and inclusiveness among members. And this is a cardinal policy of the PDP. Indiscipline will not be tolerated while unity will be promoted. We know the importance of harmony among party faithful as the election draws near,” he said.

On the other hand, the APC is not leaving anything to chance as the election draw closer. According to very reliable party chieftains, leaders of the opposition party have worked very hard at uniting and strengthening the APC. “We used the opportunity presented by the just concluded general elections to bring our people closer and I can assure you APC will defeat the ruling PDP in November. Our party is more than ready,” our source claimed.

The Nation gathered that the peaceful manner in which the last national and state assemblies primary elections of the party in the state were held under the leadership of the former governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, and the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, contrary to predictions of many political observers, has encouraged chieftains and members of the party to be optimistic that APC in Bayelsa State is ready for victory.

This is just as leaders of the PDP are praising the outgoing governor, Dickson, for embarking on his current peace initiatives aimed at ending all forms of grievances that emanated from the last general election in the state. According to party sources, Dickson’s olive branch to aggrieved members of the ruling party is helping to re-energise the PDP in a manner that will reposition it to easily trounce the APC in November.

Between Jonathan and Dickson

But observers of the politics of the state are of the opinion that the ruling PDP will have to do more if it truly desires to put its house in order ahead of the November election. Sources say while the governor is truly addressing pockets of grievances in some parts of the state as part of measures to reposition the party for victory, he is yet to address the much talked about disagreement between himself and former President Goodluck Jonathan.

“While it may be true that the duo are not really at loggerheads save for one or two disagreements, the same cannot be said about the relationship between Dickson and many of Jonathan’s allies. And the allies are the people who hold the ace when it comes to the politics of the former President’s camp. They are in pole position to inform what Jonathan will do come November. So, the governor, and in fact, PDP as a whole, must address that issue.

Both Dickson and Jonathan have constantly denied that anything is wrong between them. But pundits and party sources insist all is not well between them politically. Following the victories of the opposition APC in some parts of the state during the last national and state assemblies’ elections, some allies of the governor pointed fingers in the direction of the former President as they try to explain why PDP lost in those places.

Similarly, some associates of the former President have been having running battles with the governor over his handling of party and state affairs. These developments have been fueling the widespread rumour of a not-too-rosy relationship between Dickson and his former political godfather, ex-president Jonathan. And many analysts are of the opinion that if not addressed, the alleged face-off may injure the PDP during the November election.

“The worry is over how the governorship candidate of the ruling party will emerge and whether whoever emerges will be acceptable to the two camps. We cannot continue to pretend that all is well between the two divides. Some occurrence during the last general election showed that there are cracks in our walls and we need to urgently fix these cracks before the all-important governorship election scheduled for November,” a party source said.

The worry that the opposition APC may be benefiting from the crisis between the two camps to make enroute into the state became rife when the PDP lost the senatorial seat of ex-President Jonathan during the last general election in the state. The party also lost two House of Representatives seats and a number of House of Assembly seats, all in the same East Senatorial District of the state, to the chagrin of Governor Dickson and other PDP leaders.

The candidate of the APC for Brass-Nembe Federal Constituency, Israel Sunny-Goli, scored 41,150 votes to win Marie Ebikake of the PDP, who polled 19, 279 votes. In Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency, APC candidate, Preye Oseke, scored 56,804 votes to defeat the candidate of the PDP and Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Kombowei Benson, with 34,104 votes. APC’S Degi Wagara also won the senatorial seat.

While the duo of Jonathan and Dickson continue to insist all is well between them, their failure to agree on many state and party issues continue to swell the rank of those who believe they are at loggerheads. Recently, when cases of alleged anti-party activities were leveled against Jonathan and other PDP chieftains from Ogbia Local Government Area, supporters of the former President accused Dickson of sponsoring the allegations.

So, not a few pundits are expecting a tussle between the camp of former President Jonathan and supporters of Governor Dickson over how the ruling party’s governorship candidate will emerge. Already many aspirants from both sides of the divide have flooded the race, raising worries over a possible clash of interest between the two foremost PDP chieftains in the state.

For instance, the likes of Arch. Reuben Okoya, Dr. Boladei Godknows Igali and Beinebi Okara, who are known political allies of ex-president Jonathan, are said to be in the race for the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP. If they decide to go all the way in their desire to pick the ticket, they will be up in political arms against notable political associates of the governor who have also indicated interests, or are being rumored to be interested, in the governorship race.

One of such Dickson allies is Kemela Okara, the serving Secretary to the State Government (SSG), whose name is on the mouth of numerous stakeholders across the state as a potential candidate, even when he is yet to publicly declare his interest in the race. “One major fear within the PDP today bothers on how the rivalry between the camps of former President Jonathan and Governor Dickson will be managed before, during and after the primary election,” a source said.

