Bayelsa Governorship Still a Long Way from Certitude

Seriake Dickson

With all the traditional markers of an election still hazy, the Bayelsa State governorship race remains fluid for now,writes Emmanuel Addeh

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Governor Seriake Dickson has given his go-ahead to the preferred aspirants from his team to throw their hats into the ring for the November 16 gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State.

Indeed, the lull in political activities just a couple of months to the poll was becoming a matter of concern to close observers of events in the state, who though conceded that the reluctance of the governor to speak on his next move might have been strategic, it could also backfire.

But suddenly, the Dickson government, which he (the governor) mostly refers to as the Restoration Team and by extension the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), mostly controlled by him, broke the silence, literally declaring open the race for Creek Haven.
It wasn’t unexpected, but the message was loud and clear, when the governor finally spoke: ‘I will not support any aspirant outside my government’. This assertion came with its usual rumbles, but the governor, it seems, is in no mood to back down on his decision.

The statement must have looked innocuous at first glance, but it definitely broke the hearts of many politicians from ‘outside’ who had been milling around the governor, seeking his endorsement.

What it also succeeded in achieving was to set in motion the beginning of an epic battle between the two major blocs in the PDP, namely the Dickson’s Team on the one hand and the Goodluck Jonathan alliance on the other. Many issues between these groups remain unresolved, though both factions continue to play the ostrich, insisting that all is well.

At the last count, at least 21 aspirants from the PDP alone had picked and submitted the nomination and expression of interest forms, with many of them emerging from the governor’s team.

The likes of Timi Alaibe, a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); Ambassador Godknows Igali, a former Permanent Secretary under the Jonathan administration; Senator Emmanuel Paulker, Godknows Igali and several others angling to become the next governor of Bayelsa, with that release, immediately realised that expecting Dickson’s nod, was like ‘Waiting for Godot’ in Samuel Beckett’s play of the same title.

To be sure about the power dynamics in the state, anybody would readily agree that the governor has the PDP in Bayelsa practically in his pocket.

Indeed, that was probably why the Chairman of the party, Moses Cleopas, hammered it repeatedly during a recent PDP meeting at the Government House, Yenagoa, that Dickson remains the undisputable leader of the party in the state, even while former President Jonathan was seated right there.

It was the first time in about four years that the former president would be sighted at the Government House. He has attended one other meeting after that initial Icebreaker.

Dickson’s only challenge, however, is that it is believed that he might not wield as much power at the national level of the party that he has at the state level. The rule recently released by the National Working Committee prescribing where the delegates to the primaries on September 3, will come from may have also been unsettling a number of the power blocs.

With the regulation now extending the list of delegates to anybody who has held an elective position under the party in the state, the argument is that the governor’s greatest sphere of influence is only over his aides and politicians, who have benefitted from him in the last eight years.

A quick analysis of the recent history of the party will lay bare this seeming line of argument that while Dickson controls Bayelsa PDP, Jonathan wields more influence at the national level, at least on the surface of it.

The National Chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus was almost singlehandedly installed by the governor of Rivers State, Mr. Nyesom Wike to revive the PDP, when the party was at the point of death after its defeat in 2015. Many believe that Secondus is fiercely loyal to Wike.

In the same vein, Wike’s emergence as governor of Rivers State was mainly due to the huge support he got from Jonathan as a sitting president in 2015. Wike’s relationship with Jonathan and his wife Patience, appears not to have soured over the years.
If this web of loyalties still exists, it is perhaps, safe to speculate that convincing the national body to allow Dickson’s team member a thoroughfare without any input from Jonathan remains an uphill task.

However, the other point remains that attempting to sideline Dickson will be too expensive a gamble and could arguably be the end of the reign of the PDP in Bayelsa. After all, he has nurtured the party in the state without help from the so-called outsiders.

The list drawn by the governor, his team and the PDP in Bayelsa, which basically revolved first around three persons, including Talford Ongolo, Dickson’s Chief of Staff; Secretary to the State Government, Kemela Okara and Douye Diri, who just won the Bayelsa Central Senatorial Seat after years in the House of Representatives, appeared not to have elicited any excitement.

For even the PDP die-hard loyalists, it was stone-cold silence. For those who were less given to stomach their feelings, the social media was abuzz about the marketability of those shortlisted. To them, the ‘lucky’ ones, who made the list, were fiercely reclusive individuals, who despite being in government for years have either not made any impact or are hardly accessible.
Another theme that ran throughout the social media was that the major criterion for choosing them was, because of their ‘stinginess’. Their handlers, however, maintained that rather than being described as ‘stingy’, the right word for the PDP aspirants should be ‘frugal’.

