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Diri/Lyon: Bayelsa still in the woods

By Kelvin Ebiri (South-South Bureau Chief)
23 February 2020   |   4:30 am
A palpable sense of insecurity and concerns over fresh attacks on oil facilities now pervades Bayelsa State.


As MEND Threatens Assault On Oil Installations
A palpable sense of insecurity and concerns over fresh attacks on oil facilities now pervades Bayelsa State.

This development was reinforced by the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the electoral victory of former Bayelsa State governor-elect, David Lyon, of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who polled 352, 552 votes, and the swearing into office of Governor Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who had 143, 172 votes.

Threat by a faction of the Reformed Niger Delta Avenger (RNDA), led by Johnmark Ebi, to resume destruction of oil facilities over the verdict, and the killing of five military personnel in Ekeremor Local Government Area, are pointers to current unrest in the state.

Shortly after the nullification of Lyon’s mandate, political and security observers in Bayelsa began to express grave concerns that major ex-commanders of the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), who backed Lyon during the election, might resort to fresh attacks on oil installations to cripple the state’s revenue, thus rendering Diri’s administration inefficient.

Most of the former MEND commanders are mainly from two major oil producing areas of Nembe and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas, which were the major epicentres of resistance against the administration of former Governor Seriake Dickson.

An environmental activist, Morris Alagoa told The Guardian that though he was unaware of imminent attack on oil facilities, he was certain the security situation in the state would get worse.

He said the ex-militants had expected that Lyon, as a governor, would have addressed the dire infrastructural deficit in oil producing communities, particularly in Southern Ijaw and Nembe.

He said: “As far as Bayelsa State is concerned, Southern Ijaw had more militant leaders and camps at the height of militancy, and almost all threw their support behind Chief David Lyon in the governorship election. I thought with David Lyon in office, most of them would want to see his administration succeed in addressing the developmental challenges facing our communities and people.”

He explained that already, ex-MEND commander, Young Shall Grow and some stakeholders, including traditional rulers, had started moves to ensure peace and non-violence in their territories namely, Azuzuama, Ukubie and Lobia.

Alagoa said the move by these critical stakeholders to stem insecurity in anticipation of Lyon’s assumption of office, was seen as a big plus, because many people in the state could no longer move freely in the creeks for the greater part of Dickson’s administration.

“The mood in Southern Ijaw, even though there are some who supported PDP, is like the death of a great man; it is mournful. This well-intended peace initiative that could have been in our common interest might be put on hold, as the source of motivation has been cut off. This is just my thinking,” he said.

It would be recalled that several ex-militants were seen among thousands of aggrieved APC supporters, who took to the streets of Yenagoa and its suburbs penultimate Friday in protest to denounce the Supreme Court’s sack of Lyon and the directive that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should issue Certificate of Return to Governor Diri.

The protest, which later turned violent, led to the destruction and vandalisation of residences of former Governor Dickson and Governor Diri, setting ablaze of a generating set at the State judiciary, attack of the State radio station and other places, and compelled the Police to declare a dusk to dawn curfew.

Some stakeholders told The Guardian that they feared the ex-militants who had invested immensely in Lyon’s dashed electoral victory, would go beyond crippling the state’s revenue through attack on oil installations, and might resort to creating security nightmare for Diri’s administration, just to undermine it.

Already, Ebi has denounced the Supreme Court judgment, demanding that it be reversed or the group would resume attack on critical national oil and gas assets.

“The RNDA should not be held responsible for whatever damage that will lead to the bombing of oil pipelines to cripple the country’s economy,” he said.

Ebi argued that, by virtue of the amended Electoral Act, if under any circumstance, the winner of the governorship election was disqualified, INEC would be required to conduct a fresh election.

He said it was wrong for the court to declare that the party whose candidate came second should be sworn into office.

He said: “In the case of Bayelsa State election, David Lyon won with a wide margin of total votes cast across the entire eight Local government Areas of Bayelsa State. David Lyon was declared the winner of the governorship election, which was accepted by all sons and daughters of Bayelsa State.

