PDP walking a tightrope to retain Creek Haven
Barely 20 days to the Bayelsa State governorship election, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be walking a tightrope amid the gale of defections, fragmentation and lawsuit.
The State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has been fervently trying to shore up political will to achieve reconciliation with former President Goodluck Jonathan; former Niger Delta Development Commission managing director and governorship aspirant, Timi Alaibe, in order to forestall any possible woe the PDP might face and prevent the gale of defection from gaining further momentum.
Dickson’s focused ambition on his personal political future rather than collective interest of principal stakeholders in determining the governorship candidate of the PDP for the November 16 election, has placed him on a collision course with President Jonathan, Alaibe and others.
Former Senator representing Bayelsa East Senatorial District, Nimi Amange, who represented President Jonathan’s senatorial district between 2007 to 2011 was one of the first prominent PDP members to defect to the opposition All Progressives Congress. Two aides of Dickson, Mr Abenego Don Evarada and Mrs Helen Bob too have left the PDP.
Recently, there has been an avalanche of defection by some other core Jonathan’s allies such as former lawmaker and the Chairman, Bayelsa Environmental Sanitation Authority, Robert Enogha; former Speaker in the old Rivers State Assembly cum pioneer Chairman of the PDP in Bayelsa, Claudius Enegesi.
In Nembe axis, a former state lawmaker and special adviser to the Governor on Environment, Bright Erewari-Igbeta and James Jephthah, have also moved to APC. While in Brass, Beimo Spiff who was the coordinator of council has dumped PDP to join APC.
In Ekeremor, former Deputy Governor, Peremobowei Ebebi, who was the director general of Alaibe’s campaign organisation has joined the APC following the emergence of Senator Douye Diri as PDP governorship candidate.
While the APC has made eye-catching political gains, by these defection, and even as the PDP daunting political challenge just seen to get much harder, Governor Dickson has declared that the PDP would overcome the odds and win the polls.
Dickson claimed that people are being paid to defect to the opposition. He stated that even if 20 to 30 or more people defect to the APC, their movement would not adversely affect the political fortune of his party as winning election was about building a workable system and structures. According to him, in 2015, over 150 prominent leaders, including the then State party chairman, and some commissioners defected.
“When I was contesting in 2015 and they defected, was it because Senator Diri was a candidate? No, I was a candidate. There was no issue with the deputy governorship candidate, but people were defecting. What is happening is a normal Bayelsa politics of the belle, when, during election people look for where they will be offered something better. A number of these names were not really part of our success story. Maybe one or two worked with us in the last election” said Dickson.
In spite of the stark divide in the PDP, Governor Dickson seems to be relying on the fact the Bayelsa State remained fiercely PDP, and the division may not affect public sentiment and have a far-reaching influence on the outcome of the polls at the detriment of the PDP.
“Elections are by the people and not leaders. Although, leaders have a role to play, but if you are only interested in leaders, you have failed already. Most of the leaders that defected to the APC from PDP are doing so alone, leaving their followers and supporters behind. And what they don’t know is that their followers are in touch with me because I have direct contact with them. The followers have told me that they are happy that their leaders have left. If a leader defects and the followers have refused to go with him, what he has is just one vote”
He further said: “I have been very generous in appointing people. So, in all, we have over 3, 000 appointees at different levels. So, defection does not really affect our capacity to win election. What they don’t know is that every day, I am quietly receiving APC members. What I am targeting is their field workers.”
While Governor Dickson might seem undaunted about the fragmentation of the PDP, he is however worried about Alaibe’s lawsuit against the conduct of the governorship primary that produced Diri. Sources in PDP have expressed grave concern that the lawsuit if pursued to conclusive end has the potency to deal a heavy blow to Dickson’s political future and quest to reconfigure the political landscape of Bayelsa State.
In a bid to defuse Alaibe’s legal onslaught, Dickson has been relying on the PDP national reconciliation committee headed by a known friend of Alaibe, former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who had tried to prevail on him to withdraw the lawsuit in court.
An associate of Alaibe who has been striving in Bayelsa State political arena since 2003 for coveted position of office of the Governor, told The Guardian that his principal has for now ruled out a deal with Dickson.
“PDP set up a committee led by senator Saraki who is Timi’s friend. They met and he told Saraki that the election was not a one man show and there are certain things he cannot decide alone. And that if there is any kind of reconciliation, the principal stakeholders must be involved. So, this issue of withdrawing the case does not arise. Why are they more interested in withdrawing the case than making peace? So many people have been hurt. So many people have been grieved. The court case is still on and there is no withdrawal of the case. For now, nothing has changed,” he said.
