Battle for the Soul of Bayelsa

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Segun James writes that there is a string of impulsive maneuvering and realignment of aspirants in the impending governorship contest in Bayelsa State

The 2019 general election, arguably, left a gaping chance for a major change in the shape of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State. The election revealed the sore crisis in the ruling PDP in the state and the fact that the party could be worsted in the November 16 governorship election, unless its leaders take the bull by the horn to begin a reconciliation process.

The party had surprisingly lost a senatorial seat, two House of Representatives and four House of Assembly seats to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in an election that was a pointer to the future.

At the parliamentary level, the battle is already lost and won. For a party that prides itself as an “Ijaw party”, this was certainly the PDP’s worst outing. Now, the battle has shifted to who becomes the governor after Mr. Henry Seriake Dickson.

All is quiet on the political front within the PDP following the “disastrous” performance of the party at the last general election. All the blames have been placed at the doorstep of Dickson who the party leaders have accused of playing God in handling the affairs of the party. To them, the primaries before the general election was a one-man-show, and this reflected in the outcome.

The governor believes he has the magic wand to ensure that the PDP continues to be the mighty Iroko in the political forest of the state.

Not surprisingly, he is confronted by a teeming number of aspirants jostling for the governorship ticket of the party. These persons are determined to ensure Dickson does not determine their political future.

The stage is finally set for a battle between forces loyal to Dickson and those who are determined to wrest the party from him. Most of them are distressed by the attempt by the governor to humiliate people who were instrumental to his political ascendancy in the last eight years.

Among them is former President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been humiliated at different times by the governor. Since Jonathan returned home to Bayelsa, Dickson has told him that his six years in the presidency was a waste, an outburst which attracted criticism from home and abroad. This is because the governor was the former president’s political godson. Jonathan ensured Dickson’s political ascendancy against all odds.

With Dickson in charge in the last election, Jonathan never had a say in who takes what position. The former president’s opinion was not sought for at all.

The governor even humiliated his deputy, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd.), refusing him any opportunity to nominate even the party’s candidate for his Nembe constituency, effectively making the admiral politically irrelevant.

All candidates in the election were personally nominated and imposed on the party by Dickson. Opposition to his choice was not tolerated and anyone suspected to be working against him was treated as an outcast.

Not done with his “victory” at imposing his supporters on the party, Dickson is now determined to decide the next governor of the state, a move which the aspirants are determined to resist.

Although the new political year began on the May 29, the governor is now at daggers drawn with the critical stakeholders of the party who are determined to ensure he alone does not determine the candidate of the party in the election.

But how did the party get to this level? What will the situation cost the party? Will the PDP continue to rule Bayelsa, a state in which it has 20 years unbroken run? These are the questions as the battle for the soul of Bayelsa State enters a critical stage.

It all began when Dickson insisted that there will be no party primaries in the state while imposing candidates on the party despite the order by the national working committee of the party. He ensured that people loyal to Jonathan and his most formidable opponent, Chief Timi Alaibe never had access to the nomination forms.

Loyalists of potential aspirants like Reuben Okoya and Godknows Igali among others also got a similar treatment. In order to effectively silent such formidable opponents as Alaibe, whom he cannot order about or control, Dickson promoted Alaibe’s kinsman, who was in the House of Representatives, Hon. Douye Diri, as the senatorial candidate. With this, he ensured that both the senator and the governor of the state may not be allowed to come from the same place.

Not done, Dickson tinkered with the gentleman agreement worked out by the founding fathers of the party which stressed that the governorship in the state should not only be rotated among the three senatorial districts, but also among all the eight local government areas in order to give everybody a sense of belonging.

With this deft political reengineering, the governor successfully made himself the political godfather in the state knowing that the PDP still stands as a colossus in the political firmament of the state.

In the midst of these, there is the rumor that the governor is desirous to return to the National Assembly as a senator to represent the Bayelsa West Senatorial District. To ensure that his plan succeeds, Dickson imposed his Commissioner for Works, who is one of his closest allies and confidant, Lawrence Eghwhrujapor, as the senatorial candidate.

Eghwhrujapor, who is from a minority Urhobo enclave in Dickson’s Sagbama local government area, is to step down for the governor as he is “moved up” the ladder as deputy governor to the party’s candidate.

According to insiders, the governor is positioning the Secretary to the State Government, Dr. Kemela Okara, as the PDP governorship candidate with Eghwhrujapor as his deputy. This will clear the way for Dickson to contest for the Senate seat vacated by Eghwhrujapor in a by-election.

It is with this calculation in mind that the groundswell of opposition to the governor rises everyday with the increasing number of aspirants for the PDP governorship ticket.

For some palpable reasons, the pending battle in Bayelsa PDP is not just one of ambition but more of survival – the survival of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson. He is ready to crush anyone in his way to survive.

There is no denying the fact that the race for the governorship election is on and that Dickson is not going to be on the ballot having completed his mandatory two-term tenure, but the governor insists on having his way, afraid that his legacy may disappear.

To ensure this never happens, he has to determine his successor and also find his way to back to the National Assembly in order to have political relevance in the state and the nation. To achieve this, he must devise all ways to actualize his mission.

Bayelsa is one of the few nearly homogeneous states in the federation. But for some Isoko and Urhobo communities carved into it as a result of natural landmarks like rivers and creeks used as boundaries, the state would have been an entirely Ijaw state.

But within this facade of one holistic Ijaw state that is on display to the public is the strident cry of “core Ijaw and non-core Ijaw,” which has polarised the people and is almost bursting into violence. The main proponent of this political movement is Dickson himself. And he has his motives.

Opposition figures such as Jonathan and former governor, Timipre Sylva, who come from Ogbia and Nembe in Bayelsa East, are regarded as none-core Ijaw speaking people. The proponents of this divisive politics made it clear that the next governor must once again come from the “core-Ijaw” areas of Bayelsa Central and West Senatorial Districts.

They hinge their reasons on the fact that Ogbia and Nembe areas, which make up Bayelsa East have not only produced two governors in Jonathan and Sylva, but have also produced two deputy governors in Jonathan and Jonah, the most by any district. These aside from the fact that the district has also produced a vice president and a president in Jonathan. They insist that the West and Central districts should be allowed another opportunity after Dickson, a move which effectively makes a mess of the gentleman agreement of the founding fathers.

As the battle for the soul of the state enters a critical stage, the people have a date with history on November 16 as the PDP and the All Progressives Congress (APC) battle it out.

How that history play out is of utmost interest to the generality of the people. What is sure, however, is that Dickson has dealt Jonathan a most unkind political blow and the people may ask for a pound of flesh during the election.