Bayelsa: Intrigues, permutations as Dickson’s possible successors step out

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TRACKING>>As political activities towards the November 2 governorship election in Bayelsa State gather momentum, a number of hopefuls have been strategizing on how to be the favourite. But if comments by the outgoing governor, Honourable Seriake Dickson, are anything to go by, those who want his job should also consider running to God for help.

Dickson had, in his 2019 edition of the Easter Cantata speech issued by his Special Adviser on Media Relations, Mr. Fidelis Sorowei, listed the qualities his successor ought to possess. In the speech, Dickson had insisted that the man that would succeed him ought to be God-fearing and that such a person would emerge through intense prayers and consultation with the people.

“I will formally invite everybody in this state to pray because I feel that the next leader of our state is not going to be selected from my pocket. No, I won’t do that; it’s too important a decision to come from one person,” the governor had said.

Going by this pronouncement, analysts said it meant Dickson had relieved himself of playing much role in influencing the emergence of the next governor, therefore, promising to provide a level playing field for all aspirants to his job.

However, November 2, the date proposed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the governorship election in the state seems not to go down well with Dickson. He had called on the INEC to shift the governorship poll, saying November 2 was a public holiday backed by the laws of the state as a Thanksgiving Day and it had been celebrated with prayers since 2012.

But from all indications, INEC appears not ready to heed this call, as the election is expected to still hold as scheduled.

Although he has promised leave the fate of the election in the hands of God, observers of politics of the state hold the view that Dickson is more interested in determining who succeeds him than anyone else in the state. This, they said, might have stemmed from the fear that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is gaining more political grounds in the state and is prepared to wrest power from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which has held on to power from 1999 till date.

Dickson, during the PDP monthly State Executive Committee (SEC) meeting at the party›s secretariats recently, boasted that those who thought they would wrest power from the PDP, because he was not re-contesting “are in for a big surprise,” as he was “still much in the race.”

He said, “as we prepare for the forthcoming election, there is a big work to be done. We have to prepare. In the last elections, we didn›t contest against the APC, but federal might which came to kill our people.

“We suffered a lot in their hands and we never lost any election, apart from the ones they hijacked which we will recover soon in the court. This time, it will be the state system against the federal system. And with all of you leaders supporting us, we will overcome.

“We have nothing to fear. They put their trust in chariots, weapons and connections in Abuja and believing they would win because I am not re-contesting in the election. But take this from me, those who think they want to come and take over Bayelsa should know that I am still much in the race. And the PDP will win them again.”

In spite of all the intrigues and uncertainty over what Dicksons’ plans are, some aspirants have declared their interest to run, while others are seemingly waiting for signs that indicate the direction of the currents in the political waters of the state.

The likely aspirants are the following:

Timipre Sylva

Chief Timipre Sylva, the current leader of the APC in the state is a former governor of the state on the ticket of the PDP. He won the 2007 governorship election and succeeded Dr. Goodluck Jonathan from May 29, 2007. After four years in office as governor, he lost the opportunity to contest for a second term in 2012.

Since then, Sylva had instituted a case over the second tenure imbroglio, saying he was unjustly denied the opportunity to return to office, an opportunity he said he had already secured before some political forces masterminded his ouster.

It all started with the infamous stoning of Sylva, then incumbent governor, and followed by a Supreme Court ruling that reversed the elongation of his tenure.

Sylva had approached the court to extend his tenure by one year, arguing that because his election into office in 2007 was annulled by a court and that he was subsequently elected into office in 2008. He argued that the period he spent in office, between 2007 and 2008, should be considered as null and void.

Both the high and appellate courts granted his prayer for elongation of his tenure by one year, but the Supreme Court technically knocked him out, few months into his fifth year in office in 2012, by reversing the decision of the lower courts.

Shortly after the decision of the court was made public, Sylva wasted no time in accusing then President Jonathan of being the mastermind of his ouster from office.

During a press conference in Yenagoa, sometime in February 2019, Sylva alleged that it was the late General Owoye Azazi and Dickson that contracted the thugs that stoned him.

After his unceremonious removal from office, Sylva joined the APC at the early days of its formation and had made several attempts to reclaim his lost political glory and structure in the state. His first attempt was the keenly contested 2016 governorship election where he proved he still had strong political influence in the state.

Another huge success for Sylva and the APC in the state is that they were able to produce one senator, two federal lawmakers and five state Assembly members in the just-held general election, a feat that has sent shivers down the spine of the ruling PDP.

Ndutimi Alaibe

Alaibe missed three golden opportunities to become the governor of Bayelsa State in 2003, 2007 and 2011. One thing common to these occasions was that he bowed to pressure on him to step down in the elections. For this, the people of Bayelsa have tagged him the most inconsistent and unreliable governorship candidate in the political history of the state.

One of the elections that dented his political reputation most was the 2007 governorship election in the state. Then, Dr. Jonathan, serving as acting governor after the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached, was seeking reelection into office and needed the PDP ticket desperately.

Vying for the PDP ticket too were Alaibe and Sylva. Alaibe reportedly succeeded in hijacking the PDP state structure, causing Jonathan to run to former President Olusegun Obasanjo for help. It was reported that Obasanjo pleaded with him to step aside and let Jonathan have it, promising to compensate him with a juicy appointment at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

But Sylva, who was considered a no-threat at the time, forged on and emerged second in the primaries with a paltry 24 votes, where Jonathan won with a wide margin.

