Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
All appears to be set for the November 16, Bayelsa State governorship election. Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has cleared 45 political parties to contest the polls.
According to INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye, 45 political parties were cleared for the electon after one of the political parties withdrew from the race.
But like previous experiences since 2012 when INEC commenced off-season governorship election in Bayelsa State, only two political parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressive Congress (APC) have dominated the polls. Therefore, it is likely that this experience will repeat itself with the two key parties dominating the elections while the other 43 political parties are just there to make up the numbers.
The political rivalry between the PDP and the APC which began in 2014 when former Governor Timipre Sylva and his supporters aggrieved over the way foot soldiers of former President Goodluck Jonathan supplanted Sylva with Governor Henry Seriake Dickson as PDP governorship candidate in the 2012 governorship elections joined the APC, became fiercer in the 2015 governorship election and assumed frightening dimensions in the 2019 general elections.
From all indications and the ominous signs are already showing that the November 16 governorship election would be an end game between the PDP and the APC while the other political parties are going to be mere pawns in the unfolding deadly contest that would shape the politics of the oil-rich state for a long time to come.
Douye Diri of PDP
The September 3 governorship primary election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) produced Senator Douye Diri as the governorship candidate.
Diri, a core loyalist of Dickson, was a former member of the House of Representatives from 2015 to 2019 before he was given the PDP senatorial ticket after narrowly defeating Prof Seiyefa Brisibe in the primary election.
He would go on to win the general election defeating the APC candidate by polling 83,978 votes against Mr Festus Daumiebi of the APC who polled 70,998 votes. It is believed that Dickson zeroed in on Diri, a former ally of Mr Ndutimi Alaibe because of his belief that he is the best hand from his political family nicknamed Restoration Team to build on his achievements and prudently manage public resources.
Diri from Sampou in Kolokuma/ Opokuma Local Government Area, an area that has never produced the governor, deputy governor or Speaker has been part and parcel of the politics of Bayelsa State even before its creation. As the first Organising Secretary of the apex body of the Ijaws, Ijaw National Congress (INC) he worked assiduously for the creation of the state. As a politician, Diri has worked across all political blocs in the state. He was known as a die-hard Alaibe supporter until 2012 when he crossed over to be one of the generals in the Restoration team under the command of Dickson who is regarded as the Field Marshal. Between 2005 and 2007, Diri was the Commissioner for Sports under the administration of Jonathan as governor and some of the achievements recorded that time are still recalled by sports enthusiasts with nostalgia. His five-star performance in the Green Chambers, which has set an enviable record of good representation speaks volume about his capacity to govern.
Diri’s supporters like Chief Collins Cocodia believes as a politician Diri has paid his dues and it is only befitting for him to emerge the governor of the state.
Going into the election, Diri’s candidacy is enhanced by the overwhelming support Dickson has thrown behind him. In actual fact, Diri is riding on the wings of Dickson as he commenced the campaigns for his election. The governor has again assumed the position of Field Marshal to lead his campaigns and rein in the APC forces.
Diri is also benefiting from the solid structures the PDP has built over the years and if he wins his victory would be traced to the PDP structure right from the ward levels which are being strengthened everyday by Dickson through series of appointments ahead of the governorship election. It is no secret that PDP remains the most organised political party in the state and this has been demonstrated in several elections in the state from 1999 till date. Its supporters are not only committed, but are also determined to fight for the PDP cause by participating in actual voting.
For all his participation in the politics of Bayelsa and his vocal support for the Ijaw struggle, Diri remains unpopular. This is not because he is not good, but due to the toga of a stingy politician that has been foisted on him without considering the fact that he has not held any significant position that would allow him have access to funds and dole out money like Father Christmas which sadly is used to measure the performance of politicians in Bayelsa. The little support he enjoys from party members is not because of his personality, but the love the people have for PDP. But in a state where the political culture is skewed in favour of pecuniary benefits, Diri is not the ideal governorship material for many and some party members have demonstrated this through their indifference to his emergence.
His choice of running mate regardless of the brilliant credentials of the workaholic former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Lawrence Ewrudjakpo, is an albatross that has pitched Diri against some section of the state. But the party is working hard to bridge the gap and assuage those who felt cheated and aggrieved with Bayelsa West producing the running mate after eight years of Governor Dickson.
