Bayelsa State Governor Seriake Dickson has said that the ‘Restoration’ camp will sponsor a consensus governorship candidate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) primary. Do other aspirants have a chance at the shadow poll? Senior Correspondent Mike Odiegwu examines the preparations for the primary.
On September 3, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will hold its primary to choose the governorship candidate for the November 16 poll in Bayelsa State.
No fewer than 20 aspirants are battling for the ticket.
Obviously, the race has become a straight battle between the Restoration Caucus of the PDP, led by Governor Seriake Dickson, and the non- restoration aspirants.
Members of the restoration caucus are the governor’s aides. They are the 20 PDP lawmakers in the House of Assembly, party leaders at the ward, local government and state levels and the PDP members at the National Assembly.
The caucus recently expanded its membership, following the local government elections. Therefore, the eight local government chairmen, eight deputy chairmen and 105 ward councilors have been inducted into the restoration caucus.
Dickson is not leaving anything to chance. The governor has adopted many strategies to corner the ticket of the party for his preferred aspirant. He held a three-day fasting and prayer to seek divine intervention to the transition programme.
Shortly after the religious programmes, the governor’s caucus first released three names of its members interested in the ticket. They are the Chief of Staff, Talford Ongolo; Secretary to the Government (SSG), Kemela Okara and Senator representing Bayelsa Central, Douye Diri.
But, opinion leaders described them as lacking in capacity, popularity and mental disposition to win the election and administer the state. Later, former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Kombowei Benson; the Deputy Govenor, Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd); a member representing Sagbama-Ekeremor Federal Constituency, Fred Agbedi and the Chairman of Bayelsa State Revenue Board, Dr. Nimbofa Ayawei picked the forms.
Dickson has said he has no preferred aspirant. But, he has also maintained that as a super delegate and governor, he is entitled to support any aspirant of his choice. A prominent party chief, who spoke in confidence about the governor’s claims of having no favorite aspirant, said: “Forget it. When you hear that the governor does not have an anointed candidate. It is just a political gimmick to calm down the political space. There is no governor that doesn’t have an anointed candidate and Dickson will not be an exemption”.
Recently, Dickson listed courage, focus, capacity, fear of God and compassion as the qualities expected of his succees to protect the collective interests of the Ijaw nation. He said that in view of the challenges facing the state, Bayelsa could not afford to have what he described as, an establishment errand boy as a governor.
He said: “The shoes I am leaving behind are very big. Posterity will judge. Only very few of the people who come to talk to me have the interest of the state at heart. There is no free money to give anybody in Bayelsa. Don’t kill for anybody, none has the power to make you a billionaire”.
There are strong indications that the governor has narrowed his choice to three aspirants. Diri, Ayawei and Okara are said to be seriously considered by Dickson. It was gathered that the governor is weighing them on the scales of capacity, zoning, loyalty, voting strength and popularity.
When Diri and Okara featured among the first three aspirants, there was hullabaloo in the political sphere. Most people kicked against their choice.
Diri, Okara and Ayawei are from the Central Senatorial District, which is favoured in the interest of zoning. Diri hails from Kolokuma-Opokuma; Okara from Yenagoa. Ayawei is from Southern Ijaw.
In the central senatorial district, Southern Ijaw has produced a governor. Late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeiseigha hails from the local government. He, however, could not complete his second term, following his impeachment. Only Yenagoa and Kolokuma-Opokuma are yet to occupy the Creek Haven. These factors favour Diri and Okara.
Diri has solid relationship that spanned over a long period of time with Dickson. They have built reasonable confidence in each other right from their days at the Ijaw National Congress (INC). They also served together in the cabinet of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, when he was governor.
While Diri was the Commissioner for Youths then, Dickson was the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice. Since then, Diri who came into political limelight from the political family of a former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Timi Alaibe, became closer to Dickson, following the alleged inconsistency of Alaibe.
Diri has a position in the Senate to trade off. If he eventually becomes the candidate and wins the election, his position at the Senate will be used to compensate either of the local government area, especially Southern Ijaw. His senatorial position will be considered a bait to get the support of Southern Ijaw at the election.
But, Diri’s unpopularity and lack of capacity was clearly displayed during the last primary. He found it extremely difficult to win his senatorial ticket at the primary. It took immediate interventions of the governor and senior government officials to persuade, the delegates before Diri got victory against Prof. Seifa Brisibe, a first timer.
Diri’s woes doubled at the election as he lost Kolokuma-Opokuma, his home local government, to the candidate of the APC. They said the senator’s poor outing in the last election dented his political career.
Besides, Kolokuma-Opokuma where Diri hails from is politically-disadvantaged. It has the smallest voting population in the entire state. Southern Ijaw and Yenagoa have the highest voting strength and their anger can sway the entire votes against the ruling party.
Supporters said Okara has the maturity to govern. He was the flag bearer of the Action Congress in the 2012 governorship election.
But the governor is said to be considering arguments against Okara. The Epie-Atissa Kingdom, the dominant ethnic group in Yenagoa, reportedly warned the governor against giving Yenagoa governorship slot to anybody outside their kingdom.
In fact, the Southern Ijaw group in the caucus is rooting for Ayawei, who is a doctor of Analytical Chemistry.
According to the group, Ayawei’s popularity is borne out of his years of rendering assistance to the needy. The youths and the common people in the state identify easily with him.
Speaking about Ayawei, J. Loyd, a member of the PDP wrote: “Ayawei, has been supporting the education of young people in the state. Ayawei has been involved in training undergraduate and post graduate students within and outside the country.
“Also, coming from an oil-producing community, the young doctor is exposed to the ills of oil exploration and understands the politics of the oil giants. He is mentally, educationally and physically prepared to tackle issues in line with the vision of Governor Seriake Dickson.
“Ayawei, has no ego problem. He is simple and easily accessible.
Kombowei Benson, who hails from Southern Ijaw, is also said to be presenting his case to the governor. His supporters are telling the governor to remember Benson’s loyalty and his sacrifices to his restoration government.
Alaibe, popularly called the principal, is the most vocal and potent opponent to the governor and his restoration caucus. The former NDDC boss is banking on the support of some national leaders including the former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Besides, Alaibe is the preferred aspirant of former President Goodluck Jonathan, who reportedly tried in vain to get the backing of Dickson for his candidacy. Though Jonathan has not publicly spoken on the aspiration of Alaibe, all his known foot soldiers including some members of the defunct Green Movement are working for the principal. In fact, it seems most aggrieved political leaders in the state, some ex-militants and angry former aides of Dickson have joined the camp of Alaibe.
But how far can the principal go? Undoubtedly, Alaibe has committed almost everything at his disposal in the pursuit of the ticket. He recently assembled a team of old and new politicians in the state to actualise his ambition. The appointments he made into his campaign organisation are intimidating.
A former two-time deputy governor and two-time Speaker House of Assembly is his campaign Director-General.
The former NDDC boss, however, is finding it difficult to convince the delegates for their votes following his knack for shifting camps. He also knows that grabbing the ticket of the party is not a tea party. He is up against Dickson.
Apart from Alaibe, there are other aspirants who have the capacity, influence and resources to spring surprises at the primaries. Reuben Okoya, an architect and Jonathan’s loyalist, has been busy engaging the delegates. Keniebi Okoko, Dr. Boladei Igali, Fred Agbedi, Franklin Osaisai, Senator Emmanuel Paulker have rolled out their strategies to get the party’s ticket. Others making efforts to realize their dreams are Joshua Macaiva, Robinson Etolor, Anthony Ikoli (SAN), Tobin IgiriAyebatonye Alagoa, CK. Johnson and Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd).