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As PDP’s Diri, APC’s Lyon get set for Bayelsa’s unpredictable guber poll

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Lyon at APC campaign flag-off recently

Five days to the November 16 gubernatorial election in the oil-rich Bayelsa State, the election environment shows a very tough battle between the two arch rival political parties, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and its stubborn opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).

And so, for both PDP’s Senator Douye Diri and the standard-bearer of APC, Chief David Lyon, the showdown presents as about the fiercest and trickiest gubernatorial contest in the 20-year history of the Niger Delta state.

To underscore the high premium placed on the contest, the two frontline candidates are backed by powerful political figures in the state. While Diri reclines on the power of incumbency of outgoing Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, his APC counterpart, Lyon, has the backing of the 2015 governorship candidate of the party and current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva.

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In a bid to cover much ground before the Thursday deadline for the close of electioneering, both candidates and their supporters have traversed the length and breadth of Bayelsa communities in search of voters’ endorsement.

Right from 1999, three years after the state was created, PDP had always enjoyed a roller-coastal-ride to the Creek Haven, the seat the state’s Government House. However, that record seems no longer to hold true, following the emergence of APC as custodian of federal government, but also the party’s consistent incursion in Bayelsa politics.

The general impression among residents and parties’ faithful is that November 16 election would be tough, especially given that electoral contests in the state have shown that the opposition APC is steadily gaining grounds on the dominant PDP.

In the recent general election, APC clinched one senatorial seat, two House of Representatives seats and trounced the ruling party in three state constituencies for the House of Assembly.

That rising profile could explain why, with less than a week to the election, the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Lyon, appears to be waxing stronger, thereby making the contest a little dicey for the once dominant PDP and its master-strategist and leader, Governor Dickson.

With the sing-song of ‘Lion’ as his supporters call the APC standard bearer, on the streets and creeks of Bayelsa, Chief Lyon’s candidacy has led to the formation of multiple political groups, all advocate and routing for him.

Yenagoa, the state capital, has been festooned with various campaign offices, such that even the name ‘Lion’ has become common as children chorus the songs composed in his name.

Residential houses, which hitherto bore the colours of the PDP flag, have gradually taken to the more colorful APC symbol. And, despite the internal wrangling in the party, Lyon appears to enjoy a measure of mass appeal, both in the state capital and at the neighboring communities.

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Observers say the unpopular way that PDP candidate, Diri, was chosen during the primaries, contributed to the growing popularity of Lyon, since it is generally believed that the PDP flag bearer was imposed on the party by Governor Dickson.

It would be recalled that most party leaders had kicked against the emergence of Diri, at the PDP primaries, a development that actually compelled of its members to defect to APC.

Another factor that might work in favour of APC’s Lyon is that, coming from one of the largest Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas of the state; the large voting population would most assuredly go his way. He is adored in his council and ward by both the young and the old, based on what the people describe as his philanthropic disposition.

Holes on the ‘Umbrella’
The general apprehension about the PDP standard bearer is said to be his inclination towards stinginess. And although he is acknowledged as a more experience administrator, the people fear that his administration may end up causing more hunger and starvation in the state.

A former Commissioner for Youth and Sports during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan as governor, Diri , who has also been a teacher and a businessman, is currently a prominent member of incumbent governor Dickson’s political grouping known as ‘Restoration Caucus’.

Ironically, with his rich credentials and political acumen, his controversial emergence, coupled with the subsequent imposition of Dickson’s former Commissioner for Works, Senator Lawrence Ewhrujakpor, as his running mate is said to be tearing Bayelsa PDP apart.

While Ewhrujakpor is a close confidant of Dickson’s, Diri is said to be the outgoing governor’s stooge. Words making round the state is the incumbent Senator was planted by Dickson with the apparent intention of taking his place at the Red Chamber, after handing over to incoming governor on 2020 Valentine Day, February 14 of next year.

And while the electioneering goes on, there seems to be no love lost between the candidate and his running mate over who disburses their campaign funds. Insiders confided in The Guardian that there is a seething cold war between the two men, as the deputy governorship candidate is said to be calling all the shots.

Of particular interest is the fact is that Ewhrudjakpor, who apart from being an incumbent Senator, served as Works Commissioner that handled virtually all projects initiated by the Dickson administration appears to be more financially bouyant.

Another source of division between the two men is said to be Governor Dickson’s decision to allow Ewhrudjakpor the upper hand in the allocation of campaign finance, as well as leaving other important decisions to him to the utter chagrin of Diri’s supporters.

But the woes in the PDP camp was compounded by the absence of former President Jonathan and the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, at the PDP mega rally. The nonappearance of both men sent jitters to the spines of PDP’s chieftains and their supporters.

The former President, who many believe preferred the former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ndutimi Alaibe or a transparent primary, has maintained unusual coldness and refused to join the PDP campaign train immediately after the controversial election that threw up Senator Douye Diri.

It was gathered that the Rivers State governor was not happy with Dickson for not according the former President Jonathan due respect and recognition as a pillar of the party in Niger Delta.

