Thursday, 8th June 2023

Bayelsa 2019: Last ditch efforts to tackle lopsided primary

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
01 September 2019   |   4:23 am
As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State prepares to choose its governorship candidate this Tuesday, contending aspirants are making last-ditch efforts to clinch the coveted ticket.

[FILE PHOTO] Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa.<br />

As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State prepares to choose its governorship candidate this Tuesday, contending aspirants are making last-ditch efforts to clinch the coveted ticket.

It is anticipated that when Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson, who is deemed to hold the aces, unravel his preferred aspirant before the primary, some of the over 20 aspirants, mainly those from his political bloc, Restoration Team, will throw their hats into the ring.A few weeks ago, the outcome of the primary looked as if it was going to be a cliffhanger, with the return of the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Timi Alaibe to the party. But outcome of the contentious ward and national delegate congresses has proven that Dickson is firmly in control of the process.

It would be recalled that Alaibe and some aspirants, who are not members of Dickson’s power clique in PDP had petitioned the party’s national leadership to complain about the outcome of the three-man ward delegates congress supervised by Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi.

While the non-Restoration Team aspirants have not recovered from a crushing defeat in the ward congress and their complaint not yet addressed, the national delegate congress was held under the supervision of the Deputy Governor of Abia State, Ude Oko Chukwu. Over 90 percent of the delegates that emerged from this process are perceived loyalists of Governor Dickson.

Prior to the commencement of the congresses, Alaibe and others had kicked against the list of returning and electoral officials for the ad-hoc delegate elections. The former NDDC boss had noted that unilateral inclusion of certain names on the list was contrary to the party’s Constitution and guidelines for the conduct of a peaceful primary. The insertion was made to put certain aspirants, especially those of the Restoration Group, at advantage.

“While winning to us is not a do-or-die affair, the process of choosing the party flag bearer should be made unquestionably transparent, such that in the end, the outcome would be acceptable to all, so that we could stand as one to face the real opponent, Alaibe said.

Contention over the conduct of the congresses not withstanding, leading Restoration Team aspirants, such as Senator Douye Diri, the governor’s seeming favourite to win the nomination, and frontline contenders like Alaibe, are making last-ditch efforts to position themselves as the party’s perfect person that could defeat the sudden resurgent All Progressives Congress (APC).

Senator Diri, who represents Bayesla West senatorial district, was brought into political limelight by Alaibe. Those who are determined to thwart his ambition have been circulating a video, where he eulogised Alaibe, when he wanted to contest for governorship years ago. It is said that his opponents have even told the governor to be wary of him, because of perceived affinity with the former NDDC boss.  

A Restoration Team insider told The Guardian that the moment Alaibe returned to the party, it became obvious to the governor and other stakeholder that he wanted to contest for governorship. And from that moment, they started erecting roadblocks to frustrate him.He said: “We lured Alaibe to join the Restoration Team long ago, but he declined. When we started the Team, Alaibe was approached to coalesce with us, so that his camp would produce the deputy governor, but he declined, on the assumption that the Restoration Team project was not realistic.

“It was at this point that Senator Diri left him to become principal secretary to Dickson, immediately he became governor. Diri laid the foundation for Dickson administratively, and shortly afterwards, he resigned to contest for House of Representatives and then later, the Senate.” A political analyst, who pleaded anonymity, said with the congresses conducted so far, it was obvious the wind was firmly in Governor Dickson’s sails to actualise his ambition to install his successor come November, when the state governorship election will hold.

“The situation on ground indicates Governor Dickson has the upper hand,” he said. “The first ward congress was controversial and an appeal panel came and upheld the outcome of the congress. The Alaibe group is optimistic that the national leadership will nullify the congress. Rather, they gave the go-ahead for the national delegates congress. What is left for the governor to have unhindered victory is if the controversy over the elected council chairmen and councilors is resolved in his favour.”

Dickson’s ability to secure another emphatic mandate in 2015, after PDP’s defeat at the centre, established him as an electoral influence and gave him hegemonic control over PDP in Bayelsa State. To this end, the governor has without pretence been maximising his vantage position, though, to the chagrin of others. Except through divine providence, all aspirants are projected to lose to Dickson’s preferred candidate in Tuesday’s primary polls.

While the governor, who spent a lot of his time in Abuja, last week presumably to prevent any roadblock to emergence of his preferred candidate, awaits the final decision of the National Working Committee on the final list of delegates, the party might experience defection of its disgruntled members to APC.

A pointer to this is that none of the over 20 aspirants has yet promised to support the eventual winner, should they lose in the primary.To prevent a possible crack within his ranks, as the outcome of the primary was bound to leave some aspirants and their supporters, particularly from Southern Ijaw, disgruntled, due to perceived favouritism, which is much at play behind the scene, Governor Dickson is said to be willing to offer Senator Diri’s vacated slot to three aspirants, namely immediate past Secretary to the Bayelsa State Government, Kemela Okara; former Chief of Staff to the governor, Talford Ongolo; and Nimibofa Ayawei.

Meanwhile, Alaibe’s strategists are confident he will pick the ticket, despite the odds against him and other aspirants not backed by Governor Dickson.A member of his team told The Guardian that Alaibe, who has promised economic prosperity by touting his success as a technocrat, would be depending on young voters, who are worried about dearth of career and economic prospects in the state.“He is the aspirant to beat. Things are going on well. At the end of the day, even if they doctor the delegates list, they will end up voting for us,” he said.

While Governor Dickson’s Restoration bloc aspirants and their rivals continue to bitterly fight one another for dominance of PDP in Bayelsa State, it is obvious that after the dust of the primary settles, all stakeholders in the party will cast aside whatever differences in a last-ditch effort to keep at bay the APC, which is hoping to profit from any division in the party.If Dickson’s preferred candidate emerges, the non-restoration team aspirants will take solace in the fact that they still put up a spirited fight, despite the formidable odds of incumbency.

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