BATTLE OF BAYELSA: Of Development Issues Versus Political Insults
THE defection of several stakeholders of Bayelsa State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to the All Progressives Congress (APC), has further raised apprehensions about the December 5, 2015 governorship election in the state. The defection put a big lie to assertions by a group called Aboriginal PDP in Bayelsa State, made up of founding members, former political office holders, past and current State Executive Committee members of the party, that no such exercise would happen. The group described as “faceless and self-serving” those stakeholders of the party that threatened massive defection unless the then President failed to support the suspension of the state PDP chairman, Colonel Samuel Inokoba, (retd.)
That was back in February, barely a month before the general election. But last week, nearly five months after the PDP and President Goodluck Jonathan lost the election, the “faceless” PDP stakeholders, including former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC), Mr. Timi Alaibe, Senator Clever Ikisikpo, and House of Representatives member, Nadu Karibo, and many others thronged to the APC.
Implications of 2015 Gubernatorial Race:
IN a moving public remark months before he was executed through a firing squad, soldier-poet, General Mamman Gulu Vatsa, told his colleagues in the Nigeria Army, through the panel trying him for treason that; “when you start to insult yourself, you will not lack people willing to join you.”
As the Niger Delta State of Bayelsa goes to the poll later this year to elect its governor, the words of late Vatsa should help to moderate its general and electoral behaviour. A greater percent of the usual narrative about the Niger Delta region consists of its prodigious oil wealth and the environmental degradation wrought by years of oil exploration and despoliation. The ravages of rural poverty and economic deprivation as well as wanton neglect add up to paint a very sorry state of affairs. In Bayelsa, these qualities find great expression.
Created as a separate state from Rivers State in 1996, Bayelsa has continued to walk like a beleaguered and crouching giant. In 2010, when one of its own became the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bayelsa got noticed effectively. With the emergence of Dr. Goodluck Ebelemi Jonathan as Nigeria’s democratic president, Bayelsa seems to have done what other older Niger Delta States could not do. But that singular favour also opened the state to insults as well. It is therefore left for the state to play as a united people, if it is to shrug off the taunts, vilifications and economic deprivation facing it. It is through a united front that Bayelsa could meet the developmental challenges that line up against its future. Otherwise, should it take to the path of divisive politics, it would give in to the machinations of its envious traducers by casting away the golden opportunity before it. The governorship election in the state would go a long way to show how far Bayelsa understands the challenges arrayed against it and its ability to make the best of a very trying situation. It could be said then, of the next gubernatorial election in the state; that Bayelsa is at crossroads!
Though the incumbent Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson, is seeking a second term in office, the crucial issues about the election do not revolve around him alone as a person. It is all about Bayelsa and the concomitant politics of development that trailed its progress in the past 19 years of its creation. Speaking during the last convocation lecture of Benson Idahosa University (BIU), Edo State, former President Olusegun Obasanjo played up part of the challenges facing Bayelsa state. Alluding to President Jonathan’s ascension to the presidency, Obasanjo said: “I believe that (the) opportunity that afforded itself in 2010 to somebody from the minority to, on his own steam, become the President of Nigeria, he should never lose the opportunity. But what he did with it is entirely to him. And don’t forget, what he did or did not do with it, will reflect for a long time on that part of the country. Don’t take that lightly, what he did or did not do with it will reflect for a long time on that part of the country.”
Obasanjo may not be a great fan of Jonathan, but his decision to raise the issue of the former President’s performance in office at such a time that his (Jonathan’s) home state was getting set for a governorship election, brings to mind, the enormous challenges that Bayelsa voters stand to face during the election. The many sides to understanding the issues in the forthcoming Bayelsa gubernatorial election, could be narrowed down to the following: Dickson’s track record, influence of Bayelsa political godfathers, impact of APC opposition politics, Timipre Sylva’s clout and following, former President Jonathan’s concerns among others.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Concerns:
PRESIDENT Jonathan had during a reception organised for him after his displacement by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari; stated that he was surprised at the effusion of benevolent sentiments from his people. The former President disclosed his quiet apprehension that “I thought Bayelsa people will stone me” based on the general perception that he did not think home effectively enough in the deployment of social amenities and largesse of office of president.
