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Aspirants express optimism, caution over Bayelsa PDP guber primary poll

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief, Port Harcourt) and Julius Osahon, Yenagoa
02 September 2019   |   2:58 am
The focus would be on Bayelsa State this week as the major political parties select candidates for the November 16 governorship election and the momentum of political activities is building up. The political parties are determined to meet the timeline set by the electoral umpire for the conduct of governorship primaries. The Independent National Electoral…

Timi Alaibe. Photo/icimigeria

The focus would be on Bayelsa State this week as the major political parties select candidates for the November 16 governorship election and the momentum of political activities is building up.

The political parties are determined to meet the timeline set by the electoral umpire for the conduct of governorship primaries.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had in a body of rules titled, ‘Regulations for the Conduct of Political Party Primaries’, set out the timelines for the election.

The guideline clearly stated, “it is aimed at highlighting the salient principles and documentation for the successful conduct of political party primaries. It is not only based on legal requirements for the conduct of party primaries but outlines the democratic principles.”

Not too long ago, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that the primaries conducted by the various political parties ahead of the 2019 elections are some of the “most acrimonious” in the nation’s history in recent times.

More than other political groups, many observers are interested in the selection process of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The party has been in power in Bayelsa since the return to democratic rule in 1999. Until the 2019 national elections when the All Progressives Congress (APC) recorded some surprise victories in the National Assembly and state house of assembly elections, the state was exclusively in the grip of the PDP for about 20 years.

The Bayelsa PDP seems to be at a trying period because unlike past governorship primaries in the state, the 2019 primaries are bound to affect the unity of the party except something is urgently done to correct the perceived unilateral decisions being taken by Governor Seriake Dickson.

Despite assurances by key players in the PDP, the battle for who produces the next flag bearer of the PDP is undoubtedly among three blocs within the party.

The three blocs are those of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Restoration Caucus led by Governor Seriake Dickson and the independent aspirants not tied to any political group.

But with allegations of votes buying, endorsement, the imposition of candidate and the many irregularities, there are fears the process leading to the selection of Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in Bayelsa State could end up in crisis.

Already, some aspirants, including Reuben Okoya, Timi Alaibe and Nimibofa Ayawei, have declared that the state may be heading for doom unless the process is set right.

Ayawei, who is a former chairman of Bayelsa State Board of Internal Revenue, said the September 3 straw poll is beyond endorsement.

He argued that contrary to insinuations that the governor has chosen a candidate, “all the aspirants were eminently qualified to govern the state,” adding that at the end of the day only one person will emerge as the winner.

Ayawei, who spoke in an interactive session with journalists noted that the governor of the state has every right to support an aspirant, but, however, said it was left for the delegates to decide the flag bearer. He also stated that the September 3 PDP primary would decide the soul of Bayelsa State.

Speaking on his plans for the state if given the opportunity, Ayawei said his two areas of concentration would be mainly creating jobs for the unemployed youth and tackling insecurity.

He said, “The Brass Island has the capacity of taking more than 3,000 youths off the streets if there were roads. Brass has the capacity to host all the vessels in the high seas. We have over 50 vessels off the shore of Bayelsa. I will make sure that we make a road to Brass and that will increase the IGR of the state.”

On his part, Okoya told journalists in Yenagoa that the state was at crossroads “and needs to get it right this time or face a troubled future.”

He said lots of distrust; lies and disunity exist among Bayelsans, even as he canvased the need to unite all Bayelsans in the new dispensation to avert “the looming doom.”

Okoya said he is not desperate to become governor, but that he was desirous of helping build the capacity of the youth, adding that choosing a wrong candidate would not augur well for the state.

He said,  “If we don’t get it right this time, I mean if Bayelsa doesn’t get it right this time, I don’t want to mince words: we are doomed, we as a state!

“I’m not here to praise anybody, but I must say this: Bayelsa has put forth its first 11. The people running for the governorship are people of character, people of dignity, people of history, trying to serve the state, but we are at the crossroads. Help pass the messages to the electorate, the people, the delegate, the elders, that we have no choice than to make it right this time. Getting it wrong will spell disaster and doom for us.
“That is why I, Reuben Okoya, have decided to put myself forth to serve Bayelsa as governor because I know how critical these times are.”

But exuding some measure of confidence, Mr. Alaibe, unveiled a strategic plan, which according to him “would enable us to achieve sustainable and equitable economic growth for the state in my first four years in office.”

Alaibe whose 10-pronged strategic economic and socio-political roadmap for a prosperous Bayelsa State is christened “Blue Economy”, said the initiative is aimed at “Shared Prosperity” for all the people of the state.

The initiative, according to him, will be achieved through the acceleration of economic growth to create jobs for restive youths.

A seasoned banker, financial expert and erstwhile Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC, Alaibe noted that over the years successive administrations since the creation of the state in 1996 have impacted in their own ways in trying to ensure sustainable development through the provision of appropriate infrastructure to support the state’s growth and enhance the wellbeing of the people.

However, he reckoned that right now, “what Bayelsa, which major source of revenue is from federal allocation need, is an economic shift or initiative, aimed at unleashing its potential in order to foster growth and ensure sustainable prosperity at all levels of the social strata till there exists perceptible “Shared Prosperity”.