Already, the Alaibe’s suit that was filed initially in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, has been transferred to what the former NDDC boss tagged a neutral ground, Abuja. According to him, it was natural for the party to initiate mediation wherever there was crisis, but, it was another thing for opposing parties to be disposed to meditation.
“The grievance has been taken to court. What Alaibe wanted the court to do was to cancel the primary. If the court cancels the primary, the prayer before the court is not that he should be declared the winner because by law, that is not going to be possible. The prayer is cancel the primary. When the primary is cancelled you cannot conduct another primary. PDP will have no candidate. Those who are fighting will return to square one so that the one sided PDP in Bayelsa State can be restructured,” he added.
The Guardian gathered from a source in Bayelsa State government that Senator Diri had approached the 2019 PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar to intervene in the face-off with Alaibe. The source expressed optimism that a truce would be reached, probably when Alaibe who has been overseas returns to the country.Meanwhile, weeks after Diri emerged as PDP flag bearer, aggrieved members of the party still opposed to him have shown no sign of fatigue and have not refrained in their determination to thwart his ambition to be the next chief occupant of the Government House, Yenagoa.
A group, Bayelsa Coalition for Good Governance and Accountability has petitioned the Code of Conduct Bureau, alleging that Diri failed to comply with the law that makes it mandatory for public officers to declare their assets between 2012 and 2013 when he served as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Bayelsa State Government House, and Principal Executive Secretary to the Governor between 2013 and 2014.
Similarly, the PDP integrity group Bayelsa State coordinator, Tony Nathan Ile, has cautioned the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) against compromising its objectives and constitutional responsibilities in the petition allegedly against non- declaration of assets by Senator Diri.
“We are aware of the constitutional responsibility of citizens who are holding any public office to declare their assets as stipulated in the 1999 Constitution. Since it is agreed that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands, it is therefore imperative for the CCB to ensure that someone who seeks a public office as high as governorship of a state does so without blemish” he said.
Not entirely perturbed the allegations of non asset declaration lurking in the air, Diri has been traversing the State and campaigning for support to realise his governorship aspiration. Similarly, the APC governorship candidate, David Lyon has also been crisscrossing the eight local government areas to shore up his support base.
Presently, Bayelsa State is experiencing one of the muddiest and horrid election campaigns since 1999. Both APC and PDP have not restrained from below-the-belt scoffs against themselves. So much toxic utterances have been injected into the political space.
For instance, Diri has accused the APC of recruiting militants and criminals within and outside the state to unleash violence during the polls. According to him, APC was not planning for a transparent election but rather plotting to intimidate, threaten and kill voters.
“They are planning to collude with INEC to undermine democracy in our state. All that we hear is that the APC already has the result sheets, which will be filled in and that INEC will only announce those results already written. We also hear that the APC will use the military as they did in Rivers State during the governorship election where soldiers were drafted in to intimidate voters and a lot of people were killed. We hear that the APC will collude with INEC to ensure that Bayelsa is taken by force whether the people like it or not,” he said.
On his part, the Special Adviser to Governor Dickson on Public Affairs, Daniel Alabrah, told The Guardian that the PDP is worried about ploy to deploy the military to circumvent the electoral process as similar tactics had failed woefully in the past. And on the issue of defection, he stressed that while PDP would win the polls irrespective of some politicians who had defected, because the real voters do not defect.
Meanwhile, APC State Publicity Secretary, Doifie Buokoribo, has in turn accused the PDP of trying to foster panic in the state to prepare the ground for a state government-sponsored violence ahead of the November 16 governorship election. According to him, PDP was raising false alarm as a way of managing their anxiety over looming defeat.
“False accusation and panic-mongering have been their signature election eve dress rehearsal for violence and electoral manipulation. The whole country saw it in 2015/2016. Ahead of November 16, PDP in the state is engaged in another full-scale practice before the launch of their terror assault on our electoral democracy. The party seems even more desperate this time. Hit by a wave of defections and imminent consequence of its poor performance, PDP in Bayelsa is nervous. And it has entered a persecution complex mode,” said Buokoribo.
Already, there are emerging early warning signs that the November 16 election would be violence riddened, particularly in Southern Ijaw where Lyon hails from. Other flash points are Ekeremor, Brass and Nembe. Apart from the difficult terrain of the aforementioned councils, the stakes are high because most of prime political actors in the State are from these areas. Yenagoa, Sagbama and Ogbia might also experience violence activities.