Bayelsa Election: Next Week’s Dickson, Sylva Battle

Bayelsa Election: Next Week’s Dickson, Sylva Battle

Saturday, November 28, 2015 10:11 am


Governor Seriake Dickson

Governor Seriake Dickson

As the people of Bayelsa state prepare to head to the polls to elect their governor on 5 December, there are issues that cannot be overlooked.

BY EROMOSELE EBHOMELE

Bayelsa, a Niger Deltan state in Nigeria, the most populous black nation on the continent of Africa, is a case for any academic research for a state where a governor has never had the opportunity to successfully serve or conclude the constitutionally guaranteed two terms of four years each. The governors, since the inception of democracy in 1999, have always been chased out, except for former President Goodluck Jonathan, who became the Vice President to late Umar Musa Yar’adua in 2007. One person making relentless effort to break this jinx is Seriake Dickson, who, until he became governor in 2011 under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was a member of the country’s House of Representatives.

On the other side of the ring currently slugging it out with Dickson, is Timipre Sylva, a former governor of the state, who got sworn into office on 29 May, 2007 after Jonathan became a Vice President, and whose tenure was left unpalatable allegedly because of the supremacy battle that ensued between him and Jonathan, who became president after the death of Yar’Adua in 2010. In 1999, the state was governed by the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was impeached for alleged corruption in office. Jonathan, his then deputy, took over. Timipre Sylva took over from Jonathan, but was shown the way out by both the Supreme Court and his party. Sylva was one of the five governors that were sacked by the Supreme Court which ruled that they had overstayed their constitutionally guaranteed four-year tenure even though their states had a re-run in 2007. The other governors affected by this landmark judgement of the Supreme Court were Murtala Nyako of Adamawa state, Liyel Imoke of Cross River state, Ibrahim Idris of Kogi and Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto state.

But while Sylva was battling with the law, his party, the PDP, handed the governorship ticket to Dickson. Sylva accepted the verdict of the Supreme Court and urged his supporters to stay calm as he would bounce back to become the governor of the state after successfully waging a legal battle with his party over the ticket which had been handed Dickson. It ended up a fruitless fight anyway. But analysts think Sylva saw his own future with the comment. Now, he is the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the 5 December governorship election in the state. If he wins, he would have made history in the state as the first governor to be elected again years after he left office just like Governor Ayodele Fayose of Nigeria’s Ekiti State.

As the date for the election draws close, the race is seen as a battle between these two giants even though other political parties have thrown up candidates for the exercise. Sylva and Dickson and their supporters have adopted various means of reaching out to the residents of the state. Part of these is the adoption of nicknames that signify the extent of the political battle currently taking place in Bayelsa. It is already very common in Bayelsa to hear Ofurumapepe and Opu Abadi. Ofurumapepe stands, in the native language of the Bayelsans, for a wild shark while Opu Abadi means the sea or ocean.

While loyalists of Dickson, the Ofurumapepe, think he is Mr “no shaking” like the PDP would always say, some residents and political watchers feel there is need to shake because Sylva, the Opu Abadi, could just swallow the wild shark, which without water, cannot survive. Such is the fireworks just a week to the election.

But for Bayelsans, the two individuals come with a huge baggage each. The Sylva era as governor, was riddled with crisis between him and the PDP and this tended to distract him most of the time. He struggled between making a mark as governor and getting victory from his fight with the party and, as some may say, the presidency. During his reign, Sylva fought severally to rid the state of the rising surge of criminal activities. However, Miebi Bribena, one of his campaign directors, in a recent television interview, explained that Sylva could better be described as one who won the fight against criminal elements in the state. According to Bribena, apart from setting up a security outfit, Sylva was the first to write to then President Yar’Adua suggesting the establishment of an amnesty programme for genuine militants in the Niger Delta. The issue of how Sylva was once stoned at an event is still a reference point for the PDP, which have argued that the stoning of Sylva was not politically motivated, but a way by which the people of the state showed their dissatisfaction with his “incompetence”. Sylva and his team believe that the stoning was the result of the plot by the presidency, as occupied then by Dr. Jonathan, to rubbish him and further paint him in bad light.

Timipre Sylva:

Timipre Sylva:

Sylva has also suffered a claim that he may not have the backing of many of the top members of the APC. This speculation doubled when most of the chieftains of the APC were absent at the flag-off of his campaign. But Bribena says this is not true as the party was fully represented with Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the party’s National Chairman, in attendance.

While loyalists of Dickson, the Ofurumapepe, think he is Mr “no shaking” like the PDP would always say, some residents and political watchers feel there is need to shake because Sylva, the Opu Abadi, could just swallow the wild shark, which without water, cannot survive. Such is the fireworks just a week to the election.

In spite of this, one thing going on for Sylva is the belief in some quarters that Dickson had left the state worse than he met it about four years ago. This set of residents argue that Bayelsa, which is 20 percent land and 80 percent water, is peopled by a set of Nigerians who have been rendered poorer than they were by government’s actions and inactions. The residents of the state are not alone in this line of arguments. Dickson first got the bite of an angry godfather when he fell out of favour with the then First Lady Patience Jonathan, who the governor had, despite huge criticisms, worn the toga of a Permanent Secretary of the state. When the rift surfaced, Mrs. Jonathan resigned her appointment as Permanent Secretary and reportedly commenced search for Dickson’s successor. This weight on Dickson’s shoulder, as it was learnt, may not be easy to drop. As campaigns revved up, one issue that came up was the alleged arrest and detention of Tonye Okio, a businessman and social critic for over two months from 26 October for allegedly criticising Governor Dickson. However, Dickson’s supporters as well as his party say he is one of the best things to happen to the state since creation.

Again, there are reports that some former commissioners in the state, who served Dickson’s government, are now working against him. Through the Network for Bayelsa People’s Forum, NBPF, the team led by Mr. Ibipa Oweiza, as its chairman, had started its campaign against Dickson right before the endorsement of the governor by the PDP. The group has vowed to repeat the fall of the PDP like it happened at the national level where the endorsement of former President Jonathan is widely seen as one of the major reasons the party lost the 2015 presidential election to Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. “We are averse to the governor contesting for second term on the platform of the PDP because if he does, the party will lose woefully. The governor has squandered his political goodwill and such is bad for our party. He cannot be governor again. We will use all constitutional means to ensure he does not come back,” Mrs. Marie Ebikake, a former Commissioner for Transport under the Dickson administration and co-ordinator of the PDP Unity Forum, also warned.


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