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The Battle Between ‘lion’ And ‘shark’ In Bayelsa

How Power And Public Sentiments Will Produce The State’s Governor
By Enideneze Etete
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All things being equal, the frenzy over who is to be the next governor of Bayelsa State will end November 16, 2019, when a winner will finally emerge, after the politicking.

THE TWISTS IN THE GAME
The outcome of the primary elections, especially those of the major political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Party (APC) have thrown up mixed reactions and new twists. But the picture is clear, of how power and public sentiments will determine the chances of the two big parties and their candidates.

Already, the atmosphere is enveloped with incisive public comments on indices that will determine voters’ choices. The yardsticks include philanthropy, candidates’ personal carriage and charisma for the office of governor, ethnic and geographical balance in allocation of public offices and development projects.

These considerations mostly pertain to the PDP’s candidate, Senator Douye Diri and APC’s Hon. David Lyon. Chief David is believed to a protégé of Chief Timipre Sylva, whose political profile is souring. Senator Diri is the heir apparent of the incumbent governor.

The two major candidates are coincidentally from the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District. While Southern Ijaw Local Government Area where David hails from, produced the pioneer governor, Chief Diepreye Peter Solomon Alamieyeseigha in 1999, Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area, where Chief Diri hails from, has not occupied the position, same as Yenagoa Local Government, particularly, Epie/Atissa, host of the State Capital.

There is also the factor of PDP banking on its 21 years occupation of Bayelsa State. But the PDP’s burden will be how to retain the state, amidst the public sentiments, intra-party strife, speculated gale of defections and the changing attitude of the electorate.

All these indices are pointers that the contest between candidate of the APC and that of the PDP, will be like a battle between ‘Lion’ and ‘Shark’, not the carry-go pattern of the past. Already, the people have dubbed the contest as that of the Biblical David and Goliath.

The APC’s candidate, a new entrant into gubernatorial politics is like the Biblical David, to face the Biblical Goliath, a veteran war lord. Diri is ‘Goliath’ in two persons: himself and his godfather, Governor Dickson.

Chief Diri has an intimidating profile acquired from his participation in leadership of the Ijaw National Congress (INC); Chief Ndutimi Alaibe’s previous campaign organizations; occupation of executive positions in the state and legislative outings at the National Assembly.

David Lyon will therefore flex muscles with the experienced Diri and Governor Dickson who is ‘Ofruma Pepe’, meaning, the dancing Shark, in Izon Language. Chief Diri is a core Restoration team member said to be divinely ordained to take the throne. The incumbent sees him as a prudent, competent and brave person that could continue the restoration programmes, execute new ones as well as sustain the Ijaw struggles.

These pontifications are believed by some core members of the team. However, some of them, including aggrieved aspirants and many Bayelsans feel otherwise. They feel that the PDP and the State are not for the Restoration team alone, neither would Chief Diri have been the best to be projected. These sentiments and his emergence as the party’s standard bearer on September 3, 2019, caused uneasy calm in the state.

As a prelude, the legal strategy employed in the PDP’s power-play, set stage for what was to occur on that fateful day of September 3, 2019. Justice E. G. Mukoro of a Bayelsa State high court, cited lack of jurisdiction over internal dispute concerning whether 90 days or 30 days time-period to determine eligibility of local government councils statutory delegates to vote. The judge had advised use of party constitution in the election, after which aggrieved aspirants could head for court if any infringements.

The PDP however allowed the elected chairmen and elected councillors of the eight Local Government Areas who where the thrust of the case, to vote in the primary election. The development miffed up many people, especially one of the popular aspirants, Chief Ndutimi Alaibe and his supporters.

Chief Alaibe, whose governorship ambition, Senator Diri had supported before, and got state appointments at the times of settlements, was hopeful of a successful outing this time. Endeared to the people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Nigeria’s President that never was, Chief Alaibe was again perhaps the most touted PDP aspirant for the ticket, and also seemed to have been so desired by most Bayelsans. The angst from the primary election made Alaibe to commence litigation September 13, 2019.

Similarly, on the side of the APC, Chief Silva was the mastermind of the internal power play. He surprisingly dropped his governorship ambition to take the scepter of kingmaker. The APC had lost governorship election to Governor Dickson in 2015, when it floated Chief Silva.

Hence it is plausible why the APC is replaying the strategy of floating a philanthropist for this year’s Bayelsa’s governorship election, a strategy that worked out for it in the last National Assembly and state legislative elections in which it made some fortunes.

