A decade from doctrine of necessity, quality elections to low deliveries
The post-November 16, 2019 governorship election narrative in Bayelsa State reads like the Peoples Democratic Party’s journey to the cold comfort of opposition politics.
Already, most observers blame the outgoing governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, for the ruling party’s monumental loss of its undisputed stronghold, having produced a former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Others, including Dickson, believe that the Jonathan lent a helping hand, which led to PDP dropping the ball in the oil-bearing, relatively small Niger Delta state.
At the height of the back and forth claims and counter-claims, the outgoing governor empanelled a 41-member transition committee to oversee his failed succession plan. Some members of Bayelsa State chapter of the PDP believe that by setting up the transitional panel, Dickson was not only showing disdain for the conspiracy against him, but also angrily acknowledging defeat, despite reservations about the credibility of the electoral process.
Others think that the governor was exposing his hidden animosities and frustrations over Jonathan’s attitude to the governorship poll. Did Dickson underestimate Dr. Jonathan’s capacity to throw his political weight around? Or did the governor believe so much in his all-pervading power of incumbency and therefore mistook the former President’s pacifist disposition for indifferent aloofness?
Both men must be wiser now as they begin the journey in a new path to opposition politics at the mercy of another vanquishing by the same opposition forces that shamed them out of national politics in 2015. The days ahead would be cold for PDP in Bayelsa State.
Observers saw the November 16 gubernatorial poll in Bayelsa State as one, which the PDP had itself to beat, not minding the spirited efforts put up by the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) to capture the state on previous occasions, particularly in 2015, when it fielded a former governor and current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva.
In the 2019 general elections, the opposition was able to capture one senate seat. That feat came up as a pointer to the creeping climate of suspicion and misunderstanding among leaders of the PDP in the state. Without knowing it, the loss of Bayelsa East Senatorial District, which curiously is the same district of former President Jonathan, was the first potent sign and symptom of the deep malaise within PDP in the state.
It was therefore not surprising when Bishop Degi-Eremienyo Biobarakuma clinched the Senate seat in the February 23, 2019 National Assembly Election. For the first time, the PDP, which usually brags of Bayelsa as its iron-clad base had to split the National Assembly positions with the opposition APC.
At the end of polling, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) returned two Senate and House of Representatives seats apiece to PDP, while APC had one senate and two House of Representatives seats for its efforts in the 2019 election.
Watchers of Bayelsa politics hinted that the relationship between Governor Dickson and Dr. Jonathan was no longer as smooth as when the latter was in office as President, but the governor was quick in dismissing such insinuations as the products of wicked imagination of political jobbers and enemies of the state.
But the rupture in Bayelsa PDP under Dickson’s watch seems to have started immediately after the former President lost his second term aspiration to the APC, just as Dickson toyed with the idea of a succession plan that would guarantee him political relevance in the state and beyond.
It was perhaps in recognition of the gaps between the governor and their political leader that some eminent PDP stakeholders from Bayelsa East, including Senator Clever Ikisikpo, Nadu Karibo, Azibola Omekwe, Fini Angaye, Nadari Banigo and a former council chairman of Ogbia Local Council, Innocent Kaku, defected to the APC shortly after the 2015 election.
Senator Ikisikpo, who spoke on behalf of the defectors at the APC National Secretariat, then, expressed their belief that the state would be better represented under the federal ruling party, even as he accused Governor Dickson of “under-developing the state.”
As the defectors left, Governor Dickson must have felt relieved, since in his thinking those were not aboriginal Ijaws, as such they amounted to so little politically in his reckoning. Some of his loyalists regretted that instead of getting down to know why such calibre of politicians should be turning coat at a crucial period in the state’s history, especially the closeness of some of the defectors to former President, the governor trudged on.
Later developments within the PDP were to prove Dickson’s resolve to take his political destiny in his own hands and carve out a ‘future’ for himself independent of Dr. Jonathan.
As the leadership crisis in PDP broke out, Dickson was said to have sided with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, who displayed uncommon disdain for the former President when he stormed out of a meeting convened by Jonathan in an attempt to resolve the logjam.
Those who watched the recent governorship poll in Bayelsa State said it was similar rebellion to popular opinion that made the PDP to struggle in an election it would have easily won. Stakeholders were said to have noted the political injustice meted to a former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Ndutimi Alaibe through serial denial of opportunity to govern the state and pleaded with him to return to the PDP.
However, although Governor Dickson gladly welcomed him to party when Alaibe paid him a courtesy visit at the Government House, to officially inform him of his (Alaibe’s) decision, the governor was later to insist that only members of his Restoration Team would be supported to succeed him come February 14, 2020.
