Elections in Nigeria are usually fraught with intrigues, crisis and manipulations and the Bayelsa state governorship election held last Saturday was no exception. The disaffection among the chieftains of the All Progressives Congress in the state, however, contributed in no small measure towards the defeat of the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Timipre Sylva, by the incumbent governor, Senator Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party. Segun James and Olusegun Julius report.
There is the general saying that life is the best teacher, as we never stop learning; and that every experience we go through teaches us something new. That every lesson learnt should be a life changing exercise. But this saying of the elders did not apply to the All Progressives Congress gubernatorial candidate in the November 11, 2023 poll in Bayelsa state, Chief Timipre Sylva, when he surprisingly picked Mr. Joshua Miciver as his running mate. To most Bayelsans, this was the error that costs Sylva the election.
The reason for this was obvious. Maciver’s reputation as former militant who they say was particularly brutal to the people was too recent to be over looked.
Ordinarily, the election was supposed to be a two party race between the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Since 1999, the PDP has been the ruling party in the state. Even Sylva was a former PDP Governor of the state. But since joining the APC, he has built the party to become a formidable opposition. Sylva was also able to lead the party to victory in 2019 against the PDP, but the win was upturned by the Supreme Court.
In the Bayelsa political landscape, Diri has been an exception to the rule. As Governor, he has concentrated on infrastructural development and security. In recent years as Nigeria struggles economically, Bayelsa has been happily revving up under him.
This particularly has endeared him to the people. Work on the three roads which link the three senatorial axis of the state to the Atlantic Ocean shore are almost completed. These are projects that Sylva rejected and described as not feasible when he was governor.
For the people, security which was of so much concern has been taken care of. It was the first time the people resident in the deep riverine area are having access to the state capital and mainland. What’s more, the project comes with access to the national power grid. The people have never had it so good.
Diri, within the period he’s been Governor has created an atmosphere of political inclusion, a situation which has made most politicians in the state to return to PDP fold.
Sylva, who resigned early this year from one of the juiciest portfolios at the federal level, had the requisite war chest and connection to retun to Creek Haven with his party but this was not to be.
While some members have accused him of running the party as his private estate, they blamed the abysmal performance of the party in the state at the 2023 general election on his over bearing attitude.
They accused him of running a one man show during the primaries that threw up the party candidates before the poll, just as they also accused him of imposing himself as the party’s gubernatorial candidate for this year’s gubernatorial poll instead of a more popular candidate in David Lyon.
Perhaps, one of the main reasons Sylva lost the election was the division within the party and among the party executives who were not carried along in the scheme of things. The Chairman of the party, whom he singlehandedly hand picked amid protest, Dennis Otiotio, runs the office just like his principal.
Prior to last Saturday’s election, there was disenchantment among the party faithful and chieftains over logistics for the election.
Many of the party leaders who are founding members had since left the party and since Sylva’s emergence as the party’s flag bearer amidst protest, he had made no efforts to reconcile and bring them back.
Prominent among them is the current Minister for State for Petroleum, Heineken Lokpobri and the popular party’s candidate in the 2019 gubernatorial election, Mr David Lyon, among many others.
The governorship election in Bayelsa state has come and gone, and the winner declared. In politics, there is no winner wins all, as this means, the winner wins all the problems. This was the situation as the APC candidate in the election, Timipre Sylva, lost the election to the incumbent, Senator Douye Diri.
Why did the APC that won comfortably in the 2019 election lose so woefully to the PDP? The road to this began soon after Sylva secured the APC gubernatorial ticket.
A former governor of the state and the immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum Affairs, Sylva, was the leader of the party in the state. In 2015, he was the APC candidate in the governorship election which he lost to Senator Seriake Dickson.
He did not contest the 2019 as he was the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. But his emergence as the party’s candidate in 2023 created a storm within the APC as most party leaders, instead of supporting his candidacy worked against him.
The odds against him was enormous. All known political leaders in the state abandoned the APC. Prominent among them are his former Deputy, Chief Werininpre Seibarugu. Even the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Senator Heineken Lokpobri and the party’s 2019 governorship candidate, Mr. David Lyon kept their distance from him.
This was the situation when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) accused the APC of kidnapping it’s staff in Sylva’s local government area of Brass.
The commission called on the security agencies to explore avenues to secure the release of its officials held hostage in Brass, saying “this is detrimental to credible elections. We call on the security agencies to immediately facilitate their release”.
The electoral body had earlier reported the abduction of one of its officials in the state.
In a statement issued last Friday, head of INEC voters’ registration in the state, Wilfred Ifogah, said the electoral official was kidnapped while waiting to board a boat at the jetty.
