Battle For Bayelsa’s Creek Haven Commences

Emmanuel Addeh writes on the likely candidates who may make the governorship battle in Bayelsa State and interesting and heated spectacle

In many ways, the next governorship election in Bayelsa State, is not only going to be interesting, but will draw both local and international attention.

This is so, not just because the state is pivotal to the economic survival of Nigeria, holding a large portion of the country’s oil reserve, but mainly due to the trend of politics in recent times.

The last election has been variously compared to a war by the major actors who insist that more than anything, it was a test of the popularity of the incumbent government at the time.

While Governor Seriake Dickson does not have the constitutional right to a third term, and therefore will not be contesting directly in the next poll, fixed for November by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all eyes will be on him to throw his support behind his preferred candidate.

Though in the last few months, journalists in the state have tried to force words out of the governor’s, suggesting the direction he would move in the coming polls, it is obvious that he is keeping his plans close to his chest, citing the need to consult God and political stakeholders as reasons for his indecisiveness.

If anything, the governor, usually seen as very strategic in his political moves, may likely pick an ‘insider’ to succeed him, rather than those he doesn’t really trust, either to continue with his vision for the state or to keep what some might regard as his deep official secrets.

As expected, there are a horde of political actors milling around the governor for attention. Others, especially those outside his inner circle, it was gathered, have been reaching out to national leaders who have the respect of the governor to convince him to throw his support behind them.

Being a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controlled-state, the thinking is that if Dickson and former President Goodluck Jonathan, can set aside their differences and work for a common candidate, the election will largely be a walk-over for the party.

On the other hand, if both politicians fail to agree, it is believed, then the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) may take the opportunity to inflict serious political injury on the ruling party in the state.

But as the race slowly picks up, especially since the announcement by INEC that candidates must emerge by August, some serious contenders as well as pretenders have upped their games.

In earnest, many of those interested in taking over Creek Haven, a nickname for the Government House located at Onopa, Yenagoa, have not officially indicated interest, but their covert moves of recent have given them out in an election that will determine who governs the state in the next four years.

It might be still early to get a definitive list of emerging candidates of the two popular parties in the state.

However, there are clear indicators pointing to a handful of the major contenders interested in taking over Dickson’s job before the end of the year.

Keniebi Okoko

The name Okoko readily rings a bell in Bayelsa. Though not known to have jostled for an elective political position, Prof. Okoko conjures one thing in the psyche of those who know him- morality in government.

This time, it would not be about the amiable Professor, but about his son, Mr. Keniebi Okoko, who hails from Gbarain-Ekpetiama, Yenagoa, which has never produced the leadership of the state since the inception of democracy.

Young, highly educated and exposed, the philanthropist has a degree in Political Science from Carlton University as well as a second degree in Economics.

He is also a clergy. Added to that are his several leadership and management trainings at the Harvard Business School at the senior executive level.

Said to be highly intellectual, Okoko has interests in oil and gas, agriculture, infrastructure, engineering procurement, civil construction, marine and dredging. In his private capacity, he has offered employment to several young people.

Okoko exudes a lot of confidence about his capacity to turn around the fortunes of the state, though he readily admits that Dickson has done his best for the state.

He believes that he is a clean break from the past, with no baggage or political IOUs to pay to anyone who’s sole interest is not the development of Bayelsa State.

Okoko, had also expressed his intention to govern the state in 2015. He believes that one of the biggest problems besetting the state is not necessarily lack of money, but poverty of the mind.

“Bayelsa as a whole needs to focus on education. Mental poverty is worse than financial poverty. If a mind is not developed and equipped, a man cannot give what he does not have,” says Okoko.

According to him, “Our people are not completely exposed to good education systems. Our people are not well travelled like other tribes. The Ijaw man is determined to succeed, if you give the Ijaw man the right playing ground, he will perform, I can assure you”

His youth, brain and brawn, his philanthropy and the fact that his local government area has never produced the governor of Bayelsa are some factors that may work in his favour.

Senator Emmanuel Paulker

Born 63 years ago, Paulker studied Biochemistry at the University of Port Harcourt. He was a teacher by profession, before his appointment as Bayelsa State Commissioner of Lands and Housing from 1999-2001.

Paulker, who represents Bayelsa Central took his seat in the Senate in June 2007 and has held several appointments, including committees on Industry, Finance and Downstream Petroleum.

He was said to have sponsored motions to scrap FERMA and create a Federal Highway Authority instead, and to stop universities from conducting post-JAMB examinations.