In addition to this, the APC has applied a new strategy of giving Chief Silva lucrative portfolio of Minister of State for Petroleum, a position usually desired by the Niger Delta. The essence is partly to try to change political calculations in the state.

Little wonder that Chief David was suddenly drafted into the race. His victory at the primary election followed direct primary election held September 3, 2019, as ruled by the State High Court that the party should resort to its constitution in the exercise before going to court to file any suit. As if that was a pro bono legal counseling, an aggrieved aspirant of the party, Engr. Preye Aganaba has filed suit against Chief David’s candidature.

HOW THE ELECTION WILL BE WON AND LOST
Undoubtedly, power brokers will make or mare chances of either candidates of the two major parties. While federal might and the clout of its leader in the state, Chief Silva, could be a plus to Chief David, it might not be an easy sail to Creek Haven in Yenagoa, from his Ologbiri Town, as speculated.

The APC’s attempt to adopt soft-power by giving Bayelsa petroleum minister’s position in place of the commando style it used in Rivers State’s 2019 governorship election should not be taken as the be-it-all. This is same for the appointment of Mr. Maxwell Okoh of the APC as Executive Director of Finance and Administration on NDDC Board. Besides, not all Bayelsans would support Chief David because of Chief Silva, who as a human has his own low sides.

The APC’s other soft power strategies: N-Power for unemployed graduates; introduction of School Feeding Programme and N5,000.00 Trader Money in Bayelsa State, close to the governorship could endear voters to its candidate. Although critics have said these are vote buying strategies, others feel they were mere palliatives that ordinarily should not take away the peoples’ conscience.

Comparatively, the Restoration team which is beating the drum for Chief Douye Diri, will not also have victory on a platter of gold. Already, the PDP is to grapple with Chief Alaibe’s, suit filed against outcome of the primary election.

Speculated or imminent defections to other parties, notably to the APC, by aggrieved aspirants, supporters and members of the PDP, could boost the chance of Chief David and the APC in the general election.

This is more so as supporters and electorate have picked up social welfare as important determinant of who they will vote for, given free and fair atmosphere. Such persons want a return of the informal social policies and humane leadership styles of the Chief Alamieyeseigha’s and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s eras which gave Bayelsans welfare support to enhance standard of living. Those regimes were conscious of the level of deprivation and squalor the state had suffered in Nigeria, before creation in 1996.

In these regards, public utterances are rating Chief David, an oil surveillance contractor to Agip high. His indiscriminate personal kind gestures for many Bayelsans and communities have been applauded. It is believed that with governorship position, he could even do more to the needy and the state, personally and officially.

This is besides the assertion of admirers that as Chief Silva’s ally, Chief David, could also borrow a leaf from his master’s past regime which prioritized workers’ welfare and also floated social welfare schemes through quick-win jobs to cushion poverty and hunger.

But a section of Bayelsans, feel that, that ought not to be the main issue for which a person is to be made governor, as it could amount to prioritizing stomach infrastructure over fundamental and long lasting projects.

The incumbent administration has scored points in prioritizing use of funds for execution of physical infrastructures, thus a unique selling point to garner votes for its candidate, Chief Diri.

The Dickson’s reforms which blocked financial leakages in the public service, and among political executives, helped to stop the ‘awufu’ and handout syndrome that characterized past regimes in the state. Some Bayelsans, who consider this as an achievement, seem poised to vote for Diri, to sustain the policy of prudency and physical programmes of the outgoing governor.

Yet, as the election draws closer, there is still growing concern among Bayelsans that the human side of organizations, that is, prioritizing human dignity and provision of basic social needs while executing gigantic projects and saving monies for a rainy-day were important as well. Such Bayelsans, apparently feel that as theorized by Thomas Hobbes, the State is made for man and not man for the State, neither could the people enjoy physical infrastructures amidst harrowing austerity.

Bayelsans and politicians who hold this view, are apprehensive that a Restoration candidate, if made governor, might not adopt a welfare socialist policy and benevolence leadership style to put smiles on the faces of the people. Such persons would therefore, vote for a socialist government, as already being plotted by the electorate.

To have that kind of leader, who though, would also be expected to embark on aggressive physical development of the state, its capital, Yenagoa and other parts of the state, the people have weighed the charisma and experiences of the two frontline candidates.

The PDP’s candidate, an NCE and Bachelor of Education graduate of political science and education is dubbed as a good looking; experienced; articulate; prudent and pragmatic fellow who could competently discharge the functions of governor, but would need to be kind, even though he has reached out to some persons, without noise.

