Emmanuel Addeh writes that the recent selection process for governorship candidates of the two major political parties, Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress governorship primaries in Bayelsa State were characterized by intriguing drama
For such landmark events with high expectations across the country, the atmosphere of secrecy around the recent Bayelsa State governorship primaries of the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was foreboding.
Pockets of the drama had started playing out as the major actors in opposing groups positioned themselves ready for battle. Early in the day, some of the spectacle were unfolding in the law courts; as a frontline APC aspirant and erstwhile Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, was seeking to stop the party from adopting the direct primary method. In the PDP, Chief Timi Alaibe, was praying the court to determine whether newly sworn-in local government officials, 121 in all, were fit to play the role of delegates.
Alaibe, a former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Chief Fred Agbedi approached the court to bar the ad-hoc delegates from partaking in the primaries.
Their contention was that since the elected officials failed to satisfy the 90-day ceiling in the case of local government officials and one month timeframe in the case of ad-hoc delegates in line with the provisions of the PDP constitution, they were not qualified as delegates for the intra party poll.
It was a day the fate of the gladiators was wont to be determined, this time, partly by the actors in the temple of justice. Tension had risen to fever pitch, in anticipation of whose side the pendulum of victory may swing.
In the end, Justice Eberiyin Omukoro of the Sagbama High Court, sitting in Yenagoa opted to stand on a middle ground. His verdict was both shocking and comforting, depending on which side of the divide one is. Omukoro declared that he lacked the jurisdiction to determine either case.
Having thrown out the two cases and a third, it set the mood for what would turn out a not-so-epic battle to find the standard bearer of the APC and of course, a long night of waiting for the PDP delegates’ decision.
In all, 27 gubernatorial hopefuls entered the battlefield. The PDP alone had 21, leaving the APC with six. Another unique feature in the primaries that was common to both political parties was the emergence of female aspirants. Again, it was a curious coincidence.
Earlier, the APC postponed its Bayelsa governorship primaries which was scheduled for Saturday, citing conflicting court injunctions on the matter.
A statement by the Secretary, electoral committee, Senator Emmanuel Ocheja noted that the APC was stepping down the primaries temporarily in deference to court injunctions obtained by certain individuals within the party over the mode of primaries to be adopted.
“His excellency, Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, who is the returning officer for the Bayelsa 2019 governorship election wishes members of the party and the general public to note that the primary election has been postponed.”
“As a law abiding party with respect for its constitution and that of the land, the APC is aware of conflicting orders from courts of equal jurisdiction on the Bayelsa governorship primary election,” it maintained.
For a state as small as Bayelsa, 21 aspirants from the PDP was quite a handful. In the end, only three made any visible impact. They were Senator Diri, who eventually emerged winner, Alaibe who came second and Mr. Keniebi Okoko, a little known aspirant who shocked everybody when he emerged third, clearly leaving behind a three-time member of the House of Representatives, Mr Fred Agbedi, Deputy Governor of the State, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd), multiple-term Senator, Emmanuel Paulker, among other bigwigs.
Diri, representing Bayelsa Central in the Senate, emerged victorious in the PDP governorship candidacy competition. In reality, the contest followed the expected pattern, as it was framed in the likeness of a duel between Dickson on the one hand and Alaibe on the other.
Diri, who hails from Kolokuma/Opokuma local government, emerged with 561 votes to defeat his closest rival, Alaibe, his kinsman and former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director, who polled 365 votes.
Mr. Keniebi Okoko, a businessman and philanthropist, came third scoring 142 votes during the exercise which started at 11.08 pm on Tuesday night and ended at about 4.30am on Wednesday morning.
Other aspirants from the ‘Restoration Team’ as Dickson’s loyalists are called, did not officially step down except Talford Ongolo, but none of them polled considerable votes.
Deputy Governor of the state, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd), who reportedly ran without his principal’s support scored 62votes ; Joshua Maciver, a former militant had 7 votes; Erepamo Osaisai, former head of the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC) polled 4 votes; while Fred Agbedi, a multiple-term House of Representatives member for Ekeremor constituency scored 18 votes.
