APC, PDP and battle for Bayelsa’s soul
Ebiowei Lawal writes on the issues and forces at play ahead of the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State.
NOW that the party primaries are over, with the standard-bearer of the parties having emerged, the attention of the electorate in Bayelsa State has moved to the personality, strength and weakness of the candidates as the November 16 governorship election in the state approaches.
While many of the parties are fielding candidates for the election, all eyes are more focused on the two main parties in the state namely, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) as well as their candidates, Senator Douye Diri and Chief David Lyon, respectively.
While the majority of the people of the state have been fixated on the personal character traits of the candidates, especially on their ability to spend, as well as their educational qualifications, many are however of the view that these public opinions held against the duo may not hold any water, when it comes to assessing who is qualified to be the next governor of Bayelsa State.
Just like in other parts of the country, majority of the voters in Bayelsa desire that the next occupant of the state Government House at the expiration of the tenure of the incumbent, Honourable Seriake Dickson, must be well educated. It was in this regard that the academic achievements of Diri and Lyon have continued to occupy the front burner in the public assessment of who should take over from Dickson.
More background checks revealed that before winning the ticked to contest for the forthcoming election, the PDP candidate, Senator Diri who hails from Sampou community, started out as a classroom teacher in the Old Rivers State. Thereafter, he became the first national organising secretary of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the pan-Ijaw socio-political group. He was subsequently appointed as the executive secretary of Centre for Youth Development in Bayelsa State, from 2000 to 2002.
After the late former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached in 2005, Dr Goodluck Jonathan who replaced his appointed Diri as the state Commissioner for Youth and Sports. This was at the same period when Governor Dickson served as the Attorney and Commissioner for Justice of Bayelsa State. This period, according to observers marked the beginning of the friendship between Dickson and Diri. That political honeymoon continued, even when Jonathan was elevated to the position of vice-president of the country in 2007.
However, the rise of Diri as a factor in Bayelsa politics took a temporary turn for the worse when Chief Timipre Sylva took over as the state governor. He remained in political doldrums until 2011 when Chief Ndutimi Alaibe emerged as the governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP). Senator Diri served as a member of the Alaibe Campaign Organisation but that political era was short-lived as Sylva secured a court judgment to elongate his tenure for another year.
But the political fortune of Senator Diri changed for the better in the early part of 2012 when a Supreme Court ruling nullified the tenure elongation of the Sylva administration and ordered for a fresh election. This time, it was Senator Diri’s old-time friend and colleague, Dickson, who secured the ticket of the PDP to contest the governorship election. During that period, Diri worked for the interest of Dickson and also served as the chairman of the PDP Disciplinary Council.
Since then, Diri has served in various capacities in the state, rising from the position of the deputy Chief of Staff, Government House to become the principal executive secretary to the governor; later elected as a member of the House of Representatives, representing Kolokuma-Opokuma-Yenagoa Federal Constituency; before he was elected as a senator representing Bayelsa Central senatorial district.
While Lyon, the APC governorship candidate for the election and who hails from Olugbobiri Community, may not have a similar political profile as Diri, he has carved a niche for himself in the business world. Rising from the position of a foreman in a private company, Lyon sits on the board of several firms. His business acumen has kept him afloat in the oil and gas sector, where he renders diverse services to oil and gas multinationals.
A report has it that, as an oil and gas pipeline surveillance contractor, Lyon has many companies that have employed about 7,500 people from Bayelsa State. His supporters believed that Lyon will not have been able achieve this feat in the oil and gas industry if he lacked the right leadership capacity and educational qualifications.
In the political circle, the APC governorship candidate is not a novice, as he sought to contest for different political offices in the past, the last one being in 2011 when he contested for the Southern Ijaw Constituency III in the state House of Assembly. He then contested against the immediate past Speaker of the state legislature, Honourable Kombowei Benson.
