IN BAYELSA, IT'S TOO CLOSE TO CALL
In Bayelsa State, stone throwing is both figurative and physical. Whether the opposition is hurling invectives from Abuja via press conferences, or organizing a showdown with the Governor through throwing of sachet water and other objects, projectiles are traveling across the political class as 2011 elections become imminent. Only time will unmask the ultimate casualties. For now everyone is talking tough.
At 14, it would seem that expectations from Bayelsa State are rather high. Since it was born in a jet age, as it were, people expect it to fly far higher than older states. Created on October 1, 1996 by the military regime of General Sani Abacha, the state existed only by statute until the advent of democracy in 1999. Essentially, that regime sought to free the largely riverine domain from the apron strings of Rivers State.
The feeling, rightly or wrongly, was that Bayelsa spews the money that developed Port Harcourt. Time had, therefore, come for the entity, largely dominated by the Ijaws of Southern Nigeria, to have a geographical identity. Bayelsa was then born. But its political antecedents stem from the foundations of the current republic. For it was at the inception of this democratic dispensation that political and administrative structures found a foothold in the state. D.S.P Alamieyeseigha (a.k.a Alams), holds the record as first civilian Governor of that state and one who brought the Ijaw state into national attention.
His tenure was truncated. Goodluck Jonathan became Governor. He then moved like a rocket, hitting new political heights in a manner that made the governorship look like a mere stopover. Today, President Goodluck Jonathan is the political issue in Bayelsa and Nigeria, which is why opponents and dissidents desperately seek his attention. But insiders in the state insist that incumbent Governor, Timipre Sylva, has the firm support of Jonathan. This stems from the affinity of a predecessor to a successor and, more so, from the political convenience and survival of both men. Pundits say any move to work against each other is a recipe for Mutual Assured Destruction. It is better to start the Bayelsa story from the beginning.
Politics in the beginning
Like its mother and neigbour, Rivers State, Bayelsa never stands in the opposition. It had consistently aligned with the party at the centre. Any candidate's personal popularity is only buoyed by an alliance with the right party. All political ambitions must be conceived and born in the womb of the ruling party at the centre. In 1999, one Chief Francis Doukpola, now described as a veteran in vying for governorship of the state, fell victim of the foregoing.
Under the aegis of the then All Peoples Party (APP), he wanted to be Bayelsa's first executive governor. An accountant, known and trusted by the people, he was, however, at the wrong place. It is open secret in Bayelsa that Doukpola ought to be in the saddle in place of Alamieyeseigha. Some times, popularity needs more support in politics. Sunday Sun learnt that Doukpola actually trounced Alams in that election, but the unacceptable proposition of dragging Bayelsa into the opposition caused power brokers in the state to step in and swing the result in favour of the ruling party.
'Doukpola was coasting home before the results in two local councils were manipulated in the last minute to favour the ruling PDP,' said a source in Yenagoa. This move became the tonic needed to throw up Alamieyeseigha, who prides himself as the 'Governor-general of the Ijaw nation'. He moved quickly to consolidate power even when Doukpola headed to the courts to truncate his reign. The suit crashed in favour of Alams. What the courts could not do was forcibly achieved by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who deployed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to hound and push out Alameiyeseigha from Government House.
Root of intrigues
That unconventional removal, wherein lawmakers in the state allegedly stared guns in the face as they signed impeachment papers, gave birth to intrigues in the power game in Bayelsa. Providence smiled at erstwhile Deputy governor, Dr Goodluck Jonathan who mounted the seat as Governor in December 2005. But Jonathan's ascendancy took root in intrigues allegedly hatched under the Obasanjo presidency to hack down a man considered too stubborn, whose open alliance and apparent allegiance to erstwhile vice president, Atiku Abubakar, never stopped to irk Obasanjo.
The anti- corruption agency was unleashed on the errant governor. They found his hands allegedly in the public till. So, why wait? The agency, at government prompting, moved against Alams but the state House of Assembly tended to put clogs on the way. That was before the speaker moved to the other side. The lawmaker, whose frame is as hefty as his long name, struck a deal with the government and facilitated Alam's removal. Peremobowi Ebebi, erstwhile speaker moved up as Deputy Governor when Jonathan occupied the number one seat in Bayelsa.
