Like the Biblical Promised Land, the Bayelsa Story Changes Overnight

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Dickson and Diri flash the latter's certicate of return

The balance of power in Bayelsa has shifted yet again after the Supreme Court Judgment invalidating the qualification of the APC governor-elect, David Lyon, in last November’s Bayelsa governorship poll, writes Emmanuel Addeh

On Thursday, Nigeria’s Apex Court unanimously held that Mr. David Lyon and his deputy, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo were not qualified ab initio to be declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as governor-elect of Bayelsa and deputy respectively.

It effectively changed the Bayelsa political trajectory overnight and automatically rejigged the short-lived existing power equation in the state in which the trio of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Timipre Sylva and Timi Alaibe as well as a handful of others would have re-emerged the new power brokers.

The court judgment, also, literally raised from the dead, the seeming impending political sabbatical of the former governor, Seriake Dickson, whose alleged ambition to control all the levers of power in the state without consideration for the other elitist politicians and leaders led to the defeat of his party in the first place.

It appeared the erstwhile governor was finished politically. He had been somewhat alienated by his own party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), for the same reason that he wasn’t amenable to taking advice or directives in some cases.

His fellow governors, quite a number of them, including the very vocal Governor Nyesom Wike of neighbouring Rivers State, were also not in good terms with him.

This discordance with his colleagues was palpable in no less an event than the official election (selection) of Dickson’s successor as the Chairman of the PDP Governors Forum, last month.

In a dramatic event in Abuja while his term hadn’t expired, his colleague governors simply went behind him to conduct the election of his successor in which the person handing over was absent. It wasn’t only disrespectful; it was a sign that all wasn’t well with the party. Sokoto Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, emerged his successor during that event.

Back to the politics of Bayelsa, all the signs were there that Jonathan, Alaibe and a host of other disgruntled leaders were angry with Dickson. In Ogbia, where Jonathan hails from, the APC routed Dickson’s PDP during the poll.

Dickson’s strongmen in the area were either rounded up on the day of the election or put in one form of detention or the other, effectively rendering them ineffective.

A day later, the winner of that election, Lyon was in Jonathan’s house with his godfather and former President’s erstwhile political enemy, Timipre Sylva, ostensibly to thank him for the role he played during the poll.

Soon after, the full APC team was at the former President’s abode as early as 8am to join him in marking his birthday. Not many had any doubts that indeed, just like his mother, who had earlier endorsed the APC candidate then, the former Nigerian leader had given his nod to APC’s Lyon in the run-up to the poll.

As for Alaibe, who is from the same local government with Diri, who was sworn in in Friday as the fifth governor of Bayelsa, it was obvious that his supporters had massively voted the APC candidate. The APC got more than half of the votes, garnering 8,934 to the PDP candidate’s 15, 360.

In his usual manner, the ex-President allowed his body language to speak for him. In a statement by the Chairman, Chief Benson Odoko, the PDP Elders Forum accused Jonathan of using the Bayelsa poll to negotiate with President Muhammadu Buhari, saying Jonathan kept his distance from the PDP and its members throughout the period of the campaigns leading to the election.

“The forum was shocked when Jonathan and his wife donated the Aridolf Hotel to the APC as the operational contact point for visiting dignitaries of the party and as the venue for the party’s controversial primaries.

“These actions of Jonathan clearly portray him as a betrayer of the PDP, which gave him the platform to occupy the highest positions in the country, Bayelsa State, and millions of the PDP members just to protect his selfish interest.” He said.

Though clearly partisan, Odoko was probably right about the Aridolf issue. Many APC stalwarts were lodged there while the final result was announced at the same hotel owned by the wife of the President, Patience. Was the hotel only doing business? Perhaps!

Dissociating Jonathan and his family, who felt ignored by Dickson from Lyon’s short-lived victory would be an uphill talk. The justification for their action and decision to teach Dickson a lesson, as it were, is also in the public sphere. Dickson had allegedly declined to incorporate their views and input in the build-up to the poll.

In the meantime, Thursday’s judgment came as a shock to the APC and the governor-in-waiting, Lyon, whose qualification for the election was invalidated by the Supreme Court.

Like the biblical Moses, who saw but never stepped his foot on the promised land, news of the apex court’s decision effectively put a halt to the rehearsal for the planned swearing-in, in which Lyon along with some security personnel and a retinue of aides were participating at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa, when the information filtered in.

The PDP flags in front of the Creek House, Bayelsa’s seat of power, had also been replaced by a slew of APC banners and the stage set for the planned inauguration of Lyon before the news of the disqualification came.

However, it was an instant burst of jubilation at the Government House as the party’s supporters trooped to the seat of power at Onopa, to celebrate with Governor Dickson, who was having a session with his cabinet at the Exco Chambers inside the Government House.

The governor, who was already preparing for a reception at his hometown, Toru-Orua, Sagbama local government, stayed back at the Government House to receive jubilant visitors.

