From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
When Governor Henry Seriake Dickson during an expanded state caucus meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Sunday December 9 warned party members not to do or say anything that would threaten the peace and tranquility of the state because of the forthcoming local government primaries of the party and polls slated for the first quarter of 2013, political pundits believed, he is fully aware of the sharp and deep division the process of picking the PDP standard bearers have created in the party.
Since the election which produced his successor in the Sagbama/ Ekeremor Federal constituency was not enough to define the political character of the Dickson governorship, the PDP primaries and the local government election itself would be the litmus test for the Dickson administration.
Close observers of Bayelsa politics contend that the shape for the politics of the local government elections was laid shortly after Dickson took charge of the administration of the state when five out of the eight local government chairmen believed to be core loyalists of former governor Timipre Sylva were removed from office based on the resolution of the House of Assembly which found them culpable in financial recklessness. Those affected include, Tiwei Orunimige (Southern Ijaw), Sammy Boy (Ogbia), Eddy Julius (Ekeremor) Nathaniel Ngo Sylva (Brass), Pere Peretus (Sagbama).
They were immediately replaced by Tony Ogola (Sagbama), Youssou Oberiakuma (Brass) Felix Ayah (Southern Ijaw), Ibegu Richard( Ogbia) and John Ebikake (Ekeremor), who now joined the trio of Michael Ogbolosinger (Yenagoa), Waribugo Sylva (Nembe) and Ebikitin Doingoli (Kolokuma/Opokuma) that escaped the political sledge hammer of the House of Assembly.
Dickson’s disdain for the administration of the local government councils in the state is an open secret as he believes the council chairmen and top management staff of the council are in the habit of sharing money meant for the development of the various local government areas.
It was therefore not surprising that the five new local government chairmen and the three surviving ones struggled to impress the Governor believing that performance would stand them in good stead when the process for picking candidates for the council polls commenced.
Shortly after the Blessing Izagara led Bayelsa State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) announced the time-table for the local government polls, the fierce political rivalry that swept through the PDP and the Restoration Camp of Dickson was overwhelming. Checks indicated that 97 politicians took chairmanship forms for the eight local government councils, while 304 aspirants wanted to fill the slot for the 105 wards in the state.
As part of ways to extricate itself from the looming political war, the Col. Sam Inokoba(rtd) led state executive council with the consent of Dickson appointed Chief Claudius Enegesi, a strict politician, who is the deputy national treasurer of the party to head the screening panel to screen the candidates.
The Enegesi committee has completed its assignment and submitted its report to the party with the clearance of only 36 aspirants to contest the chairmanship primaries with a declaration that the committee ensured those cleared are eligible and would not give the party problem.
However, followers of the politics of Bayelsa state are of the view that unknown to Enegesi and his committee members, the committee was a decoy as a grand plan has been allegedly orchestrated by the Dickson boys to hand-pick loyalists who were his former aides to become local government chairmen. According to them, the decision of 25 aides of the governor to resign and contest was part of the plan.
Also part of the plan was the directive to the Police and the State Security Service (SSS) to investigate all the aspirants. The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Daniel Iworiso- Markson stated that this was in line with the administration zero tolerance for crime and cultism.
Hear him: “The directive is in line with the administration’s policy of zero tolerance for crime, cultism, violence and all forms of criminality. They should also find out the background, check and vet the names of all aspirants for elective offices in the various local governments. This is aimed at ensuring that persons who are tainted in anyway are not allowed to fly the party’s flag.
It is imperative to note that the new PDP in Bayelsa State in going forward has no room for persons with questionable background or character” Political experts argue that the directive and the announcement by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Kingsley Omire that it has a list of 150 persons including politicians, contractors and ex-militant leaders who are sponsors of cultism in the state was a political brinkmanship on the part of the Dickson camp to pave the way for a pre-determined outcome of the PDP local government primaries and the council poll proper in early 2013.
Though Iworiso- Markson had pointed out that Dickson has unequivocally said “the party has no preferred candidates and will not condone any attempt by anyone to flout laid down procedures and rules set out by the party for candidates to emerge” many party members believe his body language speaks volume that the candidates that would fly the party’s flag in the local government polls are already known. In Kolokuma/Opokuma, the incumbent, Ebikitin Doingoli was advised not to procure form as the chairmanship slot has been zoned to a loyalist of the Governor to emerge as Chairman.
