…Diri, Lyon, others battle for 889,308 votes
…Issues, factors that’ll shape exercise
By Samuel Oyadongha & Emem Idio
FORTY-FIVE candidates are jostling to clinch the coveted Creek Haven, Bayelsa State Government House.
However, the events of the last one month have shown that today’s governorship poll is a two horse race between Senator Douye Diri of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party and Chief David Lyon of the All Progressive Congress, APC.
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Aside Pastor Ebizimo Diriyai of the Accord Party whose scintillating performance during the state governorship debate threw him into limelight as a candidate to watch out for, others could best be described as paper tigers only warming the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC list.
Interestingly, only one candidate would emerge at the end of the poll in which they are expected to fight for 889,308 votes.
Today’s poll is perhaps the first election in the history of the state where an opposition party has really asserted itself and made no pretence of its preparedness to dislodge the ruling party from its 20-year dominance in the predominantly riverine state. The outcome of the poll is also expected to decide the political future and relevance of the incumbent Governor, Seriake Dickson and the current Minister of State for Petroleum and former governor of the state, Chief Timipre Sylva in the political equation of the state.
Giving former President Goodluck Jonathan’s dovish disposition, he may not attach much importance to the outcome of the poll as he has since graduated to a global ambassador of peace and seems detached from the politics of the state.
This is one election many observers of unfolding events in the state are convinced that the power of incumbency may not count due to the overwhelming power of the central government.
However, the ruling of Federal High Court, Yenagoa, which disqualified Lyon on the grounds of faulty APC primary as challenged by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, may hurt the chances of Lyon. The APC has appealed the court decision, got a stay of execution, the INEC said the election will go on as planned, it is to be seen if the 11th hour ruling will have any impact.
Dickson’s political survival, according to analysts, will be dependent on the victory of his anointed candidate; Senator Diri, who many believed wouldn’t have snatched the party ticket at the fiercely contested primary without Dickson’s influence and power of incumbency. Though hit by gale of defections the PDP has proved to be in a familiar terrain having been in power since 1999, it will be facing a herculean litmus test in its drive to retain the state.
Like he did in 2015 when he lived true to his sobriquet, Ofrumapepe (the great white shark that survives the tempest of the sea), Dickson, who proved to be the strategist, a dogged fighter and tactician that out foxed the APC blitz and shepherded the PDP to victory in one of the toughest contests ever witnessed in the state, is expected to once again deploy his political sagacity and astuteness to save his party, the PDP from obliteration by the APC.
Though Dickson is rounding off his second term, he remains the war chest of the PDP in the poll having held the party together at its tasking times, a singular feat Diri will be banking on to work in his favour and ensure the party’s continued dominance in the political landscape of Bayelsa.
Battle for the councils
In the 2015 governorship election, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, SILGA, had the highest number of voters and was the beautiful bride to the rival political parties and to an extent determined the winner of that contest.
Fast forward to 2019, after the Continuous Voter Registration, Yenagoa Local Government Area which also host the state capital has over taken SILGA as the local government area with the highest number of voters with Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs, 180,000.
In Yenagoa, the PDP and APC both have suave and dependable strategists. The victorious party in the council area will most likely be that whose foot soldiers are able to convince more registered voters in possession of their PVCs. The council boosts a large mix of non-indigenes, who are mostly traders of Igbo extraction and may likely go with the PDP.
The local government used to be one of the strongholds of the PDP. But in recent times, the defections and realignment of top politicians in the area might alter the voting pattern, and it is very unlikely if the PDP will win landslide majority votes here as political pundits believe the votes will be shared equally or 60:40 in favour of the PDP.
Interestingly, Yenagoa is made up of several communities where the chiefs and political leaders, to a large extent, determine the voting pattern in the area in every election.
The Creek Haven, the seat of power in the state, is located in the council area. That the local council is being controlled by the ruling PDP and has some of prominent indigenes of the area in government are expected to rob off positively on the candidature of Senator Douye Diri and his running mate, Senator Lawrence Ehwrudjakpo.
Hon Oboko Oforji, who represents the Epie-Atissai kingdom in the state house of assembly and a former Mayor of Yenagoa council area is another grassroots mobiliser and an asset to the ruling PDP bid to retain the governorship position. The PDP also boasts Barrister Osom Makbere, the PDP Publicity Secretary from the Epie axis of Yenagoa is another influential voice in his area that many of the youths love and look up to as their role model. The PDP also has several other political aides of the state governor such as the Secretary to the State Government, Kemela Okara, former Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide President and Commissioner for Environment, Engr. Udengs Eradiri, who have been mandated to deliver their respective units.
