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Bayelsa PDP, APC bedeviled by internal bickering ahead primaries

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Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

[FILE PHOTO] Goodluck Ebele Jonathan

The process to nominate governorship candidates representing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) in Bayelsa State  for the November election might descend into utter chaos in the days ahead.

Emerging empirical reality in these two dominant political parties in the state, revealed brewing intense acrimony between contending political forces, who are vehemently opposed to opaque processes through which favoured candidates may emerge, and those with vested interest are hell-bent on having a few individuals determine whosoever emerges as party standard bearer.

In May, Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson pledged to embark on extensive consultation with former President Goodluck Jonathan and other key stakeholders for a rancour-free primary to select PDP’s governorship candidate.

But last week, he stirred the hornet’s nest by declaring he would only back candidate from his own political bloc, ‘the Restoration Team’ during the primary, thus, fuelling talks that his initial talk about consultation with stakeholders was merely cosmetic.

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Aspirants from Dickson’s ‘Restoration’ political bloc are: incumbent Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboriobogha Jonah (rtd); Senator Douye Diri (Bayelsa West); Professor Steve Azaiki, representing Yenagoa/Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives; immediate past Secretary to Bayelsa State Government,  Kemela Okara; former Chief of Staff to the governor, Talford Ongolo; former Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Konbowei Benson; Fred Agbedi, representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives;  and Nimibofa Ayawei.

While inaugurating the restoration governorship primary election committee in Yenagoa, the state capital, the Governor declared that he was bound to reward a loyal member of his team for the purpose of continuity and commitment to the state’s socio-economic growth.

Ahead the September 3 primary, Governor Dickson, in an attempt to further strengthen his support base at the grassroots, hurriedly organised the State local government election for the very first time since assuming office. The PDP won in all the eight council chairmen and 105 councilors slots. The move was part of his strategy to boost the votes for his preferred choice.

Bitter reaction has trailed conduct of the council polls. It has also stirred controversy about the legality of whether these councilors and chairmen will be eligible as delegates, because they were elected barely a month to the convention.

Meanwhile, Dickson has said PDP Constitution does not prevent elected local government officials from becoming delegates in a primary.

He said: “There are people who fought to stop our chairmen and councilors from participating in the last election and they failed. The propaganda out there is that our elected chairmen and councilors are not going to participate as delegates in the election.

“Let me make it clear that no one, by the rule of this party, will prevent elected council officials from voting as delegates. No one will stop them from entering the venue to vote for a candidate of their choice.”

The Governor’s stance has deepened internal rancour within the party, and political observers believe it is just a matter of time before it turns nasty.

A source in Bayelsa PDP told The Guardian that, irrespective of Dickson’s seeming impregnable grip of party machinery, former President Goodluck Jonathan and former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe, whose Bayelsa central senatorial district is favoured to produce the next governor, might turn out to be his nemesis.

It was gathered that President Jonathan, who was pivotal to Dickson’s emergence as PDP candidate in his first term, would wield immense influence over some of the delegates.

He said: “A lot of people are with President Jonathan. He still wields moral authority within Bayelsa political space. At the party’s national level, he is widely respected. Dickson had initially assumed he was in firm control of the delegates, but he is currently not too sure of their loyalty. Even during the last local government election, which was dominantly a PDP affair, opposition parties were induced not to present candidates. With barely a few days to the primary, the Governor is not even sure of the loyalty of the councilors and chairmen.”

Governor Dickson, who had encouraged his deputy and other restoration team members to pick PDP nomination form, is said to be clandestinely backing Senator Doyin Diri, who is from Bayelsa Central.

He is also alleged to be propping another serving senator as a running mate to Diri, to pave way for him to migrate to the Red Chamber at the end of his tenure as governor.

The Governor’s support for Diri is causing friction within his camp, because some people are averse to his choice. It was gathered that the restoration team is on the brink of a disastrous split, if the Governor remains hell-bent on foisting any unpopular candidate on his camp.

The Governor’s decision to encourage eight out the 21 aspirants to purchase nomination form has put him in a dilemma.

A Bayelsa elder statesman told The Guardian that the Governor’s assertion to support only a member of his faction of the party was clear demonstration there would not be a level playing ground for all aspirants.

