From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
If articulation of ideas at a debate could have impact or win elections, then Pastor Ebizimo Diriyai, governorship candidate of the Accord Party (AP) would have been upbeat about victory in tomorrow’s governorship election. If governorship election is about popularity test, then the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, David Lyon would have gone to sleep waiting to be declared the winner of tomorrow’s election. If governorship election is about achievements by the PDP under Governor Seriake Dickson, then Senator Douye Diri, standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would have blown his opponents away waiting to be handed the Certificate of Return by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But a governorship election anywhere in Nigeria is more than that. And particularly in Bayelsa, the stakes are very high as Nigeria’s peculiar weak party system has narrowed the contest to a two-horse race- between the PDP and APC with a long history of bitter political animosity. Already, the signs are there that the governorship election would be one of the most fiercely contested governorship elections in the history of Nigeria.
For non-partisan Bayelsans, the contest is whether to continue with the PDP through Diri and his promise of Consolidation for Prosperity after eight years of Governor Seriake Dickson’s Restoration Agenda or switch over to an APC government led by the Lyon whom philanthropy and love for the down trodden have shot to political limelight. Even for the less discerning, the political divide in the state is palpable. Apostle Zilly Aggrey, founder of the Royal House of Grace, a PDP sympathiser from the same Kolokuma/ Opokuma Local Government Area as Senator Diri had described the governorship election as a contest between “good and promoters of evil.” Aggrey’s view was shared by Dickson who declared that ungodly forces “those who do not mean well for the state must not take over the reins of power.” However, those in the opposition APC led by Lyon and the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva see the governorship election as a contest to reclaim the state from divisive elements which to them Dickson and his group of loyalists in the Restoration team represents for ruining the common patrimony of the Ijaw people.
Even though Diri and Lyon are the candidates, it is common knowledge that they are proxies in the struggle for power in the oil-rich state. Indeed, those who frame the Bayelsa governorship election as a final denouement for power contestation between Dickson and Sylva are not wrong. However, unlike in 2012 and 2015 when Dickson who has now made history as the first governor to finish two terms had key dependable allies with him, he is going into the 2019 battle with political loyalists of his own creation. Incidentally, his allies-turned discreet political adversaries are in bed with other stakeholders in the final push to halt Dickson’s emergence as godfather of Bayelsa politics. Twenty Four hours to the election, the tension is high as political forces from PDP and APC battle for the 889, 308 votes across the eight local government areas in the biggest battle for the soul of Bayelsa State.
This is the local government area with the highest number of voters with 180, 263 registered people with PVCs. Though three of their sons, Rueben Okoya, the Secretary to the State Government, Kemela Okara and Kenebi Okoko were unable to clinch the PDP governorship ticket, the trio have since joined the Diri campaign trail to woo voters. They would be joined by Oforji Oboku, member representing Yenagoa Constituency 1 who is unarguably the most potent political force in Yenagoa metropolis and its environs. They would line up against the likes of Chief Diekivie Ikiogha, Ibarakumo Otobo, Godknows Powell, Preye Agama and Macmanuel Parkison. Incidentally, Lyon lives in Igbogene, a suburb of Yenagoa where he is known as ‘Mr Everybody’ which means he would harvest votes for APC. Since the indigenous people of Epie/Atissa are divided, non- Bayelsans resident in Yenagoa hold the ace that would ultimately decide the winner of the election in Yenagoa.
SILGA as it is popularly known was the local government that determines winner of Bayelsa election until Yenagoa overtook it in 2019 in terms of voting strength. In 2015, a re-run had to be conducted solely for it before a governor-elect could emerge. The 2019 poll would not be different albeit with political intrigues as the 164,844 votes are up for grabs. In the build-up to the 2019 race, politicians from SILGA made it clear that it is time for SILGA to produce the governor because the tenure of the first executive governor, late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who was from the area was cut shot. They also argued that they need a governor from SILGA extraction who would appreciate the level of underdevelopment and work to reverse it considering what oil from the area contributes to the national economy. The inability of the five aspirants from SILGA to get the PDP ticket has naturally made Lyon from Olugbobiri in SILGA a natural choice for the people across political divides. The election of Lyon is seen as a SILGA project and most politicians even in PDP are working towards that goal. A high level of resistance is expected from the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Monday Obolo Bolou, the Council Chairman, Kia Nigeria, PDP chairman, Moses Cleopas, Chief of Staff, Government House, Talford Ongolo, Director- General, PDP governorship campaign, Dr Nimbofa Ayawei former Speaker Friday Konbowei Benson and Felix Ayah. To boost APC’s chances are ex-agitators led by Ebikabowei Victor Ben (aka Boyloaf.) A non-governmental organisation, Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI), has predicted that due to the terrain of the area with communities mostly on water, the election is highly prone to violence.
