Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
For Governor Douye Diri, his journey to Creek Haven, Bayelsa State Government House could best be described as divine given the circumstances that led to his inauguration as the fifth executive governor of the oil rich state after the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision sacked Chief David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as governor-elect. Conscious of the circumstances that threw him up and the backlash it attracted especially the rage rife in the camp of the APC, Diri who in actual fact ran a decent campaign in the build-up to the November 16 poll has been preaching peace.
For close observers of Bayelsa politics and the countdown to the winding down of former governor Seriake Dickson’s administration, tension was high with the APC set to take over until the Supreme Court judicial ‘thunderbolt’ hit the state. It is this state of political tension that Diri inherited and which he needed to move fast to douse to give a ray of hope to Bayelsans. And he has not disappointed those who regarded him as a man of peace.
In his first reaction minutes after the Supreme Court judgment, Diri appealed to both members of his party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and APC on the need for unity in the state. “I am waving the olive branch at all my people in the PDP who out of one thing or the other got angry and left us for the APC. I am waving the olive branch, please come back. We have to build Bayelsa State together. Our people in the APC, they are Bayelsans, we cannot continue to be in disunity. Being in APC does not remove you as my brother from Bayelsa. Whether you are Nembe, Sagbama or Southern Ijaw, that is the region God has brought us together.”
Also in his first official speech shortly after his inauguration, Diri who called for a minute silence for supporters of PDP that were killed during the campaign in Nembe noted that “there was no victor, no vanquished in the governorship contest in the state” adding that we have to bring to “end all bitterness and acrimony along party lines.”
In a speech laden with humility, Diri called on PDP members to be considerate in their celebration of the party being in power against the run of play. Hear him “My dear good people of Bayelsa State, this is a state that we all wanted to create. As a serving member of the Ijaw Nation Congress, we traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria wanting to create a state to develop our region and our area. Today we have a state. Governors have come, governors have gone. We today of PDP, have been sworn-in. My advice to all of us of this great party is that we have to be magnanimous in victory. The bitterness and acrimony should end. If we killed ourselves who are we going to lead? Today is 14th of February, is a day of love. As a Valentine governor and deputy governor, we bring the message of love to Bayelsa State. We bring the message of hope; we bring the message of prosperity. Let us eschew bitterness and acrimony and learn to love ourselves.”
In his second official statement made at the inauguration thanksgiving service at the Glory land Chapel, Government House, Diri again preached and reiterated to his supporters to be magnanimous in victory. He stunned the congregation when he specifically extended the olive branch to the leader of APC in the state and Minister of Petroluem, Chief Timipre Sylva and to Chief David Lyon pleading with them to support his government to bring development to Bayelsa State.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan would later deepen the call for peace when Diri visited him in what he said “was to pay allegiance to our leader”. Jonathan who was accused of not supporting the candidature of Diri called on him to be a governor of all Bayelsans. “As Governor, the responsibility of building hope and sustaining peace across the state now lies on your shoulders. I urge you to always bear in mind that you are the governor of all Bayelsans and to seize this moment of glory to build bridges of unity by entrenching a culture of love, fairness and justice in our polity” he said.
And in his maiden broadcast to Bayelsans, Diri who though took a shot at those he referred to as anti-democratic forces for attempting to subvert the will of the people noted that the tortuous journey they took to the Creek Haven “taught us patience, love and the imperative of reconciliation.” He again extended the hands of fellowship to Bayelsans across political divides.
“To all those Bayelsans who did not support our party, the Peoples Democratic Party; as democrats, we respect your choice and right to hold different even contrary political views. Nevertheless, pursuant to our oaths we are a government for all Bayelsans and not just those who supported us. This is definitely not the time to cloak ourselves in party colours. The work at hand is far too urgent and important for us to be so distracted. Our common challenges including poverty and ignorance do not discriminate on the basis of gender, party, religion and age. No one can be immune from the adverse implication of their impact. Therefore, our response must be calculated, coherent and united.”
According to him “victory in a political contest should not be an end in itself adding rather “it should be a means to an end” He continued “We therefore extend a hand of fellowship to all stakeholders and progressive-minded individuals to join hands with us to consolidate the building of the Bayelsa of our dreams; a place we can all be proud to call home.”
In a visit to former Senate President, Bukola Saraki at his residence in Abuja, Diri was further enjoined to pursue peace in the state after he disclosed that he is determined to enthrone peace in the party and in the state. “I appealed to him to pursue reconciliation within the PDP ranks and to work hard to deliver on the wishes and aspirations of the Bayelsan people” Saraki said.
Diri’s first set of political appointments indicated that he is ready to match words with action. The appointments of two governorship aspirants namely Friday Konbowei Benson as the Secretary to the State Government and Chief Benson Agadaga as the Chief of Staff were ample demonstrations that indeed Diri is prepared to run an all inclusive government anchored on peace. His appointment of Peretubo Peter Akpe, a loyalist of Dickson as deputy- chief of staff also showed that the Restoration political family which produced Diri is still in power.
But political analysts believe the new governor would need to tread cautiously in the appointment of Restoration loyalists into the government in order not to jeopardise the peace moves he is building in the state. After the PDP primaries that ushered in Diri, the party has been dangerously fractured and he needs to mend fences appropriately to have a headway in governance.
The publicity secretary of the party, Mr Osom Mackbere commended Diri for his peace moves to keep the party and the state one after elections. According to him, the issue of governance is too serious to be pursued in hostile environment.
“The preaching of peace is critical to keep the party as one. After elections, the party needs to remain one so as to face governance” Mackbere added.
It is however the view of political pundits that the peace moves Diri is pursuing would not be complete without him bringing his estranged political benefactor, Chief Timi Alaibe to the reconciliation table. Alaibe is in Court over the “flawed process” that made Diri the governorship candidate of PDP and if the case is pursued, its implication could be grave for Diri and the party.
Diri fully aware of the potential danger the Alaibe suit posed to his continued stay as governor during a media parley in Abuja again extended hands of fellowship to Alaibe. He admitted that he and PDP are worried over the case noting however that Bayelsans would benefit from Alaibe’s wealth of experience as a valuable Bayelsan.
According to him, he is making efforts to settle his legal tussle with Alaibe out of court and reconcile with him, having worked under his tutelage for 10 years and come to the conclusion that Alaibe is not someone who should be dispensed with in the politics of the state. “Let me just appeal to Timi Alaibe to sheathe his sword and join me in the task of building Bayelsa State. He is one politician that no one can just push away from Bayelsa State and he is my brother” Diri begged Alaibe
Sources said peace efforts to make Alaibe back down in the past failed because the sincerity of purpose behind the peace meeting was in doubt. That is the crux of the issue. The Alaibe camp which has been inundated with several pleas after the Supreme Court ruling has its confidence boosted by the verdict of the apex Court that Diri might perhaps be a caretaker governor.
However, whether Alaibe would accept the hands of followership remains to be seen but Diri has started charting a new course which ultimately would benefit Bayelsa in the long-run. Again, the question is, how long can he go?