2011: POWER STRUGGLE AND THE NEW CALCULATIONS IN BAYELSA
For some people, the inauguration of Mr. Werinipre Seibarugu as the new Deputy- Governor of Bayelsa State to replace Peremobowei Ebebi is a wrong political move by Governor Timipre Sylva. For others, Seibarugu accepting to serve as Sylva's deputy from his position as the Speaker of the House of Assembly is a dumb decision.
However, close observers of Bayelsa politics are convinced that picking Seibarugu as deputy governor is part of the bold calculations for future elections in the state.
His inauguration as the number two man coupled with the injection of five new members of diverse political interests into the State Executive Council is a pointer to the changing face of Bayelsa politics. The choice of Seibarugu which has been described as an asset, has altered the political equation in the state, with Bayelsa Central Senatorial district gaining what Bayelsa West Senatorial district lost.
Now with the 2011 elections, the battle to wrest power from Sylva's grip has only intensified.
Seibarugu: New kid on the bloc
Werinipre Seibarugu from Ekpetiama in Yenagoa local government area was a private businessman in the oil industry before he ventured into politics in 2003 at the prompting of very influential people from his area.
As at the time he contested, the Yenagoa constituency II seat rotated between the Gbarain and Ekpetiama people. In 2003, it was the turn of Ekpetiama and Seibarugu overwhelmingly won the elections.
He was part of the lawmakers that impeached former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and after Mr. Ebebi, who was peaker, was made the deputy-governor by President Goodluck Jonathan then as governor, Seibarugu was elected by his colleagues as the new Speaker.
In 2007, it was the turn of the Gbarain people to send a representative to the Assembly, but employing carrot and stick tactics, Seibarugu defeated the laid down rotational arrangement and went back to the House for the second time and was once again elected as Speaker. For close aides and members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly who spoke to Daily Sun on condition of anonymity, Seibarugu's performance as Speaker between 2005 and 2007 was what gave him the edge, and endeared him to his colleagues.
According to a source, Seibarugu's success as Speaker could be attributed to his liberalization policy of the financial system of the House as all members were in the know about its finances. Though not one who can be described as highly educated, Seibarugu combines native intelligence with exposure to move on.
In 2008, after the Court of Appeal nullified the election of Sylva, the lot fell on Seibarugu to be made acting governor. As the man in charge, many entreaties were made to him by antagonists for him to dump Sylva so that they can enthrone another leadership in the state with him getting a juicy position.
Seibarugu, however, did not succumb to the pressure and was to further confound many, when he expressed readiness to ensure that the re-run election was held within one month. Close aides of Sylva told Daily Sun that during his tenure as acting governor, Seibarugu impressed Sylva with his humility and disposition to state affairs, making the latter to conclude that the former is a man that can be trusted with power.
It was therefore, not surprising that when the plot to sack Ebebi commenced, Seibarugu's name was among the favourites penciled down to replace him. Though, there were pressures on Sylva to change his mind which was already focused on Seibarugu, but support from close aides of the governor in the 'New Phase' of which Seibarugu is a prominent member, facilitated his emergence.
With his new position, just like he altered the arrangement of his constituency by representing them twice consecutively, his new position has similarly altered the power equation in the state with the deputy-governorship position zoned away from Ekeremor, Bayelsa West, where Ebebi hails from to Bayelsa Central.
Politics of Sylva
Beyond the robust political credentials of humility and loyalty paraded by Seibarugu which his loyalists insist earned him the new position, raw politics by Sylva was also a determinant in his decision to settle for Seibarugu considering the threat posed by some opposition members within the party who were moving to draft a serving Senator from Bayelsa central into the governorship race in the state.
The Senator, Emmanuel Paulker from Yenagoa is a close confidant of President Jonathan right from when the latter was the deputy governor. He is one of the arrow-heads of those opposed to Sylva's style of governance and had been battling since 2007 to turn the table against Sylva and hijack the structures of the party from him.
According to sources, pressures are being mounted on Paulker to join the race, since he is believed to be the only formidable candidate to slug it out with Sylva. But he is yet to indicate interest as he is weighing the options, considering the enormous influence Sylva wields in Bayelsa PDP.
But to neutralize whatever plans those plotting his exit might have with the possibility of Paulker's candidature; Sylva's choice of Seibarugu also from Bayelsa central comes into play. Though Paulker is also generally loved by his people, it is a known fact that Seibarugu's strength lies in the grassroots where he has the largest loyalists.
If a contest between Sylva and Paulker ever takes place, with the influence of Seibarugu, Sylva is likely to carry the day.