Others were: Benson Agadaga, National President of the Ogbia Brotherhood, 3 votes; Reuben Okoya , an architect, 19 votes; Godknows Igali, a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power, 4 votes; Senator Emmanuel Paulker, 2 votes; Robinson Etolo, 4 votes and Nimibofa Ayawei, erstwhile Chairman of the Bayelsa Board of Internal Revenue, 7 votes.
Also, Chief of Staff, Talford Ongolo scored 3 votes; David Alagoa 3 votes; Kemela Okara, erstwhile Secretary to the State Government, 4 votes; former Speaker, Konbowei Benson, 24 votes; Johnson Kiyaramo, 2,while 16 votes were declared invalid. The only female candidate scored no vote.
In all, 1, 253 delegates voted while 1,237 were declared valid by Darius Ishaku, Governor of Taraba State, who supervised the process. He described the primaries as free and fair. Ishaku urged the contestants to close ranks and work for the victory of the winner.
In the run up to the contest, the situation in the PDP remained fluid, mainly because nobody could say for sure who would have the nod of Governor Seriake Dickson who had done everything in the books to ensure and also publicly vowed that the PDP candidate must emerge from his camp.
Dickson kept his preferred governorship hopeful to his chest until less than 24 hours to the poll when each of the eight local government areas took turn in a dramatic manner to endorse their man for the top job in eight locations in the state capital. It then became obvious the direction the governor was driving, although he never officially mentioned it.
The movie-like exercise commenced when the leadership of the PDP in Kolga led by the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Tonye Isenah, started the gale of endorsements.
The stakeholders, including youth and women groups unanimously adopted the Senator Diri, representing Bayelsa Central as their sole aspirant in the September 3, 2019.
While backing the Senator, the PDP loyalists from the area, said the decision of the critical stakeholders in Kolokuma/Okpokuma to endorse Diri, had put a halt to the ambition of any other contender from the area.
The meeting was also attended by the Chairman, Kolokuma/ Opokuma Local Government Area, Deinye Obaragu, the former Chairmen of the Council, and Wisdom Fafi, who represents the area in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly.
Others were Iselema Gbaranbiri, Commissioner for Special Duties, Joshua Ongore Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning, Ebiye Tarabina, Gesiye Isowo, Prince Tari Bolou, Perekiye Buruboyefe Commissioner for Sports and Kofi Odiowei, governor’s representative in the local government area.
In their thinking, Diri was the preferred aspirant because “Bayelsa needs an experienced public figure of tested capacity to build on the eight years of remarkable exploits by the State Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson”
At the ceremony for Southern Ijaw council, Monday Obolo, leader of the state House of Assembly, who disputed insinuation that his people had sold out by electing to support somebody outside Southern Ijaw, stressed that the decision was taken due to the inability of the eight contenders from the council to step down for one another.
Others present during the event were Joseph Akedesoh, former Director of Protocol Government House; Commissioner for Agriculture, Doodei Week; Kia Nigeria, Chairman, Southern Ijaw and several others.
In Nembe, the stakeholders endorsed Senator Diri as their sole candidate for Governor of Bayelsa State ahead of the primaries. The motion for adoption of Senator Diri was moved by the former Commissioner for Environment, Hon. Omubo Dede and was seconded by Mr. Bomo Serace.
Leader of Nembe Caucus and Commissioner for Education, Jonathan Obuebite said all the Nembe people representing the 13 wards in the council had taken the decision to support Diri.
“The Restoration government has spoken. Three persons were asked to go and pick forms and the leadership of the Restoration sat down and they have come up with a position. We have picked Douye Diri to represent us,” he said. It was the same story for all the local governments which threw their support behind Diri. From that time, it was clear in which direction the pendulum was swinging.
But it was also a day the Chairman of the PDP, in Bayelsa, Mr. Moses Cleopas, came under severe criticism after he openly accused two prominent aspirants, Mr. Okoko and Alaibe of sending fake alerts to some unnamed delegates to the party primaries in the state.
In a moment of seeming indiscretion, Cleopas accused the aspirant of sending fake bank alerts to the delegates who were camped in various hotels in the state pending the election.
But he got more than he bargained for after he was thoroughly dressed down by the accused over what they termed as the chairman’s ‘reckless’ utterances, wondering why a so-called umpire would delve into the field of play as an active participant.