Sylva as the lining
Jonathan's political elevation moved with the speed of lightning. In two years, destiny threw him up again, sending him out of the Yenagoa Governmnet House to the presidency, where he became running mate to President Umaru Yar'Adua. The rest, as they say, is history. But Jonathan, Sunday Sun learnt, wanted someone else as his successor, not Chief Timi Sylva. He allegedly penciled Chief Francis Doukpola to step in his stead. That choice virtually caused a riot of resentment in the political class, especially amongst the newbreed who felt that Doukpola's age, said to be knocking on 70, weighed against him. Curiously too, he did not do well in the party primaries. This newspaper gathered that he came third after Jonathan and Sylva. Again, he had only crossed over from ANPP to PDP in 2006. Therefore, he was too new to fly the party flag.
Ebebi, who was Jonathan's deputy contended for the flag too, citing the precedence of vice presdent Atiku Abubakar, who,like Jonathan, was elected governor in Adamawa before moving over to Abuja as running mate to Olusegun Obasanjo. He said it was only right that, like Boni Haruna, he should emerge, not Doukpola or Sylva.
There was a ding-dong. Then Abuja set up a six-man committee to resolve the matter. Jonathan was a natural member of that committee but their recommendation was again strange. They threw up Chief Timi Alaibe, current Presidential Adviser on the Niger Delta. The party in Bayelsa revolted. Reason: Alaibe did not even throw his hat in the ring for the primaries, how could he now emerge ahead of contestants who had downed time and resources in the process?
Finally, the National Executive Committee resolved the matter on the side of the law. Their constitution holds that in the event of such development as happened in Bayelsa, the next highest vote scorer in the primaries should emerge. On that score, Timi Sylva who came next to Jonathan emerged, but Olusegun Obasanjo insisted that Ebebi should remain deputy, in apparent reward for cooperation in the process of Alamieyeseigha's impeachment.
Seed of discord
Sylva and Ebebi were, therefore, strange bedfellows from inception. Little wonder their union in government became short-lived. Sylva gave Ebebi the Alams treatment. He was impeached as deputy governor and he literally fled town. His palatial mansion situated off Bay bridge road in Kpansia area of Yenagoa bears all the signs of abandonment. The gates are locked with rusty keys. But Ebebi is throwing stones from outside the state. He is now a contender to the governorship position and is operating from Abuja where he hopes to gain the ears of national party executives to hand him the ticket.
Opposition from within
Ebebi is not the only contender to the throne. Although other political parties are not extinct in Bayelsa, the Peoples Democratic Party is the biggest cock that crows in the political firmament. Like a polygamous home, discordant voices rise from different directions in response to the feelings and sentiments of mothers and children.
For that, the PDP is the biggest opposition to itself in the state. Contention to the 2011 polls is essentially a PDP internal battle. Even as Sylva has indicated an intention to go for his constitutionally approved second term and has lined up his arsenal, other contenders within the party are not resting on their oars. They are pulling all the stops even as Sylva's incumbency is standing like an impregnable wall. Some of the known contenders include the following:
Peremobowi Ebebi: He was former deputy governor said to have a looming influence among the youth in Bayelsa. But he has been largely scuttled by Sylva who is said to have wooed over virtually all Ebebi's strong supporters. He is said to be a grassroots man but one of Sylvia's aides says the grass has long withered around Ebebi. Mr Sunday Frank Oputu, chairman of Conference of Political Parties (CNPP) in Bayelsa says Ebebi should shelve his dream for now.
'He can go for the position later,' Oputu said. 'If he insists on running now, then Bayelsa people will see him as wanting the position at all costs. He may become Governor later but certainly not now.'
Imoro Ikubor: He is a retired Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Aviation who hails from Bayelsa West, a zone still agitating apparent marginalization in the political headship of the state. The Russian trained technocrat is said to have hinged his aspiration on a possible stalemate among the leading contestants, a situation that could throw him up as the candidate of peace. Such permutations lie in the belly of time.
Fred Agbedi: He is a known chieftain of the party in Bayelsa whose following and influence in the politics of the state is not in doubt. But translating such political capital to electoral victory is a different cup of tea.
