- What Buhari, Jonathan discussed in Villa
- Jonathan’s role in Bayelsa election
- What Lyon should do in Bayelsa
Ambassador Godknows Igali is one of the chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Bayelsa State in the camp of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. Regarded as a super permanent secretary under the Jonathan administration, he is one of the governorship aspirants edged out by Governor Seriake Dickson in the run-up to the just concluded governorship election in the state. In this interview, he spoke on factors and actors that led to the defeat of the PDP in the state.
Penultimate Saturday, the PDP lost Bayelsa to the All Progressives Congress (APC) after governing the state for two decades. What really happened?
It was clear that we were heading for doom. I kept telling our leaders, both at the national and state levels, but people did not see the signs. Sometimes when you are somewhere and you become too comfortable, you are totally averse. There is a buildup to what led to this. I think there is the need to interrogate the issues and for the PDP to prepare for the next election. They should address the issues that came up and recapture power in future.
What are some of the issues that led to this?
There are many critical factors. The first governor under this democratic dispensation, the late Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, was from Bayelsa central. He was from Southern Ijaw Local Government Area. After him came former President Goodluck Jonathan as governor. He is from Bayelsa East. When Jonathan became the vice president of the country, we had to get a new governor. And because he spent only two years, it was again given to the eastern side and Timipre Sylva, the present minister of state for petroleum became governor. When the court removed Sylva, Governor Seriake Dickson came and broke the jinx; he is successfully ending his eight years as governor.
All the three zones have been covered, so it was the expectation of most people that it would return to the central zone. Gladly, all the candidates of the PDP and APC were from the central zone.
Alamieyeseigha spent six years and left, so the people of Southern Ijaw always nurse a feeling that they have not completed their tenure. When it was time for politics, the PDP asked somebody from Kolokuma, the smallest local government, to pick the form for Senate. And Southern Ijaw people felt they would be remembered for the governorship slot, so the two aspirants from that zone were stopped from taking forms for the Senate. The PDP candidate later became the governor’s candidate favoured to take the ticket for Senate. I don’t know why some of the political leaders are not addressing this critical factor.
A local government chairman of Southern Ijaw, Remember Ogbe, resigned to take a form for the Senate, and another person from the local government. I am from Southern Ijaw, so we supported the PDP governorship candidate to win the Senate seat. We went all out and brought our heavy votes and backed him and he won.
By the time we started coming for governorship, some of us who have a voice in the PDP started advising the party. I advised them to zone the gubernatorial slot clearly and let the east and west zones know that it is not their turn yet. That is because the west is the one to hand over now, then east will be the next, after the central zone, but nobody heeded this advice. Rather, the deputy governor, John Jonah, who is from the eastern zone; Sylvester Ikoli, a former attorney-general from the east; David Alagwa from the east; Chief Fred Agbedi, who was Governor Dickson’s campaign director twice, took forms.
Those of us from the central zone were surprised. The refusal of the leadership of the PDP at the zonal, state and national levels to sit and plan properly created a problem. The party leadership needed to take responsibility from the beginning rather than start crying wolf after the election and blame everybody.
Suddenly, we saw Douye Diri, who we had voted into Senate, also taking forms. It is his constitutional right and the governor has the right to have a candidate of his choice. The price of the form was increased from N10million to N21million. There were 21 aspirants from Bayelsa. In the history of Nigeria, that had never happened. Each person paid N21m, and with dancers and drummers to dance and collect forms. Some of us started shouting at the zonal, state and national PDP leadership, that we were too many, but nobody did anything.
As we started preparing for the primaries, we heard that some people were the favourites of the governor and other national leaders. Some of us felt it was a family affair, where a father should be careful and to not have a favourite. At a time, the governor said we should fast for three days so that we could become the favoured person. After the proclaimed fast, the governor’s office announced that three people were Restoration candidates. Restoration is the governor’s political structure. The idea of the governor after the fast was to consult with elders in the Ijaw Kingdom.
Some of us protested the Restoration candidates because politics is horse-trading; it is give and take. When that happened, the division of the party started. Initially, we were three candidates from Southern Ijaw, but after what happened, we became seven. People also started coming out from every other part of the state; and nobody heeded to the advice that the PDP should reconcile this from July 2019 when the three candidates were selected till September. They never called a meeting to discuss the matter, and the APC was watching the PDP fight themselves.
As we got nearer to the primary election, some aspirants were forceful and desperate to take the governor to task. Issues of who will be the delegates came up and the governor did local government election to get the support of the chairmen, and other people, which will give him 315 votes. People protested this too. Some aspirants protested that those to conduct the election were all governor’s people, which meant that among the three candidates he picked, one would automatically emerge.
