Unravelling an Impending Denouement in Bayelsa

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Emmanuel Addeh writes that the reluctance of Governor Seriake Dickson and former President Goodluck Jonathan to openly state their preferred candidate to fly the Peoples Democratic Party flag in the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State has created a tension soaked atmosphere

Both political leaders have struggled to deny what looks like a widening gulf between them, but close observers of the Bayelsa State polity, admit that in the days leading to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primary, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Seriake Dickson are in a dilemma. They are in a challenging situation concerning how to effectively manage their fragile relationship.

That bond appears to have further received a crushing dent after the last state and National Assembly elections when a complex slew of developments led to pronouncements by the leadership of the PDP that certain forces within worked against the victory of the party in its traditional stronghold, especially in Bayelsa East, where the former President hails from.

The gains recorded by the opposition, All Progressives Congress (APC) has never been experienced in the political history of the state since 1999. The APC grabbed a Senate seat as well as a House of Representatives position in that election, seriously creating a question mark on the long-held notion that the PDP remains the only party for the Ijaws, the dominant ethnic group in Bayelsa.

After that poll, it was time for stock-taking. The panel set up by the leadership of the party in the state, said it discovered that in several parts of the state, especially in the East of Bayelsa, there were anti-party activities by known leaders who endorsed members of the opposition for various elective positions, rather than work for the victory of the party.

And as the deadline for the submission of nomination for governorship aspirants in the party draws near, and serious groundwork on who succeeds Governor Dickson begins, power brokers within the party appear to be kicking against handing over the selection of the next governorship candidate to the same persons who they said worked against the party during the last election.

The state leadership of the party was said to be irked by the alleged decision of known associates of the former President to sabotage the party by throwing their weight behind opposition candidates of the APC and the Action Democratic Alliance in the last election, which reflected in the results.

Aside from the loss of two House of Representatives seats, the PDP also lost three seats to the APC in the 24-member Bayelsa State House of Assembly, though the party has gone to court to quash that announcement, saying it believes that the APC victory was wrongly announced.

The former President stayed away from the campaigns as long as they lasted, choosing to remain silent to the bewilderment of party leaders. His silence then is now being used against him, as party leaders insist that since he did not give them the least support during the 2019-natonal-elections, he shouldn’t be given the right to determine who emerges the next governor on November 16.

Before the last poll, the signs that all was not well within the party was everywhere. A bitter PDP leadership, led by Moses Cleopas, after setting up a panel of investigation into the conduct of party leaders and members, said the decision was with a view to taking disciplinary measures against those who wilk be indicted.

Accordingly, a seven-man PDP Disciplinary Committee was set up by the State Executive Committee, which it said was in line with the provisions enshrined in the party’s constitution to check acts of indiscipline among members.

“No matter how highly placed, anyone, in government or out of government, once this party has evidence showing that you are using your privileged position, because your preferred candidate did not win, you now go and play hide and seek, you now pick and choose which candidate to work for, we will send you out of this party in no time at all,” the PDP leadership said.

However, the report of that panel never saw the light of day, a decision many ascribe to the resolution of the party not to rock the boat, since it will disrupt its internal cohesion.
Many leaders of the PDP are also bitter that the former President did not speak up during the election, the PDP reportedly came under a heavy attack from security forces allegedly deployed by the APC.

“It is our viewpoint that a man who deliberately refused to condemn the murder of a Government House Photographer and a party Chieftain in Southern Ijaw and the brazen acts of impunity at Nembe Bassambiri is not in the best moral position to decide the party’s governorship candidate.

“There is also the prevalent belief that Jonathan’s lack of firmness and decisiveness is at the root of most of his problems. The seeming overbearing influence of his wife, Patience has not helped his popularity with the political crowd and its leaders in Bayelsa,” said a top party source.

He added, “Very few Bayelsans including those that are apolitical would jump at the idea of a Bayelsa being governed by a man who would hand over the state to the controlling influence of a former First Lady.”

“This is one major factor that has militated against the ambition of Reuben Okoya who is a close ally of Patience Jonathan. To many of us, that is Okoya’s main obstacle to the Bayelsa State Government House.”

