Emmanuel Addeh writes that the process for the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa and Kogi states have progressed to irreversible stages. Every stakeholder now holds his breath with trepidation, waiting for Election Day.
This is the week of decision in Bayelsa and Kogi states. On Saturday, November 16, the much awaited governorship election in both states will hold, as voters troop out to elect their favourite between Senator Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his opponent in the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. David Lyon; in Bayelsa. While in Kogi, it will be a straight fight between incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC and Dr. Musa Wada of the PDP.
In the past three weeks, a series of activities, including private consultation and campaigns have been embarked upon by the gladiators and their political backers to convince leaders in the state and the other voters to support their ambition to take over Creek Haven, Bayelsa's seat of power in February when the winner will be sworn in.
Unlike in other election circles when one could easily project a winner in the state that has been in the firm grip of the PDP since the return to democracy in 1999, this time the situation appears quite dicey.
Whereas it was a one-horse race in the past, the dynamics seem to have changed considerably. The PDP is no longer the party in charge at the federal level, having been defeated by the APC in the presidential election which saw President Muhammadu Buhari emerge as the country's leader since 2015.
Furthermore, the leader of the APC in the state, former Governor Timipre Sylva, now occupies unarguably one of the most enviable federal portfolios in the country. He now superintendents over the Ministry of Petroleum and presumably, has a lot of persons and perhaps, resources, at his beck and call.
This much played out in the build-up to the controversial APC primaries in September, in which Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, was clearly the leading aspirant. The former Minister of State, Agriculture and Rural Development, in the perception of many was the most prepared to win.
But in a twist, in a space of days, the pendulum swung in another direction; the music changed and just a couple of days after he was appointed Minister of State, Petroleum, Sylva's anointed candidate, Lyon emerged candidate of the party in a contest that is still awaiting adjudication by the court, but Lokpobiri has asked his supporters to back the APC, irrespective of the November 14 judgement by the court.
The party leadership at the centre which was believed to have promised, at least, a level playing field for the primaries contest endorsed what many still think failed the very minimum standard of participatory democracy. In that internal party poll, Lyon 'thrashed' Lokpobiri with over 42,000 votes to the former minister's 571. A heartbroken Lokpobiri protested the alleged electoral heist. In the end, the party leadership responded with silence.
For the APC, a number of factors seems to have come together. The little-known Lyon, picked the ticket almost on the last day of collection and submission of nomination form. But despite his personal foibles, including the very well reported inability to communicate effectively, he seems to have struck a chord with a wide segment of the people.
He appears to be popular with a sizeable portion of the electorate who in trying to play down on his deficiencies, argue that despite having governors in the past with even a PhD and admirable orators, those qualities have not helped to upgrade their quality of life.
While Sylva, his protégé and their supporters continue to revel in the seeming acceptance of the Lyon experiment, the PDP continues to plot to neutralise any progress made by the APC to capture, as it were, the state noted for its huge reserves of oil and gas resources.
But the APC has a strong opponent in Governor Seriake Dickson, who appears to be the strongest political force behind Diri. Over the years, many have come to reckon with Dickson as a man who takes no prisoners when it comes to his ambition to control the political machinery of Bayelsa.
A brutally strategic political tactician, with the confidence of a warrior, sometimes interpreted as over-confidence, Dickson, more than his preferred candidate, Diri, seems to be the issue every time, despite the fact that he will not be on the ballot next Saturday.
Dickson's confidence partly emanates from his control of the structure of the party and government apparatchik which he deployed in full during the September 3 primaries to defeat all other blocks within the PDP, including that of his supposed erstwhile godfather, former President Goodluck Jonathan, whom he prefers to call a long-time political ally and 'oga'.
To rev up his political control of the already saturated PDP platform which is already in charge of all councillors, local government chairmen, Rural Development Authorities, house of assembly, plus his over 3,000 aides, the governor has recently embarked on an appointment spree, picking from all the nooks and crannies of the state, to ostensibly neutralise any gains made by the APC.
Dickson continues to meet privately with those aggrieved persons within his party, sometimes succeeding in winning back some and at other times, receiving a cold shoulder.
But despite his many moves, a sour point of his efforts remains the conflicting signals continually being sent by former President Jonathan, the refusal of former Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Managing Director, Timi Alaibe, the seeming recent lukewarm relationship between him and his deputy, Rear Admiral John Jonah (rtd) and the refusal of his neighbouring brother governor, Nyesom Wike to get involved in the campaign.
During last week's grand rally organised by the national PDP body in collaboration with the local chapter of the party, the aforementioned were conspicuously absent, a development many people argue effectively signals the breakdown in relationship between all of them.