It was gathered that several meetings were held by PDP leaders to ensure a consensus approach to the selection of the party’s standard-bearer in the governorship poll, but the governor stuck to his resolve to pursue his succession plan unaided.
A source in the governor’s camp disclosed that on more than two occasions, the matter of who flies the PDP’s flag in the November 16 poll was taken to the Ogun State residence of a former PDP president, who was privy to the many tricks employed in 2011 to favour Dickson for the Bayelsa governorship at the expense of Alaibe.
“Former President Jonathan demanded that a level playing field be granted to all aspirants in a credible and transparent governorship primary before he traveled to Mozambique. But Ofrumapepe (Dickson) had cleverly held the local government election, which swelled the number of delegates to the governorship primary. That was how his preferred candidate Douye Diri won in controversial circumstances,” a source confided in The Guardian.
It could be as a result of the procured local council delegates that Diri polled 561 votes, against Alaibe’s 196 votes, but the former NDDC chief believes there was more to an election in Bayelsa State, where an upstart like Diri would defeat him, not talk of with such a margin. He promptly approached the court in search for judicial scrutiny of the process against the background of the PDP’s constitution.
Sources said attempts made to pressure Alaibe into withdrawing the suit could not yield positive fruits, particularly given that when stakeholders pleaded with Dickson to allow him to recommend a running mate for Diri, the governor allegedly scoffed the idea.
As things turned out, the governor had his mind made up on fielding Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjiakpor, from his Bayelsa Central Senatorial District, ostensibly in a grand design to pave his way to the Senate after leaving office.
However, as the signs of possible defeat began to stare him in the face; the outgoing governor started making remarks about how much effort he put into trying to get Jonathan’s buy-in in the PDP’s governorship ticket. The governor actually revealed in a well publicised press conference that he tried for upwards of 16 times to engage Dr. Jonathan’s attention without success.
At another time, and in apparent attempt to justify his decision to go it alone in the selection of PDP’s governorship candidates, Dickson said he was about the only governor that did not receive N750m as “entertainment allowance” for endorsing the former President for the 2015 presidential primary.
Sources within the Bayelsa State Government House revealed that Governor Dickson’s optimism that he would pull his succession plan through was buoyed by the disqualification of the deputy governorship candidate of APC, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, from further participation in the election.
Senator Degi-Eremienyo allegedly got into trouble for discrepancies contained in the form CF0001 he submitted to INEC, especially names on his first school leaving certificate, first degree and Master’s degree, which the court found were compounded by the affidavit he swore to, which failed to reconcile the various names as belonging to one and the same person.
And while the APC deputy governorship candidate was dismissing the court ruling as laughable, a Federal High Court faulted the governorship primary that threw up his principal, David Lyon.
Strange Allies, Unsafe Future
Like Dr. Jonathan when he quickly placed a concessionary call to General Muhammadu Buhari, after the March 2015 presidential election, Governor Dickson did not wait to see the final resolution of the November 16, 2019 governorship election, especially in the light of the various litigations trailing the pre and post-electoral processes.
The governor explained that he set up the 41-member transition committee, headed by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Kemela Okara, in line with the stipulations of the 1999 constitution and “in readiness for the inauguration of the incoming administration in the state.”
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Fidelis Soriwei, Dickson maintained that the governorship poll was a charade, stressing that regardless of what might be the fall out of “the several initiatives being taken by the PDP, there was still need for a proper handover process to be initiated.”
Bemoaning his fate, the outgoing governor added: “Knowing that what transpired is not an election, we have to set up a transition committee the first time in our democratic rule. I thank God for the grace and enablement for making this possible for eight years and with a lot of achievements.
“The purpose is to articulate and record all that we have achieved and done in all sectors as a state. That is why all commissioners are part of this committee to enable you to present a scorecard of all our policies and programmes, both completed and ongoing projects.”
Chairman of the committee, Okara, in his response assured that his team would complete its work before the end of the year, remarking that the “assignment includes the financial position of the state, in terms of assets and liabilities, in a clear document.
Although the governor outlined that the outcome of committee’s work would be handed over in various forms to the incoming administration, it is evident that the battle for Bayelsa Government House is not yet over.
What if the Zamfara and Rivers States’ scenarios play out? And in the event that both APC and PDP lose out on account of the disputed process that threw up their candidates, how would both parties take the development?
For PDP, a lot of bad blood has already been spilled, particularly between the camps of former President Jonathan and the outgoing governor. Both leaders have traded and received accusations.
