As the race to Creek Haven, the Bayelsa state seat of power, gathers momentum ahead of the 16th November governorship election, the focus of Bayelsans is firmly fixed on how the main opposition party in the state, the All Progressives Congress, (APC), can create a major upset at the governorship polls.
Bayelsa, the oil rich coastal state has been under the dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since the current democratic dispensation began in 1999, thereby creating the notion that it is a PDP state. That old wife fable may soon to be exposed for what it is, as it passes through the crucible of Bayelsa electorates. From all indications, Bayelsans are fed up with the deceit and grand larceny of their common patrimony by the PDP. An irredeemable divorce is imminent between Bayelsans and the party that has treated them with utmost contempt.
The apparent disaffection with the PDP in the state, arising from its gross insensitivity toward the plight of Bayelsans, is an opportunity begging to be seized by the APC in the state. But how this golden opportunity, presented by the ineptitude of Governor Seriake Dickson can translate into an electoral fortune for the party at the polls, is dependent on who the party chooses as its standard bearer.
Though the Bayelsa State chapter of the APC boasts of an array of eminently qualified personalities, who can hold their own against any candidate thrown up by the PDP, only Timipre Sylva can be said to possess the needed strength of character and structures across the state, to beat the PDP in the November 16th, 2019 governorship election.
On paper, Heineken Lokpobiri, a trained lawyer and a top contender for the party’s ticket, boasts of an intimidating political profile, but in reality, his political credentials when subjected to a popularity test in an election, where the stakes are high, would turn out an abysmal result.
Lokpobiri’s political trajectory from 1999 to date has seen him pocket some key political offices, but that has not earned him the kind of electoral capital required to win a highly competitive contest like a governorship election. As a one time Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, a former senator and the immediate past Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, one would have expected that he would have spread his political tentacles across the state, but unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.
Aside Lokpobiri’s seemingly intimidating political credentials, he also boasts of a huge financial war chest. This, he has been using to position himself as a top contender for the party’s ticket. How his quest to clinch the party’s ticket would materialize remains to be seen, because the structure of the party is clearly beyond his reach. And if truth must be told, it takes more than having a deep pocket to win an election.
Apart from Heineken Lokpobiri, the other gladiators who have indicated interest in the party’s ticket are in their own rights top contenders. Preye Aganaba for instance, is a founding member of the party, who could be said to have made his contributions to the party as far as his capacity could provide. But many in the party do not see him as a match for the PDP, so getting the nod of the party to fly its flag is very unlikely. Diseye Nsirim Poweigha, the retired police commissioner is relatively unknown within the party. It would take a miracle for a party facing a familiar foe in a make or mar contest, to entrust its mandate to a candidate whose capability to manoeuvre and beat its opponent in a tough political terrain has not been ascertained.
There is no questioning the fact that Timipre Sylva’s popularity and acceptability transcends the APC. It is no surprise therefore that even as a minister designate, majority of the party adherents are still rooting for him to throw his hat into the ring for the governorship race. And this is borne out of the sincere belief in his ability to not only win the November 16th election, but also in his ability to bring the desired development to Bayelsa state. Many believe that what has made Sylva remain politically relevant many years after leaving office, is the men and women he built while in office.
Sylva holds the ace in determining the fortune of the party. He commands an unassailable followership within the party, and this fact was demonstrated at the recently held stakeholders meeting, where the mode of primary to be adopted in deciding the party’s standard bearer was decided. At the said meeting which held on 16th July 2019, all the three members of the party at the National Assembly aligned themselves with Sylva’s preference for the direct mode of primary. Also, three out of four of the party’s members at the state House of Assembly also queued behind Sylva’s choice for the direct mode of primary, while six out of eight of the local government chairmen of the party also signed up for the direct mode of primary. At the ward levels, 90 percent of the ward chairmen are also on the side of Sylva.
Sylva, a minister designate, has kept mum over the deluge of calls from his supporters to join the governorship race. At the moment, no one can say with precision if Sylva still has an ambition to govern the state again. Some have opined that he jettisons his ambition of returning to Creek Haven, and allow other gladiators slug it out for the party’s ticket. But of course, those promoting this line of thought are those looking forward to displaying their dancing skills in the absence of the party’s biggest masquerade at the party’s primary election.
It remains to be seen if Sylva would heed to the voice of his supporters within the party. Many party supporters see him as the only one at the moment who can lead the charge against PDP, and emerge with the coveted prize.
Should Sylva decide not to run, whoever would emerge as the standard bearer of the party would definitely need his support to clinch the party’s ticket and be at the forefront of the battle for the soul of Bayelsa State. As we edge closer to the close of sale of governorship forms, party supporters are waiting to see if Sylva would join the race or not. And if he is not running, who would get his backing for the party’s ticket? Does Heineken Lokpobiri stand a chance even in the absence of Sylva in the race for the party’s flag? What happens if Sylva opts out of the race and gives his blessing to another, other than the already known gladiators? Time ticks, and soon that which is veiled shall be revealed to all.
Kesiye Newman is a Public Affairs Analyst based in Yenagoa.