SYLVA, ALAIBE GO FOR BROKE
April 2011 promises to be a remake of the epic Battle of Troy as the two political giants in Bayelsa State, incumbent Governor Timipre Sylva and former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe, go head-to-head for the governorship seat in the state.
Those versed in the politics of the oil-rich state swore that the real battle for the soul of the state commenced the day former Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Matters picked the governorship flag bearer of the Labour Party (LP). To them, the only person who has the charisma and cash to face the incumbent governor is Alaibe.
Alaibe and Sylva were initially friends, but ambition tore them apart and they further drifted apart when Alaibe suddenly dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to fly the flag of LP. Alaibe's shock decision was informed by the resolve of the National Working Committee of PDP's automatic ticket to all incumbent governors to contest the 2011 polls. This decision was borne out of the fact that the governors are to work for the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan and that PDP governors had performed to deserve a return ticket.
Sure that he was likely to be given the short end of the stick again in 2011, Alaibe refused to present himself for the party's governorship screening in Port Harcourt prior to the primaries. Some of his associates alleged that there were plans by PDP to actually work in favour of incumbent Sylva if he had gone for the primaries. They pointed at what happened in 2007 when Alaibe was reportedly prevented from contesting the governorship seat by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Alaibe challenge
Those close to the vortex of power in the state said Alaibe's entry into the race was as a result of disquiet within the party in the state. Sylva had to waddle through 13 aspirants before he was handed the party's flag, and for the decision of the NWC of the party to give automatic return ticket to incumbent governors.
Critics of the Sylva administration argue that for 13 members of the party to come out to contest against the incumbent is a sign that a broad section of the party believes it has not performed up to expectation in the state. According to some of them, it is evident that PDP is disenchanted with itself as it has failed Bayelsans. It was sentiments such as these that threw up Alaibe. He seems ready for a showdown, as he fine-tunes his strategy for an onslaught on Sylva. He appears to be determined to wrest power from the governor, but political pundits believe such feat might be a tall order given the fact that the LP platform on which he is contesting is not well entrenched in the state.
Alaibe is ready for the dogfight and is already putting together a formidable team. He picked Senator Inatimi Spiff as his campaign Director. Senator Spiff believes there is high level incompetence and mismanagement of state resources by the Sylva administration. Alaibe is no doubt popular among youths in the state. He is believed to have significant control of ex-militants and has immense wealth and high-level connections even within the PDP he left. He once told journalists that he was on a mission to rescue citizens of the state out of bondage brought about by Sylva. 'Bayelsans are desperate for change, and I have come to offer that change and rescue the people,' Alaibe had said.
President Goodluck Jonathan is certainly not in a position to be envied at the moment. He has many landmines on his path to returning as president in 2011. A quick list probably includes the contentious Northern consensus candidate plot and the security situation in the country. But an equally formidable albatross lurks in his home front - whom to back for the Bayelsa gubernatorial race. It seems the president is caught between two forces: on the one hand, he won't want to lose to an opposition party and become a subject of ridicule before opposition politicians.
On the other hand, he is wary of Alaibe's influence over the youths and as such would be concerned about what might befall him after leaving Aso Rock and returning home should he use the federal might to fight Alaibe at the April polls. It is on record that in 2006 Jonathan had told Sylva and Alaibe to give him the opportunity to contest, as they were still young and would have the opportunity to govern the state. But now, with both of them in the race, the big question is: whom would he support?
Aside the fact that Sylva and Jonathan now enjoy a robust relationship founded on mutual respect, the former is the standard bearer of PDP, which Jonathan leads. Alaibe, on the other hand, was first appointed by Yar'Adua, but Jonathan retained him and they worked closely together to consumate the amnesty programme. Sources said when Alaibe intimated Jonathan of his decision to quit government and contest the governorship of Bayelsa, Jonathan was said to have done nothing to discourage him, indicating that he wanted a change of government in Bayelsa.
