Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Political observers still in doubt on who holds the ace in the build up to the September 3 governorship primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in Bayelsa State, should by now no longer entertain doubt with the results of the ad-hoc ward delegate congress for the 105 wards. Governor Henry Seriake Dickson who since assumption of office in 2012 has built a formidable political team christened ‘Restoration Team’ had shown with the results of the congress which has been hailed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Governor Dave Umahi electoral panel as “peaceful” that indeed he is firmly in charge of the politics of the PDP in the state.
Not only did Dickson blow away other political alliances and groups in the contest with the sweeping victory of his men during the ad-hoc ward congress, he has shown that as a long distance runner in politics, strategy and tact are essential ingredients in political competition. Few months ago, the Dickson that was showering effusive accolades on Mr Ndutimi Alaibe and other defectors from the All Progressives Congress (APC) is now literally determined to decimate them politically. A visible fallout from the on-going political slugfest in Bayelsa is that the gloves are off and each side is baying for blood.
The signs that all was not well in the preparation for the ward congresses emerged early with the allegations by a PDP youth group accusing Alaibe of hiring thugs to disrupt the ward congresses. “Alaibe and a few unpopular aspirants have opted to disrupt the exercise with the realization that they lacked the grassroots support to win any contest” says chairman of the group, Lionel Ebilade. The allegation seems to be a pre-emptive strike as Alaibe’s foot soldiers led by the expelled chairman of the APC, Tiwei Orunimighe, Rufus Abadi, Vivian Ere and Barnabas Edure staged a protest and barricaded the PDP state secretariat demanding the cancellation of the process over alleged fictitious list of electoral officers presented to the Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State-led national electoral panel by the state executives of the party. They raised eyebrows that the laid down process of vetting the list was totally discarded. “The list is characterised by names of relatives of some aspirants. The process is defective and already faulty. We thought the names of the electoral officers will be suggested and collated by the governorship aspirants. If they don’t do it, we will conduct a parallel congress. We call for the rescheduling of the Congress”, says Edure.
The call for cancellation and rescheduling of the congresses was however dismissed by Umahi who declared that such call is not patriotic. “Anybody suggesting that the process should be aborted is not suggesting the right thing because we are already in agreement with the aspirants. At the meeting, we declared the process open, and we asked for complaint. But nobody raised their hands” Umahi says. In another effort to draw attention to what it called irregularities of the ward congress, the Administrative Secretary of the Timi Alaibe Campaign Organisation, Professor Seiyefa Brisibe rejected the attempts by Umahi to blame aspirants for not raising objections on the list of electoral officers adding that they have lost confidence in the electoral committee. “It is based on this that we demand a complete cancellation and suspension of the exercise as we no longer have confidence in the Electoral Committee and the state leadership of the party to conduct the exercise in line with laid-down rules of the great Peoples Democratic Party.”
Unfortunately, the agitation for the cancellation collapsed and afforded Dickson’s political camp to completely rout out opposing camps in the party. By the time results from the wards trickled in, it was evidence that Dickson had gained the upper hand. According to reports, the Restoration Team reinforced its dominance of the politics of the PDP and the state by registering an intimidating haul of the victorious number of delegates in the congress.
A chieftain of the PDP speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the outcome of the delegate congress and the massive presence displayed by the Restoration Team only demonstrated that the Restoration Group has total control of the politics of the PDP and even Bayelsa. The source said that members of the Governor Umahi-led panel which visited Bayelsa to conduct the congress and other party officials were shocked that aspirants outside Restoration like Alaibe could not muster any presence to engage the Restoration Team in a contest at the Ward, Local Government and State levels.
The source said, “The routing of Alaibe and other aspirants was such that they did not even have people to engage their major opponents. In fact, there is no other tendency in Bayelsa that has the capacity to engage the Restoration Team in a contest at the Ward or State or Local Government level. They didn’t have people in every ward to stand up for them. It was resounding victory for the Restoration Team all the way, and that shocked everybody contrary to the brazen propaganda and attempt to create the wrong impression. Panel members and observers were shocked that when the time for the confrontation came, they were nowhere to be found.”
Another chieftain of the party explained that the greatest undoing of Alaibe going into the ward congresses was to surround himself with estranged political associates of Dickson like King Amalete Jonny Turner while parading a few disgruntled stakeholders who defected from the APC to the PDP in November 2018. He listed the few Alaibe’s supporters who registered a feeble presence at the congress to include Chief Rufus Abadi, a former APC chieftain, Chief Tiwei Orunimighe, Senatorial Candidate of the Action Democratic Congress for Bayelsa East in the last general election, Sen Barigha Amange, and Chief Barnabas Edure.
He said: “The outcome of the congress has further reinforced the reality in the Bayelsa politics that the Restoration Team is the most politically combat ready, formidable, resilient body with an intimidating presence across the state. This team which prosecuted and won all the political contests for the PDP controls 18 out of the 19 PDP Assembly members in the 24 member House of Assembly, two out of three Senators and three out of the five members of House of Representatives in the state. The group is also said to control all local Chairmen, the 105 councillors, numerous appointees, party stakeholders and supporters.”
Another source noted that a number of factors especially lack of grassroots support were responsible for the dismal outing of the Alaibe group in spite of the propaganda and deliberate ploy to misinform the public of its non existent political strength.
“With what has happened, it will be clear that contrary to the names that Timi Alaibe is dropping, contrary to the propaganda, he has no grassroots presence, no grassroots structures, outside of Governor Dickson and the Restoration Team to be a viable, candidate. Alaibe has never been a candidate in any election. At best, he is an untested political quantity who has not been a candidate in an election. His strategy has been to fight an incumbent governor. All he has been doing is fighting within a party against an incumbent governor.”
The source added: “He claims he has support, create media hype, and lure people with funds, create a faction for himself, take a sitting governor headlong and then fizzle out. This has been his strategy right from Alamieyeseigha, and for over 20 years, it has never worked especially now with the PDP in opposition and there is no centre to back a PDP candidate.”
Alaibe is however not giving up as he believes names of electoral officers have been “inserted to put certain aspirants, especially those of the Restoration Group, at advantage.” According to him, there is a deliberate calculation to create confusion and frustration in the futile desire to destabilise his aspiration to lead Bayelsa State. “They have failed this time around because no degree of intrigues, no amount of manipulation and propaganda can push me out of this race. Nothing will change my decision to lift the lot of our people through purposeful leadership. I am here to stay and together we will win”, Alaibe wrote in a statement titled ‘Remain Calm. Remain Focused. Victory is Sure’ to appeal to his supporters. He expressed regret that the method that is making the primary poll in Kogi State a smooth and rancour-free exercise is being thwarted in Bayelsa State for very narrow and selfish reasons.
“While winning to us is not a do-or-die affair, the process of choosing the party flag bearer should be made unquestionably transparent such that in the end, the outcome would be acceptable to all so that we could stand as one to face the real opponent”, Alaibe said.
In the build-up to the picking of PDP governorship standard bearer, this is one of the first phases of crisis the national leadership of the party would need to wade in and resolve. How it resolves the issues raised by the Alaibe camp would be a mirror to how prepared it is to deal with other knotty issues to ensure the party goes into the November 16 governorship election as a united family.