Bayelsa Governorship Election: Misconceptions about APC’s Zoning

Heineken Lokpobiri

Akponanabofa Okuboware

Quite expectedly, tension is gradually heightening by the day in Bayelsa State as we inch closer to the November 2, 2019 date for the governorship election in the state.  The two major political parties gearing to slug it out for the race are the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressive Congress Party (APC).

From all indications, the stakes appear to be higher in the APC. This is because there are very strong indications that APC is in serious contention to wrestle the governorship position from the ruling PDP in the state as the electoral fortunes of the party have continued to soar. For instance, from a mere 5,194 votes in 2015 presidential election, the party was able to garner a staggering 118,821 votes in the recently concluded presidential election for President Muhammadu Buhari. The party also recorded another milestone in the National Assembly election when it snatched one of the senatorial seats (Bayelsa East) from PDP, in addition to wrestling two House of Representatives members, again from PDP. In the State House of Assembly election results that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has already authenticated, four seats were taken from the PDP by APC.

Unlike PDP, the APC has basically, two major big fishes to contend with in its fold. These are former Governor Timipri Sylva and the Minister of State, Agric, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri.

Unfortunately, some elements within APC who are probably doubtful of their chances in the coming primaries because of their declining political value, in cohort with some agents of the PDP, are going about, fanning the embers of zoning to distabilize the unity currently existing in the APC. In paid publications in some select media outfits, this group goes about threatening brimstone and fire; that heavens will be let lose, if Lokpobiri eventually emerges the APC candidate for the polls. In one of such sponsored publications in one national daily, the group thundered that, “Bayelsa state is not Rivers State where after Chibuike Amaechi’s eight year tenure, another Ikwerre man Nyeson Nwike is on the way to spend another eight years. There is no way Bayelsans would accept a politician from Bayelsa West to govern after Dickson eight years. Power would definitely move to another senatorial district. Any political party that presents a candidate from Bayelsa West would lose woefully.”

The frustration against Lokpobiri has heightened among his opponents since information filtered out from the political camp of the minister that he would throw his heart in the ring for the election. The warped reasoning of those opposed to the minister running is that, Lokpobiri comes from the same senatorial district as Governor Dickson, and therefore not qualified to run for the office. The incontrovertible truth here however, is that so far, equity and justice has been duly served to all the zones of the State. The office of governor has rotated among the three senatorial zones of the state in no particular order. Therefore, in the next round of the contest, it does not matter what sequence the exercise should assume or commence. No doubt, Lokpobiri hails from the same senatorial district as Dickson, but the truth is that the Minister’s Ekeremor area has not yet had a shot at the office. Are these people inferring that there are different versions of the Ijaw people and nation? Are the Ijaws from the other senatorial nations different from their brothers and kin from Bayelsa West?

To put the records straight, Bayelsa East where Sylva comes from has enjoyed a rare double opportunity to produce two governors in the state unlike any of the other zones in the persons of Sylva himself and Goodluck Jonathan. In addition, it is on the zone that has had the special opportunity to have produced the President of the country. It is also pertinent to remind the agitators here that once upon a time, two ministers meant for the entire Bayelsa State were appointed from one senatorial zone alone, and indeed, the same community in the Bayelsa Central senatorial district. Yet, the heavens did not fall. The ministers were Professor T.T. Isoun (Science and Technology) and Mrs. Boloere Ketebu (Women Affairs).

Those who are drawing inference with Rivers State and threatening that they would not allow the Rivers State scenario recur in Bayelsa are demonstrating stark and gross ignorance of the politics of Rivers State. Indeed, there is no basis for such incongruent comparison. In Rivers State, only two, out of the three senatorial zones have been producing the governor since the current political dispensation commenced in 1999. Why some people are raising eyebrows about the Rivers State scenario is that the three governors come from the same political configuration in the state known as the upland area without any opportunity to the riverine people of the state to equally taste the pie.

That said, it is pertinent to state here that politics is not a game of passion and emotions. It is about bringing your best foot forward. Let there be a contest. Some people in APC Bayelsa are afraid of competition. Unfortunately, with the introduction of new technology in our elections, the days of electoral militancy are over and no longer in sync with global best practice.

Those who are agitated about Lokpobiri entering the governorship race in Bayelsa are obviously threatened by the Minister’s towering political influence in the state. The Minister has worked very hard since joining the APC in 2015 to uplift the political fortunes of the party in the state with very visible and tangible results to show for his efforts. Lokpobiri has been the one, almost singlehandedly funding the APC clandestinely in the state.

Those who are very much aware of his efforts at growing the party and uniting the people thinks that the time is rife for him to reap from the fruits of his tireless efforts. Perhaps as a result of his generosity and magnanimity, the minister has continued to attract infectious followership wherever he goes. When he contested the State House of Assembly and eventually became the Speaker, he did so with overwhelming votes. In the two occasions he vied and eventually won the elections to the senate, Lokpobiri attracted similar crowd.

In order to rout the PDP out of the state, the best strategy to achieve this objective by the APC is to swallow the bitter pile by joining hands to ensure that a very credible candidate in the person of Lokpobiri emerges to flag the party’s flag in the November gubernatorial election.

––Okuboware, a public affairs analyst wrote from Abuja