How roles of Dickson, Jonathan would shape Bayelsa 2019 gubernatorial poll
As the November 16 revised date for gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa and Kogi States draws near, the situation in the Niger Delta state is gaining public apprehension based on the hazy positions of two political leaders of the state, Governor Henry Seriake Dickson and former president Goodluck Jonathan. Both men are chieftains of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The question as to which of them should have the final say in Bayelsa State PDP has become part of the odds facing party faithful in the state due to the fact that not only was the former president a former governor, he was actually instrumental to Governor Dickson’s political progression to the position of governor.
By 2020, the incumbent governor would be bowing out of office after serving his constitutional two terms of four years each. Like other of his colleagues, Dickson is said to be scratching his head about how to enthrone his preferred candidate as successor.
Last week Governor Dickson announced the appointment of the former Nigeria leader as his honorary special Adviser on the Bayelsa Education Trust Fund Board, explaining that the gesture was in recognition of Dr. Jonathan’s educational strides when he laid a solid foundation for the state’s education system as governor.
While acknowledging the former president as “our leader,” the governor pleaded with Jonathan to use his influence to attract donations to the fund, adding that he would by virtue of the appointment sit on the board of Bayelsa State Educational Development Trust Fund as a former teacher.
Perhaps, as a result of his simplicity and desire to be of service to the state, the former president accepted the appointment, assuring that he would do his best to persuade all Bayelsa people to support the trust fund.
In his remarks at the public launch of the trust fund, Governor Dickson had declared: “The restoration government under my leadership has invested more than N80 million in the construction and upgrading of infrastructures in schools to help mould the educational future of our children.”
But, no sooner had the exchanges been completed than words started making the rounds in Bayelsa and the federal capital, describing the appointment as part of the shadowboxing by the two leaders to cleanse the negative image being spawned by their perceived political differences about who becomes the next governor after Dickson.
Sources disclosed that while Jonathan’s disposition favours assuaging political actors that were injured in the bid to make Dickson governor in 2011, the outgoing governor prefers being the one to choose his successor in line with the dictates of his restoration agenda for the state.
In the meantime, the following persons are said to be nursing the belief that the governor would look in their direction when the nomination process in PDP kicks off: Kombowei Benson, the current Speaker of Bayelsa House of Assembly; Dr. Nimbofa Ayawei, chairman of Bayelsa Inland Revenue Board and Douye Diri, who is said to be trusting that his senate seat could be a bargaining chip.
But, perhaps to burnish his statesman disposition or debug his conscience, the former president is said to be inclined to the thinking that the 2019 governorship should be used to indemnify those hurt by the political schemes of 2010 and 2011 so as to also enhance the unity and cohesion in the state and PDP.
There are many PDP stalwarts in the state that suffered from one form of disadvantage or another in the course of building the party in the state, but one man whose political progression was hurt the most for the sake of Jonathan’s and Dickson’s interest is the erstwhile Managing Director and Chief Executive of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ndutimi Alaibe.
Appointed by former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the ex-NDDC boss was asked to forgo his gubernatorial ambition to allow Dr. Diepreye Alameseigha to get a second term in 2003; just as in 2007 he was enjoined to step aside for Alamieyeseigha’s deputy, Jonathan to contest the governorship on PDP ticket.
Even after Jonathan has been tagged as presidential running mate of former Katsina State governor, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. It still wasn’t a clear coast for Alaibe. In the high-wire intrigues that ensued, Mr. Timipre Sylva was sourced from a distance in the then political equation of Bayelsa State to fly the PDP ticket in 2007.
After Jonathan succeeded Yar’Adua as president, Alaibe was assured of the governorship ticket, but was yet again disappointed following Jonathan’s decision to conscript Dickson from the House of Representatives into the governorship.
Sources said that but for the decision to displace Alaibe from LP, he would have trounced Dickson in the 2011 gubernatorial poll. The consequent disqualification of the former NDDC MD by PDP punctured his 2011 governorship ambition. Therefore, pained by those serial disappointments, Alaibe moved over to the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2015 election cycle.
Based on the goings on in the state chapter of APC, most party faithful take it for granted that the 2015 governorship candidate of the party, Timipre Sylva would fly the APC flag in the November 16 governorship poll.
It is perhaps against the background of that possibility that close associates of former president Jonathan believe that the best bet for PDP is to field a battle-tested and popular candidate in the stamp of Alaibe to square up with Sylva, who is also a former governor of the state.
Jonathan’s loyalists say he is more inclined to having Timi Alaibe as the standard bearer of PDP not only to indemnify the former NDDC chairman of past political wrongs, but most importantly “for his popularity, name recognition and acceptability across the entire Bayelsa.”
On his part Governor Dickson is said to be warming up to throw his weight behind one of his associates to continue and complete some of the signature projects and programmes contained in his Restoration Agenda.