At the centre of the mix of issues in the Bayelsa gubernatorial election is Jonathan’s contribution to the development of the state and sphere of influence. Would a greater majority of Bayelsans be moved to turn their backs against Dickson, who was in the first place, Jonathan’s candidate before he became the governorship candidate of PDP and ultimately the governor?
Obasanjo was actually giving a helping hand to Jonathan’s political adversaries in Bayelsa by alluding to his performance in office. Again there is no way a rejection of Dickson would not be read as a final dismissal of the place of the former President in Bayelsa politics. How far such early damning outcome could go to affect Jonathan’s clout and image in the country is better imagined than contemplated. The governorship election therefore provides a unique opportunity for Jonathan’s real friends to unite and save his political image.
To this end, it is left to be seen how, in the light of various sentiments that the former President actually lost his second term bid due to the utterances and bad political methods of his wife; whether the former first citizen has learnt his lessons. If Dame Patience Jonathan’s shenanigans in Rivers State could be condoned on the fact that she hails from there, any attempt by her to stir up similar political carbuncles in Bayelsa would show her as the first political enemy of her husband.
The former president may have cut the image and disposition of a pliable and complacent leader, but to have a wily wife that utilizes every opportunity to exploit such personality traits goes farther to open the man to ridicule. Part of the challenges of the Bayelsa guber election therefore, includes the ability of the former president to rein in his wife and at least, show that it is not healthy for the woman to be engaged in muscle flexing with her husband by throwing up rival candidates for support against her husband’s preferences. There is no pretending that the former president would choose to distance himself from the Bayelsa governorship since any attempt at such a political indifference would quicken his isolation and diminution in Nigeria politics.
To some extent therefore, the Bayelsa governorship could be seen as a referendum on Jonathan’s influence in the politics of the state after his years in office as president. A vote for Dickson’s second term in office would translate to an endorsement of a possible partnership between the state government and the former president to drive the new spirit of Bayelsa’s rediscovery and development.
Timipre Sylva’s Clout, Following:
CHIEF among those that expressed some relief and exhilaration over the loss of the presidency by Dr. Jonathan to President Buhari in March election was former Governor Timipre Sylva. Following the victory of APC over Jonathan and PDP, Sylva has made himself a reference point of opposition in the Bayelsa. A combination of factors, including the disposition of then President Jonathan against his second term led to Sylva’s loss of the PDP governorship ticket in 2011.
Yet, his rumoured interest in the 2015 governorship was recently punctured. Sylva was among prominent Niger Delta politicians that defected from the PDP to the APC at its formative stages. He was even associated with the chairmanship of the party in a veiled strategy to divide the home-base of the former president. Though he did not eventually make it as APC national chairman, the former Bayelsa governor became a very visible leader of the party. Perhaps, in a bid to test his popularity or rev up his political visibility, Timipre contested the Bayelsa East senatorial seat against the PDP candidate, Senator Ben Murray Bruce and lost. He approached the election petition tribunal to challenge Bruce’s victory on the grounds of “widespread electoral irregularities” and the fact of dual citizenship of the winner. But shortly after the preliminary hearings, Sylva withdrew the petition, thereby fueling speculations that he was preparing to throw his hats in the ring for the governorship race.
However, after a series of meeting within the fold of the opposition in the state, especially against the background of plans by Dickson’s rivals to present a common front against his second term, Sylva was talked out of the ambition. Spokesman of the Bayelsa People’s consultative Assembly, (BPCA) Chief Alex Ekiotenne, dropped the hint during a press conference in Yenagoa. Ekiotenne said the decision to have Sylva withdraw from the governorship race was to ensure the emergence of a consensus candidate within a broad-based APC to sack Dickson from the Government House. He added that having found APC as the special purpose vehicle to deliver good governance in the state, many groups including the BPCA that were earlier in the frontline of support for Dickson are switching allegiance to the APC against the incumbent governor.
