GOVERNORSHIP PRIMARY: How Sylva picked the Bayelsa PDP ticket FEMI FOLARIN
Before the January 9, 2011 gubernatorial primary in Bayelsa State, the talk among political opponents in Yenagoa was that the incumbent, Governor Timipre Sylva would be given a bloody nose in the battle to determine who clinched the PDP ticket.
Sylva's opponents, in trying to predict who would fly the party flag offered reasons why the incumbent would be defeated at the primary to pave way for a candidate that has been tactically backed by President Goodluck Jonathan. According to them, the entry of the likes of Mr. Fred Agbedi, backed by Jonathan, his close confidant and political associate, His Royal Highness (HRH) Amatele Jonny Turner, and Chief Francis Doukpola, backed by a large chuck of Bayelsa elders with strong links to the Presidency was the joker to end the reign of Sylva.
At the various campaign offices of the aspirants, the argument was that if the primary was in the open, free and fair, then Sylva and his loyalists at the end of the exercise would be singing the dirge of their political ambitions.
However, the opposite was what happened as Sylva won the primaries in a landslide in the presence of President Goodluck Jonathan. The silly drubbing of the other aspirants for Sylva's loyalists is a confirmation of the political dexterity of their principal who hardly brags about his political skills but puts it into action for all to see.
The Sylva's camp whose swagger has leap-froged since the victory are all over town recounting what happened as a pointer to what would be the outcome of the April 2011 elections.
To them, their campaign slogan We Will Win (WWW) personally coined by Sylva is an expression of confidence not only to demonstrate that he is on a sound political footing but also to show that his party PDP is the party to beat in the 2011 elections.
As soon as the PDP released its time table to elect its candidates for the various elections, the gubernatorial aspirants hit the ground running, selling themselves to automatic delegates.
The likes of Doukpola, Agbedi, and Imoro Kubor before he left the party for the Action Congress of Nigeria met with automatic delegates to intimate them of their ambitions. Some of the aspirants also complained of harassment from Sylva's camp. Doukpola accused the Environmental Sanitation Authority of removing his bill board without any justifiable reason. He also pointed accusing fingers at the direction of government for the destruction of his campaign office.
Beinmo Rufus Spiff also alleged threat to his life with the attack on his campaign director and the bomb blast recorded at his declaration rally. Peremobowei Ebebi, former deputy governor who was disqualified at the screening panel in Port Harcourt, Rivers state took his case to Abuja and was cleared by the Senator Tunde Ogbeha appeal panel.
Signs that the aspirants were not going to take things lightly with Sylva emerged on the day of the special adhoc delegates. The nine aspirants came together to reject the result of the election over the allegations that it was hijacked by the Sylva camp.
In a protest letter to the national chairman of the party, they argued that the guidelines of the party were not followed in the election, adding that there was no security in any of the wards or local government where the election took place.
The aspirants who called for the cancellation of the election said the materials were hijacked because the governor cannot win a free and fair election.
But the PDP Chairman, Chief Darius Obiene, punctured the claims of the gubernatorial aspirants, insisting that the delegates election was credible as Doukopla and Agbedi were even given the opportunity to address party supporters.
Obeine said 'Party materials were distributed to the respective returning officers who took them to the various wards to conduct the elections. Before the distribution of the materials, the panel from Abuja addressed aspirants and party members, while Doukpola and Agbedi also addressed the people. The party secretariat is not aware of any hijack of materials as there was no case of violence reported in any part of the state. Some people made a mistake of staying at the party secretariat forgetting that the elections would hold in the different wards.'
Two days to the governorship primaries, the camps of the other gubernatorial aspirants went wild with joy on the news that Jonathan as a delegate would be present to cast his vote. The news was everywhere that Jonathan, who did not endorse Sylva like he did for other Governors in the South-south was coming personally to ensure that Sylva does not rig the election. The aspirants' confidence was further boosted with the tight security measures put in place due to the presence of Jonathan.
Ebebi who was at the venue as an aspirant having been cleared by the Ogbeha panel received a shocker when he was told his name was not on the list of aspirants. He did not take it easy and complained bitterly that his party lacked internal democracy, disclosing that he was leaving the party for the Labour Party (LP).
'This kind of injustice that is happening in the PDP is unfortunate. Since the process has been fraudulent, we have no faith in what they have done so far. 'We will stand up to make sure we fight this injustice, including lack of development and visionless leadership in our state on the platform of the Labour Party(LP),' he said.
Other aspirants also raised eye-brow over the option A4 voting system the Alhaji Bature Garba election panel wants to adopt. They protested that many delegates who are afraid of witch-hunting from the Sylva camp prefer the secret ballot. Eventually Sylva conceded to them and voting commenced.
After about five hours of voting some of the delegates who had fallen out of favour with Sylva were seen leaving the Sports complex immediately after casting their vote. Before counting of the votes started, one of the aspirants, Chirstopher Enai in an interview with Daily Sun commended the whole process noting that it was free and fair.
At the end of voting, the panel released the results with Sylva in a landslide victory after securing 420 delegate's vote out of 471. The other results were as follows: Beinmo Spiff one vote, Agbedi, eight votes, Doukpola, 10 votes, Hinks Dumbo six votes, David Obuma three votes, Tarila Tebepah four votes, Enai, one vote, Deinyanbofa Dimaro one vote, George Ombeh, one vote.
The look of defeat was palpable on the faces of the other aspirants as they sat glued to their seat, while Sylva was called out and declared winner.
Sylva with all smiles dedicated his victory to God and President Jonathan. He said he remains the first governor of Bayelsa to receive the endorsement and vote of a sitting president.
'We have seen the transparent election. I call on all those who contested with me to accept the result with equanimity. There is no victor no vanquished. In any contest there must be a winner .We have a major battle ahead of us and we must remain united as we go into the 2011 elections. I enjoin my fellow contestants to join me in ensuring the victory of the PDP in the general elections.
Jonathan in a final confirmation to stamp the primary election with his approval said he came to vote to demonstrate his administration commitment to a credible election in 2011 is no fluke. He said Sylva won in a landslide victory in a free and fair primary election.
His words: 'We are preaching one-man, one vote and I came here to vote and sat throughout the elections till the winner was declared to defend my vote. Even when the sun was beating me, I did not go because I want to protect my vote. In the 2011 elections we don't want to hear stories of ballot snatching. Nigerians must vote and ensure that they defend their votes'
David Obuma, one of the contestants speaking on behalf of others, said Sylva victory was a pointer that democracy has started in Bayelsa as people expect the state to be in the fore front of credible elections.
The Sylva victory party immediately commenced, with many supporters who had been waiting anxiously breaking into victory songs as the result was announced. Many of them trekked from the Sports Complex to the Government House where champagne was popped to celebrate the resounding victory of the governor.
A week after the primary, none of the aspirants have come out to denounce Obuma's comments indicating that they have finally conceded defeat to Sylva. But whether they would accept his hands of fellowship and work for the PDP in the general election lies in the womb of time.