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SYLVA IN TURBULENT WATERS

By NBF News
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Since his entry into politics as a member of the old Rivers State House of Assembly, those who know Timipre Sylva say he has learnt the tricks of surviving political battles. His loyalists, who insist he is a political whiz-kid, tell whoever cares to listen that Sylva would always outsmart his opponents.

In 2007, against a formidable opposition within his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after his election was annulled, Sylva fought tooth and nail mobilizing the national leadership of the party and ensured he was re-nominated and eventually coasted home to victory.

However, since the emergence of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, Sylva has been faced with a vicious challenge for his style of governance. Not only as the rank of opposition swell by two former commissioners and a Special Adviser in his administration but four top government officials including the Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Sylva Charles-Opuala, have a N2.5 billion charge hung on their neck by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

For loyalists of Sylva, the renewed opposition to government coupled with the EFCC investigations is politically motivated and an attempt to discredit the governor and portray him in bad light before Bayelsans thereby abbreviating his rising political career which to them is threatening many political elite in Bayelsa.

For his critics and a cross section of opposition, the EFCC investigation was long over due considering their strident cries that Sylva's emergence was a mistake that should be urgently corrected in whatever way to save Bayelsa from further sinking into debt which they insist has leapfrogged since he became governor.

But for ordinary Bayelsans, this is a familiar road the people have traveled before where factions of the political elite struggling for power use every available weapon in their arsenal to crush everything all in their bid to control the soul of the state.

The Offensive
Shortly after the National Assembly's resolution paved the way for Jonathan to become Acting President, his cousin and ally to his wife, Chief Asara A. Asara, resigned his appointment as Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy from the state cabinet. Although the state government said it did not accept his resignation because Asara had some questions to answer over his activities at the ministry, Asara in an interview has since hit back accusing Sylva of turning himself into a dictator.

Said he: 'I regret that we all worked to bring the governor to power because as soon as he returned, he has refused to listen to wise counsel. How can you bring a man and suddenly he no longer listens to advice and it is now a dictatorial government?'

Few weeks after the Asara saga, Sylva wielded the big stick and sacked the Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, Chief Ayakeme Whisky, a close ally of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark for 'non-performance and incompetence'. But Whisky has accused Sylva of vendetta insisting that he was fired because the South-South leaders forum of which he is a prominent member had accused some governors of working against the emergence of Jonathan as Acting-President.

'The result of my private investigation showed that my travail at the hand of the state governor and his loyalists was my involvement in the activities of the forum of South-South Elders and Leaders headed by the Ijaw National Leader, Chief E.K. Clark. The group condemned the involvement of some South-South leaders who were reportedly working against the emergence of the Vice President as Acting President. The activity engaged my attention in Abuja and I owe nobody any apology or have any singular regret.'

About the same time Whisky was lampooning the Sylva government, operatives of the EFCC stormed the state and whisked away the Accountant-General, the Director of Finance and Treasury over allegations that some N500 million moved from the government accounts were traced to private accounts believed to have been used for smear campaign against the emergence of Jonathan as acting-president.

In Abuja, another group that called itself True Democrats of Bayelsa led by Mr. Famous Daunimghan, erstwhile Special Adviser on Mobilization to Sylva who has reunited with the opposition which he left to serve in Sylva's government before he was sacked, petitioned the EFCC to investigate the recovered loot stolen by former governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

According to him, the loot which he claimed has been returned to the coffers of the state has been misappropriated by the Sylva's government. He also disclosed that revenue accruing to the state from the federal allocation is being diverted by Sylva's government into private accounts.

Politics in the mix
A group, the Eagle-Eyes of Bayelsa, declared that there is a political undertone in the arrest of Bayelsa government officials. According to a statement signed by National Coordinator and General Secretary, Chief Ebidokeme Douye and Tombra Yenke respectively, the group stated that they are blaming Sylva for downplaying the debt profile he met when he took over as governor which is now hunting his administration prompting some critics to label him a non-performer.

The group established a link between the EFCC arrest and mounting pressure on the Bayelsa state House of Assembly to impeach the governor. 'This cabal has activated the machinery of falsehood, blackmail and orchestrated campaign of calumny against the governor. Apart from the use of EFCC officials to intimidate the governor and his officials, the cabal is lobbying and mounting pressure on members of the State House of Assembly to impeach the him. The economic and political problem in Bayelsa were induced and aimed at creating the impression that the current administration has failed with a view of inciting the people against the government' the group said.