Sensing the negative buzz generated by the initial announcement, which looked like the governor had placed a lid on the aspirations of others within his team and literally sealed their fate, a statement 24 hours would seek to clarify the position of the governor.

Dickson argued that he had not limited the number of those interested in the governorship, adding that the race was open to all its members but with a caveat that he and his team would only back one candidate.

Special Adviser on Media Relations to Dickson, Mr. Fidelis Soriwei, in a statement quoted the governor as reiterating that the party’s candidate, who would be a member of the Restoration Team, must have the qualities of being steadfast, loyal and a product of wide consultation.

Despite the governor’s seeming clarification, it was believed that he had long made up his mind on the person he wants to succeed him. But since that statement declaring the race open by the governor, several aides and associates of his had picked and submitted forms in preparation for the September primaries.

The Chairman of the Bayelsa Board of Internal Revenue, Nimibofa Ayawei, a close aide of Dickson’s has picked the form so also have the deputy governor, John Jonah, immediate past Speaker of the Bayelsa Assembly, Konbowei Benson among others.

The ‘notice me’ mentality also seemed to be in full swing, as members of the ‘restoration caucus’ fell over one another to be present in Abuja, where some of the candidates had literally relocated to perfect their collection of forms processes.
All the aspirants practically pulled the entire members of the so-called restoration caucus, mainly comprising elders loyal to the governor and Commissioners, to Abuja to obtain the expression of interest and nomination forms.

For now, there is a cacophony of voices within the PDP. While it is too early to speculate safely whether the administration already has its mind fixed on who’s likely to succeed Dickson if he eventually scales through the primaries and subsequently the All Progressives Congress (APC) test on November 16, the ranks of the aspirants within the governor’s caucus swelled astronomically.

But does the seemingly chaotic political vibes indicate that there is already division among the ranks of Governor Dickson’s men, especially with his deputy or is the governor just allowing democracy to take its course? Dickson maintains that the latter is the case.

According to Governor Dickson, the large number of governorship aspirants only shows the democratic nature and style of leadership of the PDP and therefore called on the national leadership to complement the effort of the state in providing a level playing ground for all the aspirants.

The governor explained that if he had taken a decision to stop aspirants from picking the form, the reactions would have affect the peace and stability of the party.

On his part, Jonathan has maintained his usual reticence and taciturnity, choosing only to plead for peace and unity within the party in the state so the APC doesn’t take advantage of a major crack.

“I need to plead with all the aspirants and all political leaders that there should be no mudslinging. We must free the space and eschew rancour because finally one person will become the candidate of the party and for that one person to win the election, all aspirants must work for that person.

“It is only our unity that can give us victory and if we are not united, they (APC) can get away with it. For example, it took the unity of the people of Rivers State including women who were resolute against soldiers to get the PDP victory in the state. If that had not happened, they (opposition) would have taken it.

“For us to secure this state for PDP, we need maximum unity and that is why all the 21 aspirants are important to us. We must have that maximum unity and must not create any form of division or discrimination. At the end of the day, one person will emerge and all of us will work for whoever emerges as candidate of the party,” he said recently during his second meeting at the Government House with party members.

For the APC, while the party has its own internal squabbles, especially between the two major gladiators, former governor Timipre Sylva and his one-time ally, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who is gunning for the same ticket, it is believed that the party cannot be a pushover yet.

There are confusing signals from Sylva who has not publicly made his intention to run again known, but before he was appointed a minister designate, if his body language and utterances suffice, then it should be taken for granted that he will formally throw his hat into the ring in the next few days.

He did come short of declaring officially during his 55th birthday celebration in Yenagoa, which took place a few weeks ago. However, he appears to have lost steam since his appointment, giving vent to speculations that he might have conceded to Lokpobiri.

In contrast, Lokpobiri, erstwhile Minister of State, Agriculture and Rural Development, has declared for the governorship, immediately getting the endorsement of Audu Ogbeh, his former boss and a founding member of the APC. He has inaugurated his campaign office and has put in place a strong secretariat to take care of his campaign.

Lokpobiri, who insists he was on a rescue mission to salvage the state said: “One day I was talking with him, Chief Ogbeh said to me, ‘Heineken Lokpobiri you have to go and rescue your people’. I didn’t know what he was talking about, because he said it about three years ago. But on another occasion, he repeated it. So, the person, who actually started this rescue mission is chief Ogbeh”, he said.

With the aspirants in PDP alone totaling 21 and a couple within the APC in Bayelsa, and Lokpobiri’s chances to pick the ticket are getting brighter, but it is likely to be between him (If Sylva backs down) and any candidate thrown up by the PDP.
For now, the political atmosphere remains too hazy to correctly predict Dickson’s successor, but what is very clear is that the next few weeks promise an epic battle, not just within the two major parties involved, but between them, when they finally square off in November.