Opponents of Sylva point out that the fact that Jonathan, or his representative, refused to publicly endorse Sylva, is a clue that the president is indifferent to his political ambition. But the Sylva camp insist that Jonathan coming all the way from Abuja to vote for Sylva in the governorship primary is more than any public endorsement for a second term.
A very reliable source said that when it was obvious that Alaibe was going to leave PDP, one of the parties that approached him was the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He turned it down and joined the LP, which was seen by many as a deft political move. Alaibe was said to have confided in people that the decision to go for LP was because, unlike ACN, LP would not have a presidential candidate, giving him the leverage to work for the electoral victory of Jonathan in the presidential election as LP governorship candidate.
For those following the politics of Jonathan, it might be hard to tell who he is likely to support, but with the way his kinsmen in Otueke are showing support for Sylva, Alaibe would need to work extra hard to erode the gains recorded by Sylva's camp among Jonathan's kinsmen. Also, it has been argued by those following the political developments of the state that Jonathan would not allow his party to lose the governorship, considering what PDP had suffered in the hands of the opposition.
Alaibe is very close to Dame Patience Jonathan, the President's wife, who was very visible when Alaibe's daughter got married recently. Sylva has also wormed himself back into her heart after the bitter episode of the emergence of Jonathan as Acting President. Friends turn foes
The two Timi's at the middle of the imminent fire-fight in Bayelsa were initially friends. For those at the civic reception to honour Sylva in 2007, the encomiums Alaibe showered on him and the latter's description of the former as one of the best things to come out of Bayelsa and Ijaw land excited many, as it appeared to have signalled a new dawn in the state.
However, the political romance did not last, it crumbled few months later with the duo returning to the trenches to engage one another in political diatribes.Many had expected a showdown at the PDP primaries when news filtered in that Alaibe was contesting. But this was not to be as he defected to LP, where he emerged the sole governorship candidate.
For the Alaibe camp, his defection to the LP, which was due to the tight grip Sylva had on PDP, would further demonstrate that he is a master of the art of politics by single-handedly building a new structure to win the governorship of the state. According to members of the camp, if their principal can wage a total war on former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha till he was impeached and gave President Goodluck Jonathan a run for his money in the 2006 governorship race, then Sylva dares not stand in front of the Alaibe train.
But to the Sylva camp, Alaibe's defection to LP has finally closed the chapter of his political career, as his bond with the political establishment, which he had been using to re-launch himself whenever his political ambition to rule Bayelsa fails, has been severed.
To them, Sylva, whom they call the Bigati of Bayelsa politics, is not a boardroom politician, but a time-tested war-horse who had used his political dexterity to win elections successfully in the past and would do so again in 2011 by teaching Alaibe some basic home lessons in practical politics on the field, not the one played in a cozy air-conditioned office in the NDDC and the pages of newspapers.
Clash of ambitions
Sylva's entrance into politics started in old Rivers State when he became a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly. Since then, he has not looked back in his desire to pursue a flourishing political career. Though, at a time he was denied the opportunity to represent his district in the Senate, Alamieyeseigha saw the asset in him as a calculating politician and appointed him Special Adviser on Politics.
However, it did not take long for the duo to realize they were on a different wave-length, and Sylva resigned his position and moved to Abuja where he worked as Special Assistant to then Petroleum Minister and Amanyanabo of Nembe, Dr. Edmund Daukoru.
Against all odds in 2006, when it was clear that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had anointed Jonathan to be governor, Sylva took the political risk and contested against the incumbent, emerging the runner-up with 34 votes. But as fate would have it, Jonathan was elevated to become the late President Umaru Yar'Adua's running mate and the governorship ticket in Bayelsa was up for grabs. Again, the calculation did not favour him, but Sylva demonstrated he was not a political push-over as he was able to grab the ticket to the consternation of many who were waiting in the wings for endorsement. In February 2008, his election as governor was nullified and then began another round of intrigues to push him out as PDP candidate.