Senator Diri’s adoption of Prosperity 2020” slogan is perhaps a response to the public clamour for improved welfare. How this beautiful slogan will persuade the electorate, and how it will translate to reality shall be seen November 16 and evaluated if he becomes governor.

For Chief David of the APC, apart from his popularity for philanthropy and human capital development, he is equally renowned as a grassroots person; former youth leader; a selfless, amiable and ever smiling socialite; peace-maker; conflict and crisis manager. It is believed that Chief David could bring his past local government administration and current oil business experiences, from within and abroad to bear in the governance and speedy development of all parts of the state. These track records are giving him high stakes ahead of the general election.

Although some critics say Chief David might not exude the carriage of a governor, others believe that his NCE background and past teaching career, blessing of wisdom; moral standing, kindness and fandom-following were enough for him to govern Bayelsa effectively. After all, the people are saying what they want in the next governor of Bayelsa is good governance and enjoyment, not big, big academic qualifications which the holders hardly translate to good leadership.

Beyond the aforesaid factors, ethnic, language and geographical feelings are rife in the gubernatorial politicking. The arguments over zoning on these bases are not completely ended by the PDP and APC picking their candidate from the Central Senatorial District whose turn it was, since after taken the pioneer slot in 1999.

Chief Diri hails from Sampou in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area which INEC’s records for the last legislative elections indicate, has 52,765 voters, while Chief David is from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, having 165,449 voters. These figures will also determine the fate of the candidates as Southern Ijaw plans to give bloc votes to Chief David, if at all the election in the area will not be marred by violence like in the past.

Yenagoa Local Government Area, particularly, Epie/Atissa, host of the state capital as well as Gbarain and Ekpetiama clans which had demanded micro-zoning on ethnic basis because they have not occupied governorship position, lost out in the scheming.

The continuous sidelining of these people is one issue the parties must manage properly to avoid defections and protest voting in favour of any party or candidate they may align with. This could serve a deadly blow because Yenagoa area has the highest voting figure, 199,895, at the last elections, and will increase when more voter cards are collected.

Such protest voting will even be more imminent, given the non-workability of giving deputy governorship ticket to any of its clans, as the central district they belong to, has taken governorship tickets from the PDP and APC for the November 16 election. But, luring Yenagoa with position of secretary to the state government or chief of staff’s position could attract huge votes to any solid party that will do so.

In what analysts have described as a political miscalculation, the PDP’s candidate’s running mate, Barr Lawrence Erujakpo from a minority clan, Urhobo, in Sagbama Local Government Area (Salga) of the state has renewed the zoning argument, since he hails from Bayelsa West Senatorial District, Governor Dickson’s zone. Salga has 109,460 voters by the last count.

Barr Lawrence is a core member of the Restoration clique, former works commissioner under the outgoing regime and now a senator, at the behest of the incumbent governor. Lawrence is however a kind, workaholic and articulate man. He is a graduate of secretarial administration and former health practitioner, who also holds an MBA degree. Hence some say he is suitable as running mate. But others say being from the Restoration team and same zone with the two-term outgoing governor, make them to think otherwise.

Luring either Ogbia Local Government Area (having 109,903 voters) or Ekeremor Local Government Area (having 125,189 voters), with the running mate slot, analysts, say, would have however, raked more votes to the PDP because of high voting strength in either of the areas. But front advocate groups argue that speakership of the House of Assembly was preferable to deputy governorship position for Ogbia because the area had occupied the latter before. This argument was stirred up Dr. Jonathan Obuebite, the state’s education commissioner and staunch member of the Restoration team from Ogbia.

Kinsmen of the information commissioner, Mr. Markson Iwariso from Opume-Ogbia, also denied that their brother has links to any group staging the advocacy for an Ogbia deputy governorship, adding that he was neither interested in the slot.

Meanwhile, Nembe Local Government Area is equally interested in having speakership position through the PDP because they have got deputy governorship seat for two terms through Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah, who lost out in the primary election. His brother decamped to APC soon after the primary election. A chieftain of the PDP, Senator Barigha Amange and his followers, have also defected from the PDP to APC in the same area. Nembe area which has 92,717 voters as at the last elections in the state, argues that, it has not got speakership slot before, except deputy speakership slots.

As the arguments rage, Barr Lawrence was said to have been nominated to INEC as running mate to Chief Diri, even as Governor Dickson, thereafter, called for a stakeholders meeting of the PDP to resolve the controversy. Former President Jonathan was also announced to attend the meeting to resolve the issue. The outcome was not known at the time of this publication.