So, what implications do their absence hold for the November 16 governorship election? Can it significantly alter the direction of voting? Will they 'conspire' to embarrass Governor Dickson and his candidate, Diri in the election? What impact would their decision make?
Goodluck Jonathan's Mixed Signals
Not known for being very controlling like many politicians, former President Goodluck Jonathan, has stayed away from the party campaigns since it started. Despite the many emissaries within the PDP that have gone to appeal to him on the need to bury the hatchet, the ex-president has refused to congratulate the candidate of the party, Diri on his success in the primaries or make any public pronouncement in his support.
But it is believed that just like former President Olusegun Obasanjo does not control the politics of his home Ogun State nor President Muhammadu Buhari, before his second coming as Nigerian leader, Jonathan's capacity to sway votes or significantly determine who emerges the next governor of Bayelsa state, is limited.
However, his absence was felt in his home Ogbia local government, in the last State and National Assembly election in February/March where he decided to stay away from the polls, not publicly working for any candidate of the PDP.
The significant victory of the APC in Bayelsa East, made up of Ogbia, Nembe and Brass where the party won a senatorial and a house of representatives seat, is credited to the decision of Jonathan to stay away from actively participate in that election.
What cannot be denied is that there are still strong Jonathan sentiments in Ogbia where he comes from against the purported disrespect meted to him by the governor, who recently countered that he met with the former president at least 15 times to try and iron out their differences and work for a single candidate.
It is still unclear if Jonathan will in the next few days make a major decision to either work for the PDP candidate or support the APC standard bearer. However, it is believed that supporting the APC against his own party that gave him the platform to lead the country would be almost impossible.
While some of his strong supporters like George Turner and his foot soldiers like Reuben Okoya and Benson Agadaga have been seen recently working for the PDP, his (Jonathan's) mother has received the APC candidate in her house and reportedly gave him her blessings.
Governor Nyesom Wike (a lukewarm relationship)
Next Saturday, the governor of Rivers State will not be qualified constitutionally to cast his ballot in Bayelsa. The Rivers governor is not from Bayelsa.
Wike and Dickson have never pretended to like each other. Indeed, they have had a couple of public spats in the last three years. Dickson at some point complained publicly of Wike's 'coldness' even refusing to invite him or the state officially when Rivers celebrated its 50 years of creation. Bayelsa was carved out of the old Rivers.
On the other hand, Wike had reasons to take a dig at Dickson in the recent past, when the Bayelsa governor allegedly described Jonathan's six years as president as wasted years. Dickson had said his statement was misconstrued.
To add to the widening gap in their relationship, Dickson is believed to have supported Atiku Abubakar during the last PDP presidential primaries in Port Harcourt, while Wike backed Aminu Tambuwal, Governor of Sokoto.
Furthermore, the Rivers governor is quite close to Jonathan and his wife, Patience who were instrumental to his emergence as governor. Therefore, there was no surprise as to his absence at the mega rally. A close government house source, however, said it was shocking that Wike's absence was an issue when Dickson's absence from Wike's own campaign was not.
Timi Alaibe - Unfair Deal
Only people not very conversant with the September 3 PDP primaries were probably expecting Chief Timi Alaibe's presence at the rally in Yenagoa. The former NDDC MD is still angry at the alleged unfair deal he got during the primary which led to his defeat in the internal poll.
Alaibe looks determined to fight to the finish this time, having been accused in the past of abandoning his battles midway, despite peace moves by the PDP. He's in court to quash Diri's PDP candidature. He recently succeeded in moving the case instituted against the party and candidate to Abuja, where he maintains that many ad-hoc delegates were not qualified to vote in the primaries.
Many of his key supporters have now distilled into the APC and PDP. His DG campaign, Prof. Seiyefa Brisibe is now with the APC. There has been no block movement to any particular party unless this happens in the next few days.
John Jonah (unsorted grudges)
Dickson's Deputy, John Jonah, has been away from duty since the primaries in which he was an aspirant. It's not clear if his absence is due to his ill health which recently took him out of the country. However , pictures of him with Dickson meeting outside the state emerged last week.
Jonah's influence may not necessarily go beyond Nembe where he hails from. His younger brother, who heads the Otita force in Nembe recently joined the APC. The implication of that is that as opposed to the past when votes were always divided between politically opposed Nembe-Bassambiri and Nembe-Ogbolomabiri, the APC may get significant votes from the deputy governor's area if things remain as they are.
In all, the PDP Tsunami that usually sweeps the state in all elections may have encountered some glitches, whether the challenges are enough to see the first defeat of the party in 20 years remains to be seen.
However, the mega rally did not seem to miss the absence of the key figures. During the event, the National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Uche Secondus, attacked the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, accusing the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of running down the country since it took over in 2015.