Their personal attainments notwithstanding, the two candidates are said to have some deficiencies when it comes to followership. To many, even in the PDP camp, the followership of Diri has been suffering a setback due to what was described as his reluctance to reach out to the needy.
On the other hand, the APC candidate, Lyon, was said to be deficient in effective public speaking. For the elite, oratory ability is vital for anyone that wishes to be the governor of the state. They claimed the importance lies in the fact that the Ijaw have injustices and therefore need a leader that can publicly champion advocacies that will take the people out of the dilemma.
However, Lyon faulted the claim that he was deficient in effective public speaking as he said: “My business requires me to speak with people in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and to relate with petroleum ministers across the world. So, what kind of capacity are they talking about? I may not have oratory skills much like professional public speakers, but I have enough oratory skills to be governor. However, I am a believer in action and less talk. To me, what more paramount in governance is the willingness to solve the many teething problems our state especially the problem of unemployment.”
While Senator Diri is yet to debunk the allegation leveled against him that he is stingy, one of his ardent supporters, Mr Ebiowei Obi, said he would rather support a candidate that would empower his people with their dream jobs and life time skills rather than one whose only portfolio is to share bags of rice and money.
He further said: “Economic and institutional prosperity and development is more likely to be valued more than an immediate gain. And two key principles of prosperity are investment in knowledge and continued development in such investment. Therefore, the vision any leader should have is of a future where the necessities of life are available free for everyone on the planet- food, water, shelter, electricity, transport, education, entertainment, health care and more. In the case of Senator Douye Diri, Bayelsans should be optimistic about the development of the state, rather than maliciously trending the issue of one is stingy and the other is a philanthropist.”
Beyond the issue of personal character traits of the two leading contenders is the pervading political arrangement in the state. When the new democratic dispensation began in Bayelsa State, the three senatorial districtss: Bayelsa West, Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa East have equally produced a governor and deputy governor. But out of the eight local government areas making up the state, only four have produced governor. This does not strike a balance in the distribution of the number of seats in the state. From Bayelsa Central, Alamieyeseigha who hails from Amassoma, was governor; former President Jonathan from Ogbia and Sylva from Brass local government areas in Bayelsa East, respectively have been governors, while Dickson who hails from Sagbama Local Government Area has taken the turn of Bayelsa West.
On the other hand, Ekeremor (Bayelsa West), Nembe (Bayelsa East), Yenagoa (Bayelsa Central) and Kolokuma/Opokuma (Bayelsa Central) local government areas are yet to produce a governor. Many are wont to say that it will amount to injustice and inequitable distribution of the position of the governor of the state if the affected local government areas are not put into consideration.
As things stand, the two contending parties in the election, the APC and the PDP, have both settled for Bayelsa Central because following the existing circle of distribution. Bayelsa Central (with Alamieyeseigha) was the first the occupy the office, followed by Bayelsa East (Jonathan and Sylva) and lastly by Bayelsa West (Dickson).
The PDP seems to be on a safe side because the party settled for Senator Diri, who is Kolokuma/Opokuma, a local council that has not produced a governor since the advent of democracy. The APC picked its candidate from Southern Ijaw, which produced a governor in the past. This permutation, to some observers, will give the PDP an edge over the APC as it would be seen as seeking to assuage the feelings of a neglect among a section of the state.
But for the APC, its settling for Southern Ijaw may have also stemmed from the fact that it has more followership in that local government area which also ranks second in terms of voting strength in the state. However to some people, the decision to settle for a candidate from the local council amounted to being inconsiderate as it failed to ensure an equitable distribution of power across the eight local government areas.
The two parties further worsened the situation with their choice of running mates for the election. Against the cry of marginalisation and protests, Senator Diri picked his deputy in the person of Senator Lawrence Ewrudjakpo who is from Ofoni community in Sagbama Local Government Area. In the same vein, Lyon, the APC candidate, also injured the feelings of those who are against the existing zoning arrangement in the state as its running mate for the election, Senator Biobarakuma Degi, was picked from Bassambiri in Nembe Local Government Area.
