Sylva’s Internal Strife

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Former Bayelsa State governor, Timipre Sylva seems to have fresh crisis on his hands and this time, it is local. Emmanuel Adeh writes

Though contenders in the crisis had attempted to hide their interests under the guise of ‘fighting for the welfare of our people’, recent developments may have, however, revealed that the infighting in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa State may just be about sharing the spoils of politics.

On the surface, it would seem that the political combatants in the state’s branch of the APC have altruistic leanings, however, there are indications that the jostle is about which party leader gets ‘what, how and when’, to borrow from the late Harold Lasswell, an American Political Scientist and Communications Theorist.

The brewing crisis in Bayelsa APC escalated last week, when what was hitherto thought to be a minor altercation among the leaders of the party led to the exchange of high-octane verbal assaults, not even within the state, but in Abuja, the seat of power.

But beyond the grandiloquence of a faction of the party’s executive committee claiming that Mr Timipre Sylva, a former governor of the state and leader of the party was suspended because he allegedly visited a sitting Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor in the South-south, was the deeper issue of the ex-governor wanting to corner all the bounty and refusing to leave even the crumbs for the party’s executive in the state.

The obviously displeased APC chairman in the state, Timipa Orunimighe, while announcing the indefinite suspension of Sylva, accused its governorship candidate in the December 5 election, and four others of anti-party activities.

Aside Sylva, the other four suspended by the state PDP executive were Joseph Fafi, the party’s senatorial vice chairman central zone; Fortune Panebi, publicity secretary; Tonye Okio, organising secretary; and Edison Sogwe.

Taking its fight to Abuja, Orunimighe, Chairman and secretary, Daniel Marlin, who jointly signed the statement suspending Sylva and the four others, said the decision to bar the five was made after extensive consultations with party elders.

Interestingly, Mr. Panebi, the party’s Spokesman loyal to Sylva, had the previous day announced the suspension of Orunimighe and Marlin as well as the deputy state chairman of the party, Eddy Julius, for alleged misconduct and embezzlement – a case of the hunter becoming the hunted.

Accusing Sylva of destroying the party in the state, Orunimighe and Marlin noted that they had it on good record that Sylva paid a ‘clandestine visit’ to one of the South-south governors of the PDP, saying “This is just one of the series of correspondences between them and we find it grossly unbecoming,” they alleged.

The disgruntled faction accused the former governor of breaching Article 21 of the party’s Constitution, an action they claimed had the capacity to bring the party to “hatred, contempt, ridicule or disrepute”.

According to them, Sylva was trying to form a parallel executive committee, “in complete defiance of Article 21, under offences which states, ‘Factionalisation or creating parallel party organs at any level.”

While also accusing Mr. Sylva of political infidelity, Orunimighe and his group said the ex-governor had been engaging in corruption, indiscipline and trading of political offices, noting that each time the group wanted to correct him, they always met with threats and insults.

“The party will not tolerate acts of indiscipline from anyone, no matter how highly placed the individual,” the faction said, adding that the ex-governor was suspended “to save the image of the party and restore confidence among members.”

But a faction loyal to the former governor, in a riposte described Orunminigbe and others behind the purported suspension of Sylva as jesters and their action, laughable.
Panebi, the Publicity Secretary, said it was laughable for Oruminighe, who was earlier suspended, to turn around to say Sylva was on suspension.

“They are fighting a lost battle because two people cannot suspend any of us. We properly constituted a meeting of the state executive council where about 21 of us took a decision that suspended Oruminighe and his cohorts.

“Their suspension stands because it was done in accordance with the rules and procedures of the party. We have facts and proofs on their illegal activities that led to their suspension. Let them provide evidence that we ever engaged in anti-party activities,” he said.

Indeed, the Sylva group had after a meeting the previous day noted that, “At an emergency State Executive Committee meeting held on 1st of April, 2016, the following were reached that the cases of gross misconduct, financial embezzlement and anti-party activity against the State Chairman, Chief Tiwei Orunimighe, the Deputy Chairman, Eddy Julius and State Secretary, Daniel Marlin.”

Beyond the noise, however, it was gathered, are the issues of power, money and influence. In fact, in his first public address before accusing the ex-governor of not being a loyal party man, Orunimighe had spoken of a purported list submitted by Sylva to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal, for key appointments into boards of ministries, departments and agencies.

Orunimighe complained that Sylva compiled and submitted names of some non-APC members to the SGF without the knowledge of the state party executive and accused him of selling the state appointments.

“Why we are standing here before you today is because of the appointments that we feel were supposed to be given to those of us in the APC in Bayelsa. It’s a pity to say that somebody like Sylva, who is supposed to be the leader of the party today, turned against the party and sold our party’s slots. As APC chairman in Bayelsa and very strong exco, we have spoken with him. We told him we will stand against that as a people.

“If we can stand against Goodluck Jonathan as a president, if we can stand against the governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, to tell him we don’t like his antecedents as governor, we can also tell our leader that we don’t like his antecedents. We are not ready as a people to sell any slot of appointment to be given to Bayelsans,” he said.

But Sylva denied the allegations, saying the current minister was considered in order to not only give a sense of belonging to the new entrants, but also ensure geographical balance.
Sylva said Oruminigha was peeved that he (Sylva) disagreed with his wish to become the minister representing Bayelsa State because he believed that his only experience was being local government chairman.

“When the ministerial slot came,” Sylva began, “the chairman (Orunimighe) told me he wanted to be a minister and he is not qualified to be a minister. His only experience in Nigeria is that he had been a local government chairman and I made him the local government chairman.

“I told them that the people, who are joining us, we need to give them a sense of belonging and so, Heineken was nominated. We also looked at the spread in the state. I was contesting governor from the East; he, as the Chairman, is from the Central and Heineken (Lokpobiri) is from the West, and so, I felt we should take somebody from the West to be a minister and Heineken became a minister.”

He accused the party chairman of hobnobbing with the ruling PDP in the state and collecting a huge amount of money from the governor of the state to betray the party.
But THISDAY learnt that the bad blood between the duo of Sylva and Orumighe may have predated the recent crisis threatening to tear the party apart. In the build-up to the December 5, 2015 governorship election, Sylva, it was learnt, had assured Oruminighe that he would be appointed as his running mate.

Sylva was said to have later changed his mind, citing the reason that Orunimighe was “too ambitious” and was therefore not a deputy governor material.
As a matter of fact, some supporters of the party chairman had in a protest, insisted that if Sylva failed to run with Orunimighe, he should forget his ambition of running for the election at the time.

The ex-governor was accused of changing rule in the middle of the game, before eventually settling for a secondary school principal as his preferred running mate.
But pundits believe that the implications of the current crisis would be unpalatable for the APC, which is just trying to find its feet in the state, given that Governor Seriake Dickson and former President Goodluck Jonathan had successfully sold the PDP as an Ijaw party to the people of the state.

Moreover, the sentiments are still very much alive that a northerner defeated their son (Jonathan) in the last presidential election, an action they describe as a gang up, making the job of the angling leaders a lot more difficult.

Also, for the APC, a party that is fighting at the election tribunal to wrest power from Dickson, who won the last governorship election, having its leaders under one political roof would be a plus. At the moment, that unity of purpose looks like a mirage.

Whether the contenders agree to put their house in order and forge a common front, especially with the involvement of Lokpobiri, a serving minister, who should ordinarily be the rallying point or peacemaker in the entire crisis, remains to be seen.