The LGA with 123,562 votes has also been identified by KDI as highly prone to violence as all the communities are on water. In the 2015 governorship election, APC were soundly beaten by PDP and the latter looks forward to repeat the feat. However, the recent defection of former deputy- governor, Peremobowei Ebebi from PDP to APC and recent directive by former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri who is in Court challenging APC governorship primary election that his supporters should vote for the APC irrespective of the outcome of the Court has boosted the chances of the APC to build on its victory in the 2019 House of Assembly election where it won Ekeremor constituency 1. Diri’s mother is from Ayamasa community in the area and with the popularity of Dickson in the area over the years, first as two-time House of Representatives member between 2007 and 2012 and then as governor, the election would be a tough battle.
The people of Ogbia are known for their bloc voting right from when late Melford Okilo emerged governor of Old Rivers State. The area has not disappointed the PDP since 1999 election but in 2019, they are now unpredictable. The strained relationship between former President Goodluck Jonathan and Dickson over the outcome of the PDP governorship primary election has made PDP worse off in the area. Jonathan’s lukewarm attitude to the PDP governorship campaign in spite of pleading from governors and other national leaders and failure of the PDP to pick Diri’s running mate from the area has trickled down, forcing politicians of the old brigade to dump the PDP. Dickson in a recent meeting with PDP Ogbia Restoration Caucus had condemned the defections in Ogbia, noting that “If the rest of this state, the rest of the Ijaw nation, the rest of Nigeria, supported us and worked with us, then the least we can expect is that we in Bayelsa and Ogbia in particular should be faithful to the PDP.” However, a statement credited to the acting paramount ruler of Jonathan’s community, Otuoke, HRH Moses Otazi that “though most of the people are PDP, we have resolved unanimously to vote for the APC because of the defiance of the PDP-led administration in the state” seems the Ogbia people have made up their mind. It is left for Dickson’s loyalists including the Council Chairman, Ebinyo Turner and his councillors, George Turner, Munalayefa Gibson (Ogbia Constituency 1), Naomi Ogoli( Ogbia 2), Mietama Obordor(Ogbia 3) and cabinet members from the area to use their goodwill to ward off the threat posed by APC led by Maxwell Okoh(EDFA NDDC), Claudius Enegesi, Robert Enogha, Sam Ogbuku, Rex Ogbuku and Eddy Orubo.
This is Dickson’s fortress and the PDP would take a large chunk of the 105,705 votes from the area. There is no visible APC structure on ground to challenge the dominance of PDP in the area.
Nembe and Brass
The two local government areas are historically connected with language, custom, traditions and volatility during elections because of the terrain. Nembe has 89,866 voters while Brass has 65,900 voters. The victory of APC in Bayelsa East Senatorial District; Nembe/ Brass Federal Constituency, two state constituencies in Nembe and one in Brass in the 2019 general election has broken the political hegemony of PDP in the area. In addition, the fact that Sylva is from Brass and the humiliation suffered during the PDP governorship primary election by incumbent deputy governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah who is from Nembe has made PDP wining the area an up-hill task. For those following politics of the area, the fact that Nembe- Bassambiri and Nembe- Ogbolomabiri in Nembe and Okpoama and Odioma Kingdoms in Brass are speaking in one voice for the APC should be a source of concern for the PDP. Also, that for the first time the heads of the five Amas namely Ada, Kemmer, Sambo, Cameron and Shidi in Twon- Brass are all in support of the APC governorship candidate, Lyon should make the PDP edgy. The Bayelsa State Deputy Speaker, Abraham Ngobere, the Council Chairman Victor Isaiah, Jonathan Obuebite have a lot on their plate to ensure a good outing for PDP.
KOLGA as it is popularly known is the local government with the least voters which stood at 50,477 voters. It is also the home local government area of Diri and it is expected that Kolokuma/Opokuma people who have also been yearning to be governor would queue behind their son. However, the refusal of former Managing Director-General of NDDC, a frontline governorship aspirant for the PDP primary election and the most prominent politician from Kolokuma/Opokuma, Mr Ndutimi Alaibe to work for Diri is a minus for PDP in the election. Also the AP candidate, Ebizimo Diriyai, also from the area and his rising profile as an alternative to PDP and APC pose a big threat.
Undoubtedly, with twists and turns of the various court cases over the governorship primary elections of the two major parties, the seeming gang-up against Dickson from within and without to halt his political ascendancy as the godfather of Bayelsa politics, PDP’s famed organisational structure and capacity to win election, APC’s new found political bounce and the frustration of an average Bayelsan against the political elite, Saturday November 16 is indeed a date with destiny.