He said: “There can be no level playing ground, if the Governor said he would only support somebody from his restoration club. So, all the noise they have been making about level playing field is hypocrisy. It is typical of all of them. They are never sincere. They are not honest and serious.”

Sources in the party disclosed that some core loyalists of President Jonathan, who were once antagonistic to Alaibe’s governorship ambition are now working with him. This is fuelling the assumption that President Jonathan may have instructed his political machinery in Bayelsa to support Alaibe.

A member of the Alaibe team told The Guardian that the former NDDC boss was confident he would clinch the ticket.  It is, however, feared that Dickson might want to play the spoiler, if the ticket eludes his preferred candidate.

Dickson and Alaibe’s skirmish over a leaked audio, where the incumbent declared he would not support the latter, gives credence to the fact that the September 3 primary might descend into utter chaos, if the party does not manage the process in a transparent manner, so that all the candidates will at least feel that a level playing ground was given to them.

Another aspirant, said to be enjoying President Jonathan’s nod is former state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Anthony George-Ikoli, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and grandson of late Ernest Ikoli, a renowned journalist and political activist, who hailed from Brass in Bayelsa East Senatorial district.

One of his aides said President Jonathan was not oblivious of the zoning arrangement in the sate, and that he might be prepared to jettison that in the place of competency and capacity to move Bayelsa State to economic prosperity, which George-Ikoli exudes.

He accused Governor Dickson of deliberately sponsoring several aspirants, who, before or on the day of the primary, will step down for one person.

Ahead of the September primary, the National Vice Chairman of the PDP South-South, Emmanuel Ogidi, has assured that the National Working Committee (NWC) would ensure a free, fair and credible primary for the aspirants.

Ogidi explained that PDP was not overwhelmed by the number of aspirants that have so far collected and submitted the governorship nomination forms.

Sylva

He said: “Actually, the number of aspirants is not our problem, because we have talked with them and they have pledged and reached the conclusion to support the winner.”

Also, chairman of PDP screening committee for Bayelsa State and Governor of Oyo State, Mr. Seyi Makinde, has declared that   the party had no preferred aspirant for the primary election.

“We don’t want a situation whereby our party goes into the election with a divided house. We want to go into the election as one big family that we are, with a view to retaining the state,” said Makinde.

In the meantime, the APC, which some look up to toprovide alternative hope and optimism post-Dickson era is in disarray over the preferable mode of primary to adopt.

Presently, there are six governorship aspirants seeking to clinch APC ticket. Most notable are former Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, Mr. Preye Aganaba and David Lion.

With barely a few days to its primary, APC’s seeming inability to expeditiously resolve its internal wrangling is an indicator that the stakeholders are keen on avoiding past mistakes that cost them dearly in the 2015 governorship election, where former Governor Timipre Slyva lost to the incumbent.

Lokpobiri, who was Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly and later senator in April 2007 on PDP platform for the Bayelsa West constituency, hails from the same senatorial district as Governor Dickson, who is the first governor to serve two terms since 1999.
His aspiration is said to be in contravention of the zoning arrangement of the state.

With Dickson just finishing eight years, the idea of another person from the same senatorial district with just two out of the eight local government areas wanting to occupy office of Governor will be fiercely resisted.

The former minister, considered an astute politician with a considerable war chest is a proponent of indirect primary. However, most of the aspirants, who hail from majority of the councils, are rooting for direct primary and are likely to prevail.

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Due to his nomination as the Minister of State for Petroleum, Sylva has decided to forgo his bid to return to the Creek House, and has thrown his support behind David Lion, who is said to be a major APC financier in the state.

Lion is from Bayelsa Central senatorial district with Preye Aganaba, a foundering member of APC and an ally of the Minister of Transportation, who wields remarkable influence in the party.

Aganaba, an advocate of direct primary, told The Guardian that APC, which prides itself as a party of change was not in uncharacteristic disarray as some presume. Rather, stakeholders are awaiting the National Working Committee’s pronouncement concerning the mode of primary.

“If we have a neutral candidate, we have a very big chance of winning. A neutral candidate is somebody that is not tied to Sylva. And that person is Preye Aganaba,” he added.

Political observers are keenly watching how both the PDP and APC will pull through prevailing internal crisis plaguing them ahead the November polls.

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