ANALYSIS: Eight factors that triggered PDP, Seriake Dickson’s fall in Bayelsa

Gov Seriake Dickson
Seriake Dickson

On Monday, the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship candidate in Bayelsa State, David Lyon, was declared the winner of the Bayelsa State 2019 governorship election held two days earlier.

The declaration was made Monday morning by Faraday Orumwese, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin, who was the returning officer in the election. Mr Lyon polled 352,552 votes to defeat Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who polled 143,172 votes.

The total number of registered voters was announced as 922, 562 and the number of accredited voters was put at 517,883. Mr Lyon won in six of the eight local government areas in the state.

Bayelsa State has eight local government areas including Brass, Ekeremo, Kolokuma/Opokuma, Nembe, Ogbia, Sagbama, Southern Ijaw and Yenagoa. Mr Lyon won in all the local government areas except Sagbama and Kolokuma. Mr Diri, the PDP candidate, won in the two local governments.

Sagbama is the local government area of the state governor, Seriake Dickson, also a staunch supporter of the PDP candidate in the election.

The result of the poll brings to an end PDP’s 20-year rule of the state since 1999.

Between 1999 and 2005, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of the PDP served as governor of the state. He was succeeded by his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, who governed until 2007 when he was elected alongside the late President Umaru Yar’adua as vice president. Mr Jonathan was succeeded by Timipre Sylva, also of the PDP, whose tenure was characterised by turbulent court cases and election nullification. Mr Sylva has since defected to the APC and he is now Nigeria’s oil minister.

In 2012, Seriake Dickson emerged as governor and ruled for eight years. For the first time in the state, Mr Dickson will be handing over to an opposition politician, Mr Lyon.

Several factors led to the fall of Mr Dickson and the PDP in Bayelsa State.

Here, Premium Times highlights them.

1. PENSIONERS’ CRISIS

For a long time, the Bayelsa state government has been at loggerheads with pensioners in the state. In February 2016, reports said the retired civil servants in the state were attacked by suspected hired thugs in front of the Government House, Yenagoa, for daring to protest their unpaid pension arrears. The old men and women numbering over 50 came out in solidarity against the inability of Governor Seriake Dickson-led government to offset their entitlement arrears. The thugs allegedly gave the pensioners the beating of their lives and left many of them critically injured.

In the build-up to the governorship election on Saturday, the pensioners also called on the government to pay their eight years outstanding pension arrears, saying they had lost count of how much they are being owed. They alleged that for the last eight years, Mr Dickson was only able to pay N2.1billion out of N3.5billion, being part of the outstanding pension arrears his predecessor, Timipre Sylva, owed them before leaving office.

During electioneering, the opposition APC expectedly used the pension debacle against the state government, winning the support of the affected pensioners and other people in the state. In the midst of unpaid pension arrears, the move became all too easy for the APC especially amidst the controversies thrown up by the controversial ‘life pension’ package proposed by members of the predominantly PDP state assembly. Although the governor reportedly declined assent to the controversial bill, the opposition succeeded in using it against the outgoing government and the party.

2. NIGER DELTA UNIVERSITY DEBACLE

Perhaps one major factor that contributed to the fall of Mr Dickson and the PDP is the Niger Delta University (NDU) conundrum. Trouble began significantly for the government in March 2018 when the institution was closed down because of incessant protests by the students.

The protest was triggered by a hike in fees.

Earlier in 2017, the state government and the university’s management increased the school fees by over 200 per cent for both arts and science students. The second-year students of the faculty of nursing who reportedly paid N37,000 as school fees were suddenly asked to pay N100,000.

The increment in school fees was triggered by a new policy of the state government which mandated the university to fend for itself as it would no longer depend on subventions from the government. This was a major factor that shaped the perception of the government among a significant part of the student population in the state. It would come to haunt the governor and his party on Saturday.

Meanwhile, after students’ unrest ended at NDU and other resolutions were reached ahead of the opening of the university, more troubles emerged.

3. AMASSOMA CRISIS

A number of other crises were ignited following the controversy thrown up by the government’s policy on the NDU. In Amassoma community, where the NDU is located, many of the indigenes had been employed by the institution as part of the benefits to the host community.

However, following the government’s policy on reform in the university, indigenes alleged to have been illegally brought onto the payroll of the university were severely affected. This caused disaffection among a large number of the community people, triggering protest and civil unrest.

In May 2018, the crisis reached its crescendo when at least two persons were killed and several others injured following a clash between the police and protesters at the Niger Delta University (NDU), Amassoma. Members of Amassoma community, aggrieved by job losses occasioned by the reform in the university and the state, blocked all major roads leading to the NDU for over a week.

It was gathered that the security agencies deployed to reopen the gates of the institution clashed with the angry crowd that insisted that the institution remained shut. Residents near the university community said that the clash turned violent as the police officers resorted to firing gunshots to disperse the protesters. This resulted in the death of at least two persons while others were injured.

The protesters comprised the host community, the staff of the Niger Delta University, including non-academic staff, who were part of the 1,700 staff that lost their jobs. The protesters maintained that the reforms led to massive job losses from members of the university’s host community “…who gave up their ancestral land to accommodate the university in exchange for job opportunities for the people.”

The sentiment would snowball into the larger Southern Ijaw outrage against the Dickson government and, by implication, the PDP.

