The recent call by a group, Bayelsa Arise for Good Governance (BAGG) urging Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, to contest the November 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa State did come as a surprise to close watchers of political events in the state as Lokpobiri has not hidden his desire to become governor since 1999 when he was made speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. BAGG’s spokesman, Mr. Sufadoh Sufadoh, said with Lokpobiri’s “antecedents and political pedigree” he is better positioned to “promote good governance and deliver on democracy in the state” According to him, Lokpobiri is a “grassroots politician whose knack for excellence and sincere service to the state was devoid of pecuniary gains but to move the state to the next level.”
Undoubtedly, Lokpobiri is an old politician who has been part of the Bayelsa political elite since the return of democracy. However, political pundits believe urging him to throw his hat into the ring for the governorship contest flies in the face of extant events Lokpobiri has found himself and the political structure to win a governorship contest. Indeed the odds against a Lokpobiri candidacy would make his ambition dead on arrival.
Lokpobiri‘s entrance into the political space in Bayelsa was in 1999 when his father, October Lokpobiri, a friend to former governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha nominated him to be a member of the House of Assembly. The father’s influence on Alamieyeseigha further ensured Lokpobiri emerged as speaker of the first assembly. However the first political step Lokpobiri took without his father’s consent, which was to instigate the impeachment of Alamieyeseigha, ended in political disaster. Alamieyeseigha’s political structure rallied round the former governor. Not only did the political structure led by the governor’s cousin, Abel Ebifemowei extinguish Lokpobiri’s impeachment threat, he was impeached as speaker and suspended from the house of assembly by his successor, Premobowei Ebebi. In 2003, the political structure ensured Lokpobiri did not seek re-election and he went into political oblivion until 2007 when due to the harmonisation policy of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) between the Goodluck Jonathan and Timi Alaibe camps, Lokpobiri who had now pitched tent with the Alaibe camp was offered the Bayelsa West Senatorial ticket forcing Henry Seriake Dickson who was attorney-general and commissioner for justice from the Jonathan camp to settle for house of representatives ticket.
During his first tenure as Senator, Lokpobiri left the Alaibe camp and crossed over to the then Governor Timipre Sylva’s camp. Sylva ensured Lokpobiri got a return ticket to the Senate in 2011. However his attempt to return to the senate for the third time in 2015 was halted by Dickson who spearheaded the zoning of the senatorial seat from Ekeremor to Sagbama and installed his loyalist, Foster Ogola. Dickson who has not hidden his disdain for Lokpobiri’s brand of “violent politics” did not stop at denying him the opportunity to return to the senate, he also frustrated him out of the PDP into the APC. In APC, Lokpobiri relied on the Sylva political structure and he was nominated as Minister, a position he still holds till today.
According to Grassroots Democracy in Bayelsa(GDB), Lokpobiri has always relied on the political structure of other political heavyweights to climb up politically which makes it difficult for him to chart his own political course for the 2019 governorship election. “Check Lokpobiri’s political history from 1999 till date, he has always relied on a political heavyweight to get office. At different times in his political career he had relied on his father, Alamieyeseigha, Alaibe and Sylva to climb” Goodnews Etale, coordinator of GBD says. “Lokpobiri has no political weight without a big masquerade in the state behind him. His political fortunes have really dwindled in Bayelsa West. Unlike before when the name Lokpobiri evokes political panic, he no longer has any political clout”, Etale declares.
A political commentator, Timothy Akpotu is on the same page with Etale that Lokpobiri is no longer a political force to reckon with in Bayelsa West since Dickson upstaged him in 2015.” Lokpobiri has not won any elections in Ekeremor and Bayelsa West since 2015. As Minister and the highest political officer holder from APC in the state, Lokpobiri could not win Ekeremor and Bayelsa West for the APC in the 2015 governorship election. Indeed, he was the Director-General of the Sylva gubernatorial campaign in that election. In the 2019 election, he could not win his local government for President Buhari. Under his watch, APC lost the Senatorial and House of Representatives election. Out of the six house of assembly seats in election, APC won only one and not to the credit of Lokpobiri but the governor’s wife, Mrs Rachael Dickson who backed the APC candidate against the PDP candidate for personal reasons” Akpotu says.
