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Major parties in Bayelsa deploy “politics of bitterness”

The fall-out from the gubernatorial primaries of both the PDP and the APC in Bayelsa State has left the political fortunes of both major parties in turmoil. The selection of freshman senators Douye Diri and Lawrence Ehwrudjakpo as governorship and deputy governorship candidates respectively, for the PDP, has provoked an unprecedented spate of defections from the ruling party in the state. The impression has been given that Governor Dickson’s preference for his close associates was what overturned the aspiration of Ndutimi Alaibe, the perennial challenger whose decision to return to the party after flirting with the APC was expected to herald the party’s continued hold on power in the state. Instead of that the governor’s open hostility to the presumption of Alaibe’s automatic eligibility led to a situation in which the PDP was faced with a harvest of more than a score of aspirants competing for the ticket. The eventual outcome of this unusual contest was that the continued popularity of Alaibe who came second was not in doubt, but the governor’s preferred aspirant Senator Douye Diri triumphed convincingly. Following this eventuality, Alaibe went to court which signalled to a substantial portion of the older members of the party that the strategic consequence of maintaining party solidarity would not prevail. In the weeks that have followed, this perception appeared to undermine the maintenance of the PDP’s conventional ascendancy in the state, and as a result, an unprecedented wave of defections has hit the party’s ranks.

On the APC side of things, similar disenchantment followed the outcome of the party’s primaries in which a previously virtually unknown aspirant emerged as the victor with the clear support of his “godfather,” former Governor Timipre Sylva. In this case, David Lyon, a businessman and former militant activist from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area was named as the surrogate of former Governor Sylva, who withdrew his aspiration when he was appointed the new Minister of State for Petroleum Affairs. In the follow-up to the APC primaries, in which Lyon was declared the victor, former Minister Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and Preye Aganaba, two aspirants with much more credible credentials, also went to court, claiming, as Alaibe did in his case against the state chapter of the PDP, that their party did not follow its regulations properly in conducting its internal elections. These challenges have served to render the contest for governor of the state redolent with bitter intra-party sentiments rather than open to a serious discussion of issues of interest to the electorate. Instead, the campaign discourses from the PDP side have been notable for arguments discrediting the credibility of the APC candidate who is reputed to be reluctant to speak in public because he is not very articulate. From the opposite side, the APC appears to be convinced that abusing the incumbent governor and portraying Diri and his deputy as simply surrogates of Dickson will undermine their effectiveness. But the truth is that neither the strategy is based on the genuine interest and relevance of the voting public’s perception of what the state needs.

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The addition of freshman Senator Biobarakumo Degi from the Eastern Senatorial District to the APC ticket as Deputy Governorship aspirant means that all three Senators representing the interests of Bayelsans have absconded their mandate in search of an executive office. The fact that all three have become candidates of the two major parties mean that the state can be regarded as being highly under-represented for the time being in the legislative branch of the democratic order because of the peculiar circumstances that have shaped the gubernatorial contest in the state. It would be naïve for anyone to ignore the reality of the restoration of the fortunes of the APC that recent events illustrate. Although David Lyon might be regarded as being a comparatively inexperienced political novice, the nature of cronyism that has become the acceptable base of political endorsement in the state has ensured that his attraction as a candidate is enhanced by the perception that his victory would reinstate Sylva’s influence as a power broker both regionally and nationally. This might be the real reason why so many of the defectors from the PDP have taken the decision that they have.  As a result, Seriake Dickson’s loyalists and others who have remained in the PDP have now made the theme of opportunism on the part of the defectors the central focus of the PDP campaign assertions. According to the state chairman Cleophas Moses during a huge rally in Ogbia Local Government Area, “Those who have defected have benefited enormously from the party over the years. Let them go away and make space for the new members to benefit as well. We are a party for the grassroots.” With such sentiments coming increasingly to the fore as the election draws near, the battle appears to be growing more bitter day by day.

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