Not long after the primaries, Jonathan was nominated to go into the presidential race as running mate to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, giving the party at the state level no option but to shop for a new standard-bearer. After wide consultations and series of political meetings held at different levels, Chief Francis Doukpola was nominated as standard-bearer of the party during the election that was barely months away.

Sylva, feeling something was not right, dragged the PDP to court to declare him the candidate of the PDP. His arguments were that he emerged second in the primary conducted by the PDP and deserved to be the standard-bearer in the case that Jonathan was no longer interested in running for the governorship election.

Secondly, he said it was unconstitutional for his party to nominate someone who didn’t indicate interest or participated in the party’s primary. To the amazement of everyone, the court granted the prayers of Sylva and he not only become the party’s candidate, but also went on to win the election.

This, according to observers of the politics of the state, was the point at which Alaibe shot himself in the leg. After this event, he had gone on to step down twice (2012 and 2016).

Another factor that may work against Alaibe is that the last 14 years, he has moved in and out of the PDP three times, and once in each of Labour Party and the APC.

Godknows Igali

Another man eyeing Dickson’s job in Creek Haven is Dr. Godknows Boladei Igali. He was born in Oporoma town, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.

A career diplomat, Igali has served all around the world since joining the Foreign Service in 1982. During his stay at headquarters, he distinguished himself as an expert in economic diplomacy and served as secretary to about ten Nigerian Economic Missions abroad between 1986 and 1991.

He also served severally as Secretary, Committee on Export to West Africa and as Special Assistant to Honourable Ministers of Foreign Affairs.

He was appointed the Nigerian Consul General to Cameroon (1999–2005). Dr. Igali served as the Special Assistant (Special Duties) in the Nigerian Presidential Villa (2005–2006) under former President Obasanjo.

During the period, he was also Secretary to the Presidential Committee on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes. In addition, he served as Secretary to the Presidential Subcommittee on Review of the Public Service Rules (2005).

He was later appointed Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Bayelsa State in January 2006.

He was appointed in 2010 as the Federal Permanent Secretary for Water Resources and then redeployed to the Federal Ministry of Power by then President Jonathan in 2013.

Keniebi Okoko

As the clamour for a young, visionary and new manager of resources to steer the ship of the state continues to gather momentum, the name Keniebi Okoko has been popping up and he is said to be the choice of young Bayelsa people.

Keniebi is the son of Professor Kimse Okoko, a renowned political scientist, one-time Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences and former president of the foremost pan-Izon nationalist organisation known as Izon National Congress (INC).

Okoko is a graduate of the University of Port Harcourt, majoring in Economics after which he proceeded to the renowned Carleton University Ottawa for another degree in Political Science.

The zoning arrangement

Whatever arrangement that would come would be among the three senatorial districts, namely Bayelsa West, Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa East. The state has only eight local government areas, with Bayelsa West made up of Sagbama and Ekeremor; Bayelsa Central, Southern Ijaw, Yenagoa and Kolokuma/Opokuma; while Bayelsa East comprises Nembe, Brass and Ogbia local governments.

The zoning arrangement for the office of the governor started from Bayelsa Central, with the late Chief Alamieyeseigha occupying the Creek Haven from 1999 to 2006 before he was impeached by the state House of Assembly.

After Jonathan concluded his tenure in 2007, Bayelsa East, through Chief Sylva, enjoyed its turn from 2007 to 2012 before a Supreme Court ruling disorganised his plan to re-contest for another term.

Then came the turn of Bayelsa West, with Dickson, from Sagbama Local Government Area and Bayelsa West Senatorial District, having the opportunity to represent his zone as governor from 2012 till date. This has made him the only governor in the history of the state to enjoy a second term in office.

From the foregoing, it has become common belief that it is Bayelsa Central that has the turn to produce the next governor of the state. In fact, there still exist divergent views on arriving at a lasting agreement on which local government should produce the governor from within Bayelsa Central Senatorial District.

While some political pundits are of the opinion that it is only natural for Yenagoa or Kolokuma/Opokuma to produce the next governor, since Alamieyeseigha, from Southern Ijaw, had had it, others think the two other local governments are not politically viable enough “because they are too small in terms of voting strength.”

Besides this, there exists the campaign over “core Ijaw” and “non-core Ijaw” ethnic groups and this was evident during the build-up to the 2016 governorship election in the state.

Beyond all these arguments and expressed sentiments, Okoko, Reuben Okoya, Alaibe, Igali and Joshua Maciver, all from Bayelsa Central, have filed out, indicating their interest to contest.

If the original zoning arrangement is followed, then the odds favours Alaibe from Kolokuma/Opokuma and Okoya and Okoko from Yenagoa Local Government Area.

As for the Bayelsa East Senatorial District where Sylva hails from, there are arguments that seem to be holding water against the original zoning arrangement. First is that, since all the three senatorial districts have had their turns in the Creek Haven, many have expressed the belief that there is nothing wrong if the new rotation for the new phase of the zoning starts from Bayelsa East.

The argument is that it is not compulsory that the zoning starts from Bayelsa Central. Observers said the equation would still be balanced, if Bayelsa East should be the first in the rotation of the office of the governor this time around.

The second argument is the one being propagated by Chief Sylva himself. His position is that his senatorial district is “being owed” one tenure. His argument stems from the fact that he was once denied the opportunity to run for a second term in office.

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