Diri: Is It Back to Square One?

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Senator Douye Diri

With last week’s nullification of his election by the tribunal, what’s the fate of Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State, asks Onungwe Obe

The popular saying that it is not over until it is over appears to be playing out in Bayelsa State, where the election tribunal that tried cases arising from the November 16th, 2019 governorship election in the state, in a split judgment, nullified the election of Senator Douye Diri and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct fresh election to fill the vacant position within 90 days.

The tribunal had granted the petition filed by the Advanced Nigeria Democratic Party (ANDP) and its candidate, King George, claiming that INEC wrongfully disqualified them from participating in the election and therefore prayed for the cancellation of the election.

But for his right to remain in office while his appeal against the judgment of the tribunal is pending, Diri would have been thrown out of Creek Haven, Yenagoa, the seat of government in Bayelsa State. But while he and the other parties to the election wait, Diri and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), his political rival, would be waiting with bated breath.
Prejudging the outcome of the appeals that have been filed against the judgment, the unexpected verdict of the tribunal might have reset things in Bayesla State. Political actors have again begun re-strategising should the worst happen and the appeals to overturn the tribunal’s verdict are granted.

Governor Diri, who himself was caught unawares by the judgment immediately swung into action, making moves to win over friends, who had left him, because of his failure to patronise them as well as party men that helped him to win the election, including the court action that eventually brought him to office.

On Tuesday, a day after the court annulled his election, Diri realied that he had to constitute his cabinet. He compiled a list of commissioner nominees and sent it to the House of Assembly for urgent screening and confirmation.

He appealed to the leadership of the Assembly, which paid him a solidarity visit to expedite action on the list for the sake of Bayelsa people. He needs to work fast to win back friends that left, when he failed to give them appointments into boards of parastatals but would rather run the government with civil servants.

Diri was dubbed ‘the Miracle Governor,’ because of the miraculous manner in which he emerged governor. He had lost the election convincingly to David Lyon, his All Progressives Congress (APC) opponent and all was set for the inauguration of Lyon on February 14, when the Supreme Court pulled the carpet off the feet of Lyon and handed him (Diri) the love letter on the eve of Lyon’s inauguration.

Diri himself did not believe it. And he was very cautious in celebrating his inauguration. Unlike the inauguration of previous governors, his took place within the precincts of the Government House and not in the open stadium.
The stakes now seem stacked high against Diri for a return to the Creek Haven should the appeals against his removal fail and a fresh election becomes inevitable.

Somehow, for reasons best known to him, the now embattled governor courted more political foes than friends after he assumed office. He did not hit the ground running. For seven months before the tribunal verdict came, he ran government of Bayelsa State like a sole administrator.

Apart from appointments to the offices of the secretary to the state government and the chief of staff to the governor, Diri did not appoint people to any substantive office. Many officers that worked with him did so in acting capacity. Since he assumed office, he had been working with permanent secretaries and accounting officers of the respective ministries.
It was common to hear party men lament the sudden volte-face of the governor. Many of them had expected him to use the opportunity of his emergence to bring people on board and empower those that worked for him during the campaigns and election. He did not even constitute his cabinet. It was only the day after the tribunal nullified his election that he sent a list of commissioner-nominees to the House of Assembly for approval.

His close aides had, however, excused Diri’s failure to make political appointments on the fact that he was waiting for all the pre-election cases against him to be exhausted so that he would be on a surer foundation to start his government. Besides, they also argued that the governor needed to focus before picking his team considering the sudden manner of his emergence as governor.

But the arguments were, however, punctured by those that claimed bringing on board people to help him run the government would not stop the outcome of any court matter. The governor had other things up his sleeves, they argued.
The scenario now even seems more precarious for Diri than it was last year, when he was running for the office with former governor Seriake Dickson beside him.

Interestingly, however, should a fresh election eventually hold, some odds might favour the governor. The first is that the main opposition party, the APC may not field candidates for the election, because the Supreme Court had disqualified its candidates in a pre-election case. That would stand the governor against very weak candidates from the other parties.
But the unpredictability of the politics of Bayelsa State is something that the governor may not want to take for granted. Bayelsa since 1999 had been a PDP state. But events in the last five years had shown that banking on that premise could prove disastrous.

Not only has APC grown to become a strong and viable alternative to the PDP in the state, APC actually won the last governorship election in the state and convincingly too. And it was set to form the government until the Supreme Court verdict stopped the party.

The lines separating political loyalty in Bayelsa are very thin. Within moments, people can switch loyalties that could turn tables in any election. Today, the major PDP leaders in the state like former President Goodluck Jonathan keep an open mind about who to support irrespective of party affiliations. In the last election, his body language favoured the APC candidate. It is not known if his body language has changed since November last year.

Timi Alaibe, former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), said to be Jonathan’s favourite in the last governorship race, is still very popular in the state. Though he fought Diri to the Supreme Court over the PDP primaries, Alaibe congratulated Diri and extended his hand of fellowship to the governor in July, when the matter was finally exhausted.

But Diri rejected Alaibe’s outstretched hand of fellowship as ‘insulting’ and reprimanded him for going all the way to Supreme Court to seek to remove him from office. That sour relationship is still there.

Whether APC presents candidates or not, should there be a fresh election, the sentiments that led to a landslide victory of the party are still strong in Bayelsa. It is noteworthy, therefore, that when the tribunal annulled Diri’s election, it was APC supporters mainly that took to the streets of Yenagoa to jubilate.

Many observers have also insinuated that it was indeed the APC that was the force behind the petition that finally nailed Diri. The huge support base of the party could still be mobilised against the governor. Thus, the equation is still a very fluid one for Diri and his party, the PDP.