A principal officer of the House of Assembly and a known loyalist of Sylva who spoke on condition of anonymity to Sunday Sun corroborated the views of the group. According to him, the lawmakers are aware of the grand plan to destabilize the administration of Sylva using corruption charges so as to dismantle his political structure before the 2011 elections.

The overseer of the Ministry of Information, Orientation and Strategy, Hon. Nathan Egba, who has consistently defended Sylva over allegation that he was involved in the plot to stop the emergence of Jonathan as acting-president because he has no such powers, dismissed the claims of Whisky that his loyalty to Jonathan earned him a sack from the Bayelsa cabinet. Egba said it is childish for Whisky to claim that his closeness to Jonathan was responsible for his sack as commissioner.

'The sacked commissioner is an under-performer and his inability to get along with his superiors, colleagues and even junior officers are what is against him. His track record of working with principals whom he turns around to bad-mouth whenever sacked is well known from his days at the NDDC.

'The sacked commissioner was removed because he could not deliver on his core mandate of providing affordable houses for the people of the state. His lame excuses of not being adequately funded hold no water because he presided over the sale of both Ekeki Phase 2 and Okaka Housing Estates, the proceeds of which he could have ploughed back to develop more units for the people of the state', he said.

Sylva's cross
Loyalists of Sylva have however come out to defend their principal puncturing claims of corruption and non-performance against him. At the forefront is a group, Coalition for Responsible Government, which in a statement described those labeling Sylva as a non-performer as agents of destabilization who would never see anything good in government unless they are in power.

In a statement signed by its President, Dotimi Ebikibina, the group pointed to a World Bank assessment which scored Bayelsa state government high as a testimony that there are deliberate plans by those opposed to Sylva to overlook his achievements so as to discredit him. 'In a visit to the state in September last year, a team of executives from the World Bank took a critical review of the budget execution report of the state government on fiscal developments, short and medium term strategies to address development of internal audit and management acts and concluded that the data provided by the state is commendable', it stated.

The World Bank team Led by Mr. Volker Treichel, after a review of relevant data provided by the state, said that there has been significant progress by the government in carrying out an Environmental Scanning of the state capital with a view to establishing a more solid tax base. The financial institution commended the staff biometrics capture exercise embarked by the Due Process Bureau and also commended the Public Accounts Committee of the State House of Assembly for clearing all backlogs of audited reports'.

CRG lamented that it is unfortunate that Sylva who initiated the Biometrics exercise to save money being stolen by powerful Bayelsans is the same the opposition has branded as corrupt. 'The issue of accountability and probity led to the staff verification exercise in the state which led to the discovery of a conduit pipe to the tune of N3billion from the state treasury. 'The political will shown by the present administration resulted that 7,265 employees failed the exercise and a total of 11,132 were 'ghost workers' with a projected savings of N293.7 million per month and N3.524 billion annually', it added.

The group further defended Sylva noting that his giant strides in the power sector which is verifiable by Bayelsans is enough to diminish any claims of underperformance. It said: 'If the issue of power generation and distribution is a basis for the rating of successive administrations in the State, the administration of Sylva has scored a plus.

In the estimation of the people, the years of failed efforts to solve the persistent power failures had created a sense of despondency in the people over the issue of misappropriation of funds meant for the procurement of the needed Gas Turbines to power the state under the past administrations in the state.

The era of incessant power supply failure has become history with the installation of three gas turbines worth N7.6billion by the state government. The governor as part of his administration's reform agenda, announced that the existing and refurbished 20 mega watts would be supported at the Imiringi power station by another 20 mega watts, while another 40 mega watts is billed to be installed during the second phase at the Gbarain axis to assist the generation and distribution of power to all quarters of the state'.

Jude Tabai of the Sylva Credible Movement said increased smear campaign against the present administration are geared towards rendering the candidature of the governor for second term as unmarketable for the next general election. But he was quick to add that 'no amount of blackmail and treachery against the state government and its people can stop the call on the governor to accept the second term bid'.

The battle ahead
The EFCC has gone ahead to slam a six-count charge of N2.5 billion against the four government officials and has concluded plans to arraign them in court. A court order obtained by the state government to secure the release of the detained officials has been rebuffed by the EFCC. The state government has cried foul accusing the EFCC of showing disregard for the rule of law. Already, legal fireworks have commenced between the state government and the EFCC. However, beneath this is the major political battle going on between ardent loyalists of Sylva and those who want to wrest power from their grip.

The various gladiators have returned to the trenches for a showdown, which would unfold before Bayelsans in the ensuing weeks.