As the people of Bayelsa go to the polls on November 16 to elect a new governor who will succeed Seriake Dickson, there is a question about the influence of the former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, in the politics of the oil-rich state.
Mr Jonathan is not just from Bayelsa, he was a deputy governor and governor of the state before he became Nigeria’s vice president and later president in 2011.
Going by the character of the Nigerian politics, Mr Jonathan is a ‘big man’ who should be pulling strings, at least in his own state, to determine who gets what in the politics of the state. But he is not doing that. He appears not to be bothered about such, as well.
And that naturally comes with a price – disenchantment and withdrawal of goodwill from political supporters.
It is uncertain to what extent this may have contributed to the recent political upset against the former president in his own Bayelsa East Senatorial District, where the All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition party in Bayelsa, defeated Mr Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 senatorial election.
Degi Wangagra of the APC is currently representing the district in the Senate.
The APC also won Brass/Nembe Federal Constituency election, which is under the Bayelsa East district.
The APC candidate for Brass/Nembe federal constituency election, Israel Goli, scored 41,150, while the PDP candidate, Marie Ebikake, scored 19,279.
Mr Jonathan is from Otuoke community in Ogbia Local Government Area of the state.
The Nation newspaper reported that the PDP almost lost in Ogbia Federal Constituency election as well, but for the effort of the current commissioner for information in the state, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, and other appointees of the state governor, Mr Dickson.
The paper described the PDP performance in Mr Jonathan’s Otuoke community as “poor”.
Jonathan ignored, pushed aside by Dickson?
There have been reports of a rift between Mr Jonathan and Governor Dickson over the just concluded PDP governorship primary in Bayelsa.
Mr Dickson’s man, Douye Diri, a senator representing Bayelsa Central District, emerged the PDP governorship candidate after defeating 20 other aspirants, including the former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Timi Alaibe, who was reportedly backed by Mr Jonathan.
Although government officials in Bayelsa have dismissed it as being untrue, there are reports that Mr Jonathan was not consulted by Mr Dickson over the choice of Mr Diri as the man to succeed him as governor, and that the former president and his supporters felt let down by the governor.
Mr Jonathan’s kinsman, Michael Ogiasa, who was a special adviser on power development to Governor Dickson, recently resigned his appointment from Mr Dickson’s government, according to a report published by the Punch newspaper.
It is not clear if the resignation is in connection with the succession politics in the state.
The paper also reported the defection of the PDP chairman of Ward 8 in Brass Local Government Area, Intelligent Owei, to the APC.
The PDP national leadership on Friday set up a peace committee headed by the former president of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, to work towards the reconciliation of Messrs Jonathan and Dickson.
Wisdom Ikuli, a leader in the Ijaw Youth Council, is Mr Jonathan’s kinsman, as well as a strong political supporter of the former president.
Mr Ikuli’s remark during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES, on Saturday, somehow symbolised the way some people perceive the status of the relationship between Governor Dickson and Mr Jonathan.
“Does Dickson have any relationship with any leader in Bayelsa state, except those who are serving him or surviving from him?” Mr Ikuli told PREMIUM TIMES when asked about the relationship between the two leaders.
“Go and ask the people who introduced Dickson to A.J. Turner and Jonathan, and they will tell you what is happening.
“Dickson has deliberately relegated the great leaders who made him what he is today. He has messed up all these leaders,” he said.
“Honestly, we shouldn’t be talking about who he (Jonathan) supported, we should be talking about who he brought out. Whether you like it or not, in the Nigerian context, as a former president he should be given the respect to make input or determine who the next governor of Bayelsa State should be.
“If we say he should be given that right, we are not asking for too much.”
Mr Ikuli, however, said this does not mean that Mr Jonathan’s influence has diminished in the politics of the state.
“I am sure that as a father to all, whoever emerges as the governor of Bayelsa State, he is going to support him.”
Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the commissioner for information in the state, dismissed the reports of a rift between the governor and the former president, saying that the relationship between the two remains “very cordial”.
