2011: Bayelsa seeks divine intervention

THE PUNCH Newspaper

With the race for the 2011 elections picking up in several states, OLAMILEKAN LARTEY writes that Bayelsa appears to be seeking a divine intervention in the choice of a credible governorship candidate to rescue the state from stagnation Despite the frenetic pace at which politics is moving in other parts of the country, Bayelsa State

has remained stuck in groove.

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the state and the people feel they are on the way to another four years of stagnation. Until last week, when the incumbent, Chief Timipre Sylva, declared his intention to seek a second term, many had thought the race to liberate the state from its perceived servitude would be hard fought.

The rivalry in the Peoples Democratic Party has been so fierce that there has been doubts about Sylva’s chances of a second term in the government house. But with no formidable opposition and a sudden unforeseen realignment of forces, it seems Sylva’s return for another four years is a done deal. Indications that Sylva may have triumphed over his critics emerged when the governor submitted his nomination form at the PDP headquarters, accompanied by the same people that had been his most vociferous critics and political opponents. The presence of powerful Abuja-based politicians to give Sylva an open support and the demonisation of the media as the source of the perceived feud left the state bewildered.

Last week, sources told SATURDAY PUNCH that President Goodluck Jonathan had assured politicians in his home state of a level playing field and that all the politicians should go to the field to test their strength before the voters. It was, therefore, not a huge surprise when political bigwigs, who had fled the state at the peak of ‘the family feud’, returned and even visited the party secretariat for consultations on their aspirantions. It was learnt that the mending of forces was responsible for the presence of Senators Emmanuel Paulker and Heineken Lokpobiri, as well as members of the House of Representatives such as Mr. Clever Ikisikpo, Seriake Dickson and Warirman Ogoriba at the fanfare with which Sylva submitted his nomination forms.

Sylva again insisted there was no problem in the Bayelsa PDP. He said, “We believe in the unity and oneness of the party. The PDP is one and soon you people will begin to hear all the good stories out of Bayelsa.” Lokpobiri spoke in the same vein. The senator said the perceived crisis in the party could only be the result of delusion. “There is no problem whatsoever among the people of the PDP in the state. If there was any problem at all, it must have been as a result of misinformation or misconception in the minds of the people or a creation of the media,” Lokpobiri said.

But the people were not deceived: they have never been. As the news of the spectacle reached the state, many shuddered in disbelief. The same political leaders they had expected to provide the opposition that would challenge Sylva in the 2011 poll and rescue the state had become his allies because they needed his support to return to the National Assembly. A source told our correspondent that with the PDP reverting to its old delegates system that made governors the lords of the political manor, Sylva had emerged the leader of the party by default. But some have vowed not to fold their hands and watch the state slip out of their grip.

A group, the Concerned Peoples Democratic Party of Bayelsa State, said Sylva was insincere in the way he handled the affairs of the party. The group alleged that the governor had strangulated and refused to accommodate all the factions of the party, despite the clear directives of the PDP National Working Committee that had called for a fresh congress in the state. Prominent members of the group include the factional chairman of the party, Mr. Fred Agbedi, and the impeached deputy governor, Chief Peremobowei Ebebi. They alleged that the lingering feud could threaten Jonathan’s ambition if the party allowed Sylva to use an illegal executive to conduct the congress.

Bayelsa is one of the eight states where the Independent National Electoral Commission said the executives were illegal. The spokesman for the group, Mr. Furebi Akene, said Bayelsa was one of the states where congresses had been annulled. “As loyal party members, we are worried that the present state of affairs in the party in Bayelsa is extremely precarious. INEC has repeatedly warned that the PDP candidates that will emerge from states where congresses were not conducted, or properly conducted in year 2008 will not be recognised. Political developments and the situation of the party executive in the state clearly indicate an ominous sign that the governor of Bayelsa and his hand-picked nominees will automatically be returned as PDP candidates without a level-playing field in clear contradiction of the President’s commitment to conduct of free, fair and credible elections,” Akene said.