A coalition of political elite moved against him. First, there was an attempt to ensure that the Speaker then, Mr. Werinipre Seibarugu, who had sympathy for Sylva, was not inaugurated as Acting Governor. There were also barrage of petitions to the national secretariat of the party, warning it not to represent Sylva as candidate if it does not want PDP to lose. But Sylva triumphed and went ahead to win the elections. A long list of the political causalities that underrated Sylva is open to all, the most recent being the nine governorship aspirants that contested with him. His camp insists that by April 2011, Alaibe would join the long list, as he would be consigned to political oblivion.
Alaibe hugged public limelight in 2000 after his appointment as the Executive Director Finance and Administration at the NDDC. Since the appointment, he left no one in doubt that he had his gaze fixed on ruling Bayelsa State. Not only did he ensure the operations of NDDC were built around him, he also seized the opportunity to dispense political patronage and integrated himself firmly in Nigeria's political establishment.
Banking on his vast network of friends in 2003, he ran one of the best political campaigns in Nigeria as he decided to contest against Alamieyeseigha. With political appointees leaving the government to join the Alaibe campaign, the end seemed in sight for the Alamieyeseigha government. Though, Alaibe lost the primaries, this was not enough to stop him, as pressure mounted on him to contest on the platform of another party. It took the intervention of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar for Alaibe to reconsider his stand and not leave PDP.
In 2005, he finally had the opportunity to put Alamieyeseigha in his proper place as he coordinated his impeachment on the orders of Obasanjo. Thinking that Jonathan was malleable, Alaibe took over the political machinery of the state and emerged leader as he was in charge of de-registration and registration of new members, which left Jonathan in the cold. He was already galloping to Bayelsa Government House when his camp made a political blunder that saw to the suspension of Fred Agbedi as state party chairman and Blesson Apuluma as national organising secretary. He was eventually prevailed on by Obasanjo not to contest and to allow Jonathan take the ticket.
In the build-up to the 2011 elections, Alaibe had refused many entreaties urging him to contest. According to sources, his main argument was that given the way PDP delegates' system is structured, nobody would be able to defeat Sylva to get the party's ticket. It was therefore, surprising that a few weeks to the primaries he took the PDP form to contest. While many were still trying to reconcile his position with what he had given as excuse not to contest, he defected to the LP to slug it out with Sylva.
Two times, 2003 and 2006, he had been prevailed upon not to leave PDP to contest, but this year, no one is dissuading him and he has placed his hands on the plough, there is no looking back. He knows fully that a victory would make his beloved wife, Alaere, turn in her grave.
The looming battle
For those who have been following statements from the two camps, not only are the languages harsh but also borders on bellicosity. Sylva's camp is all over town shouting their campaign slogan, We Would Win (WWW), sending a subtle message to the opposition. Alaibe's choice of campaign slogan: 'Take-Over Mission' speaks volume of the mindset of his camp. When they are not accusing each other of the violence visited on Opokuma in Kolokuma/Opokuma council during the home-coming reception for Alaibe, in which six people died, they are engaging in recriminations over the voters' registration exercise.
The Alaibe camp has pointedly said the Sylva government was responsible for the killing in Opokuma, adding that their action showed they were desperate. 'Maybe they don't understand what we are and what we stand for. We are not about violence, but change. What we are about doing is the peaceful and systematic change of the state in 2011. 'The violence visited on me and my supporters is not part of the Ijaw race, but what they have proved to us is that they are lawless and a shameful people. When a state associates itself with such people, they have shared from the failure and virus of shame. They are cowards and we believe we will stamp them out of the state,' he said.
On the day he emerged LP governorship candidate, Alaibe made a scathing remark about the Sylva government. Hear him: 'For three and a half years, we have allowed charlatans, desperados, corrupt and clueless people to preside over our affairs and for too long we have endured the despoliation of our state. Enough is enough. Today, every well-meaning Bayelsan feels the same shame when he or she thinks of how the state has been misgoverned. In spite of our vast natural and human resources, Bayelsa has become one of the poorest states in Nigeria. We have become the subject of demeaning jokes'.
