The Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has unofficially constricted the size of the governorship aspirants of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, to the consternation of his fellow party men.
This is happening after Mr Dickson led the people in the state to pray and fast for three days, for God to “guide” them to choose a new governor this November.
In the All Progressives Congress (APC), Timipre Sylva, a former governor of Bayelsa, was one of the men to watch for the forthcoming governorship election, before President Muhammadu Buhari pulled him out of the race through Mr Sylva’s recent appointment as a minister of state for petroleum.
It is unclear, for now, if Mr Sylva’s appointment is part of APC’s hidden strategy to take over the oil-rich Bayelsa.
Governor Dickson’s preference is certainly a big factor in deciding who among the 21 PDP aspirants will pick the party’s governorship ticket.
The governor has already narrowed his choices to three, leaving the people to guess who will eventually be his preferred aspirant.
That is just how cloudy the race for Mr Dickson’s successor is, for now.
The Bayelsa election is crucial for the two leading political parties in Nigeria. PDP, which is holding its primary on September 3, would want to use the election to maintain its dominance in the country’s South-South, while the APC would want to capture the state and probably use it as an inroad into the region, in preparation for the 2023 general elections.
Governor Dickson said in July during the ‘prayer and fasting’ programme that the people of the state would not elect a “godless man” as their governor.
“Not one who does not subscribe, understand, submit to the authority and divine mandate of God over our lives shall ascend the seat of governor,” a Government House statement quoted Mr Dickson to have said.
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The PDP aspirants in the state are the chairman of Bayelsa Board of Internal Revenue, Ayawei Nimbofa; a former cabinet member in the state, Reuben Okoya; and an ex-militant leader, Great MacIver.
Others are the incumbent deputy governor of the state, Gboribiogha Jonah, a businessman, Kenebi Okoko, former commissioner for works and transportation in the state, Franklin Osaisai, Benson Agadaga, and a former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe.
They also include a senator representing Bayelsa Central, Douye Diri, chief of staff to Governor Dickson, Talford Ongolo, the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Kemela Okara, Boladei Igali, and Fred Agbedi.
Governor Dickson versus ex-president Jonathan?
About a month after the ‘prayer and fasting’ programme, Mr Dickson stirred controversy when he insisted that his successor must be picked from a small clique of allies in a group called the Restoration Team, within the PDP.
The delegates for the elections are being camped by the party in one location in the state, while Mr Dickson and his allies have gone ahead to set up a ‘Restoration’ campaign organisation which is to work for the actualisation of the governor’s political plan.
Mr Dickson’s actions have, however, pitched him against other PDP aspirants, especially Mr Alaibe who is said to enjoy the backing of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mr Alaibe’s popularity cuts across party lines in the state. He is seen as a candidate to beat, one who can easily win the general election if he gets the PDP governorship ticket.
But he has Mr Dickson as his obstacle, so long as the governor continues to have firm control over the PDP structures and the electoral process within the party in the state.
A call by Timi Alaibe Campaign Organisation for the cancellation of the just concluded PDP ward congress in the state shows how divided the party is in the state ahead of the election.
“It was not until the very last minute when the Committee made public the list and composition of the returning and electoral officers that all the other aspirants discovered that most of those mentioned were brothers, sisters, nephews, cousins and relations of the Restoration Team aspirants.
“The first time we knew about the content of the list was when it was being read to everybody at the party secretariat,” the administrative secretary of the campaign organisation, Seiyefa Brisibe, said in a statement.
“There was no way we could have protested the list and the composition when we did not know the people that were named. The question to answer is: why was the list and the composition of the returning and electoral officers not allowed to be reviewed by the aspirants before it was made public?
“Things came to a point that whenever we insisted on seeing the list, we were told to wait. At a certain point, we were told that someone had gone to photocopy the list. There were obvious indications that the list was already compromised and was deliberately hidden from public scrutiny,” Mr Brisibe, a professor, said in the statement.
Besides issuing press statement, some PDP members led by people loyal to Mr Alaibe – Tiwei Orunimighe, Bananas Endure, and a former member of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Vivian Ere – protested on Friday, barricading the PDP secretariat in Yenegoa, demanding for the cancellation of the ward congress conducted by a team led by the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi.
In contrast, Governor Dickson and his Restoration Team have been celebrating as free and fair, the ward congress which would produce ad-hoc delegates for the PDP primary.
The PDP in Bayelsa is clearly divided into two factions – the Restoration Team, and the Jonathan (the former Nigerian president) faction.
Amalate Turner, a traditional ruler in Bayelsa, and a close ally of Mr Jonathan, recently accused Governor Dickson of threatening his life because of his political support for Mr Alaibe.
The governor, in turn, recently accused Mr Alaibe of trying to blackmail him by “manipulating” a speech he (the governor) presented at a political meeting.
The governor said he has the right to support any of the aspirants.
“It is important to stress that the Governor’s decision not to reward disloyalty with the candidacy of the party is an informed decision of conviction,” Mr Dickson said in a statement from his media aide, Fidelis Soriwei.
Mr Alaibe on Saturday called on his supporters to remain calm about the controversy over the election of ad-hoc delegates.
“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.
“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,” Mr Alaibe said.
APC likely to reap from PDP’s failures!
With Mr Sylva out of the race, Heineken Lokpobiri, a former minister of state for agriculture, is likely to become the APC governorship candidate in Bayelsa.
Although not as popular as Mr Sylva, Mr Lokpobiri could spring surprises in the November 16 election, with the backing of his party. Also, he will still have to rely on Mr Sylva’s support as well.
The APC had a good outing in the 2019 national assembly elections, winning a Senate seat and two House of Representatives seats, which political analysts say was due to the imposition of candidates within the PDP for the elections.
The Southern Ijaw local government area, which has the largest number of voters, almost half of the entire voting population in Bayelsa, is said to be a stronghold of the APC.
Brass and Nembe local government areas are also said to be the strongholds of the APC.
If Governor Dickson’s fight with Mr Alaibe gets out of control, the latter could team up with disappointed and angry aspirants within the Restoration Team, and form alliance with the APC to prevent Mr Dickson’s man from becoming the next governor of Bayelsa.
The last two aspirants standing, in Dickson’s team.
Governor Dickson by Saturday afternoon was said to have narrowed his choices of aspirants to two.
Initially, there were three of them – the SSG, Mr Okara; the governor’s chief of staff, Mr Ongolo; and the senator representing Bayelsa Central, Mr Diri.
The chairman, Bayelsa Board of Internal Revenue, Mr Nimbofa, is also said to be in contention for the governor’s support.
A few days from now, on September 3 precisely, one person among the 21 aspirants in the PDP will become the party’s governorship candidate in Bayelsa.
Will it be Mr Dickson’s man or not? It is difficult to say, for now.
If the PDP is not united, the APC may get away with a victory in the governorship election, the former president, Mr Jonathan, warned his party early this month, during a meeting of the PDP Elders Advisory Council at Government House, Yenagoa.
“It is only our unity that can give us victory and if we are not united, they (APC) can get away with it,” the former president had said.
“For example, it took the unity of the people of Rivers State including women who were resolute against soldiers to get the PDP victory in the state. If that had not happened, they (opposition) would have taken it.
“For us to secure this state for PDP we need maximum unity and that is why all the 21 aspirants are important to us; we must have that maximum unity and must not create any form of division or discrimination,” said Mr Jonathan.