Timi Alaibe and others wrote petitions and called me to sign, but I said no because I am a very senior person and believes in dialogue. I insisted that petition would divide the party because if the PDP national leadership upheld the petition, the governor would feel aggrieved, and if they didn’t uphold it, you would feel aggrieved. So I told the national leadership to bring us together for dialogue.
A governor came to conduct the election and all the aspirants nominated me to be their spokesman. I stated the problem of the Restoration candidates and said that if we went into the election like that we would lose because the APC is no longer like before in Bayelsa State. Right now, I am being represented by the APC in the National Assembly, unlike before. They have two members out of three in the House of Representatives. The party also has one senator out of three, including Jonathan’s senatorial zone, where the deputy governor-elect comes from.
Go to my area in Southern Ijaw, the governor-elect, David Lyon, is a household name. We call him ‘David Lion’ because he is involved in philanthropy and other activities. And that’s a threat to the PDP, so we said let us come together and leave the petition. But the governor said he respected me so much but he was in the state for election and not as a member of a reconciliation committee.
We went into the primary election terribly divided and angered. Huge money that was not expected was spent on delegates, with heavy inducements, and the party was watching. After that, major people in the party felt aggrieved because the votes that turned out were not a reflection of the people. We all canvassed for delegates, but the lack of unity was bad. We know that politics is always about money; you can give delegates N10,000 or N15,000 for transport, but not millions of naira. The aspirants also requested for debates to share ideas, but that was not done.
For the PDP, the way you make your bed is how you lie on it. The outcome of the primary was that the candidate the governor supported carried everything; even the person former President Jonathan was perceived to have supported did not go far. Other people became offended. They even allocated votes to us. For instance, in my ward alone, there were 15 people, but we had over 40 delegates in my constituency. Most of them are young people whom I trained or I gave jobs. They were traumatised and threatened. I ended up getting four votes out of over 4,000. Senator Emmanuel Paulker from Yenagoa, who is the political leader and father in the state capital, got just two votes. Imagine that the deputy minority leader in the Senate got two votes in his home town. Ikoli, who is the first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in Bayelsa State and great grandson of Herbert Macaulay, a foremost journalist, got zero vote.
I went back to my house and focused on things that had suffered. Timi Alaibe is still in court over the issue because people were angry. People advised me to go to court, but I refused to write petition, so why will I go to court? I left it for God.
I told the governor and the former president that the APC was wiser than the PDP. For the APC to have picked their candidate from Southern Ijaw, which has 30 per cent of the votes; I told them that it would win the election.
How did the PDP pick its deputy governorship candidate?
The PDP made a terrible mistake again. The governor insisted that the deputy governorship candidate must come from his constituency. The party should have taken the deputy from Jonathan’s local government, Ogbia, which is large. That would have taken Bayelsa east into consideration. Ogbia people were waiting for that, but the governor picked the deputy against everybody’s advice, and the national, state and the zones could not stop him. Embarrassed, Ogbia people made up their minds. All the prominent people there resigned and moved to the APC. How did the PDP want to win the election with that?
While the PDP picked a man from the smallest local government, the APC picked from the largest local government.
Timipre Sylva, who is from Brass Local Government and a former governor and chieftain of the APC, looked at the third largest local government, which is Nembe, and picked somebody from there. By that, he got support from the third largest voting zone.
The deputy governor-elect is also a highly respected chief. He has a traditional title that mandates him to take other names, so there was no point going to court over his additional names.
Don’t you think that with prominent men like you, the PDP should have won the election?
There was no way the PDP would have won in my place, Southern Ijaw. This is because my people felt they were terribly insulted. I did not make any effort to campaign for them because I made it very clear that I did not support the candidate as the process was not right. The Bayelsa election will be taught in political science classes in a long time for people to learn what it means not to do the right thing.
What is the role of former President Jonathan in this?
After the late DSP Alamieyeseigha, Jonathan has become our father and all of us listen to him. He wanted people to contest and we would see how it would go. But when the issue of preferred candidates came up, I think as an elder statesman, he had to respect himself. I don’t know what he and the governor discussed, but one thing we know is that the former president was not in support of the way the process was handled. Let’s face the fact; did the national or state leadership of the party engage Jonathan enough? The state chairman of PDP will always do what the governor says. With that, do you want Jonathan to disrespect himself?
Jonathan met with President Muhammadu Buhari, and there are reports that the deal was struck there. His mother also blessed the APC candidate. Is this true?
That is not true. When he met with President Buhari, they discussed state issues. Jonathan just got a job to do some work for the United Nations and he went to brief the president about it. How could he go and tell the president that he would give him Bayelsa State.
But hours after Lyon was declared winner, he visited Jonathan, along with other APC chieftains. Was that not a ‘thank you’ visit?
