Bayelsa 2019: The Timipre Sylva Factor

Timipre Sylva

Ahead of the next governorship election in Bayelsa State, Adejobi Adedayo examines the political career of the former governor, its ups and downs, and his unique ability to stand up and face life when it gets hard

Before his name was announced as a Minister nominee from Bayelsa State on the floor of the Senate, many Bayelsans had been kept guessing on the political future of the leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa State, former Governor Timipre Sylva. Since his controversial ouster in 2012 by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) forces backed by then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Sylva’s name has become a recurring political decimal in the politics of the oil-rich Bayelsa State.

Relying on his experience and goaded on by his supporters, Sylva believed he was not finished politically as he joined the APC train in 2014 to stage a political comeback. After the 2015 elections, his supporters felt betrayed by the APC-led government at the centre, as they were left in the cold without any tangible benefit given to Sylva for supporting APC. But towards the 2019 election, Sylva again convinced his supporters to have faith in the APC.
Now with the re-election of President Mohammadu Buhari and the former governor’s nomination as Minister, Sylva has in many ways altered the political permutations ahead of the 2019 governorship election, emerging as a political force to reckon with in who becomes the next governor of Bayelsa State.

2015 Challenge
If 2015 was a good political year for Buhari and the APC, it was not for the Sylva political family. First, he lost election to become the Senator representing Bayelsa East, as the party was only able to win one constituency seat in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Brass Constituency 1. He also missed out in the glare of appointments that followed.

APC supporters consoled themselves that Sylva would run and win the Bayelsa governorship election. The election came and APC was left to contend with deadly power brokers spearheaded by PDP and its rigging elements in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Sylva headed to the court and after losing at the tribunal and the Court of Appeal, the verdict of the Supreme Court that upheld the election of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson was the final nail in the coffin.

Sylva’s supporters believed he would be compensated and waited. The wait turned to anxiety and graduated into frustration. While still waiting for his sacrifice for the party to be recognised, Sylva faced mutiny from his protégés led by the then chairman of the party, Tiwei Orunimighe. Though Sylva survived the internal political insurrection, the APC faced another threat of disintegration as some chieftains of the party, lamenting lack of compensation after joining the APC to fight “their own brother, Goodluck Jonathan”, left for the PDP, prompting Dickson to direct a special committee set up by the PDP to wind down APC in the state.

The PDP led by Dickson throw jibes at Sylva over his inability to secure “any tangible appointment under Buhari”. They mocked APC members from Bayelsa State over their inability to get any substantial appointment from the Buhari government but only a Minister of State, which, according to Dickson, was an “assistant minister”.

According to Dickson, many members of the PDP were “deceived to join the APC” but neglected when the time of appointments came. Speaking at a rally to welcome APC members that were defecting back to the PDP, led by Orunimighe, Dickson noted that frustration had driven many APC members back to PDP and predicted the final collapse of the party before the 2019 elections.

“Today with what has happened, the APC is dead in Bayelsa State. I know all the people that are defecting back because I am a countriman. I am not like people that play politics in Lagos, in Abuja, on the pages of newspaper and on social media. We have now wound down the activities of APC in Bayelsa State. These people defecting today were the backbone of the party, but when it was time for federal appointments nobody remembered them.”

2019 Resurgence
In the build up to the 2019 elections more APC members, including bigwigs like Mr. Ndutimi Alaibe, defected to the PDP, citing “failed promises”. Dickson, while receiving them at the Bayelsa State Government House, said the “defection of the former NDDC boss and his teeming followers does not only give credence to the supremacy of PDP but also spells the end of the APC in the state.”

Though he had become the Chairman of the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone and Chairman of the Governing Council of the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, two positions his supporters believed were beneath his status as a former governor, close observers of Bayelsa politics were surprised that Sylva was unfazed by the defection of bigwigs in the party. They were surprised that he was focused on gaining political mileage for the APC in 2019 elections by picking credible and popular candidates for the party. His efforts paid off, as the APC scored 118, 821 votes in the presidential election, against the 5, 000 votes scored in 2015, and won big in the National Assembly elections, winning Bayelsa East Senatorial district seat, Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency, and Southern Ijaw Federal constituency seats. The party also won Nembe 2 and 3, Brass 2, and Ekeremor 1 state constituency seats.

The Sylva factor in the victory of the party in the state was well acknowledged and his doggedness in remaining committed to President Buhari’s Next Level agenda, which earned the party victory, was widely applauded.
Indeed, it was not surprising that Buhari nominated Sylva as Minister and friends and foes alike believed his nomination was a reward for hard work and loyalty to the President and the APC.

Dickson, who is Sylva’s arch political rival in the last seven years, was the first to praise Sylva for being a committed APC member. In a congratulatory message to Sylva on his nomination as Minister, he said by Sylvia’s nomination “President Buhari displayed appreciation of loyalty, a virtue critical in political leadership.”
Another rival, Alaibe, who had castigated Sylva while defecting back to the PDP, also congratulated him and extolled his qualities. Alaibe said, “My joy stems from the fact that for a long time, Bayelsa people have been deprived of effective representation at the level of senior ministerial appointment.

