The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are warming up for the governorship election in Bayelsa State. Who succeeds Governor Seriake Dickson? Correspondent MIKE ODIEGWU examines the aspirants and their chances at the poll.
The stage is set for the governorship poll in Bayelsa State. Many believe that the All Progressives Congress (APC) stands a chance of winning the November poll. The chance, however, depends largely on the ability of the party leadership to resolve its crises.
APC has been in troubled waters since its inception in the state. The party’s membership swelled in 2015, following the defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan by the President Muhammadu Buhari. Most PDP leaders abandoned Governor Seriake Dickson in droves and joined the broom party.
Indeed, APC benefitted from the gale of defections that almost collapsed the PDP in Bayelsa. But, the mass exodus became more of a curse than a blessing to the party and contributed in depleting its fortunes in the last governorship poll.
In fact, the party has to avoid a repeat of the crisis that led to the emergence of Sylva as its candidate in the 2015 election. The primary was a battle between Sylva and a former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Ndutimi Alaibe, who led notable PDP members to the APC at a colorful ceremony.
While Alaibe was expected to emerge as the party’s flag bearer, having cornered most of the APC delegates, Sylva and his supporters had a different plan. The state leadership of the party under the chairmanship of Chief Tiwe Oruminighe backed Sylva and did everything to frustrate the emergence of Alaibe. Therefore, the environment was charged when a panel led by the former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, came to conduct the primary at the Samson Siasia Sports Complex.
Violence broke out and Oshiomhole, who was accused of coming with a script to deliver Alaibe, was held hostage. The hullabaloo led to the cancellation of the shadow election and compelled the national leadership to mandate Mansur Dan Ali, who later became the Minister of Defence, to conduct a fresh poll Alaibe officially withdrew, having read the handwriting on the wall.
The Dan Ali intervention led to the emergence of Sylva as the candidate, but it also generated a bad blood in the party, especially in the camp of Alaibe. The state leadership failed to make conscious efforts to embark on post-primary reconciliation to calm frayed nerves.
While the dust raised by the primary and the circumstances that led to Alaibe’s withdrawal from the contest was yet to settle, another crisis crept into the APC, following the choice of the running mate. Oruminighe had nursed the ambition to become Sylva’s running mate. Sources said Sylva promised the party chairman the slot, adding that it was the reason Oruminighe worked for the former governor.
But, Sylva’s decision to snub Oruminighe by picking a retired principal, Wilberforce Igiri, who hails from Southern Ijaw, the same local government area with Oruminighe, further threw spanner in the works of the APC. Oruminighe and his supporters revolted against the decision and the unresolved issue reduced his commitment to the project to unseat Dickson.
Indeed, the APC went into the crucial election with many unresolved crises, which demoralized key members. So, there was no party cohesion and strategies to win the election. Many party leaders abandoned Sylva and his ambition to complete his tenure in the state. The party is still polarised after its defeat by Dickson and the PDP.
Sylva and the APC went up to the Supreme Court to challenge the victory of Dickson. But, the party failed at each judicial level. The development led to the return of many key members of the party to the PDP. Amidst the controversies, the party suspended Oruminighe and three other members of the state executive committee after indicting them of anti-party activities. Joseph Fafi was appointed as an acting Chairman, pending the congress of the party.
Alaibe and many others reunited with Dickson. Oruminighe led his supporters to the PDP at a mega rally. Indeed, the PDP harvested many members of the APC prior to the just-concluded general elections in the state.
Need for genuine reconciliation
APC is indeed yearning for genuine reconciliation ahead of the governorship poll. The last congress that removed Fafi threw the party into division. A faction led by a former Acting Governor Nestor Binabo and a founding member of APC, Preye Aganaba, battled Sylva at the congress.
Both camps held parallel congresses and produced two lists of state executive committee members. While the Binabo camp retained Fafi as a substantive chairman, the Sylva group, including the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, elected one Jothan Amos to chair the party.