The Ijaw Youth Council raised the same alarm. The umbrella body of Ijaw youth organisations said there was already a subversion of the system with the hijacking of several political parties by the governor and his cronies in government. The IYC national spokesman, Mr. Jeremiah Owoupele, said the situation in Bayelsa was worrisome because of its implication on credible elections in other states of the country. Owoupele said the PDP in Bayelsa was bent on ignoring INEC’s warning about illegal congresses.

But Sylva has waved away the Concerned PDP members as unserious politicians, who are only seeking attention. The state Commissioner for Information, Strategy and Orientation, Mr. Nathan Egba, said the politicians had lost the confidence of the people and therefore, would use any means to get into public reckoning.

“There is no reason to attempt to discredit a process that has not even started. If they have confidence in their capability, they should prepare for the primaries instead of blaming their lack of popular acceptance and imminent failure on others,” he said.

Egba might be right. No governorship aspirant has a popular acceptance, not even the incumbent. As INEC aborted Sylva’s dream of staying in office till 2012, there was an effervescent sense of relief in the state. Sylva and his supporters had impressed it upon the state that his tenure would end in 2012, and not 2011. The governor had told a delegation of Bayelsa State Elders Forum that he would contest the election if it was the wish of the people. The elders had urged Sylva to continue and run for a second term in order to finish the good works he had started.

The governor said he needed another four years to develop the state and deliver on his promises of progress. Apart from a caustic reply to Sylva from the chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria in the state, Mr. Miriki Ebikibina, there has been no response from anywhere apart from a general mourning that has enveloped the state at the prospect of another four years of gloom. “Gov. Sylva’s contemporaries such as Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State; Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State; Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers, Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State and Peter Obi of Anambra State and several others across the country have done creditably and exceedingly well despite the global economic recession by impacting positively and meaningfully on the lives of the people of their states,” Ebikibina said.

He said unlike Sylva, these governors had put in place people-oriented policies and programmes that had a direct bearing and impact on the lives of their people. He added that these governments had been sensitive to the plight of their people. The ACN chieftain challenged Sylva to boldly point out projects and policies that had improved the lives of ordinary people in the state rather than give the untenable excuse that a four-year term was inadequate for any government to deliver the dividends of democracy and impact meaningfully on the lives of people.

The situation in Bayelsa is, indeed, precarious. Even the all-knowing ACN has neither a credible

candidate nor the structure to challenge Sylva and the PDP. From the PDP family, however, there is an array of spineless contenders, who would probably be roughly shoved aside during the expected shenanigans in the name of party primaries. At the last count, the list was about 10, but most of them are either based in Port Harcourt or Abuja, where they make statements that clearly indicate they have no ideas why they want to contest the election. SATURDAY PUNCH learnt in Yenagoa, the state capital, that most of the surrogate aspirants would soon step down or fizzle out. But one of the leading governorship aspirants, Dr. Imoro Kubor, has insisted he is not a front for anyone or group. A former university teacher and retired permanent secretary in the Federal Civil Service, Kubor said it was high time technocrats played an active role in the task to rescue Bayelsa. “I have no quarrel with people who have been at the helm of affairs in the state, I don’t know their limitations. I’m not going to step down for nobody. I’m in this race to get to the end,” he said. The same determination is, however, lacking from other aspirants. Top on the list of contenders on the PDP platform are Ebebi, Dr. George Ombeh, Chief Benimo Spiff, and Mr. Micheal Okosi. From the Labour Party is Chief Abel Ebifemowei, a former aide to ex-governor Deprieye Alamieyeseigha, and Mr. Famous Daunemigha of the Congress for Progressive Change.

As the race picks up, though slowly, it is expected that Spiff, another major contender and threat to Sylva’s suzerainty, may break the ice. “If Sylva has performed, I don’t have to be in the race. He has not performed. I’m on a divine mission because I have been sent to do a job. Sylva must leave that place,” he said.

An unbiased analysis of the political atmosphere in Bayelsa will, however, show that the project to rescue the state in 2011 may require just some divine intervention.


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