In an interview published on Sunday by The Guardian newspaper, Mr Iworiso-Markson said it was unfair for people to be accusing Mr Dickson of sidelining the PDP elders during the PDP governorship primary. The governor, he said, consulted the former president and other party elders in the state several times.
Jonathan Obuebite, the commissioner for education in the state, supported that position. He said both leaders are enjoying the best of relationship. He likened the relationship between the two to that between a younger brother and the elder brother, with Mr Jonathan as the “elder brother” here.
Mr Obuebite did not pointedly say that the former president supported Mr Diri’s emergence as the PDP governorship candidate when PREMIUM TIMES put the question to him.
“The former president as a party man is supporting the candidate of the party,” he said, and then went on to say that the primary was the freest and most transparent ever conducted in Nigeria.
Is Jonathan’s influence really diminishing?
“You can only be influential if your people appreciate your worth to them. If they don’t appreciate your worth to them, they will not have any regards for you,” Felix Oboro, a former senator from Bayelsa, told PREMIUM TIMES when asked about what influence Mr Jonathan was exerting on the politics of Bayelsa State.
Mr Oboro said Mr Jonathan did not bring the much-expected development to Bayelsa when he was the vice president and president, and therefore would not get the people’s goodwill and political support.
“I don’t think the people of Bayelsa have any regard for him,” said Mr Oboro, a former Nigerian ambassador to Venezuela, and a former PDP chieftain who defected to the APC in 2015.
Being a former Nigerian president, many admirers and supporters of Mr Jonathan have been expecting him to step up his game and be more prominent at least in the politics of the South-South region, even if he cannot go national.
In a country where millions of unemployed people rely on politics as a means of survival, it is clear why Mr Jonathan may be seen as a big disappointment.
But at the core of the issue is Mr Jonathan’s character which in a way seems to contrast with the character of a typical Nigerian politician; he appears humble, easy-going, and a respecter of other people’s opinion, willing to give up power for the sake of peace, which is interpreted by some Nigerians as cowardice.
From the pieces of information gathered, it would be safe to conclude that Mr Jonathan may not have been interested in building any political structure in Bayelsa, so the argument whether his political influence is diminishing may not even arise.
His political ascendancy both at the state and at the national level has been through sheer luck; he was a quiet university teacher before he was picked as the deputy governor of Bayelsa under Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. He became governor in 2005 following Mr Alamieyeseigha’s impeachment. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo handpicked him as vice president under Umaru Yar’adua, he became acting president in 2010 and later elected president in 2011 following the death of Mr Yar’adua.
“Jonathan doesn’t appear a power-hungry leader and doesn’t seem so interested in building a cult of followers around himself,” said Uwemedimo Udo, a chemistry lecturer at the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
“He doesn’t appear to be a major character or decider in the politics of Bayelsa State. He may not have much influence in who becomes what in Bayelsa State. The local political gladiators especially the young people seem better placed as influencers,” Mr Udo said.
Mr Jonathan’s ‘weakness’, in this context, has naturally opened the room for Governor Dickson to dominate the politics of Bayelsa, to the consternation of the supporters of the former president.
Mr Dickson once served as the attorney general and commissioner for justice in Bayelsa, appointed by Mr Jonathan when he was governor of the state, before he (Dickson) won election to the House of Representatives, Abuja, in 2007.
The education commissioner in Bayelsa, Mr Obuebite, told PREMIUM TIMES that what people termed as diminishing influence is that “the former president respects the fact that there is a sitting governor in the party”.
Mr Obuebite said “it is people who think that power is something you can use in controlling people” that may feel the former president’s influence in the state politics is diminishing.
“The man does not want to be a demi-god, works with his younger brother, the governor.
“This is a man that lost the election as a sitting president and handed over to the opposition. If he could display that kind of character, do you think what bothers him as a statesman is Bayelsa State? I don’t think so,” Mr Obuebite said.