Sylva as Governor in 2011
There was a time most watchers of the Bayelsa political scene could have sworn that the incumbent governor Timipere Sylva was not going to get a second term. There were good reasons. His relationship with the vice-president at the time Goodluck Jonathan was made difficult by many suspicions. Secondly his performance record in Bayelsa was under severe attack and his media machinery seemed to be losing the public relations battle of winning Bayelsans within and outside the state to their point of view.
This prognosis might no longer be accurate as the 2011 general elections draw nearer. There is a sense that certain things have changed. For some time now, it has seemed as if Timipere Sylva has finally got his relationship with the former vice-president and now president Goodluck Jonathan on a warmer footing. Somewhere between the doctrine of necessity as expounded by the Nigerian Senate and Jonathan's eventual confession of his presidential ambition, Timipere Sylva found a place in the circle of Jonathan's staunchest allies. All appearances suggest so and reliable sources claim that the president had even taken it upon himself to broker a reconciliation between some of his staunchest Bayelsan supporters in the National Assembly and Governor Sylva, even telling his stalwarts in the national legislature to make up with the governor if they wished to return for another term because Gov. Sylva was now working with him.
Taking this new relationship between Sylva and the president at face value means that Sylva's chance of a comeback has brightened remarkably and it would be difficult to doubt that fact, if one was at Goodluck Jonathan's presidential declaration and caught the photo-finish of Patience Jonathan exiting the Abuja Eagle's square with Timipere Sylva doting on her like a son. Sylva's position in Bayelsa politics has considerably improved contrary to what most people had expected.
There could be three reasons for this. Sylva may have endeared himself to the president by boldy pushing for a Jonathan second term even before the president was ready to face Nigerians on that issue. Secondly, Obasanjo's immense influence in the ascension of both Jonathan and Sylva has remained relevant in many ways. Though there are politicians in Bayelsa who may have hoped to benefit from an estranged relationship between the president and his state governor, such a situation would have certainly set back the gains of the amnesty program in Bayelsa as it would have provided a fertile ground for warring political camps to recruit militant youths.
Despite Sylva's improved chances of sweeping to a second term victory, battle still lie ahead as Timi Alaibe, has signaled his intention to contest for the Bayelsa PDP gubernatorial ticket by recently obtaining nomination forms. Francis Doukpoula, an associate of the president has also obtained forms but there is no evidence to show that he has the support of the president. But, Timi Alaibe's albatross may be his alleged role in the impeachment of former Governor, DSP Alamieyeisegha. Though all that now belongs to history, prominent Ijaw sons are still bitter and seeking vengeance against those who embarrassed Alams out of office. Alaibe needs a clean bill of health and a lantern in day time to convince us of non-involvement.
For Timipere Sylva, some of his problems are image problems borne out of the failure of his media team to make a positive impact on the Port Harcourt dominated Niger Delta media which influences the opinions of the bigger Lagos-based publications regarding the Niger Delta. Sylva's media team needs creativity or the eagerness to counter impressions which cast Sylva as Jonathan's nemesis. The impression that Sylva had turned his governorship into a covert war against the highest paced Ijaw, Bayelsa and Niger Delta politician did not go down well with a lot of people in the region. He was more often considered the erring party because his media people could neither project his innocence nor show good cause for the seeming discomfiture of the vice-president at the time on his home ground. While Sylva was stigmatized in the Port Harcourt dominated regional media, the Bayelsa press which was probably in the best position to correctly assess the governor's true position, needed the dynamism and regional clout of Port Harcourt media houses. It never made sense for Sylva's media people not to fully engage the Port Harcourt media especially as Bayelsans constituted a significant fraction of Port Harcourt and Sylva himself was a Port Harcourt old boy.
So, the situation existed where a Port Harcourt newspaper read by many Bayelsans could lampoon Governor Sylva's conduct or record on projects.
Sylva has been a victim of media strategy and this coupled with the machinations of rival politicians and groups had devastated his ride. While every elected officer has his shortcomings, Sylva's has been to seem like the curse of Bayelsa. Therefore, it had seemed at a point that his administration could do no right. When he stuck to a policy of continuity by focusing on completing projects begun by his predecessors, his political foes living in Abuja and Port Harcourt promoted the impression that he was doing nothing. He was even trailed by allegations of drug abuse and the abduction of a certain journalist who had been critical of his conduct.
It was therefore a shock to many people to realize that the much derided governor of Bayelsa was actually the originator of the highly successful amnesty program of the federal government. Despite the recent bomb explosions in Abuja, even major skeptics still concede that the amnesty program has brought much relief to the core Niger Delta states. Though criminals still abound, the economically devastating specter of burning oil wells has largely disappeared and the oil industry is now probably on a recovery curve. Militant strongholds no longer threaten peace in the creeks and former warlords who wielded kaashnikovs are now more likely to be found wielding brief cases in Abuja or Port Harcourt instead of plotting destruction from the mangrove swamps.
Still like every other Niger Delta governor Timipere Sylva has questions to answer. As the electoral campaign season draws close, he must convince Bayelsans that he has done enough with their hardearned resources to deserve their confidence for a second tenure at the Gloryland Castle.
On Friday 22nd October 2010 President Goodluck Jonathan arrived in his home state of Bayelsa on his first official visit since he became president and everything seemed to be running smoothly until Governor Sylva ascended the dais to deliver a welcome speech to the president. As soon as he began to speak, he was overwhelmed by boos from the crowd. Any hope that the crowd would quieten down was in vain as the deafening interruption of the governor lasted through out the length of his speech. Instead of cutting short his speech, the courageous Sylva soldiered on.
It was a long and anxiety ridden speech for the very important personalities sitting around the president but eventually Sylva completed his speech and the booing subsided, switching to cheers of 'we love you' as soon as the president rose to deliver his speech. It was a short speech and when he called on Bayelsa Youths to support their governor, the booing resurfaced.
No doubt, Sylva's political foes had rented crowds to embarrass him in front of the president while Sylva's people had goofed by not being pro-active. There can be no doubt now that Governor Sylva has challengers for the PDP ticket who are certainly determined to give him a stiff contest at the PDP gubernatorial primaries. It should not be a surprise.
Just last Thursday, October 28, 2010, eight guber aspirants in the umbrella of the PDP in Bayelsa State namely, Fred Agbedi, the impeached Deputy Governor, Peremobowei Ebebi, Hon. Dimaro Denyanbofa, Dr. Imoro Goodrich Kubor, Hon. Hinks Dumbo, Chief Beinmo Rufus-Spiff, Chief Francis Doukpala and Hon. Christopher Enai. Etc left their should be political Yenagoa and journeyed to far away Abuja to address the media on what they termed 'fear of any transparency in the forthcoming governorship primaries in the state. They also described Yenagoa as 'unsafe' for them as they have been allegedly harassed to 'hell' by Sylva's advocates.But tongues have continued to wag as to their safe political landing, since they already showcase defeatist postures. I have travelled to Yenagoa twice after then, but in sharp contrast to the allusion of crisis and security threat, it is safe and hospitable.It is not in the interest of a people to paint themselves on safe, insecure and inhabitable just to score cheap blackmail.The politicians should settle down for real business, avoid moral murder and address issues.
Doukpola and his co-travellers, may well queue up for Sylva. Afterall, it is turn by turn. Who knows to whom the bell tolls in 2015.
By Nna Frank-Jack