BAYELSA HOUSE OF REPS BY-ELECTION: THE STORY OF DICKSON'S SUCCESSOR
On Wednesday March 21, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted the bye-election to fill the Sagbama/ Ekeremor Federal constituency seat recently vacated by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson.
For keen observers of the Bayelsa politics since the inauguration of Dickson as Governor with the attendant smooth transition in the House of Assembly which some of them insist Dickson was not disinterested in, the politics that underline the process to pick the candidate that would fly the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate and the election itself has been a litmus test for the Dickson governorship
With emerging power blocs struggling to outwit one another to establish their supremacy, the House of Representatives election has not only placed in the public domain the democratic credentials of Dickson but also put in the crucible his political dexterity in the midst of contending power blocs.
The election in his political backyard has set the tone of politics in the state and is defining the direction of internal democracy in what his supporters and admirers calls the new PDP.
Two strong candidates emerged in the race to replace Dickson. They are Dr Stella Ayamara Dorgu and Chief Nestor Binabo, former speaker of the House of Assembly and acting-governor.
Dorgu, a doctorate degree holder in Mass Communication came into political limelight during the return to democracy in 1999 when she vied for the governorship of the state flying the banner of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Though her party did not win the governorship, her contributions buoyed by the towering leadership of Dickson who was the AD state chairman then saw to the emergence of Emmanuel Diffa as senator representing Bayelsa West against the run of play after defeating Air vice marshal Larry Koinyan.
She also served in the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan as governor in 2006 overseeing the poverty alleviation scheme that empowered many Bayelsans. Dorgu who was also a former director-general of the National Women Centre, Abuja displayed her skill as a great mobilizer when as coordinator she spear-headed the Keme2Keme volunteers groups comprising of Bayelsa youths from 300 communities in the state that campaigned vigourously for the election of Dickson as Governor.
Respected for her immense intelligence, and great communication skills, Dorgu's ambition was boosted by the women of Bayelsa West Senatorial district key PDP elders led by former governor Diepreye Alamieyseigha and the Bayelsa Women Forum
She was squared up with Binabo, seen as a natural replacement for Dickson by his supporters for being Speaker and later acting-governor. An unusual reticent politician, Binabo leadership qualities as Speaker of the House of Assembly was evident in the way he was able to coordinate the lawmakers and rally them around former governor Timipre Sylva.
His loyalty to Sylva whose relationship dates back to the All Peoples Party (APP) days even in the face of onslaught from anti- Sylva elements has however come to haunt him as he struggled to replace Dickson in the House of representatives.
Leading the debate on whom to replace Dickson was the coordinator of the Bayelsa Women Forum, Dr Georgina Ngeri Nwaga who said the support for Dorgu was borne out of her proven track record of service.
'We strongly endorse her candidature. She is well qualified. We are not just supporting her because she is a woman but because she is capable and would make a good representative. We are appealing to Governor Dickson and the PDP leadership in the state to give Dr Dorgu a chance because she would ensure that the voice of Bayelsa women and people are heard. Dr Dorgu in the House of Representatives would provide the needed support for our gender friendly Governor in his determination to transform the state'.
This was however countered by the pro- Binabo group who stated that it was natural for Binabo to replace Dickson since he had to relinquish his position as Speaker because he hails from the same place with the Governor. According to this school of thought, it would be a political setback for Binabo who having occupied the position of Speaker and acting-governor only to become an ordinary floor member in the House of Assembly if he is refused the opportunity to replace Dickson in the House of Representatives.
His supporters have already pointed to his contributions to the party in the build-up to the governorship elections and the way he managed the affairs of the state as credentials that should be enough to convince the party leaders in Bayelsa West of his capability to replace Dickson in the House of Representatives. The group maintained that immediately after the Supreme Court terminated the tenure of former governor Sylva, Dickson entered into an agreement with Binabo to replace him at the House of Representatives in exchange for his support during the governorship elections.
However those that kicked against Binabo's aspiration argued that as an acting-governor, he did nothing extra ordinary to have prompted Dickson to promise him the ticket. According to them, Binabo was a reluctant supporter of the Dickson's governorship ambition because he was so sucked into the Sylva camp's that he joined forces to prevent the emergence of Dickson as candidate of the party because he did not want to lose his position as Speaker.
References were made to his role in boycotting the primaries that produced Dickson as the party's standard bearer, his refusal to acknowledge Dickson as the party's candidate during the presentation of the party's flag, and non-attendance of the PDP campaign until the last day in Southern Ijaw local government area when he had read the handwriting on the wall.
The Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Daniel Iworiso- Markson joined the fray and cautioned that Dickson's name should not be dragged into the politics of who replaces him in the House of Representatives. He declared that Dickson did not promise anybody the ticket because it was not his private property, adding that at no time did the Governor anoint any candidate for the position.
Iworiso- Markson advised those interested in replacing Dickson to talk to critical stakeholders who would elect the candidate of their choice to fly the party's flag in the election.
Political watchers were interested in how the issue of the candidate would play out principally because that is where Governor Dickson hails from and secondly for the fact that he was almost a victim of overwhelming powers of former governor Sylva that attempted to deny him a second term ticket, many wanted to see Dickson's role in the selection of the party's candidate in relation to his public statements in support of strong internal democracy. Sources said Binabo who was banking on support of the PDP Sagbama caucus, Chief Fyneman Wilson and his influence within the Presidency had his ambition evaporated immediately President Goodluck Jonathan arrived for the State Congress and the green light he was receiving was no longer forthcoming.
According to sources, Binabo was pointedly told by emissaries that Dorgu had been picked by the elders of the party and apparently to protest the shabby way he was treated, he decided to boycott the state congress. His loyalists accused Dickson of being the unseen hand behind the ambition of Dorgu since she has been penciled down to replace him from the beginning of the plot to oust Sylva. They said Binabo has decided to remain mute on the matter for now since the conspiracy against him has been achieved.
The tension of who would fly the party's flag reverberated in the election which was characterized by low turnout except for Dickson's polling unit where his presence drew people out. The situation is now being exploited by the candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, Mr. Jonathan Hamo who has rejected the result of the election.
As things stand now the issues that surrounded the replacement of Dickson has thrown up fresh questions about the ability of the PDP to pick candidates for election without rancor and Bayelsans are watching how Dickson would fare.