Contending political forces draw battle lines ahead Bayelsa guber
As preparations for the Bayelsa State governorship election gather momentum, contending political forces jostling to succeed Governor Seriake Dickson are drawing battle lines.
For instance, the processes that will culminate in primary elections, which ought to help the two dominant political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the main opposition, All Progressives Congress (APC) select their respective candidates, is engendering internal party strife.
The reason for the internal wrangling in both the PDP and APC is because these two parties enjoy significant public visibility in Bayelsa State. And it is often taken for granted that successor to Governor Dickson will emerge from either of the PDP or APC.
As such, both the PDP and APC have certain challenges to overcome ahead of the governorship election slated for November. Their ability to maintain their preeminent position in Bayelsa politics requires that they deal with emerging cracks within their ranks expeditiously.
In 2012, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s political family, the Green Movement, made ascendance of Governor Dickson who is indisputably the contemporary heavyweight on Bayelsa’s political stage, possible.
But Dickson, who has since 2015 after President Jonathan lost the presidential election, emerged as a dominant actor in Bayelsa politics, has nurtured a parallel movement, the Restoration Team, from which he had declared the next governor will emerge.
The Governor’s assertion to back only candidate from his own faction of the PDP is a nascent indication of brewing crisis within party in Bayelsa State. Already, some top party chieftains who are not members of the Restoration Team like retired federal permanent secretary and envoy, ambassador Godknows Boladei Igali, a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ndutimi Alaibe, a philanthropist and businessman, Reuben Okoya, Mr. Keniebi Okoko, have indicated their interest to succeed Dickson and are determined to pursue their aspiration with or without the governor’s endorsement.
Other PDP aspirants include the chairman, Bayelsa State Board of Internal Revenue, Dr. Nimibofa Ayawei; the immediate past Director-General, Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Franklin Osaisai, a former chairman of the state PDP, James Dugo, Great Joshua Maciver, a retired permanent Secretary; ex-Director of Protocol and currently chairman of the state Land Use Allocation Committee, Mr. Joseph Akedesuo, among others.
Just a few days ago, the Restoration Team caucus met in Yenagoa, the State capital and declared that the Chief of staff to the Governor, Mr. Talford Ongolo; the Senator representing Bayelsa Central, senator Douye Diri and the Secretary to the State government Mr. Kemela Okara, who was the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governorship candidate in 2012 have declared their interest to succeed Dickson. The announcement of these names stirred uproar, which eventually prompted Dickson to declare that the race was open for everybody within his political clique.
“The Restoration Team has taken a decision to back one of its own to contest the primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state. The Restoration Team is inclined to support a candidate from the Restoration Caucus of the PDP for the governorship ticket because of the imperative of continuity and stability in governance. It is on the basis of this that any member of the Restoration Team who has ambition is called upon to pick the form. The caucus shall make all the necessary arrangements for consultations within the Restoration Caucus of the PDP before taking a final decision on who to support,” said Dickson.
The decision to allow all members of the Restoration Team to participate in the process of selecting of their own has opened the floodgate for aspirants, including the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (r.td) and others to join the fray even if it is for mere political stunt.
The Ijaw Youth Council has commended Governor Dickson, for creating a level playing ground for all aspirants to pursue their ambitions.
The Secretary General of the Ijaw Youth Council, Mr. Alfred Kemepado lauded Dickson for allowing all aspirants to go ahead and purchase the interest and nomination form of the PDP in pursuit of their gubernatorial ambitions.
Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the date and timeline for the Bayelsa election, the entire state has been gripped by political maneuverings. For Bayelsans, they are anxiously waiting for the PDP, APC and other parties to select their flag bearers to enable them make a wise decision on whom to vote for.
Already, the process leading to the governorship primaries of the PDP has been generating controversies because of Dickson’s stance that he will only back a candidate from his Restoration group. Dickson has consistently declared in many fora that his choice of a successor must be God fearing, capable and must be able to continue his legacy projects, which he boasted are scattered all over the eight local government areas. He has stressed that anyone who should qualify to fly the PDP gubernatorial ticket must have the requisite qualities of courage, commitment, vision and grits to protect the Ijaw Nation.