It is not true. I am not his spokesman or private staff, but I can guess and believe rightly that the former president has become a father of the country and is like a traditional ruler where the APC and other parties pay him visits. How can you be an aspirant or candidate for any party in Bayelsa State and not go to Jonathan? He told me that one of the aspirants from the APC came to him for blessing and when he said he was not in their party, the man said he was their father. More so, for the fact that the election was peaceful, any party that won would visit Jonathan, out of respect.
The governor also said he didn’t think it was any big deal that people went to see the former president. He receives everybody. I don’t think he sealed any deal with President Buhari, and I don’t think the visit of the governor-elect was to say “thank you.’’ It was a secret ballot and his local government voted heavily for the APC. The fact that they were not considered for the deputy governorship slot actually strained their relationship with the PDP. At my level, I feel bold to say that I am aware that there is a strain. None of them told me that there was a strain, but from the body language, it was clear that there was a strain.
Who is Governor Dickson’s political godfather?
The governor’s political godfather is King A.J Turner. He is one of the traditional rulers of one of the small communities in Ogbia Local Government. He brought Dickson to Jonathan, and when commissioners were being appointed then, Jonathan insisted that as Turner’s candidate he must be a commissioner. That was how he became a commissioner. From there, Turner again pushed for Dickson to go to the House of Representatives. In 2011, Timi Alaibe, Ben Bruce and myself came out to contest governorship and Turner again carried Dickson to Jonathan. He listened to the traditional ruler and he became governor.
In 2015 when he became heavily challenged, Jonathan came to campaign for him because of Turner. But Turner and Dickson’s relationship became strained badly, to the extent that he reportedly went to the Inspector-General of Police to say that Dickson wanted to kill him and his family. That was reported in the newspapers. He also went to the Department of State Security (DSS) to report Dickson. If it had gotten to that point, why would anyone of us believe that everything was going smoothly? Turner, who used to go to the Government House, even more than Jonathan, was suddenly no longer welcomed there.
There were reports of fatalities during the election. Are you aware of this?
People died in Nembe, where the deputy governor, John Jonah, was humiliated. He contested, but we were surprised that he was not among the favoured candidates, even when the governor always spoke well of him. As a military man and a person with civil service background, he is loyal. Those of us with civil service background are always loyal.
His people of Nembe felt that their star son was humiliated. When the APC gubernatorial candidate picked his deputy from Nembe, the people felt the PDP should not campaign there. But they have no right to say that because people have the right to campaign anywhere and be protected.
The details of what happened, which led to people’s death, must be fully investigated. Human beings should not die because of election. Whoever was involved in what happened in Nembe should be prosecuted and the affected families compensated by the state government.
But outside what happened in Nembe, this is the first time election was held in Bayelsa and there was no violence. People were shouting about violence in Southern Ijaw, but do they know the terrain? Southern Ijaw is a local government that is only in water. To go to my community you must travel one hour by water. There are communities you travel four hours by water with fast speedboats. During elections we know how we do it.
Looking at the terrain you described above, how do you do your elections in Southern Ijaw?
We come together. And we know the strong people in any community, so we tell them not to condone violence, no matter the party. We will all agree and peacefully do our election. That is how we do it, but sometimes people come from outside the areas and cause violence.
All of us must condemn the terrible thing that happened in Nembe and ask for investigation. For the first time since 1999, we did not hear that people were beaten up in Bayelsa State. Most of these election observers did not go deep into Southern Ijaw, where 80 per cent of the area is in water.
Addressing a world press conference, the governor alleged that Nembe killings were perpetrated by security agents mobilised by the Federal Government. What is your take on this?
I cannot comment on that because I don’t know where he got his facts. It is worrisome, and that is why I said Nembe killings must be investigated. However, there is a worrisome trend in this country as the Inspector-General of Police came out to say there were fake policemen. During the run-up to the elections, we heard both the PDP and APC in the state accusing each other of bringing fake army and police uniforms. Honestly, that must be investigated if we really care for the soul of the people who died. We can’t play politics with that.
How do you think the PDP would recapture power in Bayelsa?
The PDP is very popular in Bayelsa State. But this background issue must be addressed. When a governor has served for eight years, no matter what he did, some people will not be happy with him. Some would feel he has done enough and should go, and not put any of his people there; instead, he should bring different people. The deputy governorship candidate of the PDP is said to be the governor’s closest person and acclaimed relative.
I worked with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his third term agenda and carried it on my head. We were young professionals in the Villa, seconded from government agencies; and we used to follow politicians to meetings. I was a special assistant on special duties in the Villa and we listened at the meetings. If Obasanjo could not succeed in his third term bid, why should Dickson? I told him that what he wanted to do would appear like third term to some people and they would not believe him. I told him that he had worked hard, so he should take a neutral person.
