By Sam Oyadogha
It was a shocking defeat for several reasons. First, it occurred in a state that is often categorised as a stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) —Bayelsa State. What could have happened? Here is a state whose governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, has often said that no federal might can reverse the will of the people to safeguard the state against the crushing might of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Almost four years ago, he lived up to his promise when he crushed the APC during the governorship election. Thereafter, he was nicknamed:Ofuruma-Pepe, an Ijaw expression and a traditional title meaning “The great white shark that tames the ocean when the tempest is high.”
Second, the defeat of PDP by the APC took place in a senatorial district where some of the notable and respected politicians, both in the South South geo-political zone and Nigeria as a country, come from. The immediate past president of Nigeria and PDP leader, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, is from this senatorial district which also has Nember/Brass and Southern Ijaw Federal Constituencies. The late Senator Melford Okilo, former governor of the old Rivers State and senator of the Federal Republic also hailed from this political space; and was a member of the PDP.
Third, the defeat of PDP could as well be a come-back statement by a former governor of Bayelsa, Timipreye Sylva, who was kicked out of office after his first term. Sylva is said to be interested in seeking re-election as governor of the state in the November 16 governorship election. He tried a come-back about four years ago but failed woefully when he was massively defeated by Dickson in an election which Dickson was seen as underdog. Interestingly, Heineken Lokpobiri is also set for the APC governorship ticket.
All these account for why people see the defeat of PDP by the APC as a distortion of not only the political equation of Bayelsa but something that has also stirred up fresh controversies which, if not tackled, could work against the interest of the party in the forthcoming governorship poll in the predominantly riverine state. In that election, PDP lost two National Assembly seats in what has always been considered its traditional stronghold.
So, what happened? So many theories have been bandied to suggest that high handedness and imposition of unacceptable candidates by Dickson and the leadership of the PDP were responsible for the defeat and not the might of APC or the popularity of Sylva as the party leader. Some party leaders from the East Senatorial zone are said to have felt slighted over what they described as the shabby treatment meted out to them when candidates for the various elections were being picked by the powers-that-be.
A source close to Jonathan said the former President was unhappy with the state leadership of the PDP over the manner the primary elections for the last general elections were handled during which some unpopular candidates were allegedly foisted on the party. Sources said things came to a point where aggrieved PDP members decided—in protest—to cast their votes for the APC candidates in the elections.
With this, the invincibility and dominance of the PDP was completely shattered by the APC. The former’s candidate, Bishop Barakumo Degi-Eremienyo, was adjudged the winner of the senatorial election with 43,303 votes as against PDP’s candidate, Mr. Ipiganzi Izagara Blessing, who polled 32,363 votes.
The PDP, it was learnt, would have also lost the Ogbia Federal Constituency to the African Democratic Congress candidate, Mr. Rex Ogbuku, if not for the personal influence wielded by the State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Daniel Iworiso-Markson, and the Special Adviser to the Governor on Grassroots Mobilisation, Captain Ozu. Both were said to have rallied support for the candidate of the party, Mr Fred Obua, to coast home to victory.
As a part of the proof that the PDP lost its grip on Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency to the APC, Hon Israel Sunny-Goli, the only APC member in the PDP-dominated state House of Assembly, was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission after polling 41,150 votes as against 19,279 by Mrs Marie Ebikake of the PDP.
It was also not the usual roller coaster for the party in Southern Ijaw, its traditional stronghold, which was dismantled by the APC. Hon Preye Oseke of the APC trounced the incumbent Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Konbowei Benson, to clinch the Southern Ijaw federal constituency seat. He polled 56,804 votes as against Benson’s 34,105.
Before now, the ruling PDP had 100 per cent control of all the National Assembly seats in the state. The opposition party also clinched four out of the 23 state House of Assembly seats declared by INEC.
Though the state chapter of the PDP and Dickson insist that APC conspired with INEC and security agencies to subvert the will of the people, the defeat rattled the PDP and forced it to return to the drawing board to take stock of what went wrong.
Sunday Vanguard learned that many of the political leaders from the zone had questioned why Jonathan and even the state Deputy Governor were not allowed to make input in the choice of candidates for the various elections in the area. A group, Ogbia Renaissance, had, before the elections, raised the alarm that political associates of Jonathan were working against the interest of the PDP and called for disciplinary action against them by the leadership of the party in the state. This turned out to be a false alarm.
Also, Dickson’s associates had in the build-up to the elections accused some political leaders from the zone of mischief and blackmail, in order to pave the way for the anti-party role they intended to play against the party, warning that the PDP was taking note of their actions and would take appropriate steps at the right time.
Prior to the presidential and National Assembly elections, Senator Nimi Barigha-Amange, a close ally of Jonathan, who served in the Senate between 2007 and 2011, had left the PDP for African Democratic Congress, ADC, after the former’s primaries which, he said, were manipulated. He described as wicked and disservice to Jonathan insinuations that he, Jonathan, was backing him.
“After the PDP primaries, I voluntarily withdrew my membership of PDP because of the undemocratic manner in which primaries were conducted. The PDP should blame itself for hand-picking its candidates instead of blaming it on others. Those crying foul and insinuating my being used by Jonathan to cause political unrest in the PDP are ridiculous and disrespectful,” Amange had said.
Also some PDP leaders in Ogbia Local Government insisted that the blame for the not-so- impressive performance of the party in the presidential and National Assembly elections rests on the door steps of the governor who they argued was fully in charge of the party structures and the entire machinery of the state.
According to them, the party leadership failed to listen to the voice of wisdom that warned about the looming defeat, as a result of the poor handling of the party primaries in the area.
Meanwhile, Dickson has set up stock taking committees to investigate the activities of PDP leaders and political appointees at the general elections.
Inaugurating the panels tagged “Stock Taking Committees” in Yenagoa, Dickson, represented by his deputy, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd) who is also the Central Chairman of the Committees, said the committees were not designed to enforce discipline in the party but reposition it ahead of the November 16 governorship election in the state.
His words, “These committees are to evaluate the performances and roles played by party leaders and government appointees in the last election in the state and ensure the enforcement ‘of operation deliver your units’.
“The assignment given to the committees is not aimed at enforcing discipline in the party. Issues of discipline are exclusive preserve of the party leadership. All party members, appointees of Restoration Government are directed to cooperate fully with the committees, and the results of various units will be submitted to the party chairman by the Secretary to PDP.”
He charged the committees to be fair to all members and to avoid looking at their assignments as opportunities to settle old scores. The committees were inaugurated for the eight local government areas of Brass, Yenagoa, Ekeremor, Kolokuma-Opokuma, Ogbia, Sagbama, Nembe and Southern Ijaw.
Sunday Vanguard recalled that the only time an opposition party had it so good in the predominantly riverine PDP controlled state was in 1999 general elections when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) produced the Senator who represented Bayelsa West, a member of the House of Representatives representing Sagbama- Ekeremor Federal Constituency and three members of the State House of Assembly from Brass Local Government.