Aside pockets of violence during the screening of delegates at the Ijaw House, where a young man was injured, the rest of the event was relatively peaceful until the winner was announced in the early hours of Wednesday last week.
It was clear after the sorting of the ballot papers who the likely winner was as the candidates began to leave the venue, the Gabriel Okara Cultural Centre, in droves.
In his acceptance speech, the winner Diri, assured everyone that he will be a worthy ambassador to carry the flag very high and thanked former President, Goodluck Jonathan for the ‘role he played’ throughout the process, describing him as a worthy leader.
Also describing Seriake Dickson, as a ‘political Mathematician’, Diri said he was humbled by the governor’s support and enjoined his fellow contestants to join him to face other opposition parties that will contest the November 2019 governorship election.
“Let me tell you all that I am well prepared for this race. This has not come by accident but through well -articulated vision and inspired action plan towards building prosperity among Bayelsans.
“ I am bringing my over 30 years’ experience in both private and public service to the fore in this leadership journey and I can assure you that I am prepared to give practical leadership to the state. We will be committed to the vision and collective aspirations of our founding fathers to building more infrastructure, create wealth and economic prosperity for our people,” he said.
“Go preach the PDP message that another ‘workaholic’ governor is coming and will continue the good works of the Restoration administration in our communities. We will mobilise for the completion of the three Senatorial roads to hit Brass, Southern Ijaw and Ekeremor,” he said.
Expectedly, reactions from the horde of contestants have started pouring in. Alaibe, though he conceded defeat, expressed disappointment that the process leading to the victory of Senator Diri, was not entirely free and fair.
In a statement he personally signed and made available in Yenagoa, Alaibe took exception to alleged breach of the party’s constitution by key actors during the exercise, however, adding that he had decided to ‘move on’.
Noting that there was ‘crass disrespect for legal procedures and party guidelines’, Alaibe argued that although a winner had been declared, the victory did not represent the voice of the people.
He maintained that his decision to seek election as governor of Bayelsa State was borne out of a conviction that he has what it takes to make the difference in the economic development of the state.
The former boss of the Presidential Amnesty Office, said he chose to run an idea-based campaign and envisioned a state where electricity will run 24/7 in less than 18 months through planned utilisation of abundant, but wasted gas resource.
Unfortunately, he noted, “From all indications, these lofty plans may have to be put on hold because the opportunity to execute them has been put on hold.”
The former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director, said despite the fact that he chose to run a decent campaign in line with the constitution of the PDP and the laws of Nigeria, it was unbelievable the depth of desperation and deadly manoeuvring that he along with his team encountered.
“We were called unprintable names and even labelled with criminal tags. But we were too focused to be distracted,” he noted
Alaibe maintained that certain aspects of the processes of the primary election rudely violated the provisions of our Party Constitution.
“For instance, by the provisions of Section 50(1) of the Party Constitution, the authority to formulate guidelines for all matters relating to the governorship primary is vested in the NEC of the PDP.
“The election of Ad-Hoc delegates is one of such matters. Strangely, the panel set up to undertake this exercise simply imposed on us a list of electoral and returning officers prepared by the state officers of the party who are avowed members of the orchestrated Restoration Team. Thus, the process was deliberately handed over to the Restoration Team. Our protest was ignored.
“This issue of election of local council chairmen and councillors that were allowed to participate in the primary despite a court order was another setback. You would recall that we protested to the appropriate organs of the party.
“As it turned out, the national leadership of the party would seem not to have been persuaded by the strength of our argument for obedience to the supreme law of our great party. Even the powers that be in state unsuccessfully challenged the superiority of our position in court,” he stressed.
Alaibe noted that his public statement was to put on record his disappointment with “this wilful disregard to our Constitution” but revealed that “ we must take no further steps that would merely equalise the disregard for the same constitution.”
“In the circumstances, we express our serious reservations about the process that led to the primary for its unconstitutionality and its outcome completely unacceptable because of its illegitimacy. However; we must move on” he said.
For his part, Okoko, who came third, said he remained undeterred by the result of the exercise, vowing to work for the emergence of a PDP governor in the interest of Bayelsa and the party.
He added that he was seeking the highest office in the state, not because of his personal interest, but to uplift Bayelsa and make it the envy of all.
