On 11 November, the people of Bayelsa State will go to the polls to elect a governor in what promises to be a very competitive election.
It, alongside that of Imo and Kogi that will be held on the same day, is going to be the first off-cycle polls to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) after the 2023 general election.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is hoping to maintain control of the oil-rich state, while the All Progressives Congress (APC) is aiming to win again after the Supreme Court judgment that handed over power to Governor Duoye Diri in 2020.
The then APC candidate David Lyon won the November 2019 governorship election but the Supreme Court nullified his victory because his running mate, Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, presented false information to INEC in aid of his qualification for the polls.
Bayelsa is in the Niger Delta region, where militants held the government to ransom for years by sabotaging pipelines and stealing crude oil until an amnesty deal was struck in 2009.
Pundits believe that the Bayelsa election, and that of Imo and Kogi states, provide a unique opportunity for a swift evaluation of the new government’s performance so far and offer a referendum on how citizens in the states respond to the leadership of incumbent state administrations.
In a pre-election analysis, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) said the outcomes of the 11 November contests will significantly impact the political fortunes of the parties involved and lay the foundation for the general elections in 2027.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the election:
1. State with the least voting population
Bayelsa is one of the newest states in the country, having been created on 1 October 1996 out of Rivers State. It shares a boundary with Rivers to the east and Delta State to the north. It has eight local government areas and is the smallest state in the country by population.
The total number of registered voters for the governorship election is 1,056,862 according to INEC. The commission said 1,017,613 have collected their PVCs ahead of the election while 39,249 PVCs were not collected.
Interestingly, while the state has a very small population, it has produced many of the cabinet officials primarily responsible for petroleum, with Diezani Allison-Madueke serving as substantive minister from 2010 to 2015, Timipre Sylva serving as minister of state from 2019 to 2023 and Heineken Lokpobiri assuming the position in the incumbent Tinubu’s cabinet (2023).
2. Registered voters categories
Of the eight local government areas in the state, Yenagoa, the state capital, has the highest number of registered voters with 218,394, according to official figures released by INEC.
This is followed by Southern Ijaw, with 184,401 eligible voting population.
Sagbama and Ekeremor local government areas – both in Bayelsa West – have 138,832 and 137,225 registered voters, respectively.
Ogbia, the home of former President Goodluck Jonathan has 119,571 registered voters. Nembe has 99,035; Brass; 94,040; and Kolokuma; 65,364.
More than half (54 per cent) of the registered voters that will decide the next governor of Bayelsa on Saturday are men – 566,095. The women are 490,767 (46 per cent).
Similarly, the youth, between the ages of 18 and 34, are the largest voting group with 42 per cent while middle-aged, between 35 and 49, make up 40 per cent.
The electoral commission said only 15 per cent of the total registered voters are elderly voters between the ages of 50 and 69, just as the remaining 3 per cent are senior citizens above the age of 70.
3. Strength of candidates
There are 16 governorship candidates in the election – 14 men and two women.
But PREMIUM TIMES reporters on the ground can report that the contest is primarily expected to be a two-horse race between Incumbent Governor Diri of the PDP and former Governor Timipre Sylva of the APC.
Both candidates are strong and expected to make a considerable showing in the race.
The PDP in Bayelsa has maintained a stronghold in the federal legislature. All three senators and five representatives are from the party and it is largely expected to maintain a decent showing in the coming election.
There is some momentum around Eradiri Udengmobofa of the Labour Party. He is expected to benefit from Peter Obi’s impressive showing in the state. During the 2023 presidential election, Mr Obi finished second in the state with 28 per cent of the vote.
4. Voter apathy
In the 2023 presidential election, Bayelsa recorded the worst voter turnout in the country with only 16 per cent voter participation.
Total votes across the state that produced former president Goodluck Jonathan was 173,111.
It remains to be seen if the off-cycle will record more participation than the presidential election.
5. Information disorder
A major concern about Saturday’s election is the role that misinformation, disinformation, and fake news are expected to play.
During field assessment visits by civil society organisations, several election stakeholders expressed concerns about the role that political parties were playing in the information space around the elections.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) reports that most of the parties use influencers and youth mobilisers to spread disinformation about other parties and candidates.
“Groups are utilising shared platforms with election officials, party officials and media groups to try and reduce the likelihood of misinformation, disinformation, and fake news affecting the conduct of the elections. Some chieftains alluded to the fact that women were also unfairly targeted during such campaigns.
“Lastly, literacy has been highlighted as a key factor in this space – because of this, it is likely such campaigns will be through word of mouth and less monitored platforms,” CDD said.
6. Local government hotspots
The race to win Yenagoa and Southern Ijaw, the two most populous local government areas, is key in the elections. Although Yenagoa, the state capital, has a larger voting population, Southern Ijaw has long been referred to as the ‘Kano of Bayelsa’, owing to the well-documented voting strength of the North-West state in national politics.