Again, the civil service, which Bayelsa is largely made up of, is not happy with the governor. That is why this new governor has a big challenge ahead of him. The expectations are very high. If a man wins an election and for three to four days, the crowd is still in the streets dancing, then it is a very bad thing for the person leaving office. That is because civil servants expect a lot. When you come as a governor and start doing verification, people don’t like those things, even though you are doing the right thing.
The Niger Delta University (NDU) in Amassoma is the first of such institution deep in the creeks. Today, students don’t need to travel again to Rivers, Calabar, Benin. It was later that Jonathan brought the Federal University, Otuoke. So, many people don’t like Dickson investigating the university and a lot of other things.
In Bayelsa, we don’t have industries, so governments offer some low level employments like cleaners, messengers etc, but Dickson came and cleared over 1,000 of such employees. This is good from the point of view of governance, but people are saying the little they had was taken from them. And out of the N13billion he gets as allocation monthly, maybe only N300million comes to the university. So people were waiting for a day to say they don’t want any of his people to succeed him.
You told him that the party was going to lose. Have you reached out to him after the election?
I have not reached out to him, and I will not reach out to him. It is his duty to reach out to me. I was the one that contested election and spent a lot of my money. Even the post-election reconciliation of the PDP has to be done. Maybe politicians should learn to come down from their high horses when you lose election. When the primary of an election turns out and people are not happy, you have to reconcile them. You don’t brush us aside, because the traditional rulers and leaders of thought will listen to me. I spoke to one or two PDP national people to reconcile people by coming to them. The only time I got a call was from a former senator who wanted me in Bayelsa to reconcile, and I told him I had gone to Abuja, and so were some other candidates. He said he did not have money to come to Abuja. We spent N21m for the PDP gubernatorial form, among other expenses, and these people are saying they do not have money to come to Abuja. On the average, each aspirant spent N50m, and at least five aspirants were in Abuja, which was better for the reconciliation, but he said he did not have N50,000 transport to Abuja, even when he has a house there.
I also asked many aspirants and they were not reached. The only aspirant they reached is Timi Alaibe because he went to court. It is only the PDP candidate that came here to see me and said he had gone round. But I told him he had a problem because nothing was being done for the post primary election reconciliation. Even the deputy governorship candidate should not be imposed on the people by the governor. I told him to concede the deputy governorship position to another local government, and he must not be from the governor’s family.
Even Jonathan has not yet formed a political dynasty. He had a political organisation he called the Green Movement, headed by King Turner. He used that to become deputy governor, then governor. By the time he became vice president he had to put it down because he became everybody’s father.
Look at Tinubu, they say he is controlling the South-West, but he does a lot. If Jagaban offends you he will come and be at your gate and say, ‘my son, let’s talk.’ But in this case, the PDP did not reconcile with anybody.
How do you feel about the outcome of the election?
I feel very happy because the PDP was not reasonable enough to understand the game. They said David Lyon could not speak English. He has a National Certificate in Education (NCE). If it is grammar we are looking at, this PDP candidate cannot speak the kind of English Ambassador Igali speaks, or like Ikoli. But he can communicate. We don’t even need English; hence Bayelsa people started wearing t-shirts with the inscription, ‘No be grammar go win.’ They felt offended. The man is a teacher, so teachers in the state felt they were insulted. Even Duoye Diri had an NCE before he went for B.Ed, which is still about education.
Lyon speaks English, but he has not been a politician. He is a simple 49-year-old man, which is what people have been clamouring for. Also, he is a successful businessman who employed 7,000 people; and the least employee in his company earns N70,000. In every village in Southern Ijaw, he has at least 10 people. He is into oil and gas, shipping, construction and security, which is the one that has touched people. Since President Buhari came into power, there has not been pipeline vandalism in Bayelsa and Delta states because he is the one that maintains them. What he has done is to go to every community and employ 10 to 20 people, kit them well and pay them. So every family is benefitting. After the state government, he is the next biggest employer of labour. So the arrogance of the PDP about the APC candidate annoyed people.
My conclusion is that the PDP made so many mistakes and they should sit and re-examine themselves. They said they wanted to expel some people, but that is not the solution. Why were the early warning signals not addressed?
What is your advice to the governor-elect?
I think David Lyon has a lot of work. My advice is that he should have an inclusive government because the APC has been out of power, which means the governance structure in the state is in the hands of the PDP, which has experienced people who can help him in different areas. I have already communicated with him and advised him to open his heart to take everyone because he is a very simple and humble young man.
Are you ready to mobilise for him to succeed in piloting the affairs of the state?
Yes, 100 per cent. I will help him if he calls me to do so.