BAYELSA: THE LABOUR PARTY AND THE REST OF US
Since the advent of liberal democracy, the concept of organized opposition is not alien to society. In fact, in the capitalist West, the idea of opposition is seen as quintessential to genuine democratic governance. Opposition politics encourages competition, especially when political parties have seemingly divergent ideologies. In fact what is left of democracy without opposition is one-party tyranny. However, political opposition itself has its own rules such as constructive criticism, tolerance, campaigning according to the rules of democratic norms and the concept of constitutionalism. This is because civil and political liberties such as: freedom of thought and expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly are all basic paraphernalia of democratic praxis.
The very essence of political competition is that political office holders should be held accountable for their political actions in the public realm by citizens, and their representatives beyond the formal political framework of parties, parliaments, and elections. Nigeria has had rough times in terms of political opposition. In the past, lack of political tolerance had led to crisis, with serious repercussions. For instance, the wild-wild West spluttered into an inferno because of the unguarded utterances of desperate political office seekers who gave politics a strange connotation of winner-takes all. One of the main causes of political intolerance is electioneering campaigns.
In a nation like Nigeria striving at good governance, political campaigns supposed to be driven by party manifestos, policies, programmes and ideologies. Unfortunately, the opposition in Bayelsa State especially the Labour Party has adopted a crude political tactics of sabotaging government efforts, defacing bill boards and raising false alarm rather that address critical issues of governance. For instance, about two weeks ago, the Labour Party circulated a message about kicking the Peoples Democratic Party, out of office because according to those who orchestrated the propaganda, the Party has failed the country for the past 12 years. The grand irony however, is that all those who claim to be members of the opposition Labour Party are the principal beneficiaries of the PDP since inception.
The Labour Party flag-bearer was made the generalissimo of the Niger Delta Development Commission for 8 years. The same PDP administration made him the Presidential Special Adviser on the Amnesty Programme, which in the opinion of most Niger Deltan was gravely mismanaged. Even before then, Alaibe was part of the 40 - man Niger Delta Technical Committee led by Ledum Mitee. Today, Timi Alaibe is a naira goliath because of PDP appointments. Why will such a man not be grateful to the PDP that has turned around his fortunes? Is this not a classic case of biting the finger that has fed him?
The campaign Director of the Labour Party – Senator Inatimi Spiff became a Senator of the Federal Republic (courtesy of the PDP). Whereas he has not made derogatory statements about the PDP, the fact that he has cast his political dragnet with the Labour Party is an indication that he is ungrateful to the PDP. Another so called Chieftain of the opposition LP Mr. Douye Diri served as Sports Commissioner in Bayelsa State and confessed that he failed to deliver as a Commissioner. The question is if he is given the opportunity, will he deliver under the LP? Hon. Talford Ongolo was also Attorney General of Bayelsa State at a time under the same PDP administration. The question is what moral justification do such people have in launching this nugget of vitriolic attacks against the ruling PDP? Since when did the members defect to the so called Labor party, which ideologies are still shrouded in mystery? Does the Timipre Sylva administration deserve to be attacked because he is a Governor under the Peoples Democratic Party? What alternative policy direction has the LP offered the electorate? These questions are begging for answers.
The Labour Party Governorship candidate Mr. Timi Alaibe has been peddling hatred and divisive propaganda against the Timipre Sylva administration, and he has not done so on the basis of any ideology. First, he attributed his cult-related violence in Opokuma to the handiwork of the State Government when most people understood what happened. Secondly, he conspired with other PDP governorship aspirants to make trumped-up charges about bomb explosion during a PDP aspirants’ declaration. This wretched falsity was later exposed. Some of those paid agents are now helping the police. Thirdly, while the Bayelsa State Government is working hard to sensitize the electorate to register for the April general elections, he is going about spreading a message of hate to discourage the electorate.
Given Alaibe’s experience in politics, one would have thought that political campaigns should be based on policy issues/programmes rather than the stale and sterile game of mudslinging, backstabbing and propaganda. Of course Timi Alaibe has a robust antecedent of political betrayal.
The earlier political tactics adopted by Timi Alaibe were equally crude. The same people carried a mock coffin for DSP Alamieyeseigha only to transact the political prospects of their followers. This era of blind followership and political allegiance is over. As an incumbent Governor, if the Timipre Sylva resolves to use intimidation and coercion as instruments of campaign, can there be peace in the State? Why is the Labour Party now taking refuge under the guise of opposition, to incite hatred in the land? Is that part of their campaign of calumny to make the State ungovernable? Pleasantly, Chief Timipre Sylva has focused very strongly on issue-based campaign, policy issues that would improve the lives of Bayelsans. Governor Timipre Sylva has no track record of violence. On the contrary, his administration has invested massively in peace building through the Triple-E Strategy and other relevant agencies even before the Amnesty Programme commenced.
