The November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa is not merely an exercise to pick a successor to Governor Seriake Dickson. It is a proxy war of sort by the contending tendencies within and outside the state. At the state level, the immediate gladiators are Senator Duoye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC). There are other candidates and political parties for the contest but the two are the major factors. On the surface, it is a straight battle between continuity, which Diri represents and change which Lyon symbolises. Both came a long way in clinching their parties’ tickets. For Diri, it was a tough task winning a pack of aspirants that included erstwhile Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC)Director, Timi Alaibe. Such was the case with Lyon who beat other contenders to emerge the APC flag bearer. The contest therefore promises to be exciting, all things being equal, as they say.
The question however, is whether all things will ever be equal. Many considerations inform this fear. Aside the PDP and APC that will be on the ballot as contenders for the office, the Federal Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which are supposed to give assurances of a free poll, are already seen as interested bodies in the exercise. To the PDP in Bayelsa, INEC has already compromised itself in the recruitment of Supervisory Presiding Officers (SPO) for the election. The spokesman of Diri’s campaign organisation, Jonathan Obuebite, has raised the alarm of the electoral umpire colluding with the APC to contract a particular Federal University Otuoke Lecturer to supply APC members as SPOs in an attempt to subvert the election. The PDP has consequently called for the withdrawal of the list and removal of the State’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Monday Udoh, who it said, “has lost the credibility having shown an unacceptable level of bias to carry out a free, fair and credible election in the State”. INEC has dismissed the charge.
But the suspicion of Federal Government having more than a passing interest in the election, remains high. A couple of days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the release of N10 Billion to Kogi, which incidentally is also holding elections with Bayelsa the same day. The President had reportedly argued that “the money would be used by the state government to settle local debts it incurred as a result of the projects executed on behalf of the Federal Government”. Governor Yahaya Bello of Buhari’s APC is going for re-election in Kogi. The timing of the fund release in a system where the electoral process has been heavily monetised, has remained suspect. More suspicious however, is denying Bayelsa of similar gesture, given that it has also executed projects on behalf of the Federal Government in the state. Critics see the exercise as deliberate effort to weaken the PDP in Bayelsa.
The argument may not sound strong to some. But the desire by the APC to show more presence in the South East and South-South, has not been disguised, lately. Edo, for now, remains the only state under its column in the two geo-political regions. Its efforts to increase its stakes in the zones through Imo and Rivers, in the last election, were thwarted by in-fighting among its members. And with Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki engulfed in a consuming feud with his erstwhile godfather and APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, there have been fears of the governor dumping the party for his re-election, if the push becomes too hard. If that happens, APC will not have any state in both regions.
Capturing Bayelsa on November 16, is therefore seen as a strategic move for APC to remain relevant in the South-South, at least, and to send signals to Obaseki to play by the rules. Besides, winning the poll will embolden the APC for more push into the South East where it is currently loathed by the voters. The stakes, are thus high on the Bayelsa governorship poll.
PDP however has the edge, baring the unforseen. Since the onset of the current civilian dispensation, Bayelsa has remained among its strongholds. Most of the prominent politicians in the state, belong to the party. Diri, its candidate for the poll, is also not a stranger to the politics in the state. Having functioned as a Teacher, Ijaw activist, Sports Commissioner and member of the House of Representatives before his current position as a Senator, he can be said to have seen it all in the state. His admirers also enthuse that he is not a bench warmer in the Senate.
Diri has laid out his agenda in aspiring for the highest office in the state. He has, for instance, promised to build on the giant strides of Governor Dickson in giving education a boost as well as involving more Bayelsans in the economic activities of the state. He has also pledged to sustain the tradition of the administration in many respects. The PDP structure in the state is also strong and visible in all the local government councils. Besides, Diri’s recent endorsement by the former President Goodluck Jonathan, should be enough to earn him the votes from the electorate. All however depends on how INEC and other organs of the government charged with the November 16 election will handle the exercise.