Hinks Dunbo: A former local government chairman in Ekeremo, Dunbo is seeking to upgrade his standing in the state by staking to govern it come 2011. But some aides of the current Governor say Dunbo's aspiration may be a means of shoring up his relevance in order to pitch for a role in the government come next year.
Francis Doukpola: An accountant and a known stakeholder in the politics of Bayelsa, Chief Doukpola has become some kind of veteran in the Bayelsa gubernatorial contest. Since 1999, he has consistently pitched to govern the state. His strongest asset is an endorsement by elders. Being one of their own, the veteran whose political antecedents is said to date back to the days of Chief Melford Okilo, former governor of old Rivers State, is possibly the strongest contender to the throne. His handicap, however, is funding. In recent times, Governor Sylva had approved contracts for indigenes, one of which was Doukpola whose job, according to sources, was amongst the largest. He thus became empowered to continue his pursuit of a position that has eluded him for a long time. Perhaps the time for a respite has come. If feelers in the state are reliable, then he might have to continue with the battle for a while. He hails from Sagbama in the West senatorial zone, chief contenders to the position.
Ayakeme Whisky: There is a running argument as to Whisky's status as former aide to Governor Timipre Sylva. The man says he resigned, but government said he was sacked. The glaring fact in Yenagoa, for now, is that his posters are flooding the town as a contestant for the governorship of the state. The blue posters are interpreted as an affinity with Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) where he expects to fly the flag. Whisky is known to be close to Timi Alaibe, presidential Adviser on Niger Delta, whom he also served as an aide. Whether that closeness still subsists is yet unknown, given the tendency of politicians to switch affiliation to favour their interests.
Famous Daumingha: Also a former aide to Governor Sylva, his resignation is not in contention. In fact he is a known friend and associate of the governor. Sunday Sun learnt, however, that he might have found it difficult, as Sylva's aide, to draw a line between a friend and a boss. 'He did not have access to the Governor as he used to before he became an aide,' said a source, 'and he did not see his remuneration as commensurate with his new status, so he resigned.' Daumingha was former President of Ijaw Youth Council,(IYC), a position which relevance he now seeks to convert to political capital in 2011. He has pitched his tent with the brand new Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
There may well be other contenders to the governorship seat in Bayelsa but they were largely in oblivion at the time this newspaper visited the state
The Jonathan connection
The initial frosty relationship between President Jonathan and Timipre Sylva is only natural given that Jonathan's endorsement for a successor lay elsewhere. But the position has since changed. First the President is known to have commanded tremendous respect of the political class in the state, not just for his exalted position, but for his non-interference in the governance of Bayelsa. Although the governor was attending a South-south Governors meeting in Calabar when this reporter visited, his aides, including his youthful Chief of Staff, Mr Sam Ogbuku, and Commissioner for Information, Mr Nathan Egba, told Sunday Sun that Jonathan hardly interferes with governance of the state, a development that has earned him very high regards.
The Governor's political opponents had hoped to cash in on the perceived frosty relationship to push through their ambition, but it would also seem that President Jonathan is too engrossed in his own political survival to play godfather. He has reportedly advised senators and National Assembly members from the state to 'work with the governor.' The thinking is that any move against Sylva will do incalculable damage to his presidential project given that the state PDP structure is firmly in Sylva's grip. It is better, therefore, for both parties to let sleeping dogs lie than ruffle feathers to their mutual detriment.
Other political parties
In tandem with national trend, other parties are largely stronger in Bayelsa in the wake of elections. They became natural habitat to contenders not sheltered in the house that PDP built. But most party chairmen told Sunday Sun that while they would turn nobody back, their gubernatorial tickets cannot be there for the asking, especially for late joiners whose major interest is a platform.
One such chairman is Bobo Atari Ado of the Labour Party, who says his members have largely been loyal, including their lone member in the state House of Assembly who has stoutly resisted moves to lure him over to the ruling party. But it was learnt that the chairman might indeed be oblivious of high-wire moves by some contestants to hijack the party in the event of a failed bid to get tickets in their current party.
The die is cast in Bayelsa. As ready as Sylva may be, politics has never ceased to be unpredictable, which is why every contender sticks out to the last minute.