A Report of the Peoples’ Democratic Party Gubernatorial Primaries Held on November 19th2011 at the Samson Siasia Sports Complex Yenagoa
The Electoral Act stipulates that every political Party should conduct Party primaries to elect or select candidates that would represent the Party at general elections. During such primaries, the Electoral Body is empowered to play a supervisory role. This provides the justification for party primary elections. Primary Elections are intra-party elections conducted to enable voters participate in the selection of candidates usually by delegates duly elected in Congresses. They are a means by which political parties nominate candidates for general elections. The system we practice in Nigeria is the closed primary system in which only party members can vote. In the case of Nigeria, only accredited delegates and statutory delegates are allowed to vote. It is a test of the strength of a candidate before the general elections.
The Niger Delta Integrity Group sent four of its officials to observe the PDP Gubernatorial primaries in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Members who went as observers include: Idumange John- Deputy President of the Group, Nwokedi Nworisara, its Secretary General, Andrew Ehigiator and Charles K. Opuwaribo. The observer status of NDIG is in line with her mission to contribute to good governance in the Nigeria.
Accreditation for the election commenced at about 9.30 am at the Peace Park, Yenagoa. After the accreditation, which ended at about 10.30 am, all the delegates were driven in a bus to the venue where the Chairman of the Electoral Committee, Navy Capt. Caleb Olubolade (rtd), addressed all the aspirants, before voting commenced. Earlier, there were widespread insinuations that a court order taken by the incumbent Governor would stall the Peoples Democratic Party Gubernatorial Primaries scheduled for that day. The PDP took refuge under the Electoral Act, especially with reference to Section 87 (10) and 11, which states that:
(10) Notwithstanding the provisions of the Act or rules of a political party, an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of the act and guidelines of a political party has not been complied with in the selection or nomination of a candidate of a political for election, may apply to the Federal High Court of a State for redress; (11) Nothing in this section shall empower the court to stop the holding of primaries or general election under this Act pending the determination of the suit. NDIG till the election was not sure if there was a court order restraining the Party or whether it was just a motion on notice that was served the Party, as newspapers made contradictory reports to that effect, depending on their ideological persuasions.
A total of 411 delegates were accredited to vote. The PDP Gubernatorial primaries were generally orderly, peaceful, free and fair. This was made possible by the heavy security presence and the caliber of delegates at the venue.
We observed that some factors might have worked to the advantage of Hon. Seriake Dickson. Political pundits had already forecast a landslide victory for Hon. Seriake Dickson at the Primaries. Firstly, Hon. Dickson has more grassroots support than other aspirants, having served in the capacity of Attorney General of the State and represented his constituency at the Green Chambers of the NASS for the second term. Other contestants never paraded this wealth of experience in terms of being actively involved in the dynamics of Bayelsa politics. Secondly, since the race to Creek Haven commenced Henry Dickson is the only person who unfolded his development agenda. In this agenda, he promised free education and healthcare, fighting corruption, job creation and youth/women empowerment. Others are implementation of budgets, and the Yenagoa Master Plan, re-inventing local government administration and construction of the Senatorial district roads among other infrastructural projects. Thirdly, Hon. Dickson belonged to the Green Movement – a grassroots-oriented political movement which appealed to major stakeholders in the State.
Thirdly, Hon. Dickson is youthful and dynamic and he has robust followership among the youths. Over 65% of Bayelsa population is youthful and most of the delegates are youths. Fourthly, some of the delegates believe that Dickson epitomized the change Bayelsa people are in dire need of and his articulateness is only value added. Finally, Hon. Seriake appears to have huge followership among the elders. Most of the influential people in politics from 1999 till date are comfortable with him because he is a progressive. When these qualities are added to his articulateness and dynamism, his emergence as the PDP flag-bearer could not have come at anytime but now. This is against the background of the acute governance deficit in Bayelsa State and the overwhelming desire for change.