The APC on the other hand has former Speaker and Acting Governor, Werinipre Seibarugu to swing the votes in the Ekpetiama axis of Yenagoa in favour of the APC.
There is also Preye Agama, who the APC will be banking on sway votes in its favour, and Chief Diekive Ikiogha, a former Chief of Staff, Government House who played a major role in the emergence of Dickson as governor of the state before they fell apart. Ikiogha has the resources to swing the votes in his Kpansia area in favour of the APC. There is also Chief Godsknow Powell who can help divide the Agudama-Epie votes in the direction of the APC.
SILGA is next with 164,844 voters. The council area, which produced the first civilian governor of the state, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of blessed memory, late Senator David Brigidi could best be described as one of the strongholds of the ruling PDP until the incursion of the APC in the last general election where it snatched the House of Representatives seat.
Moreover, the APC candidate, David Lyon is from the council area and the party is hoping to exploit his popularity in this vast marshy swamp which is one of the largest oil producing areas in Niger Delta but yearning for development. The area is also one of the flash-points where security agencies will have to up their game due to the volatile nature of the area
Ekeremor Local Government Area has 123,562 voters, Ogbia LGA 108,691, Sagbama LGA 105,705, Nembe LGA 89,866, Brass LGA 65,900, and Kolokuma/ Opokuma 50,447.
Sagbama LGA :The PDP has a heavy and fortified presence in Sagbama LGA where the outgoing Governor Seriake Dickson hails from. The PDP running mate also hails from the area, and it is expected that they will win the area.
However, there are pockets of strong APC chieftains like the former Speaker and Acting Governor Nestor Binabo, Capt Mathew Karimo, and others. It is to be seen if their presence will prevent the PDP from sweeping the area.
Kolokuma /Opokuma LGA: This is the local government area of the PDP candidate and serving Senator Douye Diri where the PDP is expected to sweep. However, with a paltry 50,447 votes, the PDP must work harder in other swing local government areas to win the race.
Ekeremor: This is the local government area of the immediate past Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development and APC Governorship aspirant Senator Heineken Lokpobiri. In the last Governorship election, the PDP won the area massively.
However, the APC was able to clinch an assembly seat during the February general election defeating the candidate of the PDP and a close associate of the governor.
Although Senator Lokpobiri, regardless of the court ruling against the APC candidate has directed his followers to vote for the opposition party, in what observers believe is a master stroke that would boost the chances of the APC.
Brass, Nembe, local government areas are the home of the APC. The area is the home of the leader of the party and Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva. As a former governor, Sylva remains influential and command cult followership in the area. Little wonder the APC has dominated the politics of the area winning Assembly seats, House of Representatives seat, and a Senatorial seat as well. The APC running mate and serving Senator Degi Eremienyon is also from here. But the area has remained a flash-point as witnessed on Wednesday when supporters of one of the parties were killed by gun wielding thugs. The security agencies must be alert if a repeat of such ugly incident is to be averted.
Ogbia LGA: Though, this is the local government area of former President Goodluck Jonathan, it is one of the area that has witnessed massive defections from the PDP to the APC. The APC is the major beneficiary of defections in this area, and with Jonathan’s body language, it is most likely that the APC might come out tops here.
Southern Ijaw Local Government: This is a major swing LGA in Bayelsa politics. SILGA is not only the largest council but also boosts of the second highest number of voters. Incidentally, this is the council area of the APC Governorship candidate, Chief David Lyon. Lyon, before his sojourn into politics was already a household name in the area. Apart from being the highest individual employer in the state through his oil surveillance contracts, Lyon is also a philanthropist and is well loved by his people and beyond.
He is known to have single-handedly sponsored the sitting House of Representatives member from the area who defeated a sitting PDP Speaker and three-term assembly member.
SILGA is also home to some ex-militants warlords and MEND leaders. At the APC mega rally, the likes of Gen Boyloaf, Ogunbos, Joshua Maciver, Pastor Reuben Wilson, all pledged their support and endorsement for APC and Lyon. It is believed that the APC will win Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, all things being equal.
Where the battle will be won and lost
The epic centre of battle will be Yenagoa, Southern Ijaw and Ekeremor Local Government Areas with a total of 468,669 votes. Because of intrigues and political realities, these are the swing councils.