“Knowing full well that Chief Sylva has been a loyal party man in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), it is therefore taken for granted that he would be fully rewarded with appointment to a ministry and at a level that would enable him empower his people
It is my belief that no matter what portfolio is assigned Chief Timipre Sylva, he would deliver. Having governed Bayelsa State for four years, he would employ that experience to deliver on his party’s promises under the right atmosphere.”

Even the immediate past Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who since he joined the governorship race had through his body language suggested that Sylva had no political future, was not left out. He described Sylva’s appointment as “very well deserved”, stressing that his appointment “is a clear indication that our party is growing and making progress”.
The House of Representatives member representing Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency, Hon Israel Sunny Goli, in a congratulatory letter said by his appointment Sylva had “instituted a reference point to the younger generation that consistency, dedication and discipline are always rewarded”.

Sylva’s Option on Bayelsa 2019
Incidentally, the lofty virtues Sylva has exhibited in the last four years for the APC in building the party in the state is what has prompted many Bayelsans to clamour for his return as governor. Even though before his Ministerial appointment, Sylva had not indicated interest in the governorship race, several groups and political associates have been urging him to contest. The call has not abated since his ministerial nomination, with many arguing that APC and the state would be better off with Sylva as governor than minister.
One of such groups, Bayelsa All Progressives Congress Democratic Watch (BAPCDWA), has called on Sylva to contest the November 16 governorship election, arguing that he is needed to salvage the state.

BAPCDWA in a statement by its coordinator, Ameri Tokoni, said Sylva remained the best candidate that could fly the party’s flag in the governorship election. BAPCDWA declared it would prevail on Sylva and even purchase the Expression of Interest and Nominations Forms for him to convince him of the preparedness of APC members across the state to mobilise support for him. The group said Sylva was the only person that could implement President Mohammadu Buhari’s vision in the state.

Tokoni stated, “Bayelsa All Progressives Congress Democratic Watch wants to call on former Governor Timipre Sylva to contest the November 16 governorship election. While we have seen other aspirants that have declared their intentions to contest, we wish to appeal to them to drop their ambitions and call on Sylva to contest the governorship.
“He is the only one that has appeal cut across the state. His scholarship, bursary and volunteer schemes, which catered for Bayelsa youths during his tenure, is still fresh in our memory and Baylsa youths that form the bulk of our party and the voting population in Bayelsa would give him our mandate.”

BAPCDWA is not alone on this. Many politicians who served under Sylva are also in tandem with the group for Sylva to return as governor. A former Bayelsa State House of Assembly member, Ebipadei Fekoweimo, said, “At least for the four years he was governor, there was human capital development, a lot of people were empowered; he opened up Bayelsa with 54 internal roads; he completed on-going projects he met on ground; rural communities were not left out and Yenagoa city was lit up with streets which curb insecurity. These are the reasons Bayelsans want him to come back.”

Those in the school of thought of a comeback for Sylva have also argued that he has the political structure on ground to actualise the dream of the APC to win Bayelsa State. “As a leader of the APC in Bayelsa State, who represented the party to fly the flag of the largest senatorial district in the general elections, there is no doubt that Chief Timipre Sylva is the only man with the requisite political structure to win the governorship election for the party and to salvage the state from the shackles of bad governance as we currently experience in this state,” says Festus Daumeibi, the 2019 APC Bayelsa Central senatorial district candidate.
According to those clamouring for his return, Sylva has only to give the go ahead and his foot soldiers would actualise his plans. “With the structures Timipre Sylva has built in this state and in the APC, if he declares 24 hours to the primaries that he is going to contest, he will win,” Daumeibi adds.

As the APC stands today, the belief is that it is only Sylva that can galvanise support across the state without even making much noise. It is because of the hope that Sylva would declare for governorship that the members of the party are not taking any of those that have declared interest serious until Sylva formally speaks on the governorship or throws his weight behind any of them.

According to Daumeibi, “It is everybody’s right to contest. But like I have always said, Timipre Sylva is the only man with the requisite political structure and will to win elections for the party and the state at large. He has built bridges across party lines. We can all go out and open campaign offices and say we want to contest. To declare an interest to contest is one thing, getting a party ticket is another thing and winning the general election is another thing.”

Daumeibi added, echoing the sentiments of the majority of APC members in the state, “As it stands in Bayelsa APC today, even if any other person in Bayelsa APC is going to win election, that candidate, inclusive of myself, needs the support of Chief Timipre Sylva. You can’t win election in Bayelsa without Chief Timipre Sylva’s support under APC. It is not possible. Let us not call white, black and black, white and run down our leaders.”

Will Sylva turn down APC members’ request to contest, listen to them and contest, or stick with his ministerial position and throw his weight behind another candidate? That decision ultimately rests with him. But APC members in the state know what they want and that is for Sylva to return home to complete the job of making APC the party of choice for Bayelsans.