Also, it is no secret that former President Goodluck Jonathan is not on the same page with Dickson on the Diri’s governorship ticket. Jonathan who backed Alaibe for the ticket has not publicly congratulated Diri over his emergence as the party’s standard bearer. He was also absent at the official flag-off of the governorship campaigns on Monday October 7 just like he shunned a stakeholders meeting called by the party leadership to deliberate on the choice of a running mate. Sources said Jonathan who has left the state since the primaries is likely to stay away till the governorship election to save himself the trouble of having to identify with Diri.
David Lyon of APC
The reticent politician from Olugbobiri in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area became the popular choice after Sylva who is now Minister of State Petroleum opted out of the governorship race. Before politics, Lyon pronounced by many as Lion is a passionate believer in the Ijaw struggle, which made him to identify with Movement for the Survival of the Ijaw Ethnic in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND) several years ago. Though he did not take to militancy, but his support for the agitation being spearheaded by the defunct Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) led by Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo was not in doubt. He has been a grassroots politician before venturing into security surveillance business, which has been adjudged successful considering the huge impact the curbing of illegal oil bunkering and crude oil theft facilitated by his company has had on the production capacity from Bayelsa. He is not a novice like critics would make people to believe. His departure from PDP in 2015 to APC created a void in Southern Ijaw, which has not been filled by the party till date. Lyon has worked with seasoned politicians like the late Senator David Kobina Brigidi and Chief Francis Doukpola to broaden his horizon about politics in the state.
If the November 16 governorship election were to be a street popularity test, Lyon would defeat Diri by a wide margin. What Lyon lacks in oratory skills he made it up in his humility and compassion for the downtrodden. His selling point, which has been attested to by many across political divide is his philanthropic gestures which he has extended to people without discrimination. Without holding any political office, Lyon popularly known as ‘Mr Everybody’ is the highest employer of labour in Bayelsa State after the state government. The thinking that has gained currency in the state is that if Lyon who does not have access to public funds is able to help many neglected indigent Bayelsans, he would do much more if he is the governor. The general belief is that if Lyon is voted in as governor he would run a welfarist government, which Bayelsans believe would afford them the opportunity to put food on the table.
Lyon candidacy is further strengthened by the fact that he is from Southern Ijaw, an area that yearns to be given the governorship again after their son the late Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha held it from 1999 to 2005 before his impeachment. The people of the area believe that they are backward in terms of development because they have no powerful person in government. In Southern Ijaw with its high voting population, the Lyon governorship candidacy is being seen as a project for the whole local government area.
Also the support Sylva has thrown behind him with the support of the House of Representatives member for Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency, Hon. Israel Sunny-Goli and his counterpart in Southern Ijaw Federal constituency, Hon. Preye Oseke coupled with his choice of running mate in the person of Bishop Degi Biobarakuma Eremienyo have enhanced Lyon’s candidacy.
Lyon’s political party, APC is the greatest threat to his ambition. The Bayelsa chapter of the party led by its Chairman, Jothan Amos remains the most unorganised and uncoordinated group of people.
Aside Brass, Nembe and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas, the party members in the remaining five local government areas namely Yenagoa, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Sagbama, Ekeremor and Ogbia are like sheep without shepherds. Its weak structures in some places and non-existent in other places make the party prone to self-destruction and invite electoral misfortunes upon it.
A party chieftain, Eris Paul aka Ogunboss warned recently that “Lyon’s popularity alone cannot win elections. APC must avoid nonchalant attitude, overconfidence and embrace hard work, early preparations by quickly setting up campaign structures in units, wards and the state levels.”
Sadly six weeks to the election, the party leadership is yet to heed to this advice.
Politics of litigation
Both the PDP and the APC have pre-election matters in the Federal High Court, challenging the governorship primary elections.
Alaibe is in court challenging the emergence of Diri and praying for the nullification of the PDP governorship primary election. Preye Aganaba and Senator Heineken Lokpobiri are in court against the emergence of Lyon.
While Aganaba is praying for the outright cancellation of the primary election, Lokpobiri is asking the court to declare him the winner having polled the highest number of votes in the direct primary election. The two cases against the two major political parties’ aside the distraction it is causing portend a tricky dimension the November 16 governorship election might assume in the event PDP and APC are barred from presenting candidates for the elections.
In that event any of the 43 political parties could be the beneficiary of the internal wrangling in the PDP and the APC and Bayelsa State might be saddled with a governor that had earlier wanted to make up the numbers of candidates.