Governors who were present included Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta State), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Emeka Ihedioha (Imo) while the Ebonyi and Benue State governors were represented by their deputies.
Other key party stalwarts who attended the event were Mr Peter Obi, former PDP presidential running mate, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, Senate Minority Leader, Senator Adolphus Wabara, among several leaders.
Secondus argued that Douye Diri, remains the most qualified man as one who has integrity, honesty and experience.
He urged the people of Bayelsa not to vote for David Lyon the APC candidate, whom he said has no capacity to represent the state.
In his comments, Tambuwal who spoke on behalf of the governors, said that the crowd was a very clear and eloquent testimony of the fact that Bayelsa belongs to PDP.
He urged the party loyalists not to "allow those who have traits of promoting violence to come back."
In his speech, Dickson alleged that he was in possession of information that soldiers were being mobilised to harass voters, but urged the people not to be intimidated.
QUICK FACTS on BAYELSA and KOGI GOVERNORSHIP ELECTIONS
By Nseobong Okon-Ekong
*The elections are in the category of end-of-tenure off season elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission
*From this year until very close to the next general elections, there will be governorship elections every year in Nigeria. In 2019, we have Kogi and Bayelsa; next year 2020, we have Edo and Ondo governorship elections. Thereafter, in 2021, we have the Anambra governorship elections and in 2022, we have Ekiti and Osun governorship elections
*The November 16 governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states are the first in the major off-season governorship elections that the Commission is going to conduct
*In terms of the number of local governments, Bayelsa has eight local government areas with 105 electoral wards. This is further split into 2,244 polling units and voting points. Bayelsa has 923,182 registered voters
*Kogi has 21 local governments with 239 electoral wards. There are 3508 polling units and polling points in Kogi. In terms of the registered voters, Kogi has 1,646,350 registered voters
*In Bayelsa, 889,308 PVCs have been collected, representing 96.3 percent of the total number of registered voters. The number of uncollected PVCs in Bayelsa stands at 33, 874, representing 3.7 percent of the total number of registered voters
*In Kogi, 1, 485,828 PVCs have been collected representing 90.2 percent. Kogi state accounts for 160, 522 uncollected PVCs, representing 9.8 percent of the total number of registered voters
*Ad-hoc staff required to conduct the elections in Bayelsa is 9,945
*In Kogi, INEC requires 15,868 ad-hoc staff
In the two states, the Commission will require about 26,000 ad-hoc staff to conduct the elections. In addition to the governorship elections, there are other bye-elections
*Ad-hoc staff are mainly drawn from the NYSC
*In addition to the governorship election in Bayelsa state, there is also the pending supplementary election into the Brass II State Constituency in six Polling Units. INEC is going to conduct that election in six Polling Units and make a declaration for the Brass II State Constituency; along with the governorship election
*In Kogi West senatorial district, a fresh election will be conducted as ordered by the trial and appellate courts
*Only 52 parties nominated candidates for the Bayelsa governorship election. INEC only recognises only 46 parties in Bayelsa as having made valid nomination
*In 49 did in Kogi, 49 parties nominated candidates. However, only 41 of these parties have been given recognition by INEC to take part in the governorship election
*However, last week, in determining the matter of the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Kogi State, Natasha Akpoti, there was a landmark judicial pronouncement that only a competent court can disqualify a candidate, not INEC
*For the category of invalid nominations, six parties were involved in Bayelsa, and eight in Kogi, making a total of 14 parties
*Out 101 parties, 87 made valid nominations
*From the 87 parties that made valid nominations, one party in Bayelsa withdrew from the election during the period for withdrawal and substitution of candidates and in Kogi, 18 political parties withdrew, making a total of 19 for the two states
*In all, there are 45 parties contesting in Bayelsa and 24 in Kogi, making a total of 69
*The two states are difficult, in terms of terrain. Arrangements have concluded with the National Union of Road Transport Workers for land transport based on the existing Memorandum of Understanding between the Commission and the NURTW
*In Bayelsa, five out of the eight local governments are riverine, arrangements have been made boat owners
*In Bayelsa, INEC does not only hire boats, the commission also works with the security agencies - the Marine Police, the Navy and the Army to have gun-boats to escort the boats carrying personnel and materials for the election
*Smart Card Readers (SCRs) will be deployed for the election for the purpose of voter accreditation. The Manual Register will be printed. One will be pasted at the Polling Units, the other one will be held by the Presiding Officer and that is the one that will be ticked off on Election Day
*Both Kogi and Bayelsa are politically volatile, as was evident during the conduct of primaries by political parties and one or two incidents in Kogi with the commencement of campaigns by political parties