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Dickson, Ebebi at war in Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election

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The race for who represents Bayelsa West Senatorial District at the upper chambers of the National Assembly is gathering momentum. But with former governor, Seriake Dickson, and a former deputy governor, Perebomowei Ebebi, as main contenders for the seat, zoning has become a catalyst for campaigns for both candidates and parties.

While Dickson was unopposed in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primarily held at Sagbama, Ebebi emerged the All Progressives Congress (APC) flag bearer for the same district from Ekeremor axis. This has made the contest an epic battle.

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Ebebi, a former PDP strongman, who defected to the APC, is from Ekeremor Local Government Area, while Dickson, the only governor to have served the state for two terms, is from Sagbama Local Government Area. Both local government areas make up Bayelsa West Senatorial District.

While Ekeremor LGA has produced a two-term Senator in former Minister of Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri and present House of Representatives member, Fred Agbedi, Sagbama currently has a deputy governor in Lawrence Ehwrujakpor, who was also a former senator, who took over from another Sagbama man, Foster Ogola, who only served a term in the senate. Dickson, a former governor from Sagbama, was also a former member of the House of Representatives.

From 1999, the Senator, who represented the district was Emmanuel Tupele-Ebi Diffa from Sagbama, while Heineken Lokpobiri from Ekeremor, represented the district for two terms. However, his attempt to go for a third term met a brick wall when former Governor Dickson insisted on maintaining the ‘gentleman agreement’ reached in 1999 by political stakeholders. 

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Despite all his struggles to get a ticket to return under PDP, he was replaced by Foster Ogola from Sagbama, who served only one term before he was replaced with the current deputy governor, Ehwrujakpor. It was learned that the positions of senator and member House of Representatives in Bayelsa West Senatorial District are shared between the two LGAs.

According to proponents of the zoning arrangement, top political stakeholders held a meeting where it was decided that Ekeremor people should not contest the vacant position in adherence to the existing agreement on power rotation, since they already have the incumbent House of Representatives member. While those against the zoning agreement say it was only a gentleman’s agreement, which is not binding on anyone, especially as the other political parties have a right to present candidates and freedom to vie for offices.

They also accuse Dickson of violating the agreement with his penchant for imposing candidates from his Sagbama LGA. His intention to go to the senate is one such imposition, his opponents say.

Political stakeholders including some APC members from both local governments have, however, expressed discomfort with Ebebi’s decision because, according to them, his entry violated an unwritten agreement on power rotation between the two LGAs. Top political stakeholders say it is already decided that Ekeremor people should not contest the vacant position in adherence to the existing agreement on power rotation.

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Political leaders of Sagbama and Ekeremor had issued a joint statement where it was stated that Sagbama should complete the tenure of Ewhrudjakpo for an Ekeremor person to start afresh tenure in the spirit of the age-long agreement on power-sharing in the area. The APC candidate for the senatorial election, Ebebi, is from the same Ekeremor LGA as Mr. Fred Agbedi, who represents the area in the House of Representatives.

While addressing a press conference recently, a group under the new ‘All Progressives Congress Grassroots Mobilisation from Sagbama and Ekeremor local government areas kicked against the decision of the former deputy governor to contest the election. They aligned with the political leaders from the area, saying stakeholders from the senatorial district are uncomfortable with the decision of Ebebi, because it violates an unwritten agreement on power rotation between both local government areas that make up the district.

The group expressed resentment at the idea that Ebebi from Ekeremor would be contesting the election for Senate when Hon. Agbedi, also from Ekeremor, is in the House of Representatives. Chairman of APC Mobilizations Group, Mr. Ibide Brown, condemned in strong terms the decision of Ebebi or any other person from Ekeremor to contest in the Senatorial election.

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But in his response, Ebebi asked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to forget about zoning in the district, saying he was prepared to face the former governor at the poll. He stated that PDP’s zoning argument was dead on arrival, arguing that Dickson destroyed the zoning arrangement through the choices he made against popular opinions before leaving office as a governor. 

He said the argument by some PDP members that it was the turn of Sagbama, Dickson’s LGA, to produce the next senator amounted to playing on the intelligence of the zone. He said those promoting such arguments were simply encouraging political greed and attempting to make Sagbama superior to the principles of justice, equity and good conscience.

Ebebi recalled that Sagbama, through Dickson, occupied the governorship position for eight years, with his kinsman, Ehwrudjakpo, occupying a sensitive position in his administration as the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure. He said during the 2019 general election, Dickson brought Ehwrudjakpo, his Sagbama kinsman, to contest and win Sagbama West Senatorial election, adding that the former governor, against all entreaties, also made Ehwrudjakpo deputy governor.

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He said if Dickson had valued the zoning arrangaement in the district, he would have supported someone from Ekeremor to emerge as deputy governor to give Sagbama moral standing to lay claim to the Senate.
Ebebi said it would be unjustifiable and unfair for Sagbama, having occupied the governorship for eight years, to still retain the positions of deputy governor and senator, thus making Ekeremor a political orphan for four to eight years.

He said: “Zoning has been destroyed by Dickson himself. Dickson was governor for eight years and Ekeremor, being brothers to Sagbama people, should have been considered for the deputy governor position.
 
“But he gave it to his former Commissioner for Works, who was already a Senator,” Ebebi said. “He abandoned that senatorial seat to become a deputy governor.”

Ebebi said when elected as a senator, he would pursue legislations that would address the under-development and ecological problems in the zone. He promised to focus on the empowerment of youth and students through scholarships and human capital development. Ebebi also challenged Governor Douye Diri to make public the financial status of Bayelsa State, wondering why the state was listed among insolvent states.

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Also, an APC stalwart, Berry Negerese, said it stood logic in the head to insist on zoning, adding that political undercurrents and not zoning have remained sole determinants of the emergence of a senator from the district.

He said: “I am not against anybody’s ambition; there is nothing like zoning. If the former governor so valued zoning and saw Ekeremor as his brother, he was a governor for eight years, his kinsman was a commissioner for works for eight years, that same person went to Senate and is now the deputy governor from the same Sagbama. Dickson, in 2019, had the governor, senator, and deputy governor. We are not fools.”

While the misconception about the zoning arrangement in the district continues to occupy a prime position in campaigns by both candidates, zoning has become the rallying point for various groups, who argue for and against it, the electorate patiently waits for October 31, 2020 to cast their vote for their preferred candidate, whether for the former governor, Dickson, or a former deputy governor, Ebebi.

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