Bayelsa State Governorship Elections

17:34 Jan 11 2016 Port-Harcourt, Rivers, Nigeria

A Situation Report of the December 5 and Supplementary (Re-run) Elections

Handpicked by Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan to the dismay of most members of the PDP and the citizenry, Governor Dickson is contesting for second term as Governor. Majority of the populace do not want him for a second term because his tenure has allegedly been filled with gross underdevelopment of infrastructure in the midst of the high allocations the state receives from the federal government. Ex-Governor Timipre Sylva of the APC is the strongest opposing contender to Dickson and is apparently posing a threat to the governor’s second term bid. Dickson was therefore, in a make or mar contest for second term. On the part of Sylva, there were some odds against him. He is standing trail by the EFCC for alleged massive looting of the state treasury when he was governor between 2007 and 2012 and did very little in terms of infrastructural and human capital development. People of the state recalled how several innocent youths and persons were recklessly killed during his tenure as governor. His own people of Nembe ethnic extraction disliked Sylva because he was unable to complete the Yenagoa-Nembe road, which was one of the reasons he lost his bid to the senate in the April, 2015 general elections.

Coming on the heels of the defeat of Jonathan, the December election in Bayelsa State actually generated a lot of interests. Just before the December 5 elections, there were defections here and there. There were several underlining reasons for these defections. Those that left for the APC argue that Bayelsa State cannot survive without been connected politically to the APC-led Federal Government. On the other hand, the PDP asserted that those that defected to the APC are driven by greed and their persistent explore for a chance to reap from government resources. The PDP felt the defectors are relying on the might of the Federal Government to wrest power from Dickson. At some point, the Bayelsa State chapter of the PDP described the defectors as “traitors and enemies of the Ijaw nation”. Bye and large, prominent politicians dumped the PDP in their numbers, to realise their political ambition in the APC, which is growing in popularity in the South-south state. Both candidates were indeed worried over these developments but however they and their parties warmed up for the elections. Dickson was more worried because of the shame his defect and that of the PDP will bring to Jonathan and his likely trail for financial recklessness when he leave office. The elections still went on but with various forms of irregularities, violence and destruction of the electoral process.

The December 5 governorship election is regarded as a major election because the state has been governed by the PDP since 1999 with no major contest by other political parties. Majority of the people of Bayelsa State and PDP leaders believe that the December 5 election was a popularly test for Goodluck Jonathan. People viewed the election as APC versus Goodluck Jonathan and maintained that Jonathan is on a revenge mission against the APC, which may want to disgrace him the second time. So the PDP spread this sentiment during the campaigns to try to woo the electorate to vote for Dickson. Instead of issue based campaigns by the PDP and APC, what went on was filled with calumny as Dickson and Sylva abused each other publicly.

A major characteristic of earlier elections in the state was that there were no keen contests as they were dominated by the then ruling party, the PDP. However, this time around, it was a different ballgame completely. It was obvious that the defect of Jonathan at the April general elections and the subsequent election of the President Buhari under the APC did change the dynamics of politics in Bayelsa State. His defeat caused serious internal crisis within the state chapter of the PDP, which brought forth an element of disloyalty among its leaders and members while others out-rightly left for the APC as earlier mentioned. The eventual emergence of Dickson and Sylva as flag bearers of the PDP and APC respectively, it was thus impossible to rule out a political summersault that will see the APC at the national level grappling power from the PDP in Bayelsa State, only time will tell. Sylva and his cohorts bent the rules of the APC party primaries to emerge as the candidate, a situation that acted against him as some of the leading participants at the primaries and their supporters left the APC to pick the tickets in other political parties.

Notwithstanding the defeat of Jonathan, Dickson continued to say publicly, with confidence, that the state will always be controlled by the PDP. However, observers were of the contrary view because of the series of defections of PDP loyalists to the APC including the defection to APC of four members of the state house of assembly and a senator from the state. The resignation and defection of some key members of the state executive council and aides to the governor was regarded as the height of all defections and this almost broke Dickson’ back (or the carmel’s back). The defections triggered off further tension and fear of a possible tsunami in the build up to the gubernatorial elections. Apart from the defect of Goodluck Jonathan and the rising popularity and acceptance of the APC, one other factor that shaped the race to creek haven is the feeling that the South-south geopolitical zone is PDP’s only stronghold left. Chiefly based of the Ijaw ethnic nationality sentiment, a large portion of the citizenry towed the line of other ethnic nationalities that are mainly controlled by the PDP. This seems to have placed Dickson on a better advantage in addition to the fact that he may be more buoyant financially to fund the elections than his main rival.

Again, despite his defect, Jonathan is still the unifying and stabilizing factor in the PDP and Bayelsa State politics. As a former president, he still remains the major backer of most loyalists, elected representatives and friends of the PDP. At one time, it was alleged that Jonathan and Dickson were having some political misunderstandings and scuffles since the latter left office as president. In the build up to the elections, Dickson took it upon himself to lead the state chapter of the PDP as he dealt with the perceived “enemies” of the party for their anti-party role during the April polls. As governor, he used state apparatus to also deal with other perceived enemies to clear the way for a possible smooth ride back to government house. This move by Dickson continued to cause tension among perceived opponents.