Watchers of Bayelsa politics noted that unless the two PDP leaders-Dickson and Jonathan-settle their different approaches to the selection of the PDP gubernatorial candidate, the state could slide into the hands of the main opposition APC in the state.
Such observations hold some water, especially against the backdrop of a similar development in Gombe State where despite being in control of the various structures down to the grassroots, PDP lost to APC, which fielded a former gubernatorial candidate that contested against the out gone governor in 2015.
February 23 caveat
WHAT happened in Bayelsa during the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections could be a potent warning to the likelihood of APC’s surprise emergence in the state. Unlike in neighbouring Rivers State, where Governor Nyesom Wike deployed his wealth of political experience to resist the invading federal might, Dickson could not protect his flanks, particularly Bayelsa Central Senatorial district, during the election despite his boast that “no federal might can reverse the will of the people to safeguard the state against the might of APC.”
The loss of two federal constituencies to APC in the February 23 poll was not only shocking, it signaled the great potential of APC to dent PDP’s 20 years control of the state in the forthcoming gubernatorial election.
Losing such a crucial axis that hosts Nembe/Brass and Southern Ijaw was a blow of monumental implications. In the first place, the loss could be explained by what party chieftain described as popular disenchantment with Ofuruma-pepe’s overbearing influence in the running of Bayelsa PDP, particularly the idea of imposing candidates on the party.
The governor was accused of imposing unpopular candidates, which the APC did not find hard defeating at the poll.
Moreover, it could also serve as a potent warning to Dickson that despite mounting the saddle as governor, he should not arrogate to himself the claim to the leadership of PDP on account of foundational membership or contributions to the growth of the party in the state.
Perhaps realizing that PDP’s defeat by APC was occasioned by protest votes from disenchanted foot soldiers, Governor Dickson has declared that the nomination of the party’ standard bearer for the November 16 poll would be a product of extensive consultations and prayers.
Yet the margin of loss, 43, 303 to 32, 363, where the APC candidate, Bishop Barakumo Degi-Eremienyo, beat Elder Ipiganzi Izagara Blessing of PDP, says a lot about the place of popularity, name recognition and acceptability.
Also, for PDP to have lost Nembe/Brass shows how dicey the battle for the governorship could turn out. Despite the overwhelming presence of PDP in the area, Hon. Israel Sunny-Goli was returned to the state legislature after beating Mrs. Marie Ebikake by 41, 150 to 19, 279 votes.
APC sustained the winning streak in strategic Southern Ijaw as Mr. Preye Oseke returned 56, 804 votes to defeat the speaker of Bayelsa House of Assembly, Hon. Konbowei Benson, who garnered a marginal 34, 105 votes in the contest for the House of Representatives seat.
Sources disclosed that frightened by the unexpected momentum against the ruling party, the state commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, mobilized men and strategic calculations to avert the defeat of Fred Obua, the PDP candidate.
PDP chieftain in the state argue that if the party could suffer such string of losses in its strong holds just because stakeholders like former president Jonathan, were not consulted while fielding candidates in their domains, it is an eye opener of what the governorship poll could be.
It is also believed that the exploits of African Democratic Congress (ADC) in Nembe/Brass could be traced to the defection of Jonathan’s loyalist, Senator Nimi Barigha-Amange, who alleged manipulation of the party’s primaries.
Barigha-Amange pushed back attempts to rope Jonathan into his defection, stressing that his resignation from PDP was not only voluntary, but also as a “complaint against the undemocratic primaries.”
ALTHOUGH Governor Dickson set up what he called “stock-taking committees” to unravel the roles played by some leaders and appointees during the recent election, the only option for PDP if it is serious about retaining the state is to hold a transparent, credible, free and fair governorship primary.
The governor, who has declared that he would hand over to another PDP governor in 2020, should learn from the mistakes of his colleagues in Gombe, Imo, Ogun, Oyo and Zamfara States by allowing the popular candidate fly PDP’s flag in the November 16 gubernatorial poll.
Anything to the contrary could open up the party to recriminations, anti-party activities and possible protest votes in the election. Most importantly, stakeholders say the governor should recognise indeed and in fact that he has elders of the party to defer to in the interest of peace and progress of Bayelsa State.
Having fought a good fight to retain the state for PDP, Dickson should play the statesman and not try to upend the cohesion in the state through his political interests. If indeed he is determined to retire to the Senate as speculations have it, he had better wait for 2023 and not try to swap positions with a senator as happened in Gombe. Voters know when they are being taken for granted and therefore more inclined to resist such shenanigans.
Some of the political actors in the state under different dispensation, including Timi Alaibe, Kenebi Okoko, Franklin Erepamo Osaisai, Reuben Okoya and Godknows Igali, who want to test their popularity at the poll should be allowed to face PDP stakeholders, because any attempt at imposition could spell doom for a party that gifted Bayelsa a Nigerian president.