Having succeeded in getting Sylva to rethink his gubernatorial ambition, it is possible that the APC may wish to launch its electoral combat with Sylva as its arrowhead. Sylva’s track records and the consideration of whether the interest of Bayelsa could be better served with a political umbilical chord running from Edo State, where the APC national leader, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun hails or his capacity to serve as the new political leader of the state, would influence the electoral disposition of voters.
Again, if the consensus building in APC is to pave way for the eventual emergence of former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Timi Alaibe, that would raise new issues. Popular as he may be, the defection of Alaibe shortly after the failure of PDP to retain power at the centre could be viewed as betrayal despite the fact that he was favoured to clinch the governorship ticket in 2011 before the PDP godfathers settled for Dickson. But that would depend on whether Bayelsa craves the opportunity to make a clean break with the past.
Impact of APC’s Opposition Politics
WHETHER or not their son, former President Jonathan, performed below average or lost the election for a second term due to his political naivety, would not diffuse the weighty sentiment of a gang up against him by powerful political figures. And the fact that the opposition APC served as the breeding ground for that political uppercut against the first Nigeria president from the Ijaw nation, nay Niger Delta; could not be easily lost on the people of Bayelsa.
Also, given the big names associated with the defection to APC, it would be left to be seen how APC manages the clash of ambitions such incursion would present for the party. The impact of similar defection of five governors from the party in 2013, which paved the way for PDP eventful loss of power at the centre should not be lost on the party’s leaders in Bayelsa. There have been talks about the determination of Buhari presidency to ensure that no Bayelsan would be given any appointment that could dispose them to hover around the villa. It is based on this plan; sources say, that people like Timipre are being penciled for Ambassadorial appointment. If Bayelsans refuse to buy into the APC takeover politics and stick with Jonathan and the PDP, the next problem for APC is how to service the structure in Bayelsa.
A lot may also depend on what juicy appointments could be made by the federal ruling APC before the governorship election. It is possible that majority of those lining up to identify with APC may be positioning themselves for crumbs from the federal government, including board appointments. However, without doubt part of the uphill task facing Governor Dickson as he prepares to break the second term jinx in Bayelsa is due to the influence of APC opposition tactics, which find easy expression in the building of broad-based army of political detractors against the governor.
Influence of Ijaw Political Godfathers
THE sensitivity of Ijaw political godfathers would determine the level of their influence and scope of involvement in the Bayelsa governorship election. Would Ijaw political godfathers and influential players see any credence in the saying that injury to one is injury to all? How they react to that poser would determine the place of the Ijaw national leaders on the electoral contest. If the leaders perceive the Bayelsa election from such a group interest angle, then it would be a political impossibility for the APC or any other party to turn the tide against Dickson and PDP. Taking the governorship from Dickson, or the PDP for that matter in Bayelsa at this point in time in the nation’s history would amount to a sort of political genocide against the Ijaw nation. You cannot take away the presidency from a people and come along to deny them their ‘political self-worth, which the governorship of Bayelsa amounts to at this very period. The implication of this frame of political thought is that leaders from nearby Delta and Rivers States are most likely to close ranks and deny APC or Dickson’s rivals, the prize or such political insurgence at their backyard; federal might or no.
Consequently, where the first democratic governor of the state stands would be a pointer to where the pendulum would swing. Whatever may be the merits of the ignominious treatment meted to Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieseigha at the tail end of his governorship, the denial of Dickson of a second term berth could be seen as another attempt to push Bayelsa back by disrupting their government. No matter what could be described as the place of Chief Alamieseigha in Bayelsa politics, posterity has placed him at a pole position in the Ijaw nation. His voice and such others like him would help to mould public opinion on governance and development issues in the state. As such a lot depends on the ability of incumbent governor to galvanize the opinion of these leaders and show a receptive mind to their ideas and suggestions. If Dickson shows an inclination of humble servant leadership, failure cannot overtake him and Bayelsans in the epic November governorship battle.
