Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The die is cast in the Bayelsa West Senatorial District bye-election slated for October 31 as former governor Henry Seriake Dickson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is to slug it out with former deputy governor and former speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Peremobowei Ebebi of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Ironically, both politicians that worked together in 2012 and 2015 to frustrate Timipre Sylva in his quest to return as governor are now in opposing camps.
Ebebi, a leading figure in Bayelsa West especially in Ekeremor parted ways with Dickson and the PDP before the November 19 Bayelsa governorship elections. Now, he has joined forces with Sylva in the bid to thwart Dickson’s ambition of going to the Senate.
Expectedly, the election between Dickson popularly known as the Ofurumapepe-the Great White Shark and Ebebi popularly known as Odudu has divided Bayelsa West into proponents, and antagonists of zoning. According to keen observers of politics in Bayelsa, the countdown to the senatorial bye –election is generating so much interest from within and without especially as arguments over zoning occupies centre stage.
Arguments for zoning
For the proponents of zoning, there is an age-long understanding between the Sagbama and Ekeremor Local Government Areas over the rotation of National Assembly seats beginning from 1999 such that the Senate and the House of Representatives are swapped between the two local government areas. To them, the idea of an Ekeremor man gunning for the Senate seat when the incumbent House of Representatives member representing Sagbama/ Ekeremor Federal Constituency , Fred Agbedi is from Ekeremor is unacceptable and a threat to the peaceful coexistence of the people of Bayelsa West.
Two months before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) gave its nod for political activities to commence for the Bayelsa West senatorial district election, political leaders of Bayelsa West under the aegis of Bayelsa West All Political Parties Summit gathered in Sagbama to reaffirm the zoning arrangement between Sagbama and Ekeremor.
“The communiqué issued after the meeting reads: “The standing zoning arrangement for the positions of Senate and the House of Representatives between Sagbama and Ekeremor is hereby affirmed.
“That all political parties are herewith resolved to field only candidates from Sagbama Local Government Area for the position of Senate in the forthcoming senatorial bye-election.
“The subsisting zoning arrangement should be duly respected by all political gladiators from Sagbama and Ekeremor Local Government Areas.
“The winner of the Senatorial bye-election from Sagbama Local Government Area shall only serve out the subsisting tenure that would lapse in June 2023 and no more.
From Ekeremor have been torrents of endorsement for Dickson and a pledge to defend the zoning arrangement. First was the Community Development Committees (CDC) of various communities in Ekeremor that were led to a meeting with Dickson by the trio of the State Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Solomon Agwanana, the Chairman of Ekeremor Local Government Area, Mr Perekeme Bertola, and the Vice Chairman, Mr. Randy Awolowo on a solidarity visit to Dickson at his country home in Toru Orua.
Bertola in his remarks said that the high powered Ekeremor delegation decided to embark on the solidarity visit to Chief Dickson’s country home to reinforce their position on the existing arrangement on power sharing between Sagbama and Ekeremor Local Government Areas, which are the two councils making up the Senatorial District.
According to him, the political leaders of Ekeremor, the CDC chairmen, the leaders of traditional institutions and youth presidents have all met to sustain the long standing agreement which shares the two National Assembly positions of Senate and House of Representative between the two councils.
The Chairman of the forum of CDC chairmen, Mr. Iyemontonghan Etume, who is also Chairman of the CDC Ekeremor town corroborating Bertola’s remarks, said that the zoning arrangement must not be subverted for the sake of posterity.
He said that since Ekeremor has produced the member representing the area in the House of Representatives in the person of Chief Fred Agbedi, it was only fair and just, and in the spirit of the zoning for Sagbama to complete the tenure of Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, from Sagbama who is now deputy governor.
Also, all the councillors of the 12 wards in Ekeremor have also thrown their weight behind Dickson insisting that the zoning arrangement must be respected.
The deputy leader, Mr Pimo Sylvester said: “The point to note is that in this district, there is a long standing agreement on zoning of the national assembly positions.
“This was an agreement by the people, and it goes beyond political parties. This unwritten power sharing arrangement is for a period of eight years. This is the tenure of Sagbama, not Ekeremor.
