Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced November 16, as the date for the Bayelsa State governorship election, the political choreography in the oil-rich South-south state has received fresh vigour.
Expectedly, the timetable released by INEC has triggered a flurry of activities in the political arena with likely contenders keenly showing interest to contest the governorship race. Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee had disclosed that “the official notice for both elections will be issued on 1st August 2019 while political parties that intend to sponsor candidates are to hold their primaries for the nomination of such candidates from 2nd to 29th August 2019.”
As at the moment, the major political parties are yet to fix a date for primaries as well as their guidelines, but the body language of key political actors have shown that they are ready to throw their hats into the ring and fight for the coveted seat in Creek Haven. Presently, the following are those believed to be oiling their political machines for the coveted position though some of them are seen as mere pretenders.
Former Governor Timipre Sylva from Okpoama in Brass Local Government Area studied English Language and Linguistics at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. At a relatively young age, he was elected House of Assembly member in the old Rivers State. After the creation of Bayelsa State, he was appointed the Special Adviser on Political Affairs to the late Governor Diepreye Alamieseyeigha. From there he moved to become the Special Adviser to the Minister of Petroleum from where he contested the governorship primaries with Goodluck Jonathan. Though he lost the primaries he later became the candidate of the party when Jonathan was picked as running mate to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. He was governor from 2007 to 2011 and had emerged the candidate of the party for the 2011 election before the party canceled the primaries and barred him from contesting. He left the PDP for the All Progressive Congress (APC) where he is the state leader.
An astute politician, Sylva’s major strength lies in his ability to mobilize support from all segments of the state. He had worked hard to make the APC a strong party in the state, which was evident in the electoral victory in Bayelsa East Senatorial District, Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency, Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency and four seats in the state House of Assembly.
Sylva’s major weakness is his inability to transform the huge support he enjoys across the state to electoral fortune. Unlike the support he enjoys in Brass, Nembe, and Southern Ijaw, Sylva and the APC do not have committed members in Ogbia, Yenagoa, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Sagbama, and Ekeremor local government areas. The continued reliance on the old political structures in the aforementioned local government areas is the Achilles heel of the Sylva political machinery.
It would be recalled that his ambition to return to the state’s Government House has remained a subject of controversy since 2015, when Governor Dickson publicly advised him to drop his ambition of returning to the Government House in 2016.
Dickson had then warned Sylva that “he could not be governor of Bayelsa State again.” Since then, insiders confirmed, the battle line had been drawn between the two as Sunday Sun learnt that, “Sylva is determined to prove Dickson wrong.”
Ndutimi Alaibe from Opokuma in Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area of Bayelsa State stepped into Bayelsa political arena in 2002 when as executive director, Finance and Administration of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) he attempted to contest the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship primaries with the late Governor Alamieyeseigha. Though then Vice President Atiku Abubakar prevailed on him to drop his ambition; Alaibe had a lasting impression on many political actors. He rose to become the Managing Director of NDDC and later Special Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs to the late President Yar’Adua.
An alumnus of Rivers State University of Science and Technology and later Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Alaibe, a student unionist when he was in the university was an astute banker and financial expert traversing ACB, All States Trust Bank and Societe Generale Bank before he ventured into politics.
He has attempted to contest the governorship election thrice and his foot soldiers have oiled their machinery ready to be rolled out for the 2019 governorship. His supporters argued that he remains the most prepared for the seat of the governor considering his experience in party politics both at the state and national level.
For Alaibe popularly known as ‘Principal’, his major strength is the political relationship he has cultivated over the years. He has friends in the two major political parties, the APC and PDP at the national and state levels. While in the NDDC with the patronage he was able to dish out, there are many politicians who feel indebted to him and are ready to reward his friendship by supporting his governorship ambition. In Bayelsa, Alaibe has political associates across the eight local government areas. He has a very deep pocket to build a formidable war chest to contest the governorship. It is believed that with his exposure in governance Alaibe has a suitable blueprint to develop Bayelsa.
Also, he is from Bayelsa Central where there is a clamour for the governorship to be zoned to and from the local government area, which has neither produced a governor or deputy governor since the creation of the state.
Alaibe’s major weakness is his inconsistency by jumping from one political party to the other in a bid to realize his governorship ambition. In 2003 and 2007 he was in PDP to contest the governorship and in 2011 he left PDP to Labour Party where he emerged the governorship candidate. In 2012 he left the LP and re-joined the PDP only to be disqualified from the governorship race. In 2015, he left the PDP for the APC and was again forced out of the governorship race. In 2018, he again returned to the PDP where he is angling to contest again. Political pundits believe this would cost him the needed support as those core supporters he had at the beginning of his political career can no longer stand by him as they are not sure if he won’t opt out of the governorship race again.
Aside Alaibe hails from the least local government area in terms of voter’s population, which can easily make him be negotiated out of any zoning arrangement the PDP might want to adopt. Also, the stance of critical stakeholders of the PDP might not count for Alaibe as they might not want to hand over the governorship ticket to a man whom they believed “abandoned the party during its moments of trial in 2015 after the electoral loss at the centre.”
Lokpobiri from Ekeremor in Ekeremor Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is a graduate of law from the River State University of Science and Technology and has a Ph.D. from Leeds Beckett University, United Kingdom. His first involvement in politics was his election as member Bayelsa State House of Assembly in 1999. Between 2007 and 2015 he served as Senator representing Bayelsa West and between 2015 and 2019 he served as Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development from where he wants to contest the governorship.