Though the national leadership recognised Sylva’s list, the Binabo-Aganaba group went to court to challenge the decision of the party. Binabo appealed to Oshiomole to resolve the crisis in Bayelsa chapter. Though Binabo said his faction had withdrawn the matter from the court, he insisted that the APC should embark on reconciliation before the next primary.
Binabo, a former Speaker of the House of Assembly, said APC in its current form in Bayelsa would find it very difficult to win the governorship election. He said party leaders must come together in a roundtable to discuss and resolve knotty issues before the primary election.
He said: “What we need is harmonised settlement. We have two groups and these two people are fighting. You have two children fighting what do you do as a father? You call them and settle, not so? The thing is that all the interest in the group should be looked into and then, put everybody at the proper position. Like I always say, a house divided against itself will always fall”.
Binabo added that the progress made by the party in the last general elections was because of protest votes by the PDP and the personality of President Muhammdu Buhari. He stressed: “APC tried in the last general election. We had increase in the number of votes compared to the last general election.
“But, this was because of the protest votes from the PDP against some of the candidates from their party and because of the personality of President Buhari, who was viewed by many people as a man of integrity. It is going to be a different ball game in a governorship election. That is why we need to start now with reconciliation”.
Despite the disharmony in the APC, Aganaba while, recognising the need for reconciliation, said the party was united, adding that each member of the party worked very hard in the last general election.
He said: “We all participated in in the last election. At this point what we are looking forward to is building the party. I see us coming out stronger. The most important thing is that stakeholders in party have agreed to build the structure of the party.
“The APC in Bayelsa is united. There are contending issues in the party. It still does not change anything because the party is one and we have been meeting informally to resolve those issues”.
Maximising APC’s fortunes
Though the APC made impressions in the last general elections, observers believe that the party would have done better, if its leaders had worked as a team. The leaders were working separately in their various camps to deliver individual results for the party.
There was also the fear of a cold war between Sylva and Lokpobiri. Unlike before when both were seen together, they went solo throughout the general elections. Some of their aides’ however, dismissed insinuations of disagreement between the two leaders. Among the various groups in the party, Sylva’s camp was more frontal in delivering results for the APC and replying the verbal attacks against the party from Dickson and the PDP.
Sylva’s ruggedness led to a close contest between the National Assembly candidates of the PDP and those of the APC. Beyond all expectations, INEC confirmed that candidates of the APC won two seats in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate.
But, PDP won the rest. The party was declared winner of three House of Representatives seats, two senatorial seats and 20 seats in the House of Assembly. The party has since dragged the APC and its candidates to court, vowing to reclaim what it termed its stolen mandates.
The APC is expected to consolidate on its performance and give the PDP severe fight at the governorship poll. Sylva, Lokpobiri, Binabo, Aganaba and other party leaders must swallow their pride, make sacrifices and work together as a team to survive another defeat at the poll.
Who flies the flag of APC
The outcome of the next governorship primary of the APC will make or mar the party at the poll. To stand a chance at the poll, Binabo said the candidate of the party must emerge in a transparent, free, fair and peaceful process. He said members of the party would not accept imposition and intimidation. He insisted that the party members would reject any candidate that emerged through a violent process.
Nobody has indicated interests to contest the party’s flag. Everybody appears to be waiting for the decision of Sylva. Already, Sylva’s loyalists have started prompting him to declare his intentions. Sylva, who is the party leader, is believed to be nursing the ambition to complete his term of office. His attempt in 2015 ended in fiasco and pitched him against Oshiomhole, who accused the former governor of holding him hostage at the venue of the APC primary election.
With the emergence of Oshiomhole as the APC National Chairman and his radical leadership approach, most people are wondering whether the party chairman and his National Woking Committee (NWC) will be disposed to a man he described as violent in 2015 flying the flag of the party in 2019. Sources from Sylva, however, claimed that their boss and Oshiomhole had since reconciled their differences explaining that the party chairman would not stand in the way of their principal.
Though the decision of most party stalwarts in APC on their governorship ambitions depend on Sylva, Aganaba, who hails from Odi in Kolokuma-Opokuma Local Government Area, has a different opinion. Recently in a radio interview Aganaba stirred controversies. He subtly advised Sylva to shelve his governorship ambition and support a younger and fresher aspirant for the APC’s ticket.