The bickering is on

Already, the two leading parties are at each other’s throat over who will carry the day. Verbal exchanges are fast becoming the order of the day with both the ruling PDP and the opposition APC angling for the attention of the people of the state. During the week, Governor Dickson taunted the APC, saying the party lacked required structures to win the November 2nd governorship election in the state. Dickson said the APC’s reliance on federal might and security agencies would fail them.

Responding few days later, the Bayelsa chapter of the APC criticised Dickson’s choice of words in describing political rivals and urged him to maintain decent speech. In a statement issued by its spokesman, Doifie Buokoribo, the party condemned comments credited to Dickson during a meeting of PDP stakeholders in Yenagoa. The party cautioned the governor to always speak like the statesman he ought to be.

Dickson had said: “There are two systems that will clash again in this governorship election. They are the state system which I lead with our teaming supporters and the federal system that will be deployed in this election. As a result, the old way of playing politics must change. Bayelsa is a stronghold of PDP. We are going to prove that again with our voters’ cards in the forthcoming governorship election. We cannot be intimidated by heavy presence of security operatives and political thugs. They had failed in the past. They will fail again this time around”.

The APC accused the governor of cheap blackmail and said that he was afraid of imminent defeat. It wondered why the governor had to resort to indecent language in referring to the APC and its leadership in Bayelsa. “Gov. Henry Seriake Dickson is at it again. Following the scheduling of the Bayelsa State governorship election, he tells the world that the APC in the state is not a political party but a ‘killer, terrorist’ organisation.

“We find Gov. Dickson’s vituperations crude, infantile and extreme. Those words are completely unbefitting of a high-ranking officer of the state. But then, we are not surprised at all that Dickson could use such gutter words to describe a rival political party. We have always known him to be a colourless and uninspiring politician,” APC said.

The gladiators

If the numerous talks about zoning are anything to go by, then the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District is currently the most favoured to produce the next governor of the oil-rich state. Especially within the ruling PDP, the odds appear to be in favour of a power shift to the area. The first elected governor of the state, the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, from Southern Ijaw Local Government, is the only governor to have emerged from the area.

There are three council areas in Bayelsa Central District namely Kolokuma/Opokuma, Yenagoa and Southern Ijaw councils. Expectedly, there are many sons of the district in the race to succeed Dickson. As it is, all the three council areas in the district can boast of a couple of aspirants ready to fly their banner in the governorship race in the two leading political parties in Bayelsa State, namely the ruling PDP and the opposition APC.

Yenagoa is the seat of government in the state but the council is yet to produce a governor for the state since its creation. Thus, there is a serious agitation for Yenagoa to be allowed to do so this time. Jostling for the PDP ticket from Yenagoa are the Secretary to State Government, Barrister Kemela Okara, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, youthful businessman turned politician, Keniebi Okoko and elected member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Steve Azaiki. Meanwhile, Diekivie Ikiogha of APC is also said to have signified interest in the governorship race.

Already angling for the ticket of the PDP from Kolokuma/Opokuma are some prominent chieftains of the party, including a former Senior Special Adviser to Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa. Other frontline chieftains of the ruling party said to be interested in the governorship contest from the council area are the Senator-elect for Bayelsa Central Senatorial District, Doye Diri, as well as the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe.

And in spite of being urged to allow other councils in the area to have a go at the governorship, the people of Southern Ijaw Council are not giving up without a fight in the struggle to produce the next governor of Bayelsa State. Already Ambassador Godknows Igali, Hon. Kombowei Benson, Talford Ongolo, and the current Chairman of the ruling PDP in the state, Cleopas Moses, are reportedly positioning themselves as possible governorship candidate of the PDP.

The APC challenge

But it appears the APC is posing its most potent challenges from outside the favoured Bayelsa Central Senatorial District. Sources within the opposition party in the state say the party’s ticket for the November election is almost a straight fight between two contenders, namely former governor Timipre Sylva and current Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Heneiken Lokpobri. The two APC chieftains are yet to announce their aspiration officially.

Sylva was the party’s candidate in 2015 and lost to Dickson. He is from Bayelsa East Senatorial District and believes he should be allowed to do a second term in office like others who had governed the state. He governed the state between 2007 and 2011 and he is currently the state leader of the APC in Bayelsa State. To most observers of the politics of the state, he is in pole position to clinch the APC ticket ahead of his strongest contender, Lokpobri.

But supporters of Lokpobri would want you to believe once he declares his ambition officially; he will become the toast of most party members. But his hailing from the same Bayelsa West Senatorial District as the outgoing governor appears to be his biggest challenge. However, his supporters are quick to point out that he is from Ekeremor Local Government Area, one of the three councils in the state yet to produce a governor.

Culled from The Nation

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