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MORE FROM BAYELSA: TIMI ALAIBE'S GAME CHANGER

By NBF News
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In last week's scrutiny of the gubernatorial contest developing in the PDP in Bayelsa this columnist lamented that the PDP's penchant for selective rather than popular choice had ruined the credibility of some of its best alternative candidates in the past. In fact we suggested that the only outstanding member of the party who retained some popular relevance was the former Chairman Fred Agbedi precisely because he had never seemed to gain rewards for his constant challenging of the status quo unlike Timi Alaibe the aspirant who is arguably the most popular name among the challengers today.

At the time that we wrote this we had no idea at all that the said Alaibe was about to take a stand that is so contrary to all his previous interventions in the political arena that it would certainly change the game as far as resistance against the continued rule of the PDP incumbent Chief Timipre Sylva is concerned. Last week Alaibe resigned from his job as Senior Presidential Adviser on the Niger Delta and then announced that he was joining the Labour Party and running for Governor of Bayelsa State on its ticket rather than on that of the PDP.

This is for Bayelsa State and especially for Alaibe a decision of earth-shaking proportions. Alaibe as an insider is signaling his own disenchantment with the likelihood of a free and fair process of selection being undertaken at the party level to decide who should bear its ticket in the state. .In sending this message so clearly to the electorate, he has rendered the forthcoming state primaries in the PDP almost redundant. This is especially so because he is the most credible supporter of the President among those who have been regarded as likely aspirants to the governorship for some time now. As we pointed out last week this support, while being crucial to the ambitions of the average Bayelsan citizen, has also become something of an albatross around the necks of those who want to unseat the incumbent governor within the ruling party.

For this reason we suggested that Alaibe and others should work as important and influential party members to support a new candidate. This would have made victory against the incumbent more likely if they intended to fight against the governor and still remain in the party. However now that Alaibe has taken the bold step of leaving the party and relinquishing his political appointment he is actually asking Bayelsans to regard his aspirations in a new light. This decision may not have been an easy one for him to make but it is long overdue in the light of the PDP's unfair strategic ploys to undermine his ambition over the long years that the party had held power in the state.

His decision offers the state's electorate the opportunity to join the growing trend towards the management of power in each state in the interests of public opinion rather than only in the interest of artificial elitist groups. The trend is raising vital support for parties other than the PDP in parts of the South-West and South-East geo-political zones of the nation and if the trend achieves success in the home state of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan it will have gained the imprimatur of true social momentum. There are however a number of vital strategic initiatives that need to be put in place if Alaibe's new tactic is not to be regarded as being simply another manifestation of his personal ambition. It remains to be seen to what extent Alaibe will be able to persuade grassroots aspirants to elective office especially to the state House Of Assembly and even to the National Assembly to join the Labour Party and contest seats on its ticket in the forthcoming elections. If it turns out that his effort is a lone star stand Bayelsans will be advised to be wary of the ploy since what this means is that he would simply be biding his time to return to the PDP fold after they give him the mandate in order to protest against the PDP's inability to force its incumbent governor to govern well.

Timi Alaibe having removed himself from the PDP contest in the state has left the party not necessarily in disarray but certainly faced with a gigantic dilemma. If its primaries result in victory for the incumbent Governor there is likely to be a massive exodus of members and with Alaibe mounting a credible challenge elsewhere many of the absconders will join him. At the same time because the party remains the base of the President and its fortunes in his home state should reflect the outcome of his national challenge it must endeavour to win the state back even when it is clear that the incumbent Administration is an unpopular one.

To achieve this the party needs to mount a credible and vitally new type of challenge to the Alaibe strategy by fielding a candidate who can claim to be as credibly popular as Alaibe or at the very least to have the basic credibility of political relevance that can overcome the well documented lack of credibility that the Sylva Government has been battling to reverse. Alaibe's popularity has been based on the perception that he has been both brave and competent in undertaking key developmental assignments on behalf of the people of the Niger Delta. His record as a political operative has however been tainted by allegations that he is willing to sell out other Ijaw leaders to further his own ambitions.

These are allegations that he must challenge and reject as fundamental misconceptions and during his campaign outside of the PDP he will be forced to confront these matters more forthrightly because the party will force him to substantiate his credentials. This is not a bad thing for the state because it may force certain hidden truths into the open, but most importantly what this might also do is to force the PDP itself to face its own record and purge itself of certain practices and assumptions in the state.

One of the most important of these consequences is that the party will be forced to re-examine its system of zoning the selection of its flag-bearer and the fact that the vital Western Senatorial District has not been allowed to produce a candidate for Governor is one of the key issues that might drive the PDP primaries toward finding a solution for the Alaibe exodus. In that event that the PDP will find itself having to prepare for a genuine electoral contest especially given Goodluck Jonathan's constant promise to allow the freest and fairest elections that have ever been attempted in Nigeria to take place next year.

If he is serious about this then he must allow the process to commence with the party primaries in his own state. In doing so he will prove Timi Alaibe wrong in his basic assumption that the PDP does not intend to be fair to the people of the state. If the party succeeds in removing this stain from the perception of its performance in facing down the Alaibe challenge then it may very well carry off a major strategic transformation. If it produces a candidate other than the incumbent as its flag-bearer it may very well hold on to the state and thus serve the major purpose of rationalising Goodluck Jonathan's expected victory in the national arena by giving him a credible victory at home.

If this occurs and Timi Alaibe does not emerge as Governor he will have however served a key task as a provocateur by forcing the PDP to repair its structure in Bayelsa State and in doing so his game changing strategy will have served the people of Bayelsa incredibly well.