Acknowledging that Sylva had the constitutional rights to contest the election, Aganaba opined that having been within the political terrain for about 20 years, the likes of Sylva should be promoting ambitions of younger politicians.
No sooner had he made the statement than loyalists of Sylva hauled verbal attacks at him. The Director-General, Timipre Sylva Support Organisagion (TSSO), Wilfred Ogbotobo, cautioned Aganaba.
He said: “An Aganaba has not been seen in APC gatherings, and that particular Preye Aganaba, sincerely, cannot refer to Sylva as ‘old’. He cannot claim to be a boy in the circle of 55year olds.
“The said Preye Aganaba probably need to be informed that only the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can advise Sylva’s political intentions, and not minions acting the scrips of the hegemonic elites.
“Aganaba and his ilks should here and now realize that the Bayelsa APC will not allow forces from the Bayelsa ‘Bermuda triangle’ to use the state party structure as a lauchpad to further stymie the already recklessly impoverished state. Preye Aganaba should therefore look for something else to latch on in whatever political adventure he is presently pursuing. He should leave Sylva out.
“Moreover, if Sylva needs advise, there are multitudes of ordinary party men and women who toiled with him day and night to raise the APC in Bayelsa state from the pieces of the CPC, ACN and ANPP. These are the only competent people to offer such advice. And I believe we are not in haste to do that”.
But Binabo in his submission maintained that the APC could not afford to repeat the mistake of 2015. He said the party must do everything possible to give all aspirants fair play at the primary adding that any attempt to impose a candidate on party members would return Bayelsa back to the PDP.
“There is no doubt that we have an opportunity to win Bayelsa in the forthcoming election. But we must avoid the mistake we made in 2015. Our party must conduct the best primary election that will give all aspirants equal opportunities to fly the flag of the party. Our candidate should not emerge from intimidation and violence. All of us need to come together to promote peace and unity”, he said.
Apart from Sylva and Aganaba, others who may join the race are a two-time member of the House of Representatives, Warman Ogoriba; a former Chief of Staff, Chief Dikivie Ikiogha; Prof. Millionaire Firstborn Nestor Abowei, Godspower Okpoi and others.
Ahead of the poll, Dickson and the APC have renewed their rivalries. Dickson recently taunted the APC, saying the party lacked required structures to win the election. The governor, who described the APC as a terrorist organisation, said the party could only rely on federal might and security agencies during the election.
Dickson said the APC’s reliance on federal might and security agencies would fail them. He also warned PDP members against anti-party activities. He said for Bayelsa to maintain its position as a stronghold of PDP, there was a need for members to put aside their differences and work for the success of the party in the coming election.
He said: “There are two systems that will clash again in this governorship election. They are the state system which I lead with our teaming supporters and the Federal system that will be deployed in this election. As a result, the old way of playing politics must change.
“Bayelsa is a stronghold of PDP. We are going to prove that again with our voters cards in the forthcoming Governorship election. We can not be intimidated by heavy presence of security operatives and political thugs. They had failed in the past. They will fail again this time around”.
But, the APC fired back. The party derided Dickson for calling the party a killer terrorist organisation. “We find Governor Dickson’s vituperations crude, infantile and extreme. Those words are completely unbefitting of a high-ranking officer of state”, a statement by the APC Publicity Secretary, Doifie Buokoribo, said.
Buokoribo said the party was not surprised that Dickson could use such gutter words to describe the APC, adding that the governor was known to be a colourless, uninspiring and cretinous politician.
He said: “Dickson and his gang in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have always proved to be a club of visionless little minds with neither programme nor strategy, save crude mudslinging against APC and its leaders.
“If not, why would a responsible party on the eve of a crucial election make the campaign of falsehood and slander against a rival party the highpoint of a meeting of its most important members?
“As if that was not ridiculous enough, Dickson and gang went ahead to delude themselves with a lie that the party that was virtually the only newsworthy issue at the PDP meeting on Monday was of no consequence.”