Sylva's decision to also appoint five new commissioners to coincide with the inauguration of Seibarugu is also seen as a deft political move. Two of the appointments are very significant. Mr. Opukiri Jones Ere, the new Commissioner for Sports is from Amassoma, Southern Ijaw local government area. He was the personal assistant to former Governor Alamieyeseigha. After his re-election in 2008, Sylva and Alamieyeseigha reportedly fell apart over some undisclosed issues. Since then, Alamieyeseigha has refused to attend state functions in Yenagoa, but would come to Bayelsa and head straight to his village, Amassoma.
Jones- Ere's appointment which sources said received the blessing of Alamieyeseigha is a way of integrating his political family into the corridors of power and with the 2011 elections, they would need to throw their weight behind Sylva to attract more appointments
Mr. Michael Ogiasa, Commissioner for Special Duties (Presidency and FCT) is from Ogbia, Jonathan's local government area. Ogiasa came into political limelight in 2005 after Jonathan became governor following the impeachment of Alamieyeseigha. He was then very visible in the state until Jonathan moved to Abuja.
His ministry which is new and very strategic, speaks volume on the political calculations of Sylva ahead of the elections in the state. Ogiasa's mission in Abuja is to shore up support for Sylva in the Presidency as well as in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Being close to Jonathan Committee of Friends who are rabidly opposed to Sylva, Ogiasa is expected to hold consultations with them and convince them to support Sylva.
The lingering war
After what could be considered a political lull, gladiators in the struggle for the soul of the state have returned to the trenches. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)'s verdict on congresses held in some PDP states was the touch stone of the renewed war. INEC had listed Bayelsa among the states it said the congress held was illegal as it did not follow the PDP's constitution.
Banking on INEC's verdict, Mr. Fred Agbedi, whose executive was sacked by Sylva loyalists, who held a congress in line with the instructions of the national secretariat under former National Chairman Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, declared that INEC 's position has vindicated their executive which was illegally removed.
Agbedi told Daily Sun said that those parading themselves as party executives all this while knew the congress was built on political quicksand, but because they had the backing of Ogbulafor they carried on with their illegality.
But Darius Obiene, who was the deputy- chairman in the Agbedi led executive and still retained the position under Abadi however laughed off the claims by INEC that there was an illegal congress in Bayelsa State.
In an interview with Daily Sun he maintained that INEC has no powers to dissolve a legally constituted executive which was elected in the presence of the Resident Electoral Officer (REC) as observer and with documentary evidence.
However, to demonstrate that it was serious about its claims that its executive is still in charge, Agbedi and his executive members opened a parallel secretariat in Yenagoa. The secretariat opened at Opolo was, however, invaded by boys suspected to be loyalists of Abadi. They removed the PDP signpost and flags, locked the gate with their padlocks and threatened to deal with anybody that dares to operate from the secretariat.
The youth leader of the Agbedi group, Mr. Esueme Kikile said removing flags has not in any way diminished the status of the executive committee.
According to him, the most important thing is that there is now an executive that enjoys the support of all stakeholders. Agbedi in tandem explained that no amount of intimidation would scare its members as they are determined to salvage the party from pretenders. And not to be defeated, the Abadi group had written a protest letter to the National Working Committee (NWC) and INEC to respect a court order obtained in 2009 which affirmed the legality of the new executive council. It warned against toying with the idea of a caretaker committee because it would violate the principle of rule of law.
The suit mrked YHC/156/2009, filed by Innocent Demain and Micheal Emiemokumor against a faction of the state PDP moving to dissolve Abadi's executive, had prayed the court to determine the four years tenure of the party executives. It asked the Court for the determination on the legality of the dissolution of the party executive when the tenure has not elapsed, and the question of whether the executive of the party is not entitled to the full term of four years unless they resign or lawfully removed from office.
In his ruling, Justice Moore Adumein declared: 'It is hereby declared that the plantiff as members of the State Executive Council of the PDP is entitled to remain in office for the full term of four years until and unless they resign or lawfully removed from office'. On the threat of removal hanging over them then, Justice Adumien ruled that: 'An order of perpetual injunction is hereby granted restraining the defendants, whether by themselves or through their agents, privies, representatives or any persons however described from taking any action or steps aimed at removing the plantiffs or any member of the State Executive Council of the PDP from office until the effluxion of time as guaranteed by the constitution of the PDP'
Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that the national secretariat of the party is divided over the matter and confused on how to resolve it since the order to conduct the congress was from the National Executive Committee under Ogbulafor. As things stand now, the party executive that replaced the Agbedi executive is threatening fire and brimstone if there is any attempt to remove them, while the latter is also pressing buttons to ensure it returns to office.
A reliable source said what the Agbedi group is waiting for its court case instituted to challenge its sack. Once the court gives its verdict, and it is in its favour it would take over the party in the state. But right now as elections gradually approaches, the political atmosphere is getting charged and how the whole thing would play out is in the womb of time.