The governor was alleged to carry out an in-house cleaning drive to flush out the loyalists of Jonathan’s wife and those that were not in support of his second term bid. These moves by Dickson further generated internal crisis within state PDP. Dissatisfied with what Dickson was doing, it was alleged that some youths faithful to the PDP took up arms against him. To realise his second term ambition, Dickson had to contend with some big wigs of both the PDP and APC. A notable member of the PDP was alleged to be the preferred candidate of Jonathan’s wife, to succeed the governor. Apparently conscious of this move against him, Dickson was alleged to have directed the Bayelsa State chapter of the PDP to suspend some key members of the party while others led by the preferred candidate were totally expelled for alleged anti-party roles they played during the 2015 state house of assembly elections.

From the crisis brewing within the state PDP, the APC became the main beneficiary. Following the endless defections from the PDP to the APC, it became very obvious that the December 5 governorship election will be the toughest so far for the PDP. In-spite of the odds against Sylva, the profile of the Bayelsa State chapter of the APC led by him increased remarkably. The open-door policy adopted by the APC attracted numerous viable governorship aspirants into the party. At first, Sylva as the leader of the party was claimed to have excluded himself from contesting the party primaries with an alleged agreement that he would be offered a federal appointment. This did not work out as expected, so Sylva came into the governorship race and eventually became the party flag bearer. Upon his emergence and based on his past antecedents as former governor of the state, the simple question in the minds of most people, who were desirous of change, was why Sylva; Sylva again? A lot of people felt very disappointed over his choice by the APC and this further changed the political dynamics. Most party members and the general public had wished that the APC choose the likes of Timi Alaibe, the former MD of NDDC as the flag bearer. Probably, fielding Alaibe would have changed the dynamics in much favour for the APC.

Yes, the December 5 elections had come and gone with results announced in most polling units in seven LGAs except Southern Ijaw LGA. As it was well known to everyone, the election was rescheduled due to the irregularities, violence that erupted in this LGA where more than five persons were allegedly killed and lots of others wounded. INEC had to pronounce the elections inconclusive because its outcome does not meet the stipulated electoral guideline to declare a winner. The electoral umpire thus fixed 9th January, 2016 for a supplementary, re-run election and was set to give its final verdict on what it earlier declared an inconclusive election in the state on 5th December, 2015. The re-run was however between Dickson of the PDP and Sylva of the APC. Fascinatingly, Southern Ijaw LGA is the second largest in Bayelsa State having 120,827 registered voters after Yenagoa LGA with 135,025 registered voters, hence the fierce battle there for both parties to capture bulk votes to be declared winner eventually. For the January 9 re-run, there were speculations of low voters’ turnout due to the tension that took place in the areas where the previous elections were cancelled.

The results of the December 5 elections in seven out of the eight LGAs as announced by INEC showed that the contest was really between Dickson and Sylva. The official figures from INEC confirmed that PDP got 105,748 votes while the APC polled 72,594. Governor Dickson was actually leading and confident of victory in that election before the exercise was cancelled in Southern Ijaw as a result of widespread violence and late start of accreditation and voting. However, the APC claimed that they were already winning with a landslide in Southern Ijaw from the early results and argued that if election in the LGA should be cancelled on the ground of violence, then the entire polls should also be cancelled as there was also widespread violence in the other seven LGAs across the state.

Quite characteristics of the two parties, there were cases of allegations and counter-allegations, finger-pointing, accusations and counter-accusations, in the build up to the January 9 supplementary elections. For instance, the acting chairman of the PDP at the national level alleged that the APC had before now prepared the results of the re-run elections in Southern Ijaw and other polling units in the rest seven LGAs. He also accused the federal government, alleging that all ministers and government officials from Bayelsa State and the rest part of the south-south zone have been directed to ensure that Bayelsa State is delivered to the APC at all cost. In the contrary, the federal influence was not employed because sources revealed that the APC-led national government wanted Sylva to test his popularity at the polls instead. On the other hand, the APC accused Governor Dickson of wanting to put his selfish ambition over and above the state interest. The APC, through its state chairman, maintained that the governor had shown very high level desperation, restlessness and excessive ambition in his pursuit to secure a second and final term regardless of the interests of the communities and people he claimed to govern.

This was not the case, however, because on 10th January, 2016, INEC finally declared Governor Henry Seriake Dickson of the PDP winner of the governorship race with 134,998 votes. Timipre Sylva of the APC clutched the second position with 86,852 votes out of 232,167 total votes cast in the first and second elections. Though both elections have come and gone, concerned persons are calling for thorough investigations of the purported cases of killings of innocent souls during the electoral process and arrest of the perpetrators of this evil crime to face the wrath of the law. Meanwhile, political observers, the people of Bayelsa State and indeed Nigerians are watching from the distance how events will play out in the coming days and the implications on the country’s legal and democratic process.

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