By Lindsay Barrett
The consequences of the historically unprecedented result of Nigeria’s recent Presidential contest will reverberate for years to come in various sectors of the national polity, but in the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the incumbent ruling party’s candidate issues arising from the circumstance will probably be felt most keenly in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s home base of Bayelsa State.
This is especially so because President Jonathan’s base had remained steadfastly supportive of him and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in the polls.
Bucking the national trend the state gave the party full endorsement in the Presidential and National Assembly elections and an overwhelming mandate in the State Assembly elections a fortnight later.
State Governor Henry Seriake Dickson rallied the electorate behind what was characterised in the campaign as “the Presidential imperative” and recorded an almost complete rout of opposition challenges thus giving the President and the PDP a resounding victory in the state.
However, in the aftermath of the voting, serious cracks have appeared in the facade of the party’s unity both at the national and the local levels. At both levels some key figures in the party have been accused of acting in ways that were inimical to the party’s interest.
In Bayelsa State in particular there had been a breakdown of trust between the substantive Chairman and members of the State Executive even before the polls.
The State Executive Council had recommended the suspension of the Chairman, Retired Col. Sam Inokoba, barely a month before the elections and raised serious complaints against his conduct of affairs, especially where financial probity and cooperation with the Governor over the selection of candidates was concerned.
This was not, however, the only cause for dissension that raised its head within the party after the elections. It was also alleged that a number of key members in some communities were promoting an agenda that they claimed was supported by the “First Lady”Dame Patience Jonathan, which ran counter to Governor Dickson’s perception of what was best for the party in the state.
As a result even though the party received a resounding endorsement from the electorate the spectre of internal conflicts arising in the near future has dominated the deliberations of the leadership in the follow-up to the electoral exercise.
The Deputy Chairman of the party Barrister Serena Dokubo who has been designated Acting Chairman set up a disciplinary committee to look into the allegations and determine actions to be taken either to remedy the situation or sanction recalcitrant members of the party.
Barrister Dokubo emerged as Acting Chairman in circumstances that have been aggravated by the challenge being mounted in the state by the APC under the leadership of the immediate past Governor of the State Chief Timipre Sylva.
While Sylva is from the same Brass Local Government Area as Dokubo they hail from different State Assembly constituencies.
However, of only two non-PDP members elected to the 24-seat Assembly so far one is an APC member loyal to Sylva but representing Dokubo’s constituency.
Inconclusive results in Sylva’s constituency and one constituency in the President’s Ogbia LGA are to be rerun in early June.
Barrister Dokubo’s appointment to head the party is his first major political role in the state since he chaired the impeachment committee that removed former Governor D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha in 2006, thus paving the way for the ascent of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to the Governorship and eventually the Presidency.
While these connections might not explain his involvement in the present scheme of things many observers feel that his emergence reflects Governor Dickson’s determination to seize control of the party machinery.
He is regarded as a close associate and loyal supporter of the Governor’s agenda, and an experienced technocrat whose mandate is to renew the party structure to sustain public support in spite of recent setbacks.
In order to ensure that his administration can sustain the momentum of development with which he commenced against the challenge of a revitalised opposition Governor Dickson now has to look beyond the mobilisation of electoral support for the President as the rationale for retaining popular support.
This is relevant because he needs a second term to consolidate his strategy, and due to the circumstances in which he wrested the PDP ticket from his predecessor he will be facing a new electoral contest in early 2016.
Whereas the previous contests took place in an atmosphere of unassailable PDP impregnability the presence of Sylva in the hierarchy of the new ruling party at the Federal level suggests that there is some basis for expecting a more formidable challenge in any future tournament.
However several knowledgeable political observers in the state believe that the APC must contend with the public perception of under-achievement and irresponsibility that surfaced in the Sylva era. The opposition party itself will therefore be faced with the same challenge that the PDP is faced with of building a credible new structure if it is to overcome its previous absence as a genuine factor in the state.
The emergence of internal dissent and division in the Bayelsa State chapter of the PDP must be assessed in the context of this challenge.
Any disciplinary action contemplated against those who have been accused of anti-party activities has to aim to achieve meaningful renewal for the party rather than generating further bitterness.
With this in mind some observers have suggested that the party’s decision-making process over post-electoral recriminations must be undertaken in the spirit of reconciliation and with former President Jonathan’s own views being taken into consideration.
In one particular instance this consideration is of paramount importance since, surprisingly, one of the most prominent of those who have been accused of anti-party activities is actually one of the most important and longest-serving party functionaries, Senator Emmanuel Paulker.
Senator Paulker’s return to office for a third term was regarded as a sign of the party’s impregnable strength in the stateas well as having been touted as being the wish of the President.
In the aftermath of the polls though there have been numerous reports in national and local media suggesting that serious differences exist between the state’s senior Senatorial champion and the machinery established by the Governor. Senator Paulker’s seniority in the party and the National Assembly means that differences between him and his party can only undermine the solidarity of purpose that the PDP needs to exhibit in any confrontation with the APC in state-based politicking.
The emergence of some new figures from Bayelsa State on the national stage as a consequence of the PDP’s overwhelming state-wide victory in the polls has given the party reason to hope that, even in opposition, it will be regarded as an effective advocate of Bayelsa State’s cause.
Two notable instances, the victories of Fred Agbedi, a former state Chairman of the party and the immediate past Political Adviser to Governor Dickson, and DouyeDiri the immediate past Principal Executive Secretary to the Governor in contesting for seats in the House of Representatives, have placed experienced and seasoned political operatives at the centre. While neither of these highly effective political gladiators might have expected that they would be serving in the opposition camp they are both well versed in adversarial politics and steeped in the defensive tactics necessary to represent the interests of the underdog.
Fred Agbedi is actually returning to the National Assembly for a second time having been elected to the seat from Rivers State during the term of the government that was aborted by the June 12th imbroglio in 1993.
Since then his pedigree as a political organiser in Bayelsa State has been in the ascendancy and he was state Chairman of the party when Dr. Jonathan was elevated to the Vice-Presidency and was thus placed in a position to eventually occupy the highest office in the land.
Although Diri is emerging in elective office on the national scene for the first time, he had been an effective and active participant in the Ijaw protest movement that fought to protect the interests of communities from which the nation’s main economic resource, oil and gas, is drawn. He evolved from this to become an important grass-roots mobiliser for the PDP in the state and was its most effective Commissioner of Youths and Sports to date.