The New Power Equation in Bayelsa

Timipre Sylva

After 20 years of PDP leadership in Bayelsa States, the power equation changed penultimate weekend with the election of David Lyon of the APC, writes Emmanuel Addeh

On Saturday November 16, the All Progressives Congress (APC) halted the about 20-year-reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State. To many, it was a shocking end to the ruling party, which had held sway unchallenged for close to two decades in a state that has always been of interest to Nigeria’s central government, because of its abundant oil and gas resources.

Created just three years before the return of democracy in 1999, Bayelsa has since had a history of political turbulence. From late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha to Goodluck Jonathan, who handed over to Timipre Sylva, with quite a few others in acting capacity in-between, Governor Seriake Dickson will be the first leader of the state to successfully serve out an eight-year tenure by February 14, next year.

Having successfully won a second term in 2003, Alamieyeseigha, arguably the most loved governor in the state, since Medford Okoko, was on a smooth ride in the mid days of the renewed mandate when trouble started.

Alamieyeseigha, who was generally referred to as the governor-general of the Ijaw Nation, at the time, was removed from power by impeachment in 2005 by the combined ‘conspiracy’ between the then Olusegun Obasanjo-led federal government and an easily-controlled Bayelsa State House of Assembly, who latched on his personal foibles, accusing him of corruption.

After serving out Alamieyeseigha’s remaining tenure, Goodluck Jonathan, won the nomination to contest for a second term in 2007 but was handpicked to become the vice-presidential candidate to Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua.

Earlier, Jonathan, who had trounced Sylva during the primaries for the 2007 governorship poll was succeeded by him after he became Vice President. He would later complete the first and in the early days of his second, encountered serious disagreement with Jonathan, who had then become President.

It was a lost battle for Sylva ab initio. He stood no chance in a country, where the president has enormous powers and influence across-the-board. Dickson won his first term quite easily with the backing of Jonathan, who was determined to flush Sylva and whatever little legacies he had in Bayelsa. Sylva became a regular customer to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Jonathan. The man was down and, almost out.

After over two years in the cold, Sylva summoned the courage to join the APC officially in 2014 from the then Kawu Baraje-led nPDP and in 2015 contested against Dickson, who was making history as the first governor of the state since 1999 to take part in an election as an opposition party member, with Muhammadu Buhari, having defeated Jonathan earlier in the year in the presidential election.
Years later, Sylva who surprisingly now appears to have struck a new kind of friendship with Jonathan tried to explain why the former president moved against him.

“As governor in Bayelsa State, I had ongoing battles with the Jonathan system. He wanted a different succession plan but I didn’t and without him being in control, I ended up as governor. So, as vice president, he started fighting me from day one. And that was why my election was annulled in 2008; but then I went back for re-election.

“Yar’Adua as president then protected me, because he saw the good in what I was doing. But as soon as Yar’Adua died, my problems began because I was not part of that succession arrangement. So, they concocted all kinds of lies against me,” he said at a media event, tagged Frank Talk with Sylva.

But in the last few weeks, Jonathan appears to be the new bride to the APC. In at least three occasions, officials of the party, including Sylva had visited Jonathan. During his birthday in the outgoing week, the Sylva, Lyon and some APC loyalists were some of the callers at Jonathan’s house in Otuoke. Pictures had littered the social media on the many visits. How long that friendship will last remains to be seen.

Back to Dickson: his romance with the Jonathan establishment flourished until the jostle for a second term in 2015. It took Jonathan a while to publicly endorse Dickson, though word on the street was that his wife (Patience) was opposed to it.

Eventually, Dickson won that hard-fought election, defeating Sylva. APC went to sleep in Bayelsa, immediately after that poll, appearing sometime when the party was to have a new chairman after the exit of Tiwei Orunimighe, who has now been replaced by Amos Jothan before it went into dead silence again.
In the run-up to the February/March general elections, this year, the party again appeared and surprisingly picked up a senatorial position and two House of Representatives seats, plus about four state assembly seats, winning considerable votes for the party’s presidential candidate, Buhari. It was the first time the APC would be having more than a house of assembly member in the entire state.

Sylva was again in the equation a few months ago, when the politics of the governorship poll, which took place on Saturday 16, commenced. The battle during the APC primaries was going to be between him and former Minister, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and whoever emerged in the PDP.
By then, the governorship ambition of both men, Sylva and Lokpobiri had caused a rift between the relationship they once managed to patch, both of them being the highest ranking APC members in the state.

Sylva was still eyeing a ministerial post, but unsure of what portfolio. It was either a powerful ministerial post or a grand entrance into the guber race. Two weeks to the end of collection and submission of the party’s nomination form, he was still silent about whether he was going into the race.

Then in a twinkle, things changed: Sylva became one of Nigeria’s most powerful ministers, having been appointed to head the petroleum ministry. The national executive of the APC, which had been very receptive of the idea of a Lokpobiri candidacy for the Bayelsa governorship election, became dodgy. The levers of power had switched.

Having literally secured his own bag, as it were, the former governor moved to consolidate with the APC leadership fully aligned with him, being able to dish out favours at will. That was the game changer for Lokpobiri, easily believed to be the most prepared in the build-up to the primaries. He had set up his campaign long before anyone in the APC in the state, meeting with stakeholders and mobilising support.

It might easy to demonise the former minister for going to court and putting the spanners in the works of the party, but close watchers of the APC politics in the state seemed to agree that he wasn’t fairly treated by the party. Despite the alleged ill-treatment, he urged his loyalists to support the APC in the last election irrespective of the outcome of the court judgment.

Sylva singlehandedly handpicked David Lyon, who was said to have been of immense help in his days in the cold after he was removed as governor. Like a fairy tale, Lyon is now governor-elect of Bayelsa under the APC and will be sworn in as leader of the state on February 14, if he surmounts all the hurdles posed by his many cases in the court.

The power equation in Bayelsa has shifted dramatically with the APC victory. It is unclear what impact the APC will make with its unexpected win, but what is clear is that with its recent advances, Sylva has become the new kingmaker, that’s if things remain the same in a few months. And where does that leave ex-President Jonathan? The debate continues…

But Sylva has said the reason APC won was because Governor Dickson treated Bayelsa as his personal property, noting that, “Dickson married Bayelsa wrongly and therefore lost, because he had treated the first wife badly. I will like to bring in this Eritrean proverb ‘that if you marry a wife very well, you will be blessed with another wife.

“Governor Dickson, unfortunately, made our job very easy because he married the wife very badly. Of course this proverb presupposes that if you married a wife badly, you will not get another wife. So, he did not marry the state very well, so the state roundly rejected him”

This narrative is, however, wide off the mark from Dickson’s, who believes that the PDP was rigged out of the elections with complicity from the security agencies, who were directed allegedly by the APC-led federal government to win the state at all costs.