Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Since the commencement of democratic governance in 1999, the People Democratic Party (PDP) has maintained its position firmly as the ruling political party in Bayelsa State.
Although, the All Progressives Congress (APC) fought a strong battle with backing from the Federal Government to challenge the political hegemony of the PDP in the December 5, 2015 governorship election in the state, its efforts were not enough to save it from the drubbing Governor Henry Seriake Dickson inflicted on the APC. The feat, further asserted the political dominance of the PDP in the state.
Like in all but one state of the entire South- South geopolitical zone, not even the opposition APC which controls the Federal Government has been able to change the narrative that the region and indeed Bayelsa nicknamed Jerusalem of the Ijaw nation by Dickson is an incontrovertible stronghold of the PDP. This narrative of the PDP dominance has been consistent from the period of former President Olusegun Obasanjo through the regimes of the President Umaru Yar’Adua, Jonathan and even Muhammadu Buhari to date in the region. From 1999 to date, all those that have governed Bayelsa are of the PDP. They are: Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Timipre Sylva and the incumbent, Dickson.
Interestingly, the political indicators in Bayelsa seem to suggest that the stronger battles for the control of the Bayelsa Government House popularly known as the Creek Haven are most likely to be fought within the party. It is taken for granted that whoever secures the party’s ticket would sweep the poll and assumed duty as governor of the state.
The incumbent fully aware of the historical fact of PDP electoral fortunes in the state has declared that the next governor after him would be from the PDP. The governor while addressing a forum of Bayelsa PDP stakeholders in Yenagoa in May, 2019 asserted that only the PDP has the capacity and popularity to win election in the state.
He told a large cross-section of party leaders and supporters in the meeting which focused on the issue of the next governor of the state that the government under his leadership would embark on state wide prayers and consultations to tackle the issue of his successor in the interest of the Bayelsa people. And since then he has left nobody in doubt that he and other stakeholders and political leaders would not allow “cultists and violent men who lure young Bayelsans to the destructive web of cultism to take over governance in Bayelsa.”
Expectedly, the prevalent belief that the PDP is the party of political dominance and control has made it the destination of most of the big politicians with enduring ambitions to govern the state. Among those who have indicated interest to contest the governorship on the party’s platform are a former director-general of the National Atomic Energy Commission(NAEC), Dr. Franklin Erelamo Osasai, Federal Permanent Secretary in charge of Power, Ambassador Godknows Boladei Igali, a businessman and son of former President òf the Ijaw National Congress, Mr. Keniebi Okoko, an associate of former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who is believed to have strong ties to former First Lady, Mrs. Jonathan, a former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Chief Timi Alaibe, the Publisher òf Nigerian Pilot, Dr. Denis Sammy, and Niger Delta ex-agitator, Mr. Joshua Maciver among others.
The list also includes those currently occupying various political positions in the Dickson administration. These set of aspirants belong to the PDP household of Restoration which is most likely to have one of its men succeed Dickson.
These aspirants, who now engage in furtive campaigns include the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Kemela Okara, the Chairman of the PDP, Chief Moses Cleopas, a former Director of Protocol, Joseph Akedesuo, the Chairman òf the Bayelsa State Revenue Board, Mr. Nimibofa Ayawei, the Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Doodei Week and the Chief of Staff, Government House, Chief Talford Ongolo among others.
Aware of the massive responsibility fate has placed on his shoulders, the governor declared during a meeting of top PDP stakeholders in Yenagoa on May, 29, 2019, that his successor would emerge through interplay of factors which include state wide consultations and prayers. Governor Dickson who assured the PDP supporters that he would hand over to another PDP governor come February 14, 2020, called for more support and stability of the PDP family to be able to maintain the party’s status as the ruling party in the state.
“Another PDP governor will be elected in the next election. I urge all the people to step into the communities and mobilise the people. It will be my pleasure to lead the PDP with your support so that another PDP governor will be elected. How we survived during the 2015 governorship election is by the grace of God and our mobilisation skills. You now have people who know how to play opposition politics. As we begin the transition programme, we expect you to put on the toga of an opposition person. You have a lot of work to do. It is their work to sow seeds of discord but it’s your job to keep your party united, strong and stable,” the governor said.
Already speculations are rife in the state that the big issue of who plays what role in the emergence of PDP governorship candidate has become a factor of subdued dispute especially between the two highest PDP bigwigs in the state, the governor and Former President, Goodluck Jonathan. A source in a strategic position within the PDP said that both politicians are locked in a politics of who should come forth with a name for the party to endorse.
However, government house sources were authoritative in their claim that the governor who controls the political structure in the state would naturally assume the greater role in the selection or election of a standard bearer for the party. Aside the fact that he is the incumbent who has done well to protect the party from the rampaging forces of the APC-led Federal Government; the source explained that Jonathan derives his influence from his former position as the Nigeria’s president. He said in the emerging face off, Governor Dickson controls the “impregnable Restoration Team” which controls over 80 percent of the PDP whose members are saddled with the responsibility of electing a governorship candidate for the party.
“There is no need to dispute the claim that Dickson hold the aces in the governorship election. He is the only one in PDP with a visible, massive and loyal political structure. It is where the governor is going that majority of the delegates would go.” the source said.
But neither the governor nor the former president would admit the existence of a dispute between them on the issue of who becomes the next candidate of the PDP. Dickson who describes Jonathan as his elder brother and political leader said Jonathan would be consulted on the choice for the governorship election.
“I don’t have any problem with the former president, Goodluck Jonathan. He remains my elder brother and leader. Let me put you on notice that he is one person I will sit down with on the transition programme to compare notes and decide who should be our next governor” Dickson said recently.
While the game of denial rages, the tempo of political activities is unusually subdued a few months to the election. The large number of aspirants most of who throng the Bayelsa State Government House ostensibly to attend government functions have embraced a deliberate strategy to refrain from loud, authoritative public campaigns designed to woo the Bayelsa delegates.
A party chieftain observed that the aspirants have embraced a curious campaign strategy of silence because of their awareness of the pertinence of the governor’s role in the forthcoming process of selecting a candidate for the party. Without doubt, such aspirants are guided by a consciousness of the critical role of the governor whose endorsement is taken as a near certainty for the clinching of the ticket. Many have also attributed the low tempo of political activities in Bayelsa to the silence of the governor in naming the aspirants who has his blessings.
As such, the waiting game is gradually transforming to desperation especially among some of the aspirants who are not identified with the core political platform of the “Restoration “ within the Bayelsa PDP which Dickson has championed for the past seven years. Some of the aspirants like Chief Timi Alaibe, Mr. Reuben Okoya, and Ambassador Igali, are said to be looking in the direction of Jonathan and a South South governor, for political survival.
Some of the aspirants have claimed that Dickson has not been forthcoming with his support for their ambitions because they are perceived to be mature and independent minded. But a top official of the PDP dismissed such claims as a “mere product of unnecessary desperation.”
The source insisted that as it stands today, the “Restoration Team” of the PDP under the leadership of Dickson has men of equal if not higher pedigree that should be trusted with the leadership of the state.
As the PDP inches closer to its governorship primary, pundits say Dickson, has demonstrated through the 2015 governorship election and the recent 2019 general elections that he is a veteran in fighting political battles. He no doubt holds the ace on who becomes the PDP standard bearer in the November 16 governorship election.