All those factors, including the unresolved litigation instituted by Alaibe, which instigated mass defection of some prominent PDP stalwarts are said to have combined to signal the bad omen for the party, thereby making its victory dicey.

Nonetheless, a chieftain of the party and governorship aspirant in the September 3 primaries, Keniebi Okoko, saw the defection of some members of the party to APC as good riddance to bad rubbish.

Okoko believes that the “pockets of defections will not affect PDP, because it gives the younger ones the latitude to display their potentials. In as much as we want them to stay, but their movement will not determine the outcome of the election.

“Bayelsans are no longer easily deceived anymore. Comparing Douye Diri and David Lyon is like comparing white and black, two opposite things. And let us make this clear, that someone being a good person does not make him a good leader.

“What criteria does he have for being a leader, is it that he runs an oil pipeline surveillance contract? Even at that, what tactics did he use to secure the pipelines?”

Diri at PDP’s mega rally in Yenagoa, recently

While expressing shock that somebody of Sylva’s stature would wholeheartedly support the APC candidate, Lyon, expressing his doubts as to whether the decision was well thought out, where candidates like Preye Aganaba and Heineken Lokpobiri, who were also aspirants, did not stand a chance.

Okoko added: “I have never been one that could see something right, even in the APC and not commend it. But, David Lyon is a poor choice for the APC. If APC had an Aganaba (Preye) or Lokpobiri (Heineken) it could be a reason to feel jittery, but definitely not a David Lyon. I don’t think the people of Bayelsa will want to go backwards.”

Okoko, who is also a clergyman said he was glad that PDP’s reconciliation committees have started making progress with the recent return of some party faithful that earlier defected, adding, “Put side by side, the PDP and APC candidates are not on the same level. And I am not insulting anybody here. Being a good person or that you have been good to some persons does not translate into being a good leader.

“Governors are members of the National Economic Council. When you get there, you are supposed to contribute.

The APC candidate should come out and talk about his economic policies. He should not be sending people to speak for him. Let him give us his blueprint.”

The clergyman insisted that Lyon cannot hide behind Sylva to become governor, stressing that the candidate should be bold enough to stand on his own and “articulate his policies and programmes for Bayelsa people.”

“Sylva is intellectually sound, no doubt, but Lyon should not hide behind him to become governor. He should come and speak to the Bayelsa people. Let him articulate his policies and programmes,” Okoko maintained.

However, responding Okoko’s reservations the APC candidate described him as a highly traumatized person, arguing that having lost the gubernatorial primary election woefully, Okoko feels comfortable awarding everybody very low points.

In a statement by his Media Aide, Gift Ekeki, Lyon castigated Okoko, for condescending so low to compare him with Senator Douye Diri of PDP, saying, “I would not have dissipated my energy to respond to statements from the likes of Keniebe Okoko, whose adult life is still guided by wives and parents to solicit contracts for him in the IOCs (International Oil Companies).

‘I am a well nurtured person from a committed family, who has value for humans and will never be used as an attack dog. I urge Okoko to tell Bayelsans how many people he has empowered in his community. Instead of using his wealth to create job opportunities for his immediate family and community, he uses his wealth to hire private jet to go to South Africa for birthday parties, while people of his community live in abject poverty.

“Keniebe Okoko has now been hired as an attack dog by Governor Dickson to cast aspersions on my person, saying that I am not competent and could not cope in the midst of other governors. I do not know the parameters he used in his assessment. Every success I achieved in my life is by dint of hard work and commitment, coupled with god’s blessings and not from wives or parents, who use their offices to provide silver linings to get contracts from IOCs. Keniebe Okoko, lacks courage to think on his own and achieve success in life.

“I can say emphatically that I am not contesting election against Douye Diri, but with Governor Dickson and his inglorious Restoration team.”

Beyond all the permutations by pundits on Lyon’s growing popularity, winning next Saturday’s election in the state appears a tough one for APC, given the nature of the party’s internal wrangling and lack of proper planning.

The party officials in the state appear disorganized and incapable of taking firm and immediate actions on pressing electoral issues in the state without getting a cue from those in Abuja since most of the APC chieftains are holed up in the Federal Capital, thereby failing to shore up the party’s support base in the grassroots.

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Compared to Dickson’s restoration foot soldiers, grassroots mobilization and recent engagements of over 2, 000 Aides across all the local government, the APC might be going for another straight defeat with their eyes wide open.

Federal might or not, Governor Dickson, as his nickname Ofurumapepe, ‘the great white shark’ translates, is seen as a master strategist, a fearless warrior, who the APC can only undermine at its own peril. He is also seen as the only one that can stop the marauding Lion and the ‘toothless bulldogs’ in the Bayelsa State chapter of APC.

Speaking along that frame of mind, a political affairs commentator, Comrade Philip Odua, said for APC to defeat PDP in the forthcoming governorship election is an uphill task.

He stated: “The only party the Bayelsans at the grassroots are conversant with is PDP. Forget the proceeds from the last general elections, this is governorship election and the people understand what it means when you talk of continuity. I am talking of continuity of more than 20 years. The party has governed the state since 1999, with established structures at far-off creeks.”

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