Lokpobiri is a forceful character who is not a push-over in Bayelsa politics, especially considering the fact that he has a deep pocket to prosecute his governorship ambition. His modest achievements as a Senator and minister would serve as a reference point when campaigns begin to get his party ticket.
Lokpobiri has always been painted as a violent politician by opposition elements and that toga seems to have stuck even if there is very little proof to back the claims.
Also, Lokpobiri popularity outside Ekeremor and Bayelsa West is a weak line. He does not seem to enjoy massive support from other local government areas in the state. The fact that Lokpobiri hails from Bayelsa West where the incumbent, Henry Seriake Dickson hails from is a major minus for his political ambition.
Erepamo Franklin Osaisai:
Dr Osaisai is from Koluama in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. A Former Director-General of the National Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC), Osaisai is widely regarded as a credible Bayelsan by all segments of the society.
Osaisai from 1994 to 1996 was Deputy-Chairman of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area in old Rivers State. In 1998, during the transition programme of the late General Sani Abacha, Osaisai was elected Senator to represent Bayelsa Central Senatorial District and in 1999 he was appointed the first Commissioner for Works in the state before he later resigned and went to the federal level.
Osaisai is one of the very few politicians regarded as technocrats, which many believe the state needs to build on the legacies of Dickson. He is widely respected among the Bayelsa elite for his dedication to the cause of Bayelsa State.
The fact that he is from Bayelsa Central and Southern Ijaw gives him an edge as there is clamour that the PDP should zone the governorship to the area.
Osaisai does not have the financial war chest like the other governorship aspirants.
Though he can be regarded as a political associate of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Osaisai does not have an independent political structure within the PDP and outside the party. His political structure could let him down when faced with formidable political structure from his opponents.
Okoya from Bumoudi in Ekpetiama clan, Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state is a renowned architect that has his signature on landmark projects in Bayelsa where he served as Commissioner for Special Duties and Abuja where he served as coordinator of Abuja Metropolitan Management Council. Brilliant, urbane and outspoken, he is seen by political pundits as an ideal governor for Bayelsa.
He attempted to contest in 2015, but was prevailed upon to shelve his ambition to allow Dickson to complete his term. Okoya can also be regarded as a political associate of Jonathan and would also lean on the political structure of the former president to actualise his governorship dreams.
ROK, as he is popularly called, is a party man as far as the PDP is concerned.
He has been very involved though silently in the affairs of the party in the state. He has a deep pocket and the clamour that Yenagoa Local Government, which has not had a governor before given the opportunity favours him.
His political structure, it is believed is not formidable enough, unless Dickson provides support for him with the Restoration political family.
Amb. Boladei Godknows Igali:
Igali was Ambassador to the Scandinavia countries before his entrance into Bayelsa politics with his appointment as Secretary to the State Government (SSG) by Jonathan during his tenure as governor.
Jonathan also relocated him to Abuja and made him Permanent Secretary throughout his tenure as president. A close associate of Jonathan, Igali hails from Enewari also in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and since 2015, he has been featuring prominently in affairs of the state and the Ijaw nation as part of his plans to contest the governorship election.
Igali‘s major strength is the network of contacts he has build outside the state and within the intelligence community which can attract development to the state. He is also seen as an Ijaw patriot that can galvanize support for Bayelsa State as governor.
Igali does not have the cash to prosecute a governorship project. His reliance is on the Dickson political structure as he does not have a structure of his own.
Steve Adika Ereboh:
A former majority leader of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Ereboh hails from Amassoma in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa. I
f things had gone well under Alamieyeseigha, Ereboh would have been paired as running mate to Jonathan and would have served as governor after Jonathan had finished his tenure. Things did not go with the political permutation then, so Ereboh is now in the field again battling to be governor.
Ereboh’s major strength is his character and sense of purpose as a young Bayelsan with enough exposure to tackle the developmental needs of the state. His age is an advantage for him as young Bayelsans that formed the bulk of voters want one of their own as governor.
He does not have the required financial muscle to prosecute a governorship war. And he does not also have a political structure of his own.
His first attempt at politics in 2007 was futile as he was edged out by the big players. Okoko from Obungha community in Yenagoa Local Government Area is, however, back with a bang and he has demonstrated that he is not going to be stampeded out of the governorship race.
Highly educated with degrees in Economics from the University of Port Harcourt, political science from the Carlton University and training from Harvard University, Okoko has made a mark in business, which he believes he can replicate in the governance of the state.
Okoko is rich and he has made it clear that his pockets are deep enough to fight for the governorship of the state. Aside from having the fund to battle for the governorship seat, Okoko has good contacts in the top hierarchy of the PDP which would become useful for him in the quest to govern the state. His age is also a source of strength as young Bayelsans have become politically conscious and are active voters. His choice of campaign Director-General, Chief Darius Obiene is also a plus for him.
Okoko’s major weakness is the PDP structure in the state, which is not in his hands. If he secures the nod of Dickson he would have a smooth sail to Creek Haven, but if he decides to fight without relying on the Dickson political structure, it would be a tough nut for him to crack.
The trio of Speaker, Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Friday Konbowei Benson; Nimbofa Ayawei, Chairman, Internal Revenue Board; and Kemela Okara, Secretary to the State Government are political protégés of Dickson.
Benson had served in the House of Assembly from 2007 till date and Ayawei served from 2003 to 2007. Kemela Okara was the governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2012 and contested against Dickson before he was appointed as Commissioner and later elevated to SSG. The trio draws strength from the same source – Dickson – as they belonged to the same political family. Their weakness is that without Dickson they cannot chart an independent political course.