He also revealed that a boat carrying election personnel and materials to Southern Ijaw local government area capsized and result sheets were lost during the incident.
Ifogah said: “We wish to confirm that a boat carrying election personnel to registration area 17 (Koluama) in southern Ijaw LGA capsized.
“Fortunately no life was lost as all the election personnel numbering 12 and the boat operator were rescued. We however lost our result sheets, power banks and luggage containing personal effects of staff.
“The total number of registered voters in the affected registration areas is 5,368 and the number of PVCs collected is 5,311. INEC is making efforts to ensure the conduct of elections in the affected area.
“INEC also reports that its SPO assigned to registration area 06 (Ossioma) in Sagbama LGA was abducted while waiting to board at Amassoma jetty. Fortunately no life was lost as all the election personnel numbering 12 and the boat operator were rescued”.
In the midst of all these, there was a massive protest at the office as the result of the election about to be announced over allegedly concocted election results from Nembe Bassambiri.
Bayelsa-based civil society operatives, women groups, youth groups, state and National Assembly members and other concerned citizens gathered at the office of INEC to protest alleged move by the top leadership of INEC to alter the results of the Saturday’s election.
As early as 9am, the angry protesters blocked the busy Swali Road location of INEC to prevail on the commission not to accept the results from Nembe Bassambiri, which they said were concocted.
Bayelsa State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Dambo Biriyai (SAN), told journalists during the protest that election did not take place in Nembe Bassambiri.
He called on INEC REC in the state, Mr Obo Effanga, and South South Commissioner for INEC, May Agbamuche-Mbu, to do what was right by rejecting the alleged fake results.
The Commissioner stressed that PDP members who visited their country home of Bassambiri were prevented entry by the combined team of SWAT police and APC thugs.
He stated further that the APC only wrote outrageous results that were not products of any voting.
According to him: “If what we are here for is allowed to go on, it would be a massive rape on democracy. We are here because we were disenfranchised in Nembe Bassambiri. And no voting took place there.
“Precisely on the 10th of November, in order to vote for our candidate, about 60 buses left Yenagoa, to Nembe Bassambiri with escort. When we got there, the SWAT team was blocking the entrance with other APC youths.
“They said we should come down. When one of our boys, Barrister Dilli, came down, they manhandled him and he escaped by the whiskers. Thereafter, they started blocking them up to the extent that they threw tear gas at us. They said we cannot come in. So most of us were scared so they had to leave. There were no votes. No election, in Nembe Bassambiri constituency 2 and 3.
“And we now found out that results start coming it on social media. Results that were uploaded in the BVAS. And you see that these results are the kind of results that are so outrageous.
“We don’t know where they are coming from. So we are here to appeal to INEC. We are not coming to discourage INEC. We just want them to follow the rule of law and ensure that they do what is right in line with Mr President’s resolve that there should be free and fair elections in this country.
“They manipulated everything. INEC should cancel Nembe Bassambiri results because there were no elections there.”
Sylva suffered a huge set back following the cancellation of the over 24,000 controversial votes purportedly recorded in Ward 11,12 and 13 of Mini, Ikensi and Oluasiri in Nembe Local Government area of the State.
The cancellation followed the protest by stakeholders particularly members of the PDP over the alleged hijack of election materials by APC thugs in Nembe-Bassambiri and refusal to allow voters including supporters of the PDP to cast a single vote.
The PDP also alleged that most of the votes purportedly recorded by the APC in the area were cooked and are voodoo votes that should be cancelled.
The votes from Mini, Ikensi and Oluasiri communities were thereby cancelled after the INEC officials reviewed the PDP arguments.
Following these, the camp of Sylva became disorganised. This was sequel to the cancellation of the over 24,000 controversial votes purportedly recorded in Ward 11,12 and 13 of Mini, Ikensi and Oluasiri in Nembe Local Government area of the State by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
By the cancellation of the votes by the electoral body, Sylva’s hope of upstaging the incumbent governor and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Douye Diri, dimmed irredeemably.
The cancellation which followed the protest by stakeholders particularly members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the hijack of election materials by APC thugs in Nembe-Bassambiri and refusal to allow voters including supporters of the PDP to cast a single vote, was said to have thrown Sylva’s camp into confusion.
Confirming the development, the PDP agent for the Ward, Douglas Etulankimor Sampson, said it was regrettable for APC to deny almost 30,000 voters in the ward opportunity to cast their votes.
There was jubilations on the streets of Yenagoa following the announcement of Diri as the winner of the gubernatorial poll. However, the case may be headed for the courts to determine who actually won the election as Sylva appears unsatisfied with the outcome of the poll.