With the 774 local government areas in Nigeria gathering more popularity and powers than in the past, the people of Bayelsa State will today file out to elect their leaders at the local government level. With six months left for the incumbent Governor Seriake Dickson to hand over to a successor on the 20th of February 2020, it has never been easy sailing for the 'countryman 'Governor who has been in the saddle in the last seven years and on the last lap.
As the primaries for the November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election gathers momentum and now, the local government election today, it has been power play extraordinaire, blackmail, and supremacy battle in the state, even as the governor has been able to weather the storm by being resolute and interestingly, organizing a three day fasting and prayer elections for direction on who takes over from him next year.
Indeed, this is not the best of times for Dickson, who though walks with strong paces of authority, is indeed troubled by the number of candidates from his ruling party, the Peoples democratic Party (PDP) with 21 strong men of the state submitting their nomination forms and the paying over N441 million into the coffers of the party as the mandatory fees to get the party's nod.
From the different senatorial zones, camps and all, it has been rumours, name dropping and all the shenanigans of who the incumbent will finally back or anoint. No single aspirant wants to take the back seat. Dickson has been combing the nooks and crannies of the state, to feel the pulse and even going to the extent of sounding out the PDP national leaders. In some cases, to avoid the maddening crowd in Yenagoa, Dickson has retreated to his village in Toru Orua, or flown to Abuja or Lagos to attend to matters of the state and the PDP Governors Forum which he is the Chairman. They have not left out the 'Ebora Owu' and Nigeria's former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the equation and have either visited or called him, and in some cases sent emissaries to beg him to convince Dickson to hand over the flag to them. They know that whichever way it goes, the outgoing governor will play a vital role in the process.
In other organized climes, it wouldn't have been tough naming the successor and giving him a smooth passage, but Nigeria's politics is laden with thorns, nets and rough hooks because we are always starting late and lack planning even when the outgoing governors made it clear that he wants a smooth transition.
It may no longer be news that even as the candidates battle for the primaries and final election, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, still has thousands of voters' cards of the state to distribute. The candidates are only bothered about the ticket.
Interestingly, it is becoming clear that there is no trouble or misunderstanding between the former President of Nigeria and a former Governor of the state, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Dickson. Only last Tuesday, Jonathan said the opposition All Progressive Congress, APC, in Bayelsa State lacks the political presence at the ward, local government and state levels to win the November 16, 2019, governorship election.
The former President who is now coming out to discuss the issues of the state's election, having refused public comments earlier, stated during the PDP Elders Advisory Council meeting at Government House, Yenagoa, that the large number of aspirants on the platform of the party speaks volumes of the dominance of the party as the preferred platform for election, indicating that the PDP has all it takes to record a landslide victory in the forthcoming election.
While commending Dickson, the state Chairman of the PDP, Mr. Moses Cleopas and all critical stakeholders including the 21 aspirants for working for the continued stability of the party, he explained that it had become expedient for the PDP to get its acts together so that it would not create room for opportunistic platforms to steal the party's victory.
"I need to plead with all the aspirants and all political leaders that there should be no mudslinging. We must free the space and eschew rancour because finally one person will become the candidate of the party and for that one person to win the election, all aspirants must work for that person.
"It is only our unity that can give us victory and if we are not united, they (APC) can get away with it. For example, it took the unity of the people of Rivers State including women who were resolute against soldiers to get the PDP victory in the state. If that had not happened, they (opposition) would have taken it.
"For us to secure this state for PDP, we need maximum unity and that is why all the 21 aspirants are important to us; we must have that maximum unity and must not create any form of division or discrimination. At the end of the day, one person will emerge and all of us will work for whoever emerges as candidate of the party," Jonathan told the gathering.
Besides the primaries, Dickson wants the members of the party to forge a united front to maintain its dominance and control of power in the state, starting with the local council elections which comes up today, while urging all faithful's particularly the governorship aspirants to work hard for the victory of the chairmanship and councillorship candidates.
To Dickson, also, the large number of governorship aspirants only shows the democratic nature and style of leadership of the PDP while using the national leadership to complement the effort of the state in providing a level playing ground for all the aspirants.
On why he did not stop some aspirants from picking the nomination form, he did not hide the fact that reactions and the backlash of such an action would affect the peace and stability of the party.
"When people say that 21 aspirants are too many, I disagree. In 2006 we had close to 11 aspirants and for a party that is strong, has strength and attraction and connection, that is the dominant political platform, it is expected.
"It's not completely out of order as a ruling party, with all that we have done and with the way we have decapitated, decimated the other party because they virtually don't exist in this state.
"So it is normal for any serious-minded person who wants to serve our people to think of doing so on our dominant platform which we have led and all of us has built and made stronger even in the face of very serious opposition. So, for me, there is nothing to lose sleep over."
On who will eventually be anointed as the party's flag bearer for the November elections, out of the 21 candidates, Dickson, a former Attorney General in the state and member of the House of Representatives explained that his successor should be principled, bold and courageous enough to protect the collective interests of the Ijaw nation at all times.
The Governor who has always championed the cause of the Ijaws, noted that in view of the challenges facing the state, Bayelsa cannot afford to have what he described as an establishment errand boy as governor, stressing that the next governor should have a clear agenda and God-fearing to serve the people with a sense of humility and compassion.
"The next governor of the Ijaw nation must be courageous; he must be ready to defend the Ijaw nation at all times. He must not be the errand boy of any ethnic group. I will be sad to see the governor of Bayelsa playing just politics, without being able to take a decisive position on issues."
The Governor is insisting that he has raised the standard of governance and expectations, even as he promised to publish an audited account of his eight years stewardship in line with his administration's policy of accountability and transparency.
"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.
"Our people are oppressed. We have a lot of stories to tell Nigerians. When it comes to speaking for the Ijaw nation, I have not been found wanting. I want that tradition to continue. I want my people to be safe. More than any other time, Bayelsa needs a governor with the requisite courage to lead the Ijaw nation. What is at stake is your destiny and survival. Our people are balkanised into small units from Ondo State to many other states.
"In the Niger delta, the Ijaw voice must be heard. I hope those buying the forms are aware of the enormity of the responsibilities of being the governor of Bayelsa State."
On the peaceful atmosphere in state, despite the multiplicity of aspirants, he said the new political culture of tolerance and maturity that his administration had promoted over the last seven and half years was responsible, while commending the political class for the current peace in Bayelsa, and expressing hope that all political parties and candidates would abide by the rules for the greater good of the state.
"In spite of the multiplicity of aspirants, we have a new political culture; there is no incidence of violence. I am happy that the state is growing politically. I want to see more engagement, I want to see people talk about their dreams and visions; I want to see more of the issues being addressed.
"The fact that we have 21 aspirants gives the clarity that PDP is the only party that can guarantee success; the platform that can connect with our people. It tells a lot about the capacity of the party and the leadership that I have provided to make it attractive."
On the August 10th local council polls, which the opposition has decided to boycott, Dickson decried the desperation of some politicians who according to him, do not mean well for the state, stressing that the election will hold as planned by the State Independent Electoral Commission.
"What happened was unfortunate. It showed the desperation of some politicians in the state. I know people who are planning to forge identities of delegates. You can imagine how they can come within the party to frustrate local government election." He is not in any way worried that it may affect the credibility of the poll.