Looking Forward to Bayelsa’s Governorship Battle


Last week’s announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission unveiling the timetable for the governorship election in Bayelsa State has opened up the race in the state, writes Segun James

Finally, the race for governorship election in Bayelsa State has begun. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced November 2 as the date for the election, alongside Kogi State. But Bayelsa, being the homestead of a former president, Goodluck Jonathan, is a crucial turf for either of the two major parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Thus, ahead of the November 2 election, realignment of forces and maneuverings are expected to start taking shape as contending groups and individuals wrestle for the soul of the state. Just like in the just concluded general election, the battle for Bayelsa promises to be keen and intriguing too.

Unlike in the past, when most of the gladiators were from the PDP and any opposition, if at all, and whoever was endorsed as the candidate of the party, was automatically assumed the next governor, the rules of engagement have changed. Therefore, the race for the Creek Haven Government House was always between the PDP candidate and the others.

In the past, politics in the state was centered on individuals, especially aspirants to the most coveted governorship position, and not the party they belong to. This was because every politician in the state belongs to the PDP only the disgruntled or the disenfranchised moved to the opposition. As a result of this, the tempo of political activities at any given time was dictated by the ambition of the individual aspirant.

Today, the campaign is yet to take off, but the battle field is already strewn with frenzy and intrigues such that even the closest of friends have suddenly become worst enemies. Although the contest for the governorship is local in nature, its effect will reverberate and have profound implication on the nation’s body polity.

The gladiators are swelling in their numbers and a few of them are considered formidable. On the one hand is former governor Timipre Sylva, who has the main opposition party, the APC in his grip. His only known opponent and ally is Senator Heineken Lokpobri, the Minister of State for Agriculture.

Surprisingly, even though both men are considered rivals, they worked as a team, surprising Governor Seriake Dickson in the last general election by winning a senate seat, two House of Representatives seats and four House of Assembly positions, a move that has broken the myth that the “PDP is Ijaw’s party.”

The Parties and the State of Play
Until recently, the PDP stands as a colossus in the political firmament of Bayelsa State. Everybody on the political field belongs to the party. Although it is still the party in power, its the loss to the APC during the last national election, has robbed it of its dominance and influence. Thus, the November 2 election will further determine the fate of the party, whose national leader still remains former President Jonathan.
The upstart that has come to upstage the PDP is the APC, whose state leader is a former governor, Sylva. These are the two parties that exist in the state with the APC as the new and beautiful bride for the politically disgruntled.

Who Are the Gladiators?
Bayelsa is an unusual state. It is almost 100 per cent riverine, sits squarely on the delta and a hotbed of political uncertainty. With the PDP losing it stranglehold on the political jugular of the state (even though the PDP still stands as a colossus in the political firmament of the state) and the people not used to being in the opposition, who is going to win the election?

That is the question as rumour of Governor Dickson’s ambition to return to the National Assembly, but this time as a senator representing the Bayelsa West Senatorial District, continues to heat up the polity.

Dickson is said to be positioning his closest ally and confidant, Lawrence Eghwhrujapor, the state’s commissioner for works, who has just won his ticket to the senate as running mate to the secretary to the state government, Dr. Kemela Okara, who being positioned as the PDP governorship candidate. This will automatically clear the way for Dickson to contest for the senate seat vacated by Eghwhrujapor in a bye election.
It is with this calculation in mind that the groundswell of opposition to the governor increases everyday and evident in the number of aspirants jostling for the PDP governorship ticket.

The PDP Aspirants

Timi Alaibe
He was the special adviser to two consecutive presidents on Niger Delta affairs and former managing director to a federal government owned interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). An astute administrator, Alaibe is considered the aspirant most eligible to be the next governor of Bayelsa State. He has contested the position several times, and to most people, this is Alaibe’s best time.

“The Principal” as he is fondly called is though yet to formally declare his intention to contest, he is believed to be the leading aspirant. He is reputed to have the ears of the elders of the state, who not surprisingly, have been rooting for him to step out to contest.
What he also has going for him is that he comes from the Bayelsa West senatorial district, which, considering the rotational system in place is supposed to produce the next governor. Also, he comes from the only one of three local government council areas – Yenagoa, Ekeremor and Kolokuma/Opokuma – which has to produce any governor from the state.

Alaibe however comes from Kolokuma/Opokuma, the smallest local government area of the state, which voting strength is insignificant. Despite this, his formidable and towering political machine has caused upsets in the political equation in the state in the past. Another drawback for him is that the senator that will represent Bayelsa Central in the ninth senate is his kinsman, Senator-elect, Douye Diri. Alaibe’s recent move back to the PDP is said to have upset the political calculations of other aspirants and Dickson. How this will play out will be determined in a matter of weeks.