Similarly, turnout in Southern Ijaw has been more impressive than in Yenagoa in previous elections. Control of these two local government areas will be key in determining the outcome of the election.
Sagbama and Ekeremor local government areas are highly significant too. But, the well-documented crisis in Nembe makes it a hotspot, with clashes between forces loyal to Governor Diri and Mr Sylva. Nembe is in Bayelsa East, a zone loyal to Mr Sylva, but has seen a growing number of politicians align with Mr Diri.
CDD said there were reports attributing the insecurity in the area to the different militants and gangs in the region. “The ability of security officials to manage this will play a part in how much voter turnout is possible during the elections,” the group said.
7. Deciding factors
CDD projected regrettably that the Bayelsa elections will still be dominated by the same strands of identity politics that played a role in the February general elections.
Zonal considerations are always paramount and, alongside the likelihood of representation in government, they play a role in how most citizens will vote, the group said.
“Sadly, violence and electoral malpractice will still play a part in the outcome of the elections. Incumbency powers, at different levels, and control of certain key strongholds are likely to make or mar the election and affect the outcome.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, who is from Bayelsa, has endorsed Governor Diri whom he said deserves a second term because of the “stability” of the state.
“I have been in touch with our governor and I believe he should be encouraged to do his eight years. He has been able to stabilise the state.
“Let us find a standard way of doing things. We cannot kill ourselves; we do not want crisis,” Mr Jonathan told the PDP Bayelsa National Governorship Campaign Council, alongside governors, former governors of the party and National Assembly members and others who visited him at his country home on Tuesday.
It is unclear what electoral fortune could come out of Mr Jonathan’s endorsement of Governor Diri.
Former Governor Seriake Dickson and the former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ndutimi Alaibe, were part of the delegation which visited Mr Jonathan.
There has been no governorship debate among the major candidates. CDD said this only deprives the electorate of the knowledge needed to make a well-considered decision. It could also be that the candidates are following the template established by President Tinubu during the 2023 general election, the CSO said.
“Finally, the winner-takes-all and do-or-die manner of Nigerian politics means that candidates and parties are likely to expend significant amounts and costs to ensure control of key states in the political dynamic.”
8. INEC Preparedness
An important factor remains the role that INEC will play in administering the election.
The electoral commission faced scrutiny for the conduct of the 2023 elections. While some laudable steps were made, including the introduction of technological innovations in the process, expectedly many Nigerians were disappointed with the logistics and procedural challenges that affected the polls.
The much-anticipated introduction of the BVAS, highlighted as a game changer, was also marred by technical glitches during the presidential elections in February 2023.
Expectedly, many will see these polls as the last chance for the electoral commission to address the plethora of complaints raised after the elections.
Already, INEC Chairperson Mahmood Yakubu has pledged that results for the elections will be uploaded on IReV, with the results transmitted electronically. Yet, some worry that the recent ruling of the Supreme Court, that the Electoral Act has no provision for the mandatory electronic transmission of results, might put paid to this promise.
Insecurity and threats of violence are usually heightened during election periods.
Bayelsa State poses an interesting governorship contest due to the presence of an incumbent governor seeking re-election and a former governor seeking a return to office. But the outcome of the elections could also play a very important role in determining the fortunes of Nigeria’s different political parties and, ultimately, its political future.
One significant factor contributing to insecurity in the state is the intricate relationship between politics, oil surveillance contracts, and ex-militants in the Niger Delta region.
Notably, the Force of Egbesu, an emerging group in the region, previously threatened to disrupt the 2023 general elections in Bassan Clan, Bayelsa State. While it is unclear if they were paid as they demanded not to disrupt the process, it underscores the seriousness of the security challenges in the area and ex-militants influence in the politics of the region.
“Cultists, political thugs, militants, and ex-militants pose serious challenges to election security in Bayelsa’s upcoming off-cycle election,” said Dengiyefa Angalapu, CDD Research Analyst.
“The APC’s deputy governorship candidate, Joshua Maciver, an ex-militant who is the Bayelsa State Operations Coordinator of Tantita, is accused of using contract workers to support his party. Furthermore, Chief Timipre Sylva, the immediate past Minister of State for Petroleum who is the APC’s governorship candidate, is speculated to have played a prominent role in the award of oil surveillance contracts, making many ex-militant leaders loyal to him,” Mr Angalapu said.
However, the federal government and security agencies in the country have assured they are committed to providing adequate security in the state during the election.
10. Deployment of BVAS
INEC will be deploying the BVAS, a replacement for the Smart Card Reader (SCR). The BVAS is a voter accreditation technology that uses both fingerprints and facial recognition.
INEC expects that the BVAS will add to the credibility of the accreditation process and reduce the number of instances where a voter is disenfranchised due to the failure of the SCR to scan a set of fingerprints.
Similarly, the commission has pledged that results for the elections will be uploaded on IReV, a central portal created for the purpose.
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