Bayelsa Guber: Diri, Sylva, Eradiri set for epic battle
Going by the outcome of the last general elections in Bayelsa State, one could conclude that the November 11 governorship election in the state will be a walk over for the incumbent Governor Douye Diri and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has held sway since the beginning of the present democratic dispensation in 1999.
While the party won most of the seats contested in the recent state and National Assembly elections, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates lost all the Senate and House of Representatives seats and won only five seats in the 24-member state House of Assembly, with PDP winning 17 seats.
No party, apart from the PDP, had occupied the Government House since 1999, the closest another party got was in the 2019 election, when the APC’s candidate, Chief David Lyon, was declared winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and was set to be sworn-in before a last minute Supreme Court judgment halted his ambition on the eve of his swearing ceremony.
But a lot has happened since Diri assumed office. The ‘Miracle Governor’ as many residents are calling him because of the manner he assumed office, will in November face epic battle that promises to be tense, with lots of intrigues, power play, incumbency factor and use of federal might as well as zoning issues may determine the outcome.
Unlike in 2019 when Lyon was APC’s candidate and slug it out with the former governor, Senator Seriake Dickson’s anointed Diri, with no other strong contenders from other political parties, the November 11 race is going to be another ball game for Governor Diri and his party.
APC, this time around, has decided to give its ticket to a former governor and immediate past minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, while the emerging force in Nigeria politics, the Labour Party (LP), picked a former president of one of the most vibrant youth groups in the South-South zone, the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Udengs Eradiri.
Already, political analysts are predicting a straight fight between Diri and Sylva, who are both looking for second term. While Diri is currently serving his first term, Sylva was a one-term governor of the state, who served between 2008 and 2012.
While the PDP and its candidate will be heading to the contest with a more formidable and united front, and with a remarkable scorecard of achievements, the APC on the other hand is yet to settle many of the squabbles that have continued to linger over the years.
Diri, a former teacher and former organising secretary of the IYC, who hails from Kolokuma/ Okpokuma Local Government Area, has been a Senator, member of the House of Representatives and commissioner for Youth and Sports in the state.
Some of these positions, perhaps, drew him closer to the grassroots and he has not failed the people of the state, as he has provided leadership for his party, which resulted in its victory in the last general elections in the state.
His leadership style, coupled with his developmental strides, has endeared him to people, as many riverine communities that hitherto could not be reached by road are now accessible, with many roads still under construction.
Many believe he is the man to beat come November 11, given his credentials and achievements in the last three years. “The man is peaceful and promotes peace. We have not witnessed in Bayelsa State before, where in a major election took place and not a single life was lost. There was no security threat also. Kudos to the incumbent government!
“He has also won the hearts of Bayelsans. I never believed I would ever travel by road to my ancestral homeland, Angiama, in Southern Ijaw Local Council in my life time because of the nearly 60 years of failed promises by successive governments at the state and national level to build one for the people. But Diri was able to break the jinx.
“Also, our senior citizens are now getting their pensions and gratuities regularly. I get to hear different testimonies from neighbours and other citizens,” Elder Ebiye Accra stated.
Another factor that may sway votes for the incumbent is the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The last elections clearly showed that most of the outrageous figures churned out from the hinterland and the riverine communities maybe fake after all.
The results from the last election showed that the figures from Nembe, Brass and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas are not what they used to be. And those local councils were the strongholds of the APC in previous elections.
Sylva, who hails from Okpoama in Brass Local Council, based on his antecedent and pedigree, is the strongest among those jostling to wrestle power from Diri, given his previous political experience.
Having just resigned from of the cabinet of the outgoing government of President Muhammadu Buhari, his seemingly influence in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB, he will have the requisite war chest, support and connection to return to the Creek Haven (Government House), but under a different political party this time around.
Though APC seems divided, Sylva may need to work more on his party members to win the election. Some APC members have accused Sylva of running the party as his private estate, blaming the party’s abysmal performance in the last election in the state on his over bearing attitude. They accused him of running a one-man show during the primaries that threw up the party’s candidates before the polls, as well as imposing himself as the governorship candidate for the November poll, at the expense of “a more popular candidate.”
While he remains a hero among some supporters and Bayelsans because of some of his achievements as governor and minister, most of the aspirants who contested against him are unhappy with the conduct of the primary election and the result declared.