The decisions of the parties have sparked another round of reactions from a section of the state. The far-reaching implication of the decisions is that Ekeremor in Bayelsa West will have to wait till another time before it can possibly produce another deputy governor, the last from that area being Honourable Peremobowei Ebebi who occupied the office in 2007. In the same vein, Ogbia and Brass local government areas, being part of Bayelsa East, will further wait to occupy the office, having produced the last one in 2012.
Ahead the election, Bayelsa PDP remains the party to beat in the state. The party, since 1999, has not lost its grip on power in the state. It is without any iota of doubt that the party has political structures deeply spread in all corners of the state.
However, the main opposition in the state has not been resting as it has, in recent times, proved that it has the political will and capacity to wrest power from the PDP. This zeal by the APC was clearly demonstrated during the last presidential, National Assembly and state legislative elections in the state. From 5,000 votes recorded for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, the APC was able to rake in more than 100, 000 votes in 2019. From no senatorial or federal constituency seat in 2015, the APC won one senatorial seat and two House of Representative seats in 2019. Also, the distribution of votes during the 2019 elections reflected the strong holds of the APC in the state to include Southern Ijaw, Brass and Nembe local government areas, while the PDP convincingly dominated Sagbama, Ekeremor, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Ogbia and Yenagoa local government areas.
Another factor that will play out in the forthcoming election in the state are issues of godfatherism and money politics. The godfathers of the two major contenders are not pretending about their interest in the election. As clearly demonstrated during and after primaries of the two parties, the contest between Senator Diri and Lyon is more about the battle for political supremacy between Governor Dickson and Sylva. Birthed from two distinct political linages, the political rivalry between them dated back to 2010. Before then, Dickson belonged to the political family of former President Jonathan, the Green Movement, while Sylva moved from the New Vision Movement of Alaibe and started his New Covenant Movement in 2007 when he was elected governor.
The rivalry between the duo clearly manifested in 2010, when Dickson was seeking to fly the flag of the PDP for the Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency to return to the House of Representatives for a second term. With his political godfather, Jonathan, as the president then, Dickson hoped that getting the ticket of the PDP would be an easy ride but Sylva, being the governor and leader of the PDP then, had other plans.
At the PDP primary held in Yenagoa, Sylvia’s anointed candidate, William Ofoni, emerged sttandard-bearer of the party for that election, but Dickson held a parallel primary in Sagbama Town, citing the fact the primary of party for any office could only be moved to a neutral ground on the condition that the safety of lives and properties could not be safeguarded at the supposed venue of the primary.
After looking at the merits of his argument, the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) gave the flag of the party to Dickson, giving him the opportunity to return to the House for a second term. Though this decision was accepted, but it didn’t go down well with the ardent supporters of Sylva.
The two further became sworn enemies when, in 2012, a gang perfected a plan and successfully ousted Sylva from office and used Dickson as willing party to replace him. Since then, the battle between the two over become the defacto political godfather in the state have continued unabated.
According to political observers in the state, this political rivalry between Governor Dickson and Sylva will play a major role as both appeared to be equal in terms of experience, connection and financial strength. This strength was clearly demonstrated during the 2016 governorship election where Dickson emerged as the PDP candidate and Sylva for the APC. But many are quick to say that the forthcoming election in the state will be a clear departure from the 2016 experience as both Dickson and Sylva will not be direct participants.
However, the November 16 election in the state will no less be interesting. Senator Diri may have deficiency in terms of playing money politics but he has a Governor Dickson who is willing to be his strength. On the other hand, Lyon may lack the confidence and oratory skill to woo voters to his side but he has on his side a Sylva who happens to be one of the finest orators Bayelsa has ever produced. At the long run, it is expected that the decision of the electorate will carry the day at the poll.