Bayelsa 2019: Dickson, Diri Plot Opposition’s Defeat

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Ahead of the November 16, 2019 Bayelsa governorship election and, in the face of antagonistic “federal might”, Governor Seriake Dickson has been vigorously leading the campaign of the Peoples Democratic Party’s flag-bearer, Senator Douye Diri. The party looks good to resoundingly retain tenancy of Yenagoa’s Creek Haven. Stanley Nkwazema writes 

While the ruling party at the center, All Progressives Congress has warned the federal government against releasing N7 billion to the Bayelsa State Government, being refund for Value Added Tax, (VAT), President Muhammadu Buhari has transmitted a letter to the Senate, seeking additional refund of N10 billion to Kogi State for projects it implemented on behalf of the federal government. Both states have scheduled gubernatorial poll on November 16, 2019. 

In July, an elated Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, while performing the ground breaking ceremony for the construction of a chapel at the Government House, Lokoja, announced the receipt of N30.8 billion bailout from the federal government. The natural import of these selective huge disbursements ahead of a major electoral contest, under whatever guise, is of key concern to many stakeholders.

Meanwhile, the apparent unwillingness to release the N7million refund due to Bayelsa State ahead of the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election, suggests that the state is on lock-down, courtesy of federal power. 

Significantly, not many who work with Governor Dickson understand his way of thinking on many governance issues. Before the primaries that would usher in the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election, Bayelsans nursing the ambition of taking a shot at the ticket were not stopped from picking the forms from the PDP secretariat.

At the last count before the primary on Thursday September 4, 21 candidates paid for the forms at the cost of N27 million, enriching the coffers of the party to the tune of over N440 million. Almost half of that number came from Governor Dickson’s cabinet and staff, as well as others from the Restoration Group, which he leads. It was also understood that he assisted some of them to pay for the forms.

While so many candidates had the feeling that they were to be anointed, he never spoke on a particular candidate but told anybody who cared to listen that the candidate must be Ijaw in blood and in thinking. Some even went as far as dropping names and meeting those they thought were ‘closer than close’ to the Toru Orua-born lawyer, activist and politician. 

Some alleged political jobbers and perennial contestants felt they could try their luck and cast their nets to make the big haul but emerged with zero catch. At the end of the day, it was Senator Douye Diri, the man from Kolokuma/Opokuma who represents Bayelsa Central at the National Assembly that won. 

The governor is facing a big battle to get Diri and his running mate through the election. He not only understands the fact that the election is an off-season poll coming outside the cycle of the four years and seven months after both men were elected Senators. Again, his reputation is at stake even as voters are beginning to realise that the choice could turn out to be the best for the state. If campaign rallies and endorsements by various groups translate to winning the election proper, then the PDP candidates are beginning to impress the voters.

Although Diri is not known to be a billionaire – a former teacher, commissioner, Representative and now a Senator – he hardly boasts a formidable financial war-chest, in a contest that is considered ‘war’. But the scope of his goodwill is unmistakable. The governor is battling dwindling internally generated revenue and meeting up with so much debt. But his hard-won reputation as a feisty fighter is intact.

The opposition APC in the state is not, however, convinced that they could move to Creek Haven after Dickson. The in-house implosions and bickering over the choice of oil pipeline security contractor, David Lyon, have made it extremely difficult to sell the flag-bearer as their candidate. 

Significantly, the gubernatorial candidates of the party, including former PDP stalwart and former Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, Priye Aganaba Steven, Ebitimi Amgbare, Diseye Poweigha, Ongoebi Etebu are contesting the outcome of the primaries which they claim was a sham. Lopkobiri’s case against David Lyon comes up on Monday. A Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa and presided over by Justice Jane Inyang has already fixed November 4, for commencement of hearing in the suit filed by Lokpobiri, challenging the governorship primaries conducted by the APC, on September 4.

As a fact, prominent members of the party in the state are not on his campaign trail and were not even available when the campaign was flagged-off last month in Yenagoa. The APC governorship candidate is incidentally not a well-known personality and worse, not even a popular choice. Many believe that ex-Governor Timipre Silva, now Minister of State for Petroleum who is backing him will bring out money to support him. But their house is divided. 

Diri recently said: “I think, I have come a long way with His Excellency the Governor of Bayelsa State. Over the years, we have known long before he became governor. We were all involved in the creation of our state Bayelsa; we are all founding fathers of our state. And so, for me, I know that he was going to play a key role in who becomes the governor after him. Much as the people will vote, but as a sitting governor, I realised that very early, when I started the move to Creek Haven.”

Interestingly, Dickson has deployed a philosopher’s attitude to chart a new way of dealing with problems of a complex and very difficult state like Bayelsa – easily regarded as the Jerusalem of the Ijaws. Politics is a game where people cook up all sorts of narratives to curry favour. Not with Governor Dickson. He listens, talks less but digests more information. Even when he is uncomfortable with flimsy excuses, he finds it expedient to call the person or persons concerned. Don’t be surprised when he asks you about a particular person from your locality. 

Greed and unfaithfulness have come to define Nigerian politics and the state is indeed awash with transactional politicking. So many, curiously believe in the slogan of ‘let’s share the money’ at the expense of governance, infrastructure development, good governance, accountability and transparency. 

Although politicians could turn around after grabbing as it intoxicates, but only Dickson and a few were convinced after the primaries that Senator Diri could continue with the template set in place by his group to better the lot of the state, when he bows out on the 20th of February, 2020.  He confirmed recently that “Not many people in the state were convinced that Senators Douye Diri and Lawrence Ewhurujakpor” the former Works Commissioner made a good pair for the task ahead. He stuck to his guns and saw to it that the people voted for them at the primaries. Many believed that he was rewarding loyalty, faithfulness and continuity beyond his days in office.  

Questions about the governor’s love for education dissolves when it is understood that he was not privileged while growing up coupled with the fact that he had to travel several kilometers, to different communities to attend Secondary school. This affected and shaped his thinking. He has built 15 new modern boarding schools across the length and breadth of the state. He had to skip school for a period of time; due to lack of funds and so he had to pass the Bayelsa State Education Trust Fund and made education at that level free. He has built three varsities. The NUC has now accredited all the courses. 

He also moved to establish the University of Africa, from a swampy sleepy village in Toru Orua and employed not only locals but many others from outside the country to handle the academic affairs. Besides, when he realised that multibillion Naira medical Centre built by the first civilian government of DSP Alamieseigha was being inhabited by rodents and miscreants more at odds with the purpose of taking care of the health needs of Bayelsans, he quickly assembled a team of consultants that now got the approval of the NUC to remodel the place which has now become the first fully accredited Medical University.

Before that, the nearest hospitals were miles away and in certain cases, due to the riverine nature, they had to paddle canoes for hours before they could access adequate healthcare, which informed his building health centers in all the local government areas and some communities cut off from local government headquarters. People died of avoidable illnesses, which they ascribed to witchcraft, but there now exists modern diagnostics centers.

The Traditional birth attendants are equally being trained and regulated in line with best practices. Following the recurring cases of adulterated and expired drugs and non-availability of authentic drugs, the state has established a drug mart where hospitals and other institutions could buy and administer to patients.

Indeed the Seriake Dickson vision, which has powered notable transformations in diverse sectors of the state, can hardly be allowed to die. Little wonder, Bayelsans, including the bickering opposition, know the next tenant of Creek haven.