The businessman and philanthropist said he would continue to work for the progress of the state, stressing that his recent foray into politics had taught him very valuable lessons which will be useful in the future.
“Being relatively new in politics, I can in all modesty state that my team and I haven’t done badly, coming third in the race before and far more experienced people in the politics of Bayelsa.
” I want to thank the people of Bayelsa for their unwavering support and steadfast love and prayers throughout this process. I do not take for granted the sacrifice made by my teeming supporters who were there in the rain and in the sun to ensure we emerged,” he added.
While thanking the former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who he said played the role of a father throughout the entire process, he also lauded Governor Seriake Dickson for being a leader of the state.
“Therefore, after due consultations with my team, I have formally visited the winner, Senator Diri to personally congratulate him on his victory. I have also been in touch with my brother, Chief Timi Alaibe.
“In this regard, I have decided to fully support the winner of the PDP primaries, Senator Diri in the interest of Bayelsa and the PDP and to work for his victory in the November 16 governorship election. We cannot afford to lose this state to the opposition,” he said.
For the APC, before the primaries, Lokpobiri had argued that given the terrain of the state and likely malpractices associated with direct primaries, the party should adopt the indirect method.
His Director of Research and Strategy, Chief Livingstone Egba, maintained that Lokpobiri was not afraid of any system adopted, but only insisted on a credible process that would usher in the most acceptable candidate to face the PDP.
He added that the former minister remained the most experienced in the entire APC pack, noting that he’s the only aspirant with both executive and legislative experiences.
“Lokpobiri is the aspirant who has prepared diligently to be governor of this state. He’s credible, exposed and highly experienced. If we must bring succour to our people, then Lokpobiri is the man. He’s on a rescue mission. He’s prepared to take off from the first day of governance”
Alas, his ambition to govern the state could not be realised as Mr. David Lyon, a little-known contractor in the oil and gas industry, emerged after the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led electoral committee announced the results in Yenagoa.
Lyon, who hails from Southern Ijaw, the second largest population of voters in the state, had earlier been endorsed by Chief Timipre Sylva, Nigeria’s Minister of State, Petroleum and leader of the party in Bayelsa.
He officially joined the race one day before the expiration of purchase of nomination forms after Sylva stepped down when he was sworn in as minister overseeing the petroleum ministry.
Lyon scored 42,138 votes to defeat his distant rival, Mrs Diseye Poweigha-Nsirim, who scored 1,533 votes, while Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, erstwhile Minister of State Agriculture and Rural Development, surprisingly scored 571 votes. A statement from Lokpobiri was still being expected last night.
Preye Aganaba also scored 354 votes, Mr. Amgbare polled 633 votes while Prof. Maureen Etebu polled 564 votes.
In a rushed exercise at Aridolf Hotel in Yenagoa, Senator Emmanuel Ocheja, Chief Collation Officer, who announced the result, said the mode adopted was direct primary as agreed by Bayelsa stakeholders, and confirmed by the national working committee.
However, Lokpobiri rejected the result in its entirety and wondered why election will be conducted in a hotel against the wish of the party.
While insisting that he was still trying to get details of what transpired in Bayelsa, the former minister, maintained that he and his team never participated in any primaries that declared Lyon the candidate of the party.
Lokpobiri, said there was no way he would be defeated in any election in Bayelsa by Lyon, adding that the majority members of the APC were supporting him.
He wondered why a primary was said to have started in an hotel in Yenagoa and ended in the hotel, sidelining the secretariat of the party in the state.
He said party members gathered at the secretariat in Yenagoa and waited in vain for the arrival of the committee saddled with the conduct of the primaries.
He also queried why a result was purportedly declared by someone other than the Returning Officer and Governor of Yobe State, who chaired the committee.
He expressed the hope that the national leadership of the party would look into the development in Bayelsa and ensure a credible process that would throw up a popular candidate for the APC in the November 16 poll.
As things stand, the major battle for who governs Bayelsa State after Dickson’s tenure expires is set between Diri, flagbearer of the PDP and Lyon, pronounced ‘Lion’ by his people, who carries the aspiration of the APC to take over the state. As the last may not have been heard from some failed aspirants, more interesting occurrences are expected to unfold in the coming weeks.