BAYELSA 2015: How Far Could Ex-President Jonathan Tilt The Scale

Former President Jonathan at Dickson re-election declaration

Former President Jonathan at Dickson re-election declaration

GENIAL former Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, made a surprise first public appearance last Tuesday, in Yenagoa, and threw up the various perspectives of the December Governorship election in Bayelsa. Apart from Jonathan’s support for the incumbent, who is seeking a second term in office, other old warhorses like Timipre Sylva and Timi Alaibe, are also spoiling for the great battle. On top of that tangle, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) sees the Bayelsa electoral battle as a kind of return leg of the March 28, 2015 election in which the fledgling All Progressives Congress (APC) dusted it.  Governor Henry Seriake Dickson’s public declaration for a second term chase last Tuesday brought the impending clash of titans to public consciousness.

The heavens did not fall that fateful Tuesday, but something near to that happened in Yenagoa as the capacity crowd that attended the ceremony spoke volumes about the nature of the impending electoral battle for the Creek Haven on December 5, 2015. If only the organisers had brought in Charlie Boy Oputa, instead of Timi Dakolo for the music interlude during the occasion that held at the Sampson Siasia Stadium, dignitaries would have nodded their head in agreement and ecstasy for Charlie Boy’s great song in pidgin, ‘Monkey no fine But, im mama like am!. Coming weeks after a princely slice of former members turned their backs on PDP; the crowd seemed to suggest that despite his March 28, 2015 electoral misfortune, they still hold their son, the former President in high esteem. Yet that sentimental display raises the issue as to whether massive public attendance at rallies translates to votes on the Election Day.

A representative of Women for Change Initiative (W4C) aptly summarized the implications of the election on Bayelsa and the Ijaw people very well. She stated: “Bayelsa women are all for PDP and Governor Seriake Dickson…We can’t allow APC, (All Progressives Congress) to remove our President at the federal level and to succeed again in Bayelsa State. We have all resolved to vote for the return of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson on Saturday December 5 2015.”

Virtually all the ‘who is who’ in the Ijaw nation, except those that feel the market in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is closed, attended Governor Dickson’s declaration such that the state literally, stood still! In Bayelsa, to add support and colour were also, PDP Governors led by the Chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko and his counterpart from neighbouring Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Other governors who are battling with cases at the tribunal or preparing for election sent their deputies to represent them. They include governors of Kogi, Delta, Abia and Ebonyi. Other heavyweights were the former Military Administrator of the State, Navy Captain Walter Ferghabor (retd.) and a former Deputy Governor, Perebemowei Ebebi.

Wife of the former President, Dame Patience, who accompanied the husband to the ceremony, was a surprise attendee and the stadium erupted in acknowledgement of her reconsidered support for Dickson. Former Governor Diepreye Solomon Alamieyeseigha was also conspicuous. Mrs. Jonathan was alleged to be working at cross purposes with those who wanted Dickson back as governor to the extent that some people believed that she was supporting a rival candidate in the APC. But her presence disproved such ambivalence, or so it seems.

But if the former first family reunited in one page in their support for Dickson, the other alliance building up in APC cannot be dismissed. The effect of defection of five governors to APC has not been lost on PDP. As such, what the two Timis are doing in APC should be of interest to Dickson and his backers. There is no discounting, however, that some of those making noise in APC could be doing that at the behest of PDP, which appears to have learnt its lessons.

How would all these intrigues impact on the field on Election Day?

A similar synergy is building within the APC camp. Energized by its incumbent status at the national level, many aspirants have crowded into the field to chase the APC ticket. But prominent among these names are those of former Governor Sylva and former Managing Director Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) Chief Alaibe.

The two men have tasted battle and the bitterness of defeat. It is left to be seen how far they would agree to work together in the event of one of them clinching the ticket. Even at that, the fact that they could not iron out the differences in their aspiration without going for all out governorship primary opens the party to more work. In the end the party may have to introduce similar undertaking aspirants entered into prior to the presidential primaries in Lagos late last year. Though a lot of political wayfarers have continued to seek presence in the APC after the mass defection of the big wigs from PDP, the body language of APC leaders suggests that Alaibe may eventually fly the party’s flag. Should Alaibe clinch the APC governorship ticket, that would throw in the Jonathan mix into the fray. Because, while APC stalwarts might try to remind the people how the former President did not do anything for them, PDP would also be pointing at the defectors as those who benefitted from the Jonathan presidency. The former Nigerian leader noted that such attempts would be made to downgrade his influence and political clout.