4. SOUTHERN IJAW REVOLT

Southern Ijaw is a Local Government Area with its headquarters in the town of Oporoma. It is located in the north of the area. The area has a coastline of approximately 60 km on the Bight of Benin. Amassoma, the crisis-ridden host of the NDU, is a part of the local government. It is arguably the second-largest voting bloc in the state.

Due to its riverine nature, it is far away from the capital city, and a large portion of the area can only be accessed by water. Across Southern Ijaw, there is a fairly popular belief among the people that developmental initiatives were barely directed to the area by the incumbent government of Mr Dickson. On Saturday, many of the voters claimed that they barely enjoy the dividends of democracy and would do everything to ensure that ‘their son’ gets to power.

It, then, was no surprise that the APC candidate who hails from the local government polled 124,803 votes to defeat his closest rival in PDP who polled 4,898 votes.

5. CONTROVERSIAL CIVIL SERVICE ‘REFORMS’

To sanitise the state civil service and stop what it termed fraudulent collection of multiple salaries from the state government’s purse, the Dickson government embarked on a ‘reform’ of the state civil service.

The reform, characterised by several layers of controversies, led to several startling revelations.

In June 2018, for instance, Governor Dickson ordered the arrest of an official of a local government for collecting the salaries of 300 persons every month.

According to the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, the suspect was an Account Officer in a council in Bayelsa Central Senatorial District of the state and was exposed during the civil service reforms in the Yenagoa Local Government Area of the state.

As part of the reform, the government also announced that it has reduced its public service workforce from 55,00 to 27,000 and suspended the salaries of a large number of affected staff during the exercise.

The developments pitted the government against different groups in the state with labour unions threatening industrial action.

Even though the government claimed it was well-intentioned, the reform would haunt Mr Dickson’s anointed candidate on Saturday as many aggrieved victims of the exercise formed a huge chunk of the voters.

At least two voters confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES in Yenagoa, the state capital, that they voted against the governor’s candidate based on the controversies surrounding the civil service reforms.

6. PDP CRISIS

In the wake of the governorship primaries of the PDP in the state, the party was torn apart in violent agitation amidst endless feuds among aggrieved stakeholders. While some party loyalists supported the candidature of Timi Alaibe, a known figure in the state’s politics, others were in support of Mr Dickson’s choice—-Mr Diri. The development caused disaffection among party members, leading to a gale of defection and resignations even in Mr Dickson’s own government.

In October, about a month to the election, some aides of Mr Dickson tendered their resignation letters in protest of the governor’s choice of governorship candidate. The Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Matters, Stephen Diver, and the Special Adviser on Power Development, Michael Ogiase, were among the aides who resigned.

A chieftain of the party, Tokpo Coronation, also predicted at the time that more resignations were underway.

“What is coming is a Tsunami. More resignations are coming. Stephen Diver is a man who sees far in politics, a navigator and a man who sleeps and wakes with politics. You can only undermine him at your peril”, he said.

Outside of the governance front, all was not well within the party. Despite the efforts by the former Senate President, Bukola Saraki-led five-man national reconciliation committee inaugurated by the leadership of the party to reconcile aggrieved governorship aspirants, Mr Alaibe still dragged the party to the court.

All of this caused demoralisation among party members and created apprehension even on the eve of election, thus contributing to the fall of the party, its candidate and the governor.

7. THE JONATHAN FAMILY

A former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, hails from Bayelsa state and is a member of the PDP. He, however, may have played a major role in the triumph of the APC candidate last Saturday. Mr Jonathan is believed not to be in support of the choice of Mr Diri as governorship candidate. Similarly, the former president’s relationship with Mr Dickson has largely been defined by awkward silence as both individuals are said not to be in good terms. While Mr Jonathan has not shown any anti-party move in public, results from his local government may have confirmed insinuations that he worked for the opposition candidate in the election. In Ogbia, Mr Jonathan’s local government and PDP stronghold, the PDP polled 13,763 votes while the APC polled 58,016 votes.

Again, some days before the election, Eunice, Mr Jonathan’s mother, endorsed Mr Lyon and granted her blessings to the APC candidate in Otuoke, her community in Ogbia Local Government Area.

Beyond that, Mr Lyon is said to be a favourite of Patience Jonathan, wife of Mr Jonathan. Although originally from Rivers State, Mrs Jonathan wields considerable influence in Bayelsa, where she served and resigned as permanent secretary.

8. LYON AS ‘MAN OF THE PEOPLE’, CHOICE OF EX-MILITANTS

Perhaps the most significant factor that aided Bayelsa APC’s victory was the personality of its chosen candidate. From Yenagoa through Ogbia, from Nembe to Brass, Mr Lyon is well-loved among the people of the state, many of whom regard him as a philanthropist.

More importantly, a key element of electioneering in Bayelsa and other parts of the Niger Delta is the position of ex-militants who control the creeks in the state and beyond. It was always settled that once a candidate had the support of the ex-militants, he was already sure of victory. Mr Lyon is said to be loved by the ‘boys’ and had their overwhelming support.

A week before the election, ex-Niger Delta agitators unanimously endorsed the candidature of the APC candidate for governor of the state. The ex-militant leaders led by Victor Ebikabowei, aka ‘Boyloaf’, Pastor Reuben and Joshua Machieva, declared their stand during the grand finale of APC campaign in Yenagoa. They also urged all ex-agitators to vote for Mr Lyon for a better Bayelsa. The fact that election in southern Ijaw was relatively free of violence can be attributed to the support Mr Lyon enjoyed from the ex-militants. The presence of ‘federal support’, being the candidate of the ruling party at the centre, only came as a plus.

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