At his official residence, the doors were thrown open for the huge crowd, while the usual security checks were relaxed with an elated governor mixing freely with everyone around.

It was also a mishmash of emotions as expectant APC supporters and loyalists of Lyon were seen still in shock while discussing the ‘unfairness’ of the Supreme Court decision, while the PDP faithful erupted in celebration.

A five-man panel of the apex court presided by Justice Mary Peter-Odili nullified the election of Lyon on the grounds that his deputy, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo presented false information to INEC in aid of his qualification for the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa State.

The apex court in the judgment delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko consequently ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC to withdraw the certificate of Return issued to Lyon and Degi-Eremienyo.

Justice Eko also ordered that INEC immediately declare the party with the highest number of lawful votes and geographical spread. In a twinkle of an eye, Diri, nay, Dickson’s fortunes had changed. Now, it appears the original plan, which was for the now former governor to go to the senate before the November 16 debacle will materialise.

Diri, who hails from Kolokuma/Opokuma and his deputy, Ehrudjakpor from Dickson’s Sagbama, Bayelsa West, both serving senators will have to leave the senate to give the chance for a new set of elections.

If Dickson contests, which he is likely to, the former governor who has a stronghold there in his senatorial zone, will likely emerge victorious in a free and fair poll. His main challenger in that area would have been Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, who has been alienated by the APC for taking Lyon to court after raising concerns about the primaries.

Whether the national leadership of the PDP with which Dickson seems to have fallen out will favour him with the party’s ticket remains to be seen. Bayelsa Central is however open.

The third senatorial District, Bayelsa East may also be up for grabs if like in the governorship, the PDP is able to prove that the APC’s erstwhile deputy governor-elect, Degi-Eremienyo, used contentious academic qualifications for that election.

Now that the Dickson, Diri duo has been restored to the highest level of power wielders in Bayelsa, where does it leave those who were either indifferent or worked assiduously against them? Nothing unprecedented. Diri, the new governor is likely to toe the path of peace.

Indeed, he has started on that note. Immediately after he was issued the certificate of return on Friday, Jonathan’s house was his first port of call. They were seen in several pictures flashing smiles. After all, none of those, who expressed anger against Dickson, mentioned that Diri had done them evil.

Diri has promised to follow-up on his plan to run an all-inclusive government. “I have been sworn in today as your new governor. My advice is that we have to be magnanimous in victory.

“We have to forget the bitterness, and the acrimony, because if we kill ourselves, who are we going to lead? Of course, we are not going to lead animals.

“I, therefore, bring to you a message of love, hope and prosperity for Bayelsa. Let us eschew all the bitterness and acrimony and learn to love ourselves irrespective of political parties”, he said.

Also in an unexpected move, Jonathan felicitated with the new governor, stressing that he was hopeful that Diri would deliver, having been his aide in the past.

“I congratulate His Excellency, Senator Douye Diri, who was sworn in today as the 5th Civilian Governor of Bayelsa State, in compliance with the Supreme court verdict of yesterday, 13th February 2020.

“As Governor, the responsibility of building hope and sustaining peace across the state now lies on your shoulders. I urge you to always bear in mind that you are the Governor of all Bayelsans and to seize this moment of glory to build bridges of unity by entrenching a culture of love, fairness and justice in our polity.

“Your journey to Creek Haven is a divine one, so, I advise you to use the position to do good to humanity and pursue the development of the state in order to write your name in gold.  “You have worked with me before as a commissioner, so I am without doubt that you will live up to the expectations of our people. I call on all Bayelsans to be law-abiding, peaceful and embrace this transition in all sincerity, and work together towards a united and prosperous state,” he said.

But will Dickson remain his brash self? Some lessons in politics are simply humbling. In the last couple of months, he has seen how the mighty could easily become irrelevant in a moment of political misfire. He, too, has promised changes.

“No one should have any fear, no victimisation. It’s all forgiveness and reconciliation. Even when we had issues, we called for restraint and let’s ensure that nobody takes the laws into their hands. We prevented bloodshed and crisis even when 21 persons were killed in Nembe.

“I urge the leaders to keep the peace for the sake of our state. I am aware that people have concerns and some people are angry. I will continue to call for calm and I urge all political leaders to do so. Disagreements are normal. We need to show understanding,” he said.

But not a few persons still believed that despite all that has happened, Dickson, who was accused of alienating all the power centres in Bayelsa and was opposed by very important stakeholders, has many battles ahead.

It is believed that if he will succeed, Diri would have to learn quickly from his mistakes and avoid Dickson’s human and political frailties.

He will need to move swiftly to reconcile all disgruntled stakeholders, including Alaibe, whose case against Diri at the primaries is still a subject of dispute at a Federal High Court.

Risking another electoral war with the allied forces, which conspired to defeat him, albeit temporarily, in last year’s governorship poll would come at a high political cost for Diri.

He probably knows this. Reason he has started already to extend the olive branch to the aggrieved stakeholders. But for how long he can sustain this remains to be seen.