Political pundits are of the view that in Bayelsa West which should be the springboard for his governorship ambition, Lokpobiri cannot point to any political force that is with him. All of them are with Dickson who though in PDP is the undisputed political leader of the Bayelsa West. The likes of Chief Thompson Okorotie, Chief Fyneman Wilson, Hon Fred Agbedi, Peremobowei Ebebi,Chief Anderson Esimekumoh and all the influential traditional rulers from Kabowei Kingdom would never endorse a Lokpobiri governorship.
“If Lokpobiri declares for governorship today who are the leaders in Ekeremor and Bayelsa West that would queue behind him. There is none. He has no credible politician from Bayelsa West that would stand by him. It is that bad for him. Even in his APC, there is no notable politician from the area with Lokpobiri”, Pere Asamapo, a political scientist says.
Aside lack of home base support, the party structure as presently constituted does not favour a Lokpobiri candidacy. It is common knowledge that apart from Ekeremor where he has a handful of APC supporters, there is no party structure for Lokpobiri in other local government areas in the state. The APC structure in Bayelsa is firmly in the hands of Sylva and his loyalists. “In Sagbama which is the closest local government to Ekeremor, Lokpobiri has nobody. It is same situation in Kolokuma/Opokuma, Southern Ijaw, Yenagoa, Ogbia, Nembe and Brass local government councils. The party structure is in the hands of Sylva who is the only person that can deploy it for Lokpobiri”, Asamapo further adds.
Political observers have also pointed out that the timing of Lokpobiri’s governorship ambition is wrong considering he is from Bayelsa West senatorial district, where the incumbent hails from. Dickson is already in the eighth year of his two-term tenure, and it would not be acceptable to Bayelsans that after two terms of Dickson, another Bayelsa West man would be elected as governor. During the 2015 governorship the issue of core Ijaw and non- core Ijaw sentiment was deployed by Dickson to win Sylva and ahead the 2019 governorship election it is being bandied again to the consternation of other Bayelsans. Though Bayelsa is a homogenous state with the Ijaw ethnic group but due to political expediency, some politicians have introduced core- Ijaw and non-core divide which to many Bayelsans is an attempt to subjugate other areas of the area.
For those in the school of thought of the core-Ijaw and non- core Ijaw divide, Sagbama, Ekeremor, Kolokuma/ Opokuma and Southern Ijaw, one third of Yenagoa local government areas are considered as core-Ijaw while Ogbia, Nembe, Brass, and two thirds of Yenagoa local government areas are classified as non-core Ijaw. The danger in this classification, according to political pundits, is that it threatens the political stability of the state and the founding fathers would not support such outrageous nonsense. Though there is no written zoning formula in the state, but any political party that presents a candidate from Bayelsa West would fail at the November 2 governorship poll, majority of Bayelsans would not vote for such candidates. Sources said Dickson is leaving no stone unturned to ensure the PDP presents a candidate from either Bayelsa Central and Bayelsa East, and no other political party should ignore that or it risks suffering a devastating defeat in the election.
“ Bayelsa State is not Rivers State where after the Chibuke Amaechi eight year tenure, another Ikwerre man Nyesom Wike is on the way to spend another eight years. There is no way Bayelsans would accept a politician from Bayelsa West to be governor after Dickson’s eight years. Power would definitely move to another senatorial district. Any political party that presents a candidate from Bayelsa West would lose woefully”, Akpotu says.
Also speaking, Daniel Ebiba, a member of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) said Lokpobiri should not incite other parts of the state against Governor Dickson and Bayelsa West with his governorship ambition.
“In 2012, other Bayelsans supported Governor Dickson from Bayelsa West to become governor. In 2015, they supported him for another term. Dickson is still governor and Lokpobiri is a Minister both from Bayelsa West. Now Lokpobiri wants to be governor in a state where we have other qualified people. What has Lokpobiri done for Bayelsa or Bayelsa West? We in Bayelsa West would back another candidate from other parts of the state. Lokpobiri should go and lobby for federal appointment and stop portraying Bayelsa West as greedy people with his governorship ambition. He should not incite Bayelsans against Bayelsa West people”, he said.
The governorship election is still months away and how Lokpobiri can navigate the odds against him, and not jeopardise the chances of APC in the state is a question the national leadership of the party would require Lokpobiri to answer if he is to get the party ticket.
Alata writes from yenogoa