Four Years’ Track Record of Henry Seriake Dickson:
HEALTH, infrastructure facilities, environmental sustainability, youth empowerment, Agriculture and security rank highly in Bayelsa. How far Governor Dickson was able to affect the lot of the people on those subheads would come into the mix of the consideration of who gets the upper hand in the November election. There is no doubt that Dickson is being pilloried for not dispensing financial favours to professional political jobbers in the state. But the question most Bayelsa voters would be pondering over in their minds is how humble and transparent the governor had been in deploying the state resources. If he does not share but appropriates much to himself, there is the likelihood that the people would reject him. The question then is, has Governor Dickson been able to communicate the challenges facing the state and his plans to confront those challenges?
In the Nigerian parlance, has the governor been carrying the people along all this while in his governance processes? Everything is not about sharing money; it could be inability to involve the people in tackling development challenges. Popular participation is central to democratic governance, as such, unless the governor had been siding with the poor masses in his policy formulation and implementation in the past four years, every political strategy no matter how lofty it could be may crumble at the polling units.
Dickson On Defectors And Their Grouse
OTHER notable defectors included; Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, former Deputy Governor Perempbowei Ebebi; Admiral Festus Porbeni; former acting Governors Nestor Binabo and Werinipre Seibarugu and serving representative of Ogbia Federal Constituency, Azibola Omekwe among others. In his remarks during the ceremony to receive the defectors to the APC in Yenagoa, Ikisikpo explained that they decided to jump ship after due considerations of the “neglect and hijack” of their former party by an ungodly syndicate of selfish individuals. Describing as unfortunate the degeneration of PDP from the path of fairness and inclusion, Ikisikpo regretted that despotic persons decided to pocket the party as their personal platform. He stated: “In the party today, impunity is the order of the day; founding members who made the party popular to the masses of our people have been given a short shrift… In most cases, unpopular decisions are taken by these few individuals and imposed on the party without consideration for dissenting voices. A case in point is the election of members to represent Ogbia in the National and State Assemblies in the just concluded general elections. Primordial and sentimental considerations were given over and above competence and fairness, which had been the norm in our area.”
But dismissing the defectors as ingrates, Governor Dickson said they are made up of selfish politicians who do not mean well for the state and the Ijaw people. Speaking during a meeting with Bayelsa Elders Consultative Council, the governor wondered why the defectors whom he said benefitted immensely from former President Goodluck Jonathan’s “magnanimity over the years” should be quitting PDP at this time simply because the president lost election. Exuding noticeable pain in his voice, Governor Dickson added:
“These persons are clearly not for us. They are enemies of the Ijaw nation and it is sad that people who have benefited immensely from the PDP and Dr. Jonathan could within so short a time jump the ship; yet they come and deceive us that they love us. These are not persons to be taken serious and we must not fall prey to their antics.”
The governor explained that in their mad quest to take over the governorship of the state, the defectors started throwing caution to the wind by engaging in pastimes that bring the image of the state down. He said the upsurge in kidnapping, sea piracy, killings and other criminal activities in recent times could be attributed to the new dangerous politicking by selfish politicians ahead of the election.
Without doubt, the governorship battle ahead in Bayelsa would be a throwback to the March 28, 2015 presidential election, as well as, the ability of the Ijaw nation to midwife their development agenda.
It therefore follows that Bayelsa, being in need of rediscovery, is searching for a team player and empathic leader. How any of those angling to occupy the governor’s office in the next four years are able to fit into the mould, would determine the outcome of the December 5, 2015 governorship election. In addition to the peripheral players and interests, a lot depends on the track record of the incumbent, especially his ability to mobilize men and materials to uplift Bayelsa beyond its present squalor and politics of who gets what. There is no doubt that every Bayelsan indigenous citizen has been mobilized for the coming election, but what would be the deciding factor is around what general and specific issues the people have been mobilized. The fact that within the next four years it would good twenty years after the state was created makes it imperative that Bayelsa should rise above the mediocre level of bemoaning marginalization and neglect! If Bayelsa fails to get its acts right, it would open itself up for further insults.