Lyon, who won the majority votes in the last governorship poll by defeating Diri by a wide margin before the apex court stopped him over discrepancies in names and certificates of his running mate, is one of those aggrieved by the outcome of the primary.
Despite all odds, Sylva’s political antecedent is rich. He served as member of the old Rivers State House of Assembly; adviser on Political Affairs to the late former governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; governor and until recently, a minister.
Speaking on Sylva’s chances to return to Creek Haven for the second time following fears that some of those who lost the primary might work against the party, the state Chairman, Dennis Otiotio, said Sylva remains the man for the job going by what he has done as governor before.
He named the now moribund plastic industry, the 50 internal roads he built and the provision of 19-hour electricity everyday as some of the legacy none of his successors have been able to match.
Otiotio said Sylva never wanted to contest the governorship election, but well-meaning Bayelsans, including elder statesmen prevailed on him to come back and rescue the state.
“That was why he decided to contest the election. He never wanted to contest, but people prevailed on him, people talked to him and said, ‘why would you leave Bayelsa State in this state? Bayelsa State needs an experienced and exposed leader, a leader that will be able to take the right decisions.’ And he saw through with them.
“Do you know that when Sylva became governor, there were just two major roads? In Bayelsa, there were only two major roads in Yenagoa and Sylva constructed 50 internal roads.
Also speaking, Doifie Buokoribo, the party’s state Publicity Secretary said Sylva’s chances are very bright, as he comes to the job with experience, maturity, broad-mindedness, popularity, courage and competence.
He said: “He will bring all these experiences to bear when elected as governor. He will grow Bayelsa, the people and the infrastructure. The last time he was on seat, there was massive youth empowerment; scholarships were given to youths to study abroad, including Europe, North America and Asia. This will continue. He will run an inclusive government. Under Sylva, there will be life more abundant for all of Bayelsa State.
“Above all, as candidate of the ruling party at the centre, Sylva will build synergy with the Federal Government for the development of Bayelsa State.”
Buokoribo added that the criticism of Sylva on the basis of the security outfit set up during his first term is misplaced and simply schizoid propaganda, noting: “In the first place, the outfit was established by the state security council, not Sylva.
“Secondly, and more important, he did not micro-manage the outfit. In any case, he has been out of office without immunity since 2012 and no one has taken him to court over that outfit. Sylva is innocent.
“He did very well as a minister and for Bayelsa State. He was with the people during the COVID-19 pandemic and during the flooding last year. He oversaw the completion of the NCDMB Towers, the tallest building in Bayelsa State.
“Courtesy of Sylva, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) Group is building a Specialist Hospital at Igbogene. Courtesy of Sylva, NCDMB is building the Oloibiri Museum. Courtesy of Sylva, NCDMB has built an Industrial Park in Yenagoa.” He also dismissed talks of legal impediment against the former minister, saying there is no such thing that can hinder his bid to return as governor.
“In the eyes of the law, he had taken the oath of office once. Even if you now argue that it is twice, the law cannot be applied retroactively,” he insisted.
Pundits also believe that APC’s chances of winning the election can be brightened if the national leadership reconciles the aggrieved aspirants and others who have since turned their backs on the party.
WAITING in the wings to cause a possible upset is the LP candidate. The former IYC president, who was also a former commissioner for Youths and later Environment under the Dickson administration, is one of the youngest candidates among those jostling to occupy the Creek Haven.
The youth activist-turned politician from Agudama-Ekpetiama in Yenagoa Local Council will be banking on the ‘son of the soil’ sentiment and the young electorate, having served as a youth leader at both the central (Bayelsa) and national level of the Ijaw nation.
The vibrant young politician is the only candidate from Yenagoa, the state capital, whose sons and daughters have not had the opportunity to serve as governor, despite hosting the seat of power.
Eradiri is noted to have brought vibrancy and international exposure to the IYC and the Ijaw struggle as president of the body and perhaps with the popularity of the LP, his chances of springing surprises at the election cannot be ruled out.
COMING on the heels of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) surprised victory at the recent House of Assembly election in the state, comes Waibodei Subiri, who will fly the party’s flag on November 11.
A former teacher and surveyor, Subiri has promised to focus on youth empowerment, noting that the only way to achieve a better state is to get a greater percentage of youths involved in governance. Whatever happens between now and November 11, the battle will be fierce and only the strongest will survive and emerge victorious.