The winner of the election polled the following votes at the primary elections: Brass 31, Kolokuma Opokuma 43, Ekeremor 47, Southern-Ijaw 61, Ogbia 44, Nembe 41, Yenagoa 47,Sagbama 51 Total: 365. Other aspirants who contested on the platform of PDP include: Chief Francis Amaebi Doukpola; Mr. Austin Ogionwo, Chief Christopher Enain Chief Fred Ekiyegha Korobido; Mr. Bolobo Orufa; Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson and Hon. Youpele Michael Kalango.
There were dissenting voices concerning over the results of the ward congresses that produced delegates for the election. NDIG interacted with some of the delegates who disclosed that the absence of the three candidates had no effect on the election as they had very few supporters. The voting also followed this pattern earlier anticipated by the delegates – an indication that the Congresses may not have been flawed after all.
On the walk out of three aspirants before actual voting commenced, our investigations revealed that three reasons might have been responsible for their action. Firstly, the general perception is that they are not popular candidates as some of them in their previous public offices had not created any impact on the lives of their people. This public perception might have depleted their support base. Secondly, there were unconfirmed rumours that the incumbent Governor Timipre Sylva bought forms for some aspirants to enter the race ostensibly to either cause confusion as a basis for initiating legal actions after the elections or tilt the political equilibrium. But the extra-ordinarily peaceful, free and fair manner in which the election was conducted did not create room for confusion hence they decided to opt out of the race. Another plausible explanation has been that the trio left the venue to avoid disgrace at the polls, as they are believed to be unpopular at the grassroots. The comments of some delegates after the primaries pointed to this direction.
After voting, collation and counting of ballots, Navy Capt. Olubolade declared Henry Seriake Dickson winner, having poll 365 votes. Febo and Fred Ekiyegha scored two votes each while Doukpola and Orufa had one vote each and 13 were voided. Doukpola who left the venue in anger before the counting of the votes was completed, said the entire exercise was a fraud. We discovered that the behaviour of Chief Francis Doukpola is not unusual as he had contested competitive elections for more than five times though unsuccessfully.
In his acceptance speech the Hon. Seriake Dickson promised to build a new Bayelsa where nobody would be excluded nor discriminated against. He commended his supporters for their resilience and his fellow aspirants for their participation, adding that he was still extending a hand of fellowship to those who are aggrieved. With a great sense of responsibility, I accept your nomination as the flag bearer of our great Party. In the last couple of days, I have come to appreciate the inconveniences you have all gone through for the sake of building democracy and erecting the pillars of good governance, he said!
Some people argue that the absence of President Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent Governor Sylva at the primaries might have been the result of a court order restraining the PDP from conducting the gubernatorial primaries. The Nigerian Constitution does not provide for compulsory voting, as it is a mere civic responsibility. Since assumption of office, President Goodluck Jonathan has never hidden his commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We also observed that the absence of some National Assembly members is a result of a gentleman agreement reached between Sylva and a Senator representing Bayelsa West about a succession plan in 2016. Those who are parties to this agreement believe that the sudden emergence of Hon. Seriake Dickson had upset the plan, which explains why the NASS member also spoke extensively in favour of Governor Sylva's continuity in office beyond 2012.
NIGER DELTA INTEGRITY GROUP observed that the Bayelsa PDP Primaries were peaceful, free and fair and in accordance with the Electoral Act. With the emergence of Hon. Dickson as the Party's flag-bearer, the initial cynicism of the electorate gave way to popular approbation. Also the participation of a broad spectrum of people also gave the exercise enormous legitimacy. It also underscored the fact that the ward Congress election results were acceptable to the PDP leadership. The Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral Act do not prescribe Compulsory Voting hence the last minute boycott staged by three of the Aspirants did not affect the credibility and integrity of the elections; the behavior of the electorate suggests that they were representing some vested interest. Ostensibly, the Bayelsa PDP primaries, which produced Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson as winner should be replicated in other PDP controlled States. As a Civil Society Organization given the privilege of observing the Bayelsa State PDP Primaries, we attest to the fact that the election was free, fair and credible. As eyewitness observers, the election met all known criteria of credibility, integrity and objectivity and we can only add that the ruling PDP should be commended for entrenching internal democracy within the Party and conducting her affairs in tandem with the Electoral Act.