John ODHE, Yenagoa
It is now open secret that the lndependent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed October 31, 2020 for bye-elections into Bayelsa West and Central senatorial districts.
The electoral umpire had declared the two seats vacant since February this year following the Supreme Court ruling which nullified the governorship victory of Chief David Lyon of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on the ground that his running mate, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo fielded irregular credentials to INEC.
It was on that note that the apex court declared the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Douye Diri who was senator representing Bayelsa Central and his running mate, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo representing Bayelsa West governor and deputy governor of Bayelsa state respectively.
After their swearing-in on February 14, 2