“He remains the people’s choice. RNDA will not fold its arms and watch democracy rubbished in Nigeria. The RNDA should not be held responsible for whatever havoc and colossal damage that will occur in the Creek to cripple the country’s economy. We will soon show an example. We mean business.”

Amid the brewing tension and insecurity that forced the Police to further extend the curfew imposed during disturbances that followed the issuance of Certificate of Return to Governor Diri, yet to be identified gunmen have killed four military personnel at Letugbene in the state.

Spokesperson of Operation Delta Safe (OPDS), Major Victor Olukoya, confirmed that the men were killed last Sunday.

“Troops, while carrying out their routine duty within its area of responsibility on February 16, at about 6 p.m., were ambushed by unknown gunmen. Four soldiers were killed in action. However, investigation is ongoing to ascertain the persons or groups behind the attack,” he said.

Olukoya, who stated that the military, which had been mandated to secure oil and gas facilities, deter militancy and oil theft, as well as other forms of militancy, could not have invaded Ekeremor community, as alleged in some quarters.

“The Commander Operation Delta Safe along with Commander 16 Brigade and Commander Sector 2 were in Letugene Beneside, Ogbotobo, Tunu and other communities in Ekeremor Local Government Area. They observed citizens going about their lawful duties without any hindrance, contrary to the erroneous impression created in the false news report.

“The OPDS advises the good people of Ekeremor LGA to please remain law-abiding, as the command will fish out the perpetrators of the ungodly act and ensure a secured environment for all,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr. Lyon has urged everyone to eschew violence and avoid the temptation of engaging in acts that could tarnish the state’s image, and plunge the entire country into chaos.

He assured Bayelsans that, as a law-abiding citizen, he would never support, sponsor or direct anyone to engage in acts inimical to the progress and wellbeing of the same people he seeks to govern.

The former governor-elect said he recognised that there are different stakeholders in politics, and they all reserve their inalienable rights to their opinions on issues affecting their wellbeing. Such stakeholders are also at liberty to express their opinions on issues, but they should always do so within the ambit of the Constitution and without making unfounded and unsubstantiated remarks against others, which amount to defamation.

Lyon insisted that those who know him and have interacted with him could attest to the fact that he was a peace-loving person.

According to him, his peaceful demeanour was demonstrated in the last governorship elections, when he led peaceful electoral campaigns in the state. And irrespective of his political ordeal, he has respect for civil liberty and believes in legal and democratic processes of resolving issues.

Lyon said he believed that in a democracy, the court remains the last hope of the common man. He disclosed that he had been preoccupied with exploring all legal processes and remedies available in the Constitution in exercising his fundamental human rights to address the unfortunate incident.

There are still growing concerns in Governor Diri’s camp over pending legal case, bordering on his emergence as PDP candidate in the November 16, 2019 polls.

A source close to Governor Diri told The Guardian that though he had assumed office, he is not yet out of the woods, as the suit filed by former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe, remains a threat to his stay in office.

Alaibe had asked the court for an order setting aside the submission of Diri’s name to INEC by the PDP as its candidate in the November governorship election.

In the suit, he had cited several legal and procedural infractions during the primary, in which he came second. If his prayers that included cancellation of the primary were granted by the Federal High Court Owerri, it means PDP had no candidate for the election and Governor Diri will be sacked.

An aide to Alaibe, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian that pressure had been mounting on him to withdraw his suit in court, since he would not be declared PDP candidate and subsequently a replacement of Governor Diri.

“The pressure is on Alaibe to withdraw his suit, given the fact that he cannot be declared PDP candidate. But, that would be solely his decision to take. He had earlier given his terms. It is up to Governor Diri to negotiate with him,” he said.

It is not all doom and gloom, however, there are some fragments of hope for Diri, as former President Goodluck Jonathan has urged the people of Bayelsa to be law-abiding, peaceful and work together towards a united and prosperous state.

He also advised Governor Diri to use his office to do good to humanity and pursue the state’s development, to write his name in gold.