Political observers believe that the onus of ensuring credible process that will produce an acceptable candidate to all stakeholders depends on Governor Dickson. However, if he fails to nurture negotiation, consultation, and compromise at a time when efforts needed to be harnessed towards defeating an aggressive APC, then the entire PDP will have to live with the consequences of an eventual crack in the party.
The deputy Governor, who assumes he has all the aforementioned listed criteria outlined by Dickson, has implored the PDP to provide a level playing ground for all aspirants and play by the rules. He warned that there should be no preferred aspirants in order to avoid divisiveness within the ranks of the Party.
Political analysts have argued that though Jonah has been a key player in the Dickson administration for over seven years, at such is in a vantage position to understand the challenges of governance in the state and better placed to continue and consolidate on the achievements of administration, does not seem to be Dickson’s choice.
Pundits predict that PDP will sweep the polls if only it can avoid divisiveness, which has crept into the party. The fact that PDP had won every governorship election since 1999 in the state makes it more attractive than any other political party. To this end, Dickson has his work cut out for him to fix the deepening crisis and imminent cracks as the D-Day approaches. He also needs to work doubly hard to prove to the electorate that the PDP is still worthy of being re-elected.
However, for the PDP, several considerations will determine who eventually picks the governorship ticket; chief among which is the input of Governor Dickson, who now has a firm grip on the party structure. His choice and support for any particular aspirant will definitely be significant. The Governor has been extremely careful to conceal his preferred candidate close to his chest.
Former president Jonathan’s factor is also another consideration in the choice of a candidate of the PDP as he can still pull required strings to get his choice candidate to scale the hurdle. For now, Jonathan’s body language is yet to indicate if he might work at variance with Dickson.
Jonathan’s seeming aloofness to the intriguing political happenings in the state, particularly as only core Dickson loyalists were elected into the National and State Houses of Assembly in the last general election tends to create the impression that his political influence has whittled down. But, he remains an elder statesman that cannot be ignored.
One thing is very clear, without Dickson, PDP cannot win election in Bayelsa State. As it stands, Dickson still has all the aces to determine who emerges as his successor within the PDP. Other factors, such as his modest achievements, his political tenacity, his grassroots support, will work in his favour.
Another factor to consider is the contentious issue of the zone that would produce the PDP candidate. The governorship slot has gone round the three senatorial districts at different times in the last 20 years under the PDP. So far, for the APC only three persons, former governor Timipre Sylva, immediate past minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, and Preye Aganaba, a businessman and former member of the President Buhari Campaign Council have formally declared their intention to wrest power from the PDP. Others may join the race as the process gathers momentum.
Factionalism has plagued the APC in Bayelsa State almost since its inception in 2013. The three aforementioned aspirants belong to three different factions. The cracks deepened even further last week as talks to determine the mode of primaries ended in a stalemate, as members disagreed over attempt by the party chairman to force them to accept direct primaries.
While Sylva’s faction insisted on direct primary, Aganaba and Lokpobiri’s camp, refused, saying they prefer the indirect primary. Sylva who is regarded as an old fox may yet pull a surprise and have his way; but, having lost in 2015, some within the party think he will not be acceptable to the people of Bayelsa State.
Lokpobiri’s ambition has some odds stacked against him already. He hails from the same senatorial district with the incumbent governor. Since 1999, only their senatorial district has produced a governor who has served two complete uninterrupted terms. Aganaba, who hails from Odi in Bayelsa Central senatorial district told The Guardian that for the sake of equity, the APC should cede the ticket to his senatorial district.
Defeating an incumbent PDP government has remained a tough nut to crack for the APC in the South-South and Bayelsa will once again most likely not be an exception. However, one factor that might work for the APC is if it can manage its internal issues. For the PDP an unpopular candidate might ruin its chances.