Dickson’s Next Big Fight

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Seriake Dickson

Emmanuel Addeh writes that Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State may be in a very tricky situation. Whatever he does, he will offend the powerful interest blocs in the state Peoples Democratic Party. He needs careful attention to navigate the landmine that lines the path to the governorship contest in November

Governor Seriake Dickson’s name will not be on the ballot on November 2, this year, when candidates slug it out in the Bayelsa governorship poll. Many believe that that election will not only determine his political relevance in the coming years, but will also, other things being equal, serve as a referendum on his performance as governor in the last eight years.

A very vocal politician, Dickson’s ability to, in the coming months, make strategic decisions as to whom to support in the coming election, which part of the state the person hails from, the public acceptability ratio of the candidate and how well he manages the likely fallout prior to the polls, will largely determine its outcome.

In that election, it will be a straight fight between the governor, though he won’t be a direct contestant, and his political arch rival, former Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva (unless there’s a major upset). Both men have never pretended to be friends nor hidden their dislike for each other’s tactics. In essence, it has been like a cat and mouse game between the two. In their public utterances, Dickson has always portrayed Sylva as a violent man who will do anything to attain power. On the other hand, the former governor of the state characterizes the incumbent as a hypocrite who accuses his opponents of his exact sins.

Timipre Sylva

But while it has always been taken for granted that Bayelsa remains a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) state, recent events, especially the inroads made by Sylva’s All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last national elections, seems to have put a question mark on that long-held opinion.

Before now winning one senatorial district out of three; two House of Representatives seats out of five and four State House of Assembly positions from the available 24, in the last election, was unthinkable, as the APC was perceived as almost non-existent in the state. The APC had just one State Assembly member prior to the election.

Dickson and Sylva never yield ground to each other since the incumbent was drafted to displace Sylva, who had fallen out of favour with the then President Goodluck Jonathan.

While Dickson is popularly called Ofurumapepe, the Great White Shark, by his admirers, Sylva believes that he remains the Opu Abadi, which literally translates to the Big Ocean. That’s what the next election represents, an epic clash between the Ocean and the Shark.

If Sylva gets the APC ticket, which is likely, except he is upstaged by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, current Minister of State, Agriculture and Rural Development, who is also eyeing the seat and has his foot soldiers working round the clock, then the stage is set for a repeat of the 2015 battle, which the governor has frequently describes as war.

Nevertheless, apart from what appears to be external threats to the PDP’s perennial victory in all elections in the state since 1999, are also internal squabbles within the power blocs in the party.

Governor Dickson’s political deftness will come to play as to how he meanders his way through the obstacles that will be posed by the Jonathan bloc, the Timi Alaibe group and other smaller power levers that will likely abandon him in the event that he picks a candidate who does not fit their yearning.

In the last few months, the governor has met secretly several times with former President Jonathan, though it is unclear whether they have agreed on a particular candidate to throw their weights behind. Pundits believe that that would be the undoing of the PDP if the duo do not find a common ground.

For the incumbent, it was a tough fight in 2015, during his reelection bid, when forces loyal to Jonathan insisted that he mustn’t be given a second term. In the end, Dickson succeeded when Jonathan yielded when he saw the handwriting on the wall- that with a divided house, the PDP would have lost that crucial poll.

Whether Jonathan will again allow the governor have his way this time remains to be seen, but what has become very clear is that there seems to be a wide gulf between the two leaders, but they have managed to keep sealed lips about it. Jonathan has stayed away from all public functions organised by the state government for years and is rarely, if ever, seen with the governor in public.

In fact, when big dignitaries like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-military ruler, Gen. Yakubu Gowon visited the state and stayed for days to inaugurate some projects completed by Dickson’s administration, the thinking was that there was no way Jonathan would not be present.

Eventually, it took a visit by Obasanjo to Jonathan’s local church in Otuoke, to bring both leaders together in public. Same with the usually rambunctious wife of the ex-President, who would rather be seen with the governor of neighbouring Rivers State than that of Bayelsa.

He has avoided the Government House, better known as, Creek Haven in Onopa, like a plague in the last four years, choosing to keep silent on governance in the state, except when his foot soldiers took on the governor when he allegedly made insinuations that the former President’s occupancy of Aso Rock for six years was a waste to the Ijaw people.

The crack seems glaring, with the APC winning the Bayelsa East Senatorial District, where Jonathan hails from, in the last general election. Pundits believe that if both leaders agree to work together, the governorship might just end up being a piece of cake for the PDP.

It was a cacophony of voices in that election, even as government officials accused leaders in that senatorial district of sponsoring candidates outside the PDP against the party. In Bayelsa East alone, the party lost the seat currently occupied by Mr. Ben Murray-Bruce and two federal house seats to the APC.

The other side of the internal squabble is likely to be the Timi Alaibe threat. With his rumoured contacts and wealth, an Alaibe exit from the PDP if he is not eventually given the governorship ticket, may seriously hurt the party.

However, for now, the governor appears to have been able to put his immediate caucus, his commissioners, special advisers, special assistants and other aides under check.

None has defected or made public statements denouncing their boss in recent times, except his former Commissioner for Youth Development, Mr. Ibarakumo Otobo, who resigned and moved into the APC last year.

But the governor, an energetic politician with a gift of the garb, despite several nudging by journalists to speak or give a clue on who will succeed him, has maintained that whoever will take over from him would emerge through intense prayers and consultation.

During the just-concluded Easter celebration organised by his administration in Yenagoa, Dickson urged the people to seek the face of God for His divine direction as the PDP embarks on the search for the next governor of the state.

According to the Governor, his position on who succeeds him is firmly anchored on the faith that God does not only give power but truly rules in the affairs of men.

“As usual, let me call on all of us to use this period of Easter, which is a period for sober reflection, to continue to invite the presence of God in our state. We must not relent in our prayers because the enemies of our land are planning hard to destroy the peace and stability we have laboured to build.

“But we have nothing to fear. They put their trust in chariots, weapons and connections in Abuja but we trust in the Almighty God who has always saved us.

“Since we handed over our government to God, we have been reinforcing it through prayers and positive declarations that this state which I call the Jerusalem of the Ijaw nation shall not be handed over again to anybody who does not fear the authority of the Almighty God.

“I will formally invite everybody in this state to pray because I feel that the next leader of our state is not going to be selected from my pocket. I won’t do that. It’s too important a decision to come from one person.

“That is why we have to first commit it as a burden to God so that we can be guided not by the whims, thoughts, desires and calculations of men but by His divine will and direction. After the prayers, then I will engage on intensive consultations.

“For all those who are thinking of being part of this equation, I prescribe same for you. Don’t overheat the system because we still have a lot to do for our state even in the remaining months,” he said.

The governor has also prodded the leadership of the party in the state to set up what he described as a stock-taking committee which in essence is to examine the role played by ‘traitors’ during the last election that led to the victories recorded by the APC.

It is believed that the committee is a machinery to weed out disloyal members of the party who worked against the PDP in the last election and enforce discipline as the big fight in November draws near.

The question on the lips of many, which will invariably determine the success of the party is whether the power brokers in the party can close ranks and work together for the common good.

Will Dickson and Jonathan agree on one governorship candidate? Will those who have defected to the party, like Alaibe leave when they are again refused the PDP ticket? Will the governor succeed if he decides to go it alone? Will the APC take advantage of the seeming fault line within the ruling party and inflict maximum damage in November? These questions will be answered in the next few months.