When he was invited to the stage during Dickson’s declaration, Jonathan brought about his trademark simplicity, candour and humility to the general applause of the crowd. Suing for cooperation and unity of Bayelsans to ensure that the incumbent enjoys a second term mandate, Jonathan revealed how his decision to endorse Dickson for a second term elicited angry reactions from some people who he said wanted a repeat of what happened in 2003 when the then Governor Alamieseigha was seeking his second term in office. However, the ex-President who seemed to have put the intrigues and subterfuges that attended the March 28, 2015 election behind him disclosed that in approving Governor Dickson’s ambition to do another four years in office as governor, he considered four major things.

He explained that on the first score, he was convinced that Dickson has performed in the areas of prompt payment of workers’ salary as well as prudent management of state resources. While pointing out that Dickson did not rush to the capital market like most governors to borrow, Dr. Jonathan noted that the governor had impacted positively on the infrastructural development of the state through construction of roads and bridges that link riverine communities, especially the first flyover in the state. He contended that though some members of the party defected to the opposition APC, PDP in Bayelsa was like a family and therefore would not lose sleep over the defection, even as he praised the people’s determination and resolve to win the governorship poll on December 5, 2015.

Jonathan added: “People may go to Abuja and say all kinds of things, but the PDP in Bayelsa is very strong. We are committed and we will win our election. A few people might have left but the party is still strong and united. Well, we will continue to talk to our brothers and sisters because politics is all about consensus building. It is not a one-man business.”

Speaking ad libitum, the former President declared: “I have stayed in government for 16 years. I stayed with Dr. D.S.P Alamieseigha for six years and stayed in the presidency for another six years. And in all those years, I think I know much about what some state governors have done. I may not know all the state governors do. And I also may not have known all they don’t do; but I know the pain of the people too. When he told me that he wanted to declare for second term, I said he should do it. Immediately I said he should do it, some people started asking me questions through bulk small message service.

“But I told him I would also be there when he is being presented with the flag of the party. One of the things worrying the federal governments is the issue of workers’ salary owed by states; Dickson has done well in that aspect. Also another issue is that of the borrowing, Dickson has done well. On infrastructure and development, Dickson has also tried.”

No doubt the tumultuous crowd must have left some glowing impressions on the governor’s mind, especially in the light of Alamieseigha’s declaration that the declaration was a sort of pre-victory celebration. However, despite the exultation of Governor Dickson that the PDP has 105 councilors and that the state had been voting the party since 1999, the former President’s remarks leaves him with a lot of work to do.

Governor Dickson said that the decision to run for second term was a call for his team of administrators to re-dedicate themselves to the stability and development of the state. What he did not say was that the challenge of waging his re-election battle comes with great burdens. For instance, when the governor pointed out that from 1999 PDP has been having it easy in the state such that it could produce four governors minus the “one that went astray”, the impression was that the state does not like being in opposition. It is therefore better for the governor and his supporters to recognise that the task of “consolidating on the security of lives and property, development and empower youths through education” that he set out for his second term remains his electoral pitch. Any attempt to dismiss the ‘madding crowd at APC’ with cheap sentiments that they have nothing to offer may backfire.

However, the multitude of aspirants chasing the APC ticket feel sufficiently inspired that the party may prove a hard nut for PDP and Dickson to crack even when their number provides avenue for discontent and bad blood. The real picture of the APC that would battle Dickson and PDP would be seen after September 19, 2015, when the Hakeem Baba Ahmed committee must have announced the winner of the party’s primary election. As former Governor Sylva must have enough ground troops as delegates, but after suffering defeat at the Senatorial election, it is doubtful if he still possesses the war chest to prosecute the governorship poll. That makes it very likely that Alaibe, who is said to have been offering offshore support to APC before his formal declaration, should fly the APC flag.

Alaibe has been showing undying interest in the Bayelsa governorship. His headship of NDDC enabled him to oil the machinery of support across the length and breadth of the state.  But having served as Executive Director in the department of Finance and Administration of NDDC before becoming the Managing Director and the fact that he benefitted from the Jonathan administration may compound his electoral burdens. While many Bayelsans, moved by Ijaw nationalism may charge him as a betrayer, his decision to run on APC platform could be construed as robbing Peter (earning from PDP) to pay Paul (feathering the political cap of APC).

Even at that, a lot depends on what issues the gladiators set for voters during campaigns. To some extent, PDP has begun to associate APC with the label of violence, especially against the background of recent abductions in the state. Part of the burden of the historical clash of these political war horses is the resurgence of violent crimes and concerns for a free, fair and credible governorship election on December 5, less than three weeks to Christmas.

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