In 2015, Senator Paulker Emmanuel, sought to contest the 2015 Bayelsa state gubernatorial elections but was disqualified under circumstances said to be controversial.

He reportedly ascribed his disqualification from the race for the PDP governorship ticket to the fact that some members of the opposition, APC attended a thanksgiving service he organised.

Like Okoko, a governor has never emerged from Paulker’s local government, arguably the most populated, in terms of voter strength. But his age and somewhat reclusive attitude may work against him.

Godknows Igali

Those who follow Nigeria’s national affairs must have seen his face several times on television during former President Jonathan’s tenure.

A former ambassador to some Scandinavian countries, Igali, 59, who holds a PhD in Political Science and International Studies and two degrees in History and International Law from Nigerian universities, hails from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, late governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s political base.

A Jonathan’s ally, Igali who received in 2005 the the National Honour of the Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON), is a former Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government and was appointed in 2010 as the Federal Permanent Secretary for Water Resources and then redeployed to the Federal Ministry of Power by President Jonathan thereafter.

A widely travelled man, he has in the last one year, become very close to governor Dickson, and has been present in almost every major public appearance by the governor.

Aside the age factor, one other thing that may not be in his favour is the fact that he hails from a part of the state that has produced the governor in the past.

Kemela Okara

Like other politicians in the state, Mr Okara, currently the Secretary to State Government in Bayelsa, has not publicly indicated interest to contest the next governorship election.

What is clear, however, is that if Dickson is thinking of carrying out a balancing act in terms of giving some local councils that haven’t had a shot at the government house a chance, then Okara, who hails from Yenagoa, might be an option.

However, many believe that if Okara, erstwhile Commissioner for Trade and Investment, is to go far in the politics of the state, he must do away with what seems like his somewhat Western political orientation.

He must relate more with all stakeholders, irrespective of their ideas, ideals and political ideology and be more involved, rather than his natural aloofness and ‘just leave me to do my job’ kind of attitude.

Dr. Kemela holds a law degree from Middlesex University and has years of experience of private practice in Nigeria’s business and law environments.

He contested the the governorship election in 2012 on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), but lost to his current principal, Governor Dickson.

Timi Alaibe

A former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ndutimi Alaibe, who hails from Opokuma in Kolga local council, has a first degree in Accounting and a Masters in Business Administration.

He was first in charge of the finances of the then newly established interventionist agency before his appointment as MD years later.

In the last few years, Mr. Alaibe’s ambition to govern Bayelsa State, has seen him leave the PDP for the APC and then back to the PDP.

Though still influential in the politics of Bayelsa, there are those who believe that if he had stayed back to consolidate in the PDP after he lost out, he would have stood a better change of winning the party’s governorship ticket this time without much hassle.

Alaibe, 56, regarded as a deft political schemer, returned to the PDP late last year and has been seen around the governor since then.

He is said to have the ear of a former Nigerian president who is still working to convince the governor of the state and ex-president Jonathan on the need to throw their weights behind him. Whether Dickson will support an ‘outsider’ remains to be seen.

Reuben Okoya

Reuben Okoya, an architect, is a strong ally of ex-President Jonathan and Coordinator, Abuja Metropolitan Management Council during the former’s reign as Nigeria’s leader.

He has not publicly declared his intention, but it is clear that he is behind a group, the Campaign for Development and Democracy in Bayelsa, CDDB, which has been doing the groundwork for him for a while.

Executive Director, CDDB, Dr. Ekiyor Welson, says Okoya remains the people’s choice for the 2019 governorship race , following the “process of searching, finding and endorsing it’s preferred candidate for the office of governor.”

According to him, of all the 10 criteria upon which the governorship aspirants were assessed, Okoya came top.

On the side of the opposition APC, there are just two likely contenders, former Governor Timipre Sylva and Minister of State, Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri.

Obviously there have been cracks in the relationship between the two obviously ambitious politicians who want to rule Bayelsa, though they have tried to keep them on the low.

It is only a novice in Bayelsa politics that will agree that Chief Sylva is a pushover or that Lokpobiri will simply bow to the PDP or any of the party’s candidates.

With the modest inroads made by the APC in the last election, garnering quite a huge chunk of votes for President Muhammadu Buhari and winning four state assembly seats, it’s safe to conclude that the party is preparing for a showdown.

It might be too early to say with absolute confidence, where the pendulum will swing in August when the primaries are to be concluded, but what is clear is that the race for the Creek Haven may have begun in earnest with INEC’s announcement last week.

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