In a statement from Director-General of the campaign organisation, Mr. Inatimi Spiff challenged Sylva to a public debate in a manner reminiscent of a General calling his troops to war. He called on Bayelsans who are tired of Sylva's government to come on board. His words: 'As you are aware, Bayelsa is a ship adrift with incompetence and failed development policies. The soul of the state is crying for a change. In the past, the people were yet to know who to make the desired change, but the agents of change is here. It is a divine assignment and it must be done. Go to the schools, the streets and markets, you will see the cry for change in the polity. Those tired of the failed administration should come on board.'
The Sylva camp has a ready match for the Alaibe camp in the Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr. Nathan Egba. 'The government of Chief Timipre Sylva has no need whatsoever to engage in any form of violence in relation to other aspirants, as we do not believe that is what will make the people to vote the governor back into power. Governor Timipre Sylva has done more than enough to guarantee him a second tenure as was graphically demonstrated by delegates to the just concluded governorship primaries in the state. There was relative peace in the state until Mr. Alaibe's governorship ambition became public knowledge and now all these violence, just as was the case in 2003 when he sought to intimidate Chief D.S.P Alamieyeseigha from the governorship position before he was defeated at the primaries.'
He described Alaibe as a liar who wants to hang onto Mr. President's endorsement to win election, stressing that his camp should refrain from his violent attitude and concentrate on issue-based campaigns. 'The orchestrated bombing and violent attacks on prominent people's houses across the state last year, including the family house of Governor Timipre Sylva in Okpoama, clearly bear the hallmark of political opponents of Governor Sylva who are bent on making the state appear unsafe and the governor not in charge.'
'Alaibe, who obviously left the PDP in a hurry, realising his imminent failure at the primaries, and sensing that his lies about being endorsed by President Goodluck Jonathan had been exposed, and now wants people to believe he is being intimidated and his safety threatened. Meanwhile, it is the same Alaibe that is orchestrating all the violence including the one immediately after his kangaroo Labour Party primary election.
'It would have been better if the Timi Alaibe camp would believe in his challenge to Governor Sylva for a debate on governance and refrain from their current dangerous trend, then Bayelsans and indeed Nigerians would have been able to see how unprepared, intellectually shallow and bereft of original ideas this man is, in spite of many years of scheming and being in the corridors of power.'
The political hostility between Jonathan and Sylva dates back to 2007 when the two contested the PDP primaries for the Bayelsa governorship slot. Jonathan won. Sylva came second. But as fate would have it, Jonathan's name propped up as running mate to the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, ushering in Sylva as the governorship candidate by virtue of his second place position in the primaries.
This, however, did not come on a platter of gold for Sylva as Jonathan was alleged to have preferred another aspirant, Chief Francis Doukpoula, signalling another round of politicking by the various camps. Well, it was Sylva at the end had the day. Sylva's alleged sabotaging roles in the events that surround the death of the late President Yar'Adua and the subsequent fight to recognise Jonathan as de-facto president, sources say, did not go unnoticed by the president's camp, coupled with the fact that Jonathan somewhat enjoyed limited support from his kinsman (Sylva) at a time he needed it most, at least, on the rotational debate.
Sylva's alleged position on the contentious zoning debate has reportedly not gone down well with the president's camp. Sources say Sylva covertly favours sticking with the PDP zoning regime, hence, power remaining with the north till 2014. A confidential report has it that Sylva had advised Jonathan to reach a deal with his northern opposition instead of denying the existence of the PDP rotational arrangement.
Enter the former NDDC boss and Czar of the Post-Amnesty Programme of the Federal Government, Timi Alaibe. Backed by some prominent actors and the President's clique in Abuja, Alaibe has come a long way in his ambition to occupy the governorship seat in Bayelsa. At least, he has been prevailed upon to drop his gubernatorial ambition twice.
Alaibe eventually dumped PDP for the LP to actualize his gubernatorial ambition, making Jonathan's task of choosing whom to support between the two a more daunting one. On paper, this leaves Jonathan with no choice than supporting his adversary for reasons of political expedience.
Surely, it will be heavily embarrassing for the president to lose his home state to an opposition party. Hence, Jonathan's rumoured resolve to allow first term governors an automatic ticket.