Speaking on the courtesy visit by some chieftains of APC shortly after the collation and release of results, Dickson accused APC leaders of trying to legitimatise the brazen vote heist and brigandage that characterised the gubernatorial poll by creating the impression that it was endorsed by the former president.
While describing the impression that he did not carry stakeholders, including the former President along, Dickson regretted Jonathan’s alliance with the APC, stressing that he chose to support a candidate that did not mean well for Bayelsa State.
“He has also helped me, but it is unfortunate that I am being misconstrued in this matter of the election. I tried to meet Jonathan 16 times and he opted to support a candidate that does not wish me well. I will soon write my memoirs and people will have a fair view of what happened, the visit of some APC governors to Jonathan, who congratulated the APC candidate without congratulating the candidate of his party.
“Our candidate, Sen. Douye Diri and the party chairman have been speaking about the charade called election that took place in Bayelsa and the invasion of our state by security forces. The dehumanisation of our people and how the majority of the areas and in places, where our people were denied the right to vote for the candidate of their choice. The story is all out there that what took place in the state on November 16, 2019, was not a democratic election,” he declared.
But the former President has explained that as a statesman, he was inclined to receiving any Nigerian that visits him, adding that he remains a committed and loyal PDP member.
Yet despite those clarifications, other chieftains of PDP have continued the narrative that APC could not have won if the former President had given his endorsement publicly, just as former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, expressed the belief that the fear of possible prosecution of Malabo Oil deal must have frightened the former Nigerian leader into siding APC.
Also, a member of the Dickson cabinet revealed that Dr. Jonathan’s romance with President Buhari predated the Bayelsa governorship election, recalling how the former President frightened northern governors into supporting his ambition to contest the 2011 presidential election by sending fiscal support to General Buhari.
Nonetheless, while the Dickson camp wants to sustain the argument that former President Jonathan rebuffed overtures from the governor, they fail to explain why the outgoing governor insisted on nominating the governorship candidates, a development that caused massive defection to the APC before the election.
Governor Nyesom Wike has decried the bad politics that enabled APC to gain a foothold in the oil-rich Niger Delta state, lamentingthat “the enemy is at the door.”
Lessons To South East Governors
Prior to the 2019 general elections, the South South and South East geo-political zones stood out as the last bastions of the erstwhile ruling party, the PDP. But at the build up to the election, virtually all the governors in the South East succumbed to a political deal brokered by certain chieftain of APC to stagger votes from the area in such a way to afford the ruling party’s candidate to garner at least 25 per cent of the votes cast during the presidential election to ensure spread.
Observers say that that political mathematics has continued to give the impression that South East governors are not committed to the PDP, but their political interests.
By 2023, most of the governors, except the Imo State governor would be serving out their constitutional two terms.
There are indications that while some have shown interest to migrate to the Senate, there are those who could be lured to try their lucks with the presidential contest, just as virtually all would want to pursue their succession plan to preserve their political future.
If ultimately the loss of Bayelsa State stands, analysts believe that South East governors would be forced to rethink the plan to impose successors and respect the will of the electorate. It is also believed that that realisation must have informed recent denial by the South East zonal chapter that none of the four PDP state governors was contemplating defection to the ruling APC.
The younger brother to the Ebonyi State governor, Chief Austin Umahi, who is also the National Vice Chairman (South East Zone) of PDP, dismissed as misleading, the claims by a shadowy Ohanaeze Nd’Igbo Youth Wing that two governors from the zone have finalised plans to join APC.
Although speculations have continued to make the rounds that the Ebonyi State governor, David Nweze Umahi, has been hobnobbing with leaders of APC in Abuja, the governor has continued to deny such a possibility.
Again, the South East PDP chairman, Austin Umahi, in a statement declared that the governors were working collaboratively with the party leadership to ensure that Anambra State joins the fold of PDP governors in 2021.
The South East PDP boss maintained that the governors should not be distracted from their determined focus to develop the zone as well as build a cohesive party, even as he warned those he called political jobbers and idle hands to desist from flying kites about spurious defection in the public space.
Baring a judicial turn around, the loss of Bayelsa State to the APC would haunt PDP to a great extent, particularly given the possibility that more PDP faithful from both the Jonathan and Dickson’s camps would most likely join the new trail in APC.
Furthermore, should Lyon’s election be upheld the victory would grant APC the much impetus and fiscal stamina to aim at Delta and consolidate on Edo State in 2020. And depending on how the 2023 political pans out, PDP could unravel if South East governors decide to embrace strange political bedfellows in the ruling party, just as the electorate would be challenged to extract their own pound of flesh as in Bayelsa State.