Monday, November 18, 2019 6:56 am
By Sam Omatsheye
It is not often that a columnist waits for the news on deadline. For the outcomes of the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship polls, I had to comment on the strength of knowledge. So, my fingers dithered on the keyboard until I knew.
The polls invoked paradoxes, and nothing excites a writer more than this. And we saw this at the weekend. For instance, everyone expected warfare in both Kogi and Bayelsa, but we expected Kogi’s harvest to be a child’s play compared to Bayelsa’s lords of the flies, apologies to Nobel laureate William Golding. The creeks squeaked compared to the growls and bloodlust of Kogi land grabs.
Kogi collapsed into fear and trembling. Ballot snatching, voter intimidation, gunshots, et al. It was a Hobbesian terrain. Those with the superior will to power must triumph. He who was bound to violence was bound to win.
But Bayelsa’s feast of paradoxes roils the mind. First, we heard the state governor’s outburst of outcry. Normally, during elections, governors soar, while the opposition is sore. Optimism and self-pride tranquilise their situation rooms. There is often tension, but it is a tension of hope rather than despair. Their minds are like the words of Poet Samuel Coleridge that “anticipation is more potent than surprise.”
But when a governor does not only sulk, but makes an open play of his frustration, you know the game is up. When Governor Seriake Dickson started calling for polls cancellations in Southern Ijaw, Nembe and other local governments, it was obvious he knew that his candidate’s face would not break into the smile of yesterday, that yesterday being when he triumphed, if controversially, in his party’s primary. That is a historic irony.
But it is a paradox because of the story of Oil Minister Timipre Sylva and former President Goodluck Jonathan. Who would have thought that Jonathan’s people and Sylva will be smiling together over an election result in Bayelsa. We know what harm Jonathan did to Sylva, and how the lanky fellow was kangarooed out of power as governor and, as president, he mounted a campaign against him with an EFCC hound. The irony, too, would be a horde of PDP stalwarts grumbling that their former leader has defected at home to sup with the enemy. But that is the drama that Dickson has wrought in his home state. The man Dickson called his elder brother when Sylva was the enemy has now become a sibling disaster.
The other historic irony is that David Lyon’s victory in Bayelsa signals the first big fall of the PDP stronghold in the Niger Delta. Not Dickson, not all the oil money could hold the state for the PDP. Dickson’s party was a prisoner of hope that fell in his own stronghold. The only man for the past decade who challenged PDP in the state has been Sylva. It looked like a hope against hope. But his fight has been a testament to tenacity, a man who glimpsed light where darkness fell and leapt into it. It was a tale of epic self-confidence sometimes put down as reckless.
Now, he will laugh while his opponents would say, like Walt Whitman in his poem The Compost, “Something startles where I thought I was safest.” Sylva has been a small man wrestling a giant for a decade. The big man brought Sylva down several times but his back did not graze the wrestling floor. The small man wearied the giant and, seeing the sweat, sagging muscles and despair of the hulk, Sylva took advantage and threw the giant in one fell swoop. That happened on Saturday.
Also ironic was that about four years ago, it was Sylva who was holding press conferences and making the case that he won the election but that Dickson and his men had corralled violence to undo his electoral fortunes. Dickson rallied the Ijaw nation as a mantra as though Sylva were a foreigner. The same Ijaw nation looked away from him and anointed Sylva’s anointed. It is a saga of political revenge on the back of the people.
In the election four years ago, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area was holding a huge chunk of the voters and the parties had to go through a rerun for two reasons: Its decisive tranche of voter count, and its dubious pride of place as a whirlwind of death, ballot snatching, gunshots, fights, brawls, et al. This time around, Southern Ijaw was a relatively tranquil story for Bayelsa.
It is also a story of David Lyon known for philanthropy and large hand, as against a governor’s reputation as a tight fist. His choice as APC candidate was a no-brainer in that respect. He was described in this column as the Li(y)on of his tribe because that is the root of David. He is known for his charisma and intense power of connection.
His campaigns were moments of bonding with the crowd. He is also an oil magnate in his own rights, a man of wealth and the common touch.
In Kogi, the main irony is not always an irony in Nigerian politics. He did not pay salaries. He did not connect with the people. He did not unmake a bad past of governance by remaking the state for good. Rather, he became a governor known for lack of vision. But he won not only by emphasis but landslide. This column recorded his lack of popularity. But the man boasted a huge war chest but he can now beat that chest. Is it electoral justice? His opponents said he marshalled the material and materiel of state. He won not fairly but fiercely. Einstein said: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Was that what happened? But the analysts of Kogi politics say his PDP opponent was no better. Was this a Hobson’s choice giving the Kogi people two bad choices and they followed the road once taken?
There is also the false humility of Kaduna State Governor, Malam Nasir El Rufai begging the Kogi people to forgive Yahaya Bello for his iniquities. He said he was on his knees. But in democracy, we don’t genuflect to elect. We don’t stoop to conquer. We earn our victories.
Both victories in Kogi and Bayelsa are victories of Buhari’s APC, and more potently a great moment for the party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, who accumulates accolades for his party while his party foes sulk and cry. It is no consolation for some members of the APC brass, including those in Buhari’s cabinet who worked for the opposition and wished APC lost because of envy of the rise of the profiles of some of their colleagues in their regions.
The last paradox is that in the two victories, APC was at once a challenger and defender. In Bayelsa, it challenged and torpedoed the incumbent party. No one would have thought it would be a landslide. It is one of the most consequential victories in Nigerian elections. In Kogi, they held the Alamo, if many question its strategy and tactics. It is Bello’s Kogi’s harvest.