This viewpoint is also shared by close allies of Governor Dickson, who at a meeting with PDP stakeholders in April posited that he would only support somebody from the Restoration Team (a sobriquet for his administration) to fly the party’s flag in the governorship election.

It’s obvious that the members of his government are waiting to anchor their ambition to govern the state on the endorsement by the governor who is believed to be in firm control of the party and all its structures from the ward to the state level.

That comment that his successor will emerge from his team, may have also created anxiety in the camp of the so-called outsiders such as Chief Timi Alaibe, and those who are not part of the Dickson caucus like Amb. Godknows Igali, Okoya and a host of others who on one hand are seen as Jonathan’s boys and on the other hand also yearn for the governor’s blessing.

This set of aspirants, understandably, also perceive former President Jonathan as the lifeline for their ambition to rule the state.

But while both leaders have held closed door meetings with no other person in attendance, the outcome of such deliberations are closely guarded secrets. This has led to a lull in political activities across Bayelsa due to their silence.

However, a close Dickson ally who is also member of the State Executive Committee of the PDP noted, rather confidently, that the issue of who succeeds the governor is a decision solely reserved for the governor.

“As it is today, the PDP in Bayelsa takes directives from only one man – Governor Dickson – whose firm grip on the party is as impregnable as it is impenetrable, although it would strengthen the PDP further if the two leaders agree on a consensus arrangement,” another PDP chieftain said.

But Jonathan had recently dismissed the claim of engaging in anti-party conduct with a wave of the hand, describing it as “manifestly dishonest, deceitful and preposterous,” through his Media Adviser, Ikechuckwu Eze.

“It is manifestly dishonest, deceitful and preposterous for anybody to suggest that former president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is working against the interest of the party on which he rose to occupy the highest office in the land.

“As one of the leaders of the party, having served as president on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, it is obvious that Dr. Jonathan has continued and will continue to work for the success of PDP across the nation.

“He is also a father-figure and a statesman whose door is open to all Nigerians desirous of visiting or consulting him on sundry matters, including politics. Even then, he has always given his support and blessing to his party’s candidates in all elections,” he said.

Did Dickson unilaterally impose candidates in the last election, which forced the former President to withdraw any form of support that gave the APC privileged access in his domain as being insinuated?

A reliable source told THISDAY that the governor consulted widely, including having a series of meetings with the former Nigerian leader whose attitude he said was non-committal throughout the private meetings until the national and state assembly elections were almost at hand and the party leadership and the governor had to take a decision as to who should be fielded.

Despite what appears like a glaring crack, Governor Dickson last week shut down insinuations that he was fighting the former President over who emerges as the next governor in the state.

Speaking during a media chat in Yenagoa, the governor said that if anything, aides of the former Nigerian leader were taking advantage of their closeness to him to make careless statements.

Dickson posited that when the time comes, he would consult with Jonathan and other major stakeholders on the governorship candidate that will emerge on the PDP platform.

“We know what to do quietly. Even in this transition, if there’s one person I am going to sit down with , it’s going to be former president Jonathan.

“When I am ready after all these prayers, I will visit him because he’s an elder and we will compare notes,” he said.

He said that he remains in charge of the state, but blamed some allies of the former president for stepping beyond their bound.

He added, “I have the direct responsibility of administering the state and I believe I have his support, but sometimes from aides, you get all sorts of things. He’s traveling round the world.

“But we can’t keep addressing the press everyday that there’s no problem, which will mean that there’s a problem.

“We are united when it comes to what is good for our people. There’s no political relationship that has lasted longer than that the two of us and we are very mindful of that.

“These are volatile times in terms of managing a transition and it can be quite turbulent. But it can be quite reassuring that you have his support. The bottom line is that I am in charge of government and there has been no interference.

“We will consult and rub minds. There are no issues. I know that there are people around who make careless statements and sometimes they have expectations that are unreasonable,” he maintained.

“They like to take advantage of the proximity they have (to Jonathan). Essentially, there’s no problem between us. I have some experience in this game. The outcome of the prayers and consultations will address all these fears. What is comforting is that there’s no candidate of the APC that can defeat us,” he said.