Dickson and the Sylva lining in Yenagoa
WHICHEVER way the election goes on Saturday, December 5, Bayelsa State would end up with an old face in the Government House. The two leading candidates are the incumbent Governor Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his challenger, Chief Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Politicians live for elections and that is when they have their periodic life and death experiences. One of the two candidates would suffer political death experience while the winner would have a new lease of life. So is it with politics.
Sylva is Dickson immediate predecessor in office and like Dickson he was elected on the platform of the PDP. Since 1999 when Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was sworn in as the first elected governor, no chief executive of Bayelsa State has successfully completed two terms. If Dickson wins, he would be on the threshold of history.
Alamieyeseigha won a second term in 2003 only for him to be severed from power when he was impeached in 2005 by the hitherto pliable Bayelsa State House of Assembly over corruption charges. His deputy, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, won the nomination to contest for second term in 2007 only for him to become the vice-presidential candidate to Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua of Katsina State in the 2007 presidential elections. Jonathan was our Vice-President for two years and President for four years. He is home now in Otuoke, Bayelsa State as the latest member of the club of former Presidents. Sylva, who succeeded Goodluck as governor, was not even allowed by the party fathers to contest for the nomination of the PDP in 2012. Now he is back trying his luck on the ticket of the APC.
Bayelsa State prides itself as the home of the Izons (Ijaws) who dominate the coastline of Nigeria from the East of Ondo State to Akwa Ibom State. Versatile and creative, they were noted to be egalitarian in nature. Bayelsa State was part of the old Eastern Region until 1967 when General Yakubu Gowon created Rivers State as one of the 12-state structure on the eve of the Nigerian civil war. An Izon from Bayelsa, Afred Diette-Spiff, became the first military governor of old Rivers State in 1967 and he was in office until Gowon was toppled in 1975. He is now a traditional ruler in Bayelsa. General Sani Abacha created Bayelsa State from Rivers in 1996 and sent in Phillip Ayeni, a naval captain, to be the first military administrator. With the coming of Ayeni, the capital Yenagoa, unprepared and somnolent, was visited by the din of new constructions and frenetic movements.
Now Yenagoa has put on a new toga and Creek Haven, as the Governor’s Lodge is called, is preparing for another tenant. If Dickson wins, he would be the first ruler of Bayelsa that would belong to an opposition party. The late Chief Melford Okilo, who was elected first civilian governor of old Rivers State in 1979, was a member of the ruling National Party of Nigeria. Since 1999 when democratic rule was restored, all those who have governed Bayelsa, including the two acting governors, were from the then ruling PDP. Now PDP is in opposition and Dickson is flying its flag.
The elite of Bayelsa always love to belong to the ruling party at the centre. That is one of the attractions of Sylva candidacy. He has fought his way to win the party nomination against stiff opposition from old members and returnees from the PDP and disturbing debris from his last tour of duty as governor. Sacked from power by the Supreme Court in 2012, Sylva was hounded from Yenagoa by loyalists of the then President, Jonathan. Detained and then dragged before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the former governor lobbied hard to get a reprieve from Jonathan but to no avail. The court later freed him of all charges, citing tardiness by the EFCC. Now there is a silver lining to his cloud and his rallies across the state continue to attract new converts and old friends.
Timing may work in Sylva’s favour. If the governorship election had been held a year ago, the outcome would have been more predictable in favour of Dickson. Then Jonathan was in power, the PDP was a formidable party and Alamieyeseigha was alive. Dickson, unlike his three elected predecessors, now has to contend with a divided house of the PDP. Unlike past elections since 2003, PDP is no longer in power in Abuja. Therefore, the influence of Abuja on Bayelsa politics in favour of the local branch of the PDP has diminished. Indeed, Abuja, now in the grip of the new ruling APC, is in favour of Sylva. The giant umbrella of the old PDP has shrunk with the diminished influence of its Abuja godfathers and many of its old faithful are looking for shelters in another direction.
I believe it is the now modest influence of the old Abuja godfathers that accentuated the divisions and infighting within the PDP. This is affecting the speed and potency of the Dickson campaign. The PDP at the centre also seems to be seething from its defeat in the presidential election. No longer could the leaders of the PDP in the South-South like Chief Tony Anenih and the self-style “father of the President,” Chief Edwin Clark, be of any significant help.
One deciding factor, too, is the reluctance of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to join and lead the campaign train of Governor Dickson. Jonathan has left no one in doubt that Dickson is his favourite candidate. He has openly endorsed him and has spoken at every opportunity in support of his candidacy. However, he has rarely moved out of his retirement lair in Otuoke to campaign for Dickson. Yet, Jonathan needs a Dickson victory to confirm his continue relevance and dominance in Bayelsa State politics.
But even if he chooses to join the campaign, as he did recently during the mega rally in Yenagoa, his loss of the presidential elections this year has robbed Jonathan of the halo of power. Somerset Maugham once stated: “A general without an army is a tamed hero of a market town.” No longer could Jonathan’s whispered command move an army into battle. He is learning, like American President John Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba that “failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers.”
One key ally that is also missing on the campaign train is Alamieyeseigha. Despite his disgrace from power, he has been sufficiently rehabilitated and his influence was far reaching. His sudden death this year robbed Dickson of a key ally who would have been critical at campaign rallies. It is significant that Dickson gave him a hero’s burial, for despite his public transgressions, the late governor was genuinely loved by the people who once dubbed him the Governor-General of the Izon Nation. But the dead don’t campaign. Therefore, Dickson is facing his assignment like a powerful orphan.
Dickson’s greatest obstacles, however, are his old friends. When Sylva was ousted in 2012 many people who participated in his government were ostracised by the new administration. For a civil service state where politics is the only viable business, this is regarded as a gross error on the part of Dickson. Most of the exiles have now gathered themselves under the banner of Sylva and made his army formidable. Therefore, they regard Sylva’s ambition as an opportunity for them to have a second chance.
For the people of Bayelsa State, the road to the future also leads to the past. When Goodluck became deputy-governor in 1999, Dickson was the chairman of the opposition Alliance for Democracy, AD. He was a bitter opponent of Alamieyeseigha who regarded the AD as an “alien party.” After Alamieyeseigha was impeached, Dickson moved over to Jonathan, joined the PDP, and became the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. When Jonathan became Vice-President, Dickson went to Abuja as a member of the House of Representatives. He returned to Yenagoa in 2012 in triumph as the governor beloved by the President. He acquired a gold tipped walking stick and a gubernatorial swagger.
Sylva too had maintained a fitful love affair with Jonathan. When Jonathan became governor after Alamieyeseigha was impeached, Sylva was one of the leaders of the opposition to him within the PDP. He contested for the governorship nomination of the party for the 2007 elections and came a distant second to Jonathan. When the latter was summoned to Abuja by then President Olusegun Obasanjo to become the Vice-President, Sylva automatically became the governorship candidate of the PDP. By the time Jonathan dispatched Dickson to Yanagoa as governor in 2012, Sylva was sent to political Siberia where he was consigned to the Land of the Dead. Now he is back. With the scenario in Bayelsa, Sylva may prove that in politics, there is life after death.