Bayelsa Guber: Uphill Task Before Alaibe

Seriake Dickson

Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa

Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the schedule for the governorship elections in Bayelsa State, the political space in the state has attracted an army of politicians aspiring to succeed Governor Seriake Dickson. Several politicians from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) have besieged the state to pursue their ambition to rule the oil rich state.  

If anything, the November 16, 2019 date fixed by INEC for the election jostled the state back to life as politicians fell over one another to again try their hands in the onerous task of governing Bayelsa. For the PDP, the number of aspirants is particularly high, perhaps because the party has had political control of Bayelsa since the commencement of democratic governance in 1999.

Many politicians believe that the PDP provides a viable political platform for the realisation of their ambition to govern the state, particularly given the fact that the party has been labelled an Ijaw party by its leaders.

Among those who are seemingly interested in contesting the governorship are a former Senator representing Bayelsa Central in the National Assembly, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, former Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Franklin Osaisai, former Federal Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources and later Power, Amb. Godknows Igali and former Coordinator, Abuja Metropolitan Municipal Council and Businessman, Architect Reuben Okoya.

Others are the publisher of Pilot Newspaper, Chief Denis Sammy, former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Timi Alaibe, former Nigeria Delta agitator, Mr. Joshua Maciver, former Deputy Governor, Chief Peremobowei Ebebi, and a former Assistant to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Romeo Bekeyeye.

Though the whistle has not been officially blown by the governor, those within his administration, who might form the pool from which he might likely pick a successor are the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Kemela Okara, the Chairman of the PDP, Chief Moses Cleopas, Chairman of the Bayelsa State Revenue Board, Mr. Nimibofa Ayawei, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Doodei Week and the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Talford Ongolo.

In addition to the fast expanding list of aspirants under the PDP, are several top politicians who have embraced the platform of the opposition APC to pursue their gubernatorial ambition. In this category are former Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, Former Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, former Director of Treasury, Chief Okpoi, and Businessman, Mr. Preye Aganaba.

However, of the latter pack bestriding the Bayelsa political space in pursuit of this singular ambition, one particular aspirant and his kind of politics draws immediate attention- he is the Kolokuma/Opokuma born politician fondly called “the Principal” by his admirers, Chief Ndutimi Alaibe.

Those abreast of political developments in Bayelsa would readily recall that Alaibe’s ambition to govern Bayelsa dates back to his days as the Director, Finance and Administration in the NDDC In 2002.

After what seemed to be years of planning, at the time, Alaibe resigned his position as Special Adviser on Niger Delta and Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Programme to pursue his passion to rule Bayelsa. His defection from the then ruling PDP to the Labour Party (LP), to test his popularity against the PDP, was to open the floodgate of not so strategic movements across parties that have dotted his political career. And that, many say, appears to be his major undoing.

After the unfulfilled quest to capture the Bayelsa Government House under the Labour Party in 2011, Alaibe returned to the PDP and remained in the party till August 15, 2015 few months to the gruelling gubernatorial contest between Governor Dickson and Sylva of the APC which Dickson won. Alaibe who had engaged Sylva for the ticket of the APC remained in the APC till October 2018 when he led his supporters in yet another return to the PDP.

Although, the leadership of the PDP received Alaibe and other returnees with celebration at the Ox Bow Lake in Yenagoa, his return was said to have ignited suspicion especially among key members of the main political group within the PDP, the Restoration Group, which Dickson controls.

Not many of the key players in the Restoration Group, within the PDP were taken in by Alaibe’s message that he was back home to the PDP which according him, he owes his political achievements. To many, Alaibe’s return could well signify the beginning of a struggle for the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP which his return could only help to fast-track.

Not a few observers are of the view that Alaibe should ordinarily have been a major factor in the forthcoming contest for the gubernatorial ticket of the PDP in the state but for what appears like the albatross of political inconsistency which has been an inextricable feature of his politics.

Perhaps, while he was away in other parties, it deeply weakened what he would have used to make a strong case for the position of governor, thereby yielding the space to new entrants into the race who have remained in the party to prevent it from disintegration.

Investigation revealed that Alaibe took off on a healthy note in the days immediately following his defection in November last year. His regular presence in government functions including the burial ceremony of  of the Governor’s mother, Mrs. GoldCoast Dickson, was said to have prompted the governor to also visit him in his Lagos residence.

But recent events revealed that the relationship between Alaibe and the governor may have soured or at best nosedived. Insiders claim that the governor’s team was uncomfortable with reports from his camp, allegedly carried by his men that the PDP roundly lost election in contentious Nembe Bassambiri, even when the party had filed a suit to challenge the outcome of the election in the tribunal.

Aside his not so cordial relationship with the governor, keen watchers of the political equation in Bayelsa are of the view that the emergence of  Tonye Isenah and the Senator representing Bayelsa Central, Senator Douye Diri, from the same Kolokuma/Okpokuma, local Government Area where Alaibe comes from,  may have added more spanners in his bid for the PDP ticket.

The contention is that the KOLGA which is the smallest local government in Bayelsa central cannot have a speaker, a senator and the governor at the same time, given the need to ensure balance in the distribution of major positions in the state.

Besides, the politician may not have the deep pockets he once had as finance director at the NDDC or as the head of the interventionist agency or even as the driver of the federal government’s amnesty programme at the time.

The huge support he once commanded may have also waned, given the fact that he seems to recluse after every election circle, made worse this time, by the changing dynamics of the politics of the state which in the main, seems not to be clement to that brand of ‘off and on’ politicking. Are his best days behind him? That’s a puzzle that will soon unravel.

But Alaibe, a few weeks ago, defended his brand of politics. Alaibe who spoke at an event in Yenagoa, said his political decisions in the past were informed by the need to allow peace reign instead of insisting on certain things at all cost and shedding blood or causing chaos.

“A leader must have the capacity to persuasively generate support without the use of force or coercion. A leader must be peaceful. A leader must have a history of leadership without violence. A leader must have that charisma that convinces his followers and must be able to use the weapon of love to disarm hatred.

“Why should a true Ijaw man murder a fellow Ijaw man just because he wants to win an election? Why should anyone procure arms and train people to kill their fellow human beings so as to pave way for their rise to power? Why would anyone desire to swim in the blood of fellow Ijaw men and women so as to attain exalted political offices? This is not just an abomination but an aberration.

“From our recent history, we have witnessed detonation of explosives at political campaign grounds, campaign offices and homes of political leaders and perceived political opponents.

“You are aware that I was, more than once, a victim of such senseless attack. The bloodshed and killings in the last elections was another example of disgraceful acts of violence. It must never happen again,” he maintained.

Alaibe continued: “You will recall that since 2002 when I stepped into the political arena in Bayelsa State, I have had to pull back a few times in the middle of the contest – not out of timidity, weakness or lack of support base to win elections. Far from it!

“I have always taken such a decision when it became clear that for me to achieve my goal, I will have to swim in the blood of fellow citizens – by matching violence with violence. Instead of this, I have always chosen the path of peace at the risk of my political career. Why should I create orphans and widows just because I want political power? In the words of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan: is my personal ambition worth the blood of a fellow Ijaw man? The answer is no”.

But for now, the former NDDC boss is again faced with odds that appear humongous in his chosen mission to govern Bayelsa. As it is, he has many rivers to cross. Is he destined to rule Bayelsa or will it be the same story as in the past? As they say, only time will tell!