One way of achieving his strategic plan, he added, will be through the provision of 24-hour power supply in Bayelsa within the first year and supporting the growth of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

With the economy as a strong inducement on his quest to be governor, Alaibe said, “Eighty per cent of the Brazilian economy is powered by SMEs and SMEs are key. We are going to create an environment where private sector too can come in. I will talk about Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and partnership funds. There are quite a lot of partnership’s funds in the SDGs that will support SMEs and you need to have skills to be able to attract such funds. If you don’t have the skill set, you cannot access these funds. We can help you (SMEs) to make your projects bankable so that you can access such funds and get the government’s support”.

Alaibe explained that his quest to govern the state is predicated on his passion to address the economic challenges facing Bayelsa and the seeming private investment that has been tepid.

“At this point, what we believe is a game-changer for our people is to now discuss the economy of our state and that in itself enunciates and captures thematic areas of our vision. Our vision is shared economic prosperity for the people of Bayelsa State, using government as an enabler for social security investment, or as social security investors to provide certain critical social infrastructure, including social programme, rule of law, security and order, human capital development, environmental remediation, healthcare and job creation. These are the thematic areas I think we will be dealing with; government as a social investment platform, so that private sector capital can come into our state to support an aggressive economic development.

“Also to invite private capital and investment and expertise and then, e-governance, infrastructural development and agriculture. In other words, it’s like a 10-point agenda that we have. Talking about rule of law and order which is the foundation for all these things to happen, we insist that in the first six months of our administration, we will ensure that there is peace and security in our state so that people will be comfortable to come and do business here.”

He stated that in order to boost Bayelsa’s competitiveness as an investment destination, a concerted effort must be made to address skill gaps that have been partly responsible for the teeming unemployed, restive youth and in turn, growing insecurity in the state.

“We have to train them,” he stated. “We have a lot of programmes for the youth. My first six months in office would be dedicated to the youth. And we categorise them. There is youth generally unskilled, like my friends on the streets, who say they are the owners of the streets; those friends I will attend to them.  But I will withdraw their arms; I would demobilise them, rehabilitate them, and reintegrate them to the society, so they can have jobs. The next set of people already prepared, having gone to the university, and yet they do not have jobs. There is a lot of our youth that is unemployed; we need to deal with that. We would prepare them for special skills so that we can ensure that our tomorrow would be a skilled society that can be exported.

“I keep giving the examples of Philippines that in 2018 over $6 billion was repatriated back to the country from sea-farers. Forty-five per cent of seafarers in the world are Filipinos; so, you can imagine that it was not an error that some leaders sat down to invest in their people.”

Alaibe stressed that Bayelsa’s economic fate and future is intricately tied to the outcome of the primary and subsequently the November governorship election. According to him, there are high public expectations, and it would only take someone with an appetite for economic growth to create jobs, improve living standards of the people and a responsive government to meet the peoples’ expectation.

He assured that he would focus on narrowing the wealth gap, and the urban-rural divide. To this end, he urged the delegates to compare and contrast those who have clear visions to help Bayelsa State grow and then those who also are waiting for the thing to fall on their laps.

“I’m not an accidental leader; I prepared myself for leadership, and our state does not need accidental leaders at this time.  We have to be deliberate in picking a leader. I am a full-blooded Bayelsan. My mother and father are Bayelsa people. Sometimes, some people allude to Lagos but I am only in Lagos for occupational reasons. I did my school here; so, I understand the challenges, economic challenges, infrastructural challenges, socio-political challenges, and environmental challenges of this land perfectly. I even did research during the time of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan; we were involved in the diagnosis reviews. So I know most of the challenges, even the thematic areas and the detailed areas I know them.

“ Yes, I’ve been a contender for years, and I’ve told you why I do that because I love this state and I’m not a desperate politician, like what some people think. I have stepped down for people at various times. Do not carry guns to make me governor; I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in ensuring that we conduct a free, fair and transparent process that will enable a leader to emerge. If a leader emerges from that, I don’t have any choice than to support such a person. Power is from God. I won’t force myself on anyone. I see myself as coming on a mission to resolve the problems, gaps which I see and have a skill for. So don’t expect me to be jumping from one place to another, because I want to be governor; I won’t do that”.

In terms of environmental remediation, Alaibe pointed a Yenagoa master plan was prepared and another one was also drawn up in 2007 by the Governor Timipre Sylva administration, noting, “We are going to pick up that plan, upscale it, review it and implement those aspects of environmental recommendations and interventions and we are going to do a lot of strategic waste management programmes and start afforestation programme. Of course, environmental remediation will be one of our key areas.”

On gender imbalance, Alaibe who described himself as a gender-sensitive person, recalled how, through his support for his late wife, Mrs. Alaere Alaibe, used her non-governmental organisation, Family Re-Orientation Education and Empowerment (FREE), to help the women in Bayelsa and the entire Niger Delta resolve the development dilemma confronting them and also help them become literate and empowered.

“So, I learnt quite a lot from my wife and that has given us the framework to design the activities that we have for our women. Some of them are more or fewer empowerment programmes that will give our women the necessary comforts and to build themselves, as entrepreneurs which brings me to the essence of all things. From my experience in banking, when you lend money to women they always payback. Nine per cent of the women payback. I’m not saying the men are bad, but women are very conscious of their obligations. So, we are going to empower women, an extension of facilities to make them entrepreneurs and give them that self-worth.”

He also said if he is successful, he would develop the sports’ sector through investment in sporting infrastructure which, according to him, has the potential to create jobs.