Doingoli who worked for the Dickson Restoration Team is believed to have been stopped from contesting because of his closeness to Mr Waripamo Dudafa, seen as a political threat to the Dickson governorship. In Southern Ijaw, the incumbent, Felix Bonny Ayah has been dumped for two former aides of Dickson, Richard Ogbe and Target Sekibo to slug it out. In Brass a certain Barrister Obed has been favoured by the Dickson camp to emerge as the party’s candidate. In Nembe the performance of Waribugo Sylva has been ignored as a nephew of the deputy-governor, Eminah Biogbemi Bennett has been anointed. Ogbia and Ekeremor are also not different as loyalists of Dickson have been penciled down to take over the council.
In Sagbama, Dickson local government area, the Dickson camp is divided as a faction of the camp is behind the incumbent chairman, Tony Ogola, while the other faction is working frantically behind the scene to abbreviate Ogola’s ambition. The situation in Yenagoa is serious and it has heightened tension among the constituents that make up the capital city. That the incumbent Michael Ogbolosinger ambition has met a brick wall is not the problem, but the rotational policy established to guarantee peace and stability is being threatened is worrisome for concerned people of Yenagoa.
According to investigations, a top government official in the Dickson administration had convened a meeting under the aegis of Stakeholders of Yenagoa Local Government Area where the chairman was removed from the area that was supposed to produce the next chairman and zoned to Epie where a former senior special assistant to Dickson has been anointed to win the party nomination and go ahead to win the election in early 2013. The Yenagoa case has attracted a petition by Yenagoa Integrity Group (YIG) which said the position of the group to zone the chairmanship to Epie as a deliberate and desperate machination to twist the long accepted convention in the local government to satisfy their personal interest.
The group in the petition signed by Mr Sonsome Alfred stated that an insignificant group unknown to the people of Yenagoa cannot change an existing political rotational formula in the local government area. It reads in part: “For the records, YELGA has an existing conventional rotation formula which is sacrosanct and respected by all clans and constituencies in the local government.
The rotation is to guarantee peace, unity and progress among the constituting units. In furtherance of this convention, Hon Walter Okpoi from constituency 2 was elected chairman of the council in 1999. In 2003, Hon Anthony Samuel from constituency 1 became the elected chairman and in 2010 after the intervening era of caretaker committees, Hon Michael Ogbolosinger from constituency 3 was elected executive chairman. This is the prevailing trend of rotation in the local government which is accepted by the entire local government area. It is against this background that we question the essence and import of the so-called Yenagoa stakeholders to zone the chairmanship to constituency 1 and Epie clan.
We make bold to say that the grand design by the self-styled Yelga stakeholders is retrogressive, repressive and a calculated scheme to deny constituency 2 (Gbarain/ Ekpetiama) their right of producing the elected chairman” Dickson widely applauded for his consensus building is said to be worried over the fallout of the party local government primaries and is already taking steps to ensure the party is not thrown into crisis. In a statement by Iworiso- Markson, Dickson said he will not stand for injustice in whatever form or shape and certainly will not condone any attempt by anyone to use the guise of party politics to foment trouble in this state. His words “We will come down hard using the instrumentality of the law to deal with anyone who attempts to breach the peace in the state. For the records, politicians are advised in their best interest to conduct themselves with utmost decorum in their campaigns ahead of the forthcoming LG Polls in the state.
“We are not unaware of the antics of some desperate politicians who are hell bent on using the prevailing electioneering atmosphere to heat up the polity.
We are closely watching them and before long they will have law to contend with. His Excellency therefore wishes to urge all political parties in state to call their members to order with a clear instruction that all parties must play by the rules as laid down by the various parties through which candidates should emerge.” The question however on the lips of party members and Bayelsans is can Dickson who fought from the trenches to resist imposition of a candidate to replace him in the 2011 Federal House of Representatives election, pass this litmus test or bow to those who are hell bent in using him to suppress the will of the people?