Startling revelations from a source close to the President's quarters, however, reveal that the coast is still not clear for the Sylva camp. Similar to the scenario in Edo State where a former PDP governor, Lucky Igbinedion, covertly financed and supported the election of Governor Adams Oshiomhole, in Jonathan's case, the source revealed that a 'Plan B' is already in advanced stage to support Alaibe. It is premised on the fact that he (Alaibe) would return to the PDP fold if he actualises his ambition with the LP ticket.
A political scientist, Danlami Jatau, expresses reservation at the foregoing. 'President Jonathan cannot afford to take such gamble since his presidential nomination is at stake. In Nigeria, the Governors' Forum has grown over the years to exert massive influence as far as success at the primaries is concerned. Sylva's camp will be leveraging on this stance, as Jonathan will be forced to set aside his dislike for Sylva and give him his unalloyed support, at least, as a compromise to guarantee his success at the primaries. Besides, the state PDP machinery still remains under the firm grip of Sylva, who is willing to use it as a bargaining chip for supporting President Jonathan,' he says.
In Alaibe's case, this can be interpreted as a great disservice to him by Jonathan whose services the president had greatly benefited from - Alaibe's relatively successful handling of the post-amnesty programme for the president and his roles in the removal of DSP Alamieyeseigha in 2005 - a situation Jonathan greatly benefited from - are prime examples.
This brings to the fore agitations of a section of Bayelsans, who refer to themselves as the 'core' Ijaw. They say the 2011 governorship seat must be ceded to them. Accordingly, Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor, Sagbama, Kolokuma/Okokuma and some parts of Yenagoa are considered the core Ijaw areas of Bayelsa.
Ogbia, Nembe, and Brass council areas are the zones considered non-core Ijaw and are in minority within the state. Jonathan, going by these classifications is a non-core Ijaw. He hails from Ogbia.
Going by appointments, the so-called minority Ijaws have occupied a greater chunk. From Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (Ogbia); current governor Timipre Sylva (Nembe); former Petroleum Minister, Dr. Edmond Daukoru, now Mingi XII of Nembe Kingdom (Nembe).
Also, the first military administrator of old Rivers State in 1967, HRH Alfred Diette-Spiff (Brass), and the first elected governor of old Rivers State in 1979, the late Chief Melford Okilo (Ogbia).
In the 'core' Ijaw case, the National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi, from Ekeremor; former Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Timi Alaibe, from (Kolokuma/Okpokuma) and Deacon Braiye Ekiye, Special Adviser to the President on Federal Government Parastatals, are 'core' Ijaw.
The ascendancy of minority Ijaw has not gone down well with core Ijaw leaders. According to them, the genesis is from the creation of Bayelsa from Rivers State by the military junta, where persons from the non-core Ijaw areas were always leading in the old Rivers State.
The year I999 brought a short-lived change of fortunes for the 'core' Ijaw, at least, with the election of Chief Alamieyeseigha from Southern Ijaw, even though he was swept off before completion of his term.
Against this backdrop, the 'core' Ijaw reasoning is that since a non-core Ijaw is president and another minority Ijaw is governor, in 2011, a core Ijaw should be given the chance to govern the state. This is one of the forces pushing Alaibe to run against Sylva. He is riding on the sentiment among the 'core' Ijaw that 'one of its own' should take charge of the state in the prevailing circumstances. Coupled with the tacit support of the president, Alaibe is supposedly under pressure to run.
His cronies say Alaibe fears a possible reprisal from his people if he does otherwise. They say the next governor should not come from Nembe, Ogbia and Brass local councils. Sylva's power play seems to be gaining ground as his recent standing, at least, among the political actors, analyst trace to the recent alliance with President Jonathan. Sylva, sources say, is an influential member within the Governors' Forum. Luckily for Sylva, Jonathan's success at the PDP primaries is largely dependent on support from the governors, especially PDP governors. Where would the pendulum swing between Sylva and Alaibe? Maybe this time, Bayelsans would be the ultimate decider in April.