Peremobowei Ebebi
Ebebi is a former two times deputy governor of the state under Goodluck Jonathan and Timipre Sylva. He is one person, who had been overlooked in favour of other candidates in the past. A lawyer, Ebebi is a master political tactician, who was able to survive working with principals, who suspected and feared him. As a politician, Ebebi has always held his own. He never lost his constituency in any election to the opposition.
But Ebebi comes from the same senatorial zone as Governor Dickson. Although he is from Ekeremor, a part of the state, which has never produced the governorship, Ebebi is a first cousin of Senator Lokpobri, a possible aspirant under the APC.

Stephen Ereboh
Ereboh is a former member of the state House of Assembly and from Southern Ijaw, the same area where the late governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha came from. In the last few years, Ereboh has bought his way into the heart of the people by embarking on several philanthropic activities. Quite popular, Ereboh believes that the existing and popular zoning formula which was designed by the founding fathers of the state, a system which had been sustained respectfully in the past, should be retained.

Bekes Etifa
Etifa is the scion of a highly respected politician and founding father of Bayelsa. Since joining politics, Etifa has been able to hold his own and emerged from the shadow of his father to become his own man. But like Dickson, he too comes from the same western district.

Kemela Okara
An intellectual and professional, Okara is from the family of Dr. Gabriel Okara, the great Poet, who died recently at almost 100 years. Okara is from Yenagoa, the state capital. Yenagoa, which is the biggest city in the state, has never produced the governor and its people have been agitating for it for many years.
This might be the reason Dickson might have decided to let a person from the area have a shot at the governorship. Even as secretary to the State Government, Okara has been responsible for managing the state’s economy some years ago. An “outsider” of sort, Okara contested for the governorship in 2011 but failed.

Fred Agbedi
If there is one political strategist and master tactician among the lot of the aspirants in the PDP, Agbedi easily comes to mind. He is the engine house of Timi Alaibe’s onslaught against both governors Alamieyeseigha and Jonathan.
Agbedi was in the House of Representatives during the third republic and during this dispensation, he has found himself in the same house for a third term. He was the director general and engine house of Dickson’s political campaigns. Not surprising, the feeling now is that the kingmaker also seeks to be king.
Among watchers of Bayelsa’s politics, the belief is that he might indeed be the architect of Dickson’s move for the senate despite being seen as the leading candidate in the past.

And the Dark Horses…

Reuben Okoya
Other names have since come up in the PDP and they include Mr. Reuben Okoya, a protégée of former President Jonathan. Okoya contested against Dickson the last time but lost.

Franklyn Osaisai
A nuclear scientist and former director general of the federal government owned Nuclear Materials regulatory body, Osaisai has been a player in the politics at the national level before coming home after his retirement.

Joshua Mciver
A former militant leader and the first to renounce militancy in 2008, McIver has since been involved in politics, having pitched his tent with the PDP. Of all the aspirants, he is the only one, who has set up a campaign office even before INEC leased its timetable.

Joseph Akedesuo
A retired permanent secretary in the state civil service, Akedesuo is the immediate past director of protocols to Dickson.

The APC Aspirants…
Not surprising, the aspirants under APC are just two: Sylva and Lokpobri.

Timipre Sylva
Although he is yet to officially indicate interest in the race, he has at least one more chance to take a shot at the office he once occupied from 2007 to 2011. Sylva is the state leader of the APC and following the performance of the party in the last general election, he might have found his groove back.

Following his ouster as the governor of the state and the subsequent use of state apparatus to keep him in check politically, when the PDP was in power, Sylva had put himself together and relaunched ferociously into the political arena on the platform of the APC.

He was ridiculed and even his former aides led by his deputy denounced him and pledged loyalty to Jonathan and Dickson as political activities peaked during the 2015 general election. Like the Phoenix, he continued to weather the storm.

He is considered as the aspirant to beat if primaries were conducted in the APC primary hence many people had advised that he plays the role of the party leader and leader of the Ijaw people irrespective of their political affiliation and leave the governorship stage for others.

Sylva is still very popular among the people. One thing that attested to this was the mega crowd he mobilised for President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC in Yenagoa during the last general election. A Sylva candidacy is a threat to whomsoever the PDP fields.

Heineken Lokpobri
A dogged fighter, who is ready to take on any foe without fear, Lokpobri is the pioneer Speaker of the state House of Assembly and was at daggers drawn with Alamieyeseigha for the control of the state. He soon pitched his tent with the political machine of Alaibe until Alamieyeseigha was removed from office.

When Jonathan became the governor and political positions were shared between his camp and that of Alaibe, Lokpobri was compensated with the senate ticket, which he won.
However, he is from the same senatorial district as Dickson, who is completing his second term. Although he is from Ekeremor, one of the three LGAs, which is yet to produce the state’s chief executive, he is a first cousin to Ebebi, who has also indicated his resolve to contest the governorship under the PDP.

In Bayelsa State as it is anywhere, the political season is harvest time – a time when the battle for the control of the politics of the state is fiercest and sometimes, bloody. It is also the time when rivalry for the control of the soul of the state between the gladiators is renewed. Let the game begin!