It is ridiculous that Timi Alaibe who has benefited from the PDP administration for the past 12 years could insult the integrity of the PDP Party leadership and the entire administration of the Federal Government as being corrupt. If we may ask, as the longest serving person in NDDC, he superintended the preparation of the Niger Delta Master Plan for about eight years and allegedly spent a whopping N45 Billion while Timipre Sylva has barely spent 4 years in office. Who is the pot calling the kettle black? Since when did Alaibe the purported Labour Party leader begin to have conscience having robbed the 30 million Niger Deltans to enrich himself? How much was Timi Alaibe worth before he became the henchman of NDDC?
The Labour Party’s style of opposition is suspect. If we may ask: When did the opposition members leave the PDP and for how long have they have they been on the opposition? They left the PDP because they are not principled followers. Besides they are only interested in usurping power by hook or crook because they are parochial and self-serving. Timi Alaibe who is bent on orchestrating chaos in Bayelsa State has been tasted the sumptuous juice of power in public office and would do everything to remain there. Is that the essence of service? In fact those who propose that the Labour Party will kick the PDP in Bayelsa State are like later day prophets who want to bite the finger that has fed them.
Investigations conducted by the Niger Delta Integrity Group revealed that the Labour Party and its collaborators have started to import dangerous explosives, dynamites, and munitions as if they want to prosecute a war. At our level of political evolution, political office seekers should employ peaceful means in soliciting the votes of the electorate. Elections are not supposed to be transformed into wars and Bayelsa State cannot afford the luxury of being used as a theatre of political recrimination and vendetta. The law enforcement agencies should investigate these allegations and bring the culprits to book. I use this medium to appeal to the National Working Committee of the PDP and the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to call the Labour Party and her leaders in Bayelsa State to order.
Baring all human deficiencies, we believe that the Sylva administration has demonstrated the capacity to protect lives and property. In the same way, the PDP in the State has adhered to the ground rules of electioneering campaigns. It is a statement of fact that no human government is perfect, and it is against this background that the Labour Party led by Mr. Timi Alaibe should not provoke, incite or use violence as an instrument of coercing the electorate. This approach is certainly inimical to democracy. Political office seekers, irrespective of political affiliation should adopt subtle means of persuading the electorate to buy-into their programmes and policies and allow the electorate to make their choice without fear of intimidation. More than ever, Bayelsa State needs development and the Labour Party should avoid campaign of calumny but rather address the genuine issues that would bring about sustainable development and good governance.
At this critical time, I expect Chief Timi Alaibe to demonstrate some quantum of statesmanship and maturity to tell Bayelsans his policies and programmes rather than engage in name-calling, raising alarm and propaganda. Politicking is the last strategy I expect Alaibe and the Labour Party to exhibit now. Alaibe should also recall his track record in Public Service in the Banks, NDDC and the Amnesty Programme, which he poorly managed. Alaibe should think of adding value to good governance in the State, and there are several ways Alaibe can do that whether he becomes a governor or not.
Timi Alaibe’s major weaknesses are that ever since his Vision 2003 campaign ended and he was eventually compensated with the plum job at NDDC, he failed to maintain a political structure. He behaved like an Army General who went to war, lost a battle, went to sleep and never bothered to prepare for the next battle. With a dismantled campaign structure and a very corrupt past, there was an obvious disconnect between Timi Alaibe and the Bayelsa electorate?
I am persuaded that another reason Alaibe and the Labour Party has resolved to adopt this crude tactic is that while in NDDC, he never did anything substantial for Bayelsa State as most of the multi-billion contracts were awarded to outsiders for purposes of political patronage. Besides, rumours are rife that the Presidency never approved of candidacy hence he wants to use the guber contest for two reasons. Firstly, the contest is a test of his popularity and acceptability by the people. However, this reason seems to have been overtaken by events as can be seen in the scant followership he parades now.
The second and perhaps the most cogent reason for Alaibe’s desperation is that Alaibe may not feel very safe without any political appointment because of his fear that the anti-graft agencies may be on his trail. If this is the case, then he may want to use the guber-contest to transact for another political appointment in the PDP led administration – an administration he has insulted as a non-performing one. Political analysts however, believe that Alaibe’s political influence has actually waned and even the presidency sees him as an excess luggage that can very easily be dispensed with.
Why most Bayelsans may not have any hard feelings about Alaibe is that, in the past he had betrayed his followers who campaigned for him. He even alienated the families of those who lost their bread winners in the course of campaigning for him. And many Bayelsan can hardly forget these misdeeds of the doyen of NDDC and the manager of militants. If these sentiments are not jettisoned by the electorate, Alaibe is as good as fighting a lost election, and may have to adopt another strategy in 2015. It is my candid opinion that as far as the April elections in Bayelsa State are concerned, it is not yet uhuru for the Labour Party.
Idumange John, is a Fellow, Institute of Public Management, Nigeria.