“We are standing behind our former Governor who is from Sagbama and we shall oppose any person coming from Ekeremor because it is unjust and unfair. We want Chief Dickson to go to the Senate to speak for the Ijaw nation. We believe in him, and fairness is on his side in this matter”
Aside the clamour for the zoning agreement to be respected, other Ijaw stakeholders including Chief Edwin Clark and former Presidents and leadership of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) have already endorsed Dickson as the only politician that “possesses vast experience in leadership, the political network, and the requisite knowledge to effectively tackle the critical issues of interest to the Ijaw nation such as Resource Control, True Federalism, Restructuring, and Power Devolution among others.”
Arguments against zoning
However, for the antagonists of zoning, there was no time the people of Bayelsa West decided to have an unwritten agreement on the rotation of National assembly seats. For them the agreement of rotational system was a decision of the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that is not binding on another political party and the people of Bayelsa West.
An APC chieftain, Chief Perekeme Kpodoh from Sagbama who had earlier made remarks suggesting support for Dickson in a volte face said the issue of zoning agreement has been punctured by personal greed and selfish politicking to pave way for Dickson’s smooth ride to the Senate.
According to him, the election would not be about money politics and violence but the person that can attract development to the area.
He said: “The issue of zoning which was raised recently was pre-planned by his(Dickson’s) former aides and PDP members to satisfy the whims and caprices of their pay masters. It cannot be binding on APC leaders. In the spirit of true rotation, when the former governor finished spending 8 years as governor, the new deputy governor slot should have gone to Ekeremor. Why didn’t they give the deputy to Ekeremor.”
Kpodoh continued: “Those who adopted the gentleman agreement at the meeting in Sagbama were PDP members and they hoodwinked those at the meeting with rhetoric. And they claimed it should be binding on all those that attended. They claimed Chief Peremobowei Ebebi was once a deputy governor. Ebebi’s emergence was not by the people but by the former President, Olusegun Obasanjo. But it did not last. When Dickson was governor, how many commissioner slots did he give to the Ekeremor people? He gave Sagbama over six slots and gave Ekeremor people less than three.”
Ebebi in tandem with Kpodoh argued that it was Dickson that destroyed the zoning in Bayelsa West through the choices he made against popular opinions before leaving office as a governor.
According to him, the arguments by some PDP members that it was the turn of Sagbama, the local government area of his main rival, Dickson, to produce the next senator, amounted to playing on the intelligence of the zone.
“Those advancing such arguments were simply promoting political greed and attempting to make the people of Sagbama a first class citizen while relegating Ekeremor to the background against the principles of justice, equity and good conscience.
“Sagbama through Dickson occupied the governorship position for eight years with his kinsman, Lawrence Ewrujakpor, occupying a sensitive position in his administration as the Commissioner for Works.”
He stated further: “If Dickson had valued the zoning arrangement in the district, he would have supported someone from Ekeremor to emerge as a deputy governor to give Sagbama moral rectitude to lay claim to the senate.
“It would be unjust and unfair for Sagbama having occupied the governorship for eight years to still retain the positions of the deputy governor and a senator, making Ekeremor a political orphan.
“Zoning has been destroyed by Dickson himself. Dickson was governor for eight years and Ekeremor being brothers to Sagbama people, he should have considered Ekeremor for deputy governor.
“He was Commissioner for works before he became a senator. He has abandoned that senatorial seat to become a deputy governor”.
Beyond the argument however is a deeper struggle for power and an end game of sort between Dickson and the APC leadership in the state. It was a war that commenced in 2012, rekindled in 2015 with Dickson having the upper hand. In 2019 governorship election, Dickson’s political machinery which led Governor Douye Diri to the election was decimated by APC going by the results declared by the INEC. And just at the nick of time, Dickson snatched victory again as the Supreme Court sacked the APC candidate, David Lyon who was governor-elect.
The Bayelsa West Senatorial bye-election provides another platform for PDP and APC to test their popularity and the people are eagerly waiting to vote and ensure their votes count.