Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
For the first time in his political career, Mr Ndutimi Alaibe is fighting back. Unlike previous election cycles where he always returned home to lick his wounds, Alaibe, a frontline governorship aspirant in the just concluded governorship primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State is poised to shake the table by challenging what he has described as a “procedurally faulty PDP governorship primary election”.
A conciliatory pre-emptive move by Alaibe’s kinsman and erstwhile political protégé, now the PDP governorship candidate, Senator Douye Diri to appeal to the soft side of Alaibe in an interview where he described him as a brother and political ally could not stop him from seeking a judicial intervention after being ”brazenly robbed of victory at the governorship primary election through flawed electoral process” in the words of Prof Seiyefa Brisibe, the administrative secretary of the Timi Alaibe Campaign Organisation.
Alaibe who had sounded a warning at the commencement of the primaries that he would refuse to be intimidated out of the governorship race has with the suit FHC/YNG/CS/99/2019 filed on Friday September 13 shown he is ready to take headlong forces that stood on his way to victory at the PDP governorship primary election. For political pundits, the decision by Alaibe to head to the court instead of the PDP exit door is an indication that the party has a new Alaibe to deal with as it prepares for the November 16 governorship election.
The old Alaibe
Months to the 2003 election, the whole of Bayelsa State was seized by the campaign for the then youthful Alaibe who was Executive Director, Finance and Administration of the NDDC to replace late governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. The state became divided along Alamieyeseigha and Alaibe supporters; the State Executive Council was polarised and the State Working Committee of the PDP was not left out. It was as if nothing could stop Alaibe which forced Alamieyeseigha to run to Atiku who pleaded with Alaibe and he agreed to step down. He returned to NDDC and became the Managing Director.
Shortly after the impeachment of Alamieyeseigha , the PDP structure in Bayelsa State was handed over to Alaibe in preparation for him to be installed the governor in 2007. All the party executives from the ward to the state level including the ward of the then sitting Governor, Goodluck Jonathan were his loyalists. The PDP governorship ticket was almost in his hands until a fatal error by the then State Chairman, Chief Fred Agbedi made the national leadership to be swayed to the side of Jonathan. The then President, Olusegun Obasanjo was to bury Alaibe ‘s governorship ambition when he came to Yenagoa and endorsed Jonathan for governor. Alaibe went back to NDDC calmly.
In 2011, Alaibe, realising he would not get the PDP ticket with Chief Timipre Sylva as sitting governor defected to the Labour Party and picked the governorship ticket. He was running a decent campaign prompting PDP big wigs to move into the party in droves. In one of his campaign outings at his country home in Opokuma, Kolokuma/ Opokuma Local Government Area, gunmen stormed the place and opened fire killing some of his supporters and injuring many. Alaibe did not fight back but continued running his campaign until the Court ruled that Bayelsa would not have a governorship election in 2011. Alaibe was lured to leave LP and he defected back to the PDP where he was disqualified on flimsy grounds as a governorship aspirant. All his appeal fell on deaf ears and he went home without a fight.
In 2015, Alaibe having defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) moved to contest the governorship primaries with Timipre Sylva. On the day of the primaries, loyalists of Alaibe were beaten black and blue and they fled the venue of the primaries. He saw the handwriting on the wall and withdrew calmly.
In his remarks during a workshop on Credible Governorship Election and Good Governance in Bayelsa: Building A Consensus Through the Ijaw Charter and Ijaw Nation Code of Ethics, Leadership and Governance organised by Ijaw Elders Forum (IEF), Ijaw Professional Association (IPA), Ijaw Nation Forum, G24 Embassara Foundation, Ijaw Women Connect held in May 2019, Alaibe recalling his political journey, said his decision to withdraw from previous governorship elections should not be misconstrued as an act of cowardice.
His words: “You will recall that since 2002 when I stepped into the political arena in Bayelsa State, I have had to pull back a few times in the middle of the contest-not out of timidity, weakness or lack of support base to win elections. Far from it! I have always taken such a decision when it became clear that for me to achieve my goal, I will have to swim in the blood of fellow citizens by matching violence with violence.”
Political analysts following the politics of Bayelsa State said having gone the whole hog to contest the primaries, Alaibe is not ready for half-measures as he is ready to fight for what he believes was the injustice visited on him. According to PDP sources, many prominent Bayelsans including Diri have placed calls to Alaibe but he has rebuffed all entreaties to stop him from seeking redress. The tone of Prof Brisibe’s statement on the suit filed speaks volume that Alaibe is not only talking tough but prepared to walk it too.
“On Friday, September 13, 2019, Alaibe approached the Federal High Court in Yenagoa Judicial Division, Bayelsa State with an application for cancellation of the result of the primary election based on cited procedural flaws. The suit filed pursuant to Order 3(9) of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019, seeks answers to questions bordering on obvious non-adherence to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Electoral Act 2010, the Peoples Democratic Party Constitution and Election Guidelines, by the State Chapter of the party in the conduct of the Ward Congresses, inclusion of local government council officials in the delegates list and the procedure for inclusion of three ad-hoc delegates” Brisibe stated in the statement.
According to the statement, the Timi Alaibe Campaign Organisation had raised objections against what it described as crass disrespect for legal procedures and party guidelines in the build-up to the conduct of the governorship primary election by the State Chapter of the PDP. The objection covered open disobedience to the party constitution and electoral guidelines and the manner in which Ward Congresses were conducted; among others.
Citing specific sections of relevant laws and guidelines, Alaibe through the suit which listed Diri, PDP, INEC as respondents is asking the court to examine the entire processes that resulted in the primaries and rule in his favour in the light of violations committed in a desperate move to impose a pre-determined hand-picked candidate on the people out of 21 aspirants.
Also listed as defendants are Embeleakpo Alale representing himself, the elected local government chairmen, vice chairmen and councillors of the PDP who were allowed to be delegates; Doubra Kumokou, for himself and on behalf of the three Ad-Hoc Delegates who were also allowed to be delegates at the elective state congress.
The former Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs wants the court to determine whether the pre-election actions and inactions of the defendants satisfied conditions specified in relevant sections of Nigeria’s Constitution, the Electoral Acts and certain sections of the PDP Constitution.
It is also his prayers that the entire processes be declared unconstitutional and the declaration of Senator Diri as the winner be declared invalid having failed to comply with relevant sections of the laws governing such processes.
“He is also seeking an order setting aside the purported submission of Senator Diri’s name to INEC by the PDP as its candidate in the governorship election coming up on November 16, 2019 in view of the several legal and procedural infractions cited. In view of this, he wants the court to order the conduct of fresh primary elections for the nomination and sponsorship of the candidate for the governorship election in Bayelsa State” the statement added.
PDP’s new challenge
The mixed reaction the filed suit has generated is enough proof that a suit challenging the outcome of its governorship primary election is the last thing the party should be dealing with by now. For a party going into a crucial election with a reinvigorated opposition, its house should be in order. The PDP would need to move fast and nip the festering crisis in the bud otherwise handling a tricky litigation amidst a crucial election portends grave danger.