To counter PDP, APC chose Bishop Biobarakuma Dege-Eremienyo, from Nembe Local Governments Area, related to Brass Local Government Area (having 67,804 voters), where Chief Silva hails from. Brass has historical and political affinity with Nembe, just as the two are related to Ogbia. These areas could cooperate to vote for Chief David and Bishop Degi-Eremienyo.

A grassroots politician, Chief Degi-Eremienyo is a graduate of Agricultural Economics and Extension. He alo holds an MBA degree. An ally of Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan; he is also former chairman of Nembe Local Government Area; commissioner ministries of local government and health in Goodluck’s and Silva’s regimes, respectively and later executive director of administration and human resource development in Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Abuja. Degi-Eremienyo could garner votes for the APC, considering his pedigree, decency and popularity.

The PDP and APC both stand the risk of not having candidates at last, as it happened to the latter in Rivers and Zamfara States in the last elections, held this year, if the cases filed against the outcomes of their primary elections are judged otherwise. If it happens so, then another party may take the day.

Jonathan-factor could sway support to the PDP in the next elections in Bayelsa State, if he and other leaders in the PDP could help to resolve vexing issues. But there is growing feeling among the electorate that voting will no longer be influenced by the ethnocentric sentiments in the 2015 governorship election in the state. In that election, Bayelsans, voted against Chief Silva because of the anger of Jonathan’s ouster from presidential office through orchestrations of APC and its allies. Besides, PDP was embraced as South-South and Izon party.

Notwithstanding, the PDP has a ‘cult-loyalty’ in Bayelsa State, and this could still be to its advantage in the governorship elections. This is despite disaffections against it, and former president Jonathan’s non-assertive position on issues that affect politics and the peoples’ welfare over the years. Given his personality charm, despite his un-forceful approach to state matters, Dr. Jonathan’s persona, could still help the party in the election, to a certain extent.

In addition, PDP usually have die-hard members and supporters, the real persons who work for the victory of a candidate, and who do all they can even personally to see that the party’s candidate wins. This, such persons do for the party even after defecting to other parties. Whether this loyalty will play to PDP’s advantage, amidst the David Lyon phenomenon, and the sectional strife, especially the contentions among ethnic groups, will be affirmed on the D-day.

The heightened ethnic and local government area concerns in this year’s election is not just about merely having a slot at leadership, but a renewed consciousness that power should be used for the wellbeing of the people and distribution of resources to develop all areas. The people are of the opinion that he who wields the knife cuts the biggest slices of the state’s yam for his/her people/area, so they need a leader who while naturally taking care of his constituency, could also take care of Yenagoa City and other areas evenly.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
Indeed, inspired by the interesting mass mediated ideologies and manifestos of aspirants for the primary elections, a rare development in the state, the people have set campaign agendas of what they need, and are no longer ready to be taken for a ride by leaders. Therefore, it is left for candidates and political parties to appear on debates and carry out issues-based campaigns as well as present their blueprints to win the hearts of the electorate.

A very important element of such campaigns should be proposition of a law-backed development plan for the entire state to sincerely outline projects to be done and how to distribute them evenly according to suitability of locations. A special plan should also be proposed for Yenagoa City to upgrade its status as well as assuage the host communities’ burden of hospitably hosting the capital.

Empowerment programmes that will really produce productive Bayelsans in industrial, technological, agricultural and entertainment sectors ought to be part of manifestos, not palliatives that will not really empower the people.

Women should not be left out in the power sharing and empowerment programmes, considering their voting strength, besides their impressive outing in the just concluded primary elections.

Above all, the desires of the people could be dashed if there is no peaceful atmosphere for the election. Therefore, candidates, parties and supporters should eschew vote buying, intimidation, rancor and violence before and during the election.

It is in these regards that elders in the state as well as the father of PDP in the state, Dr. Jonathan; leader of the APC, Chief Timpre Silva and the national leadership of his party are called upon to play key roles, to make for a peaceful election.

It is expected that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Seriake Dickson, leader of the PDP in the state, will use the opportunity of the election to show that they are really in best of terms as often proclaimed by them.

Voters, should match words with action and take the destiny of the state in their hands, by turning out on mass to vote rationally, instead of mortgaging the future by selling votes for money, wrappers and salt, come November 16. Otherwise, the present aura of political conscious will be vanity, and posterity will judge the present generation, as sellers of birth right for a morsel of bread.

Public sentiment is everything, ignore it and be damned at your peril as a leader, an American president once said. So, political leaders in Bayelsa State should allow public feelings to guide their parties’ and leadership actions in order to make the people feel important, lest bear the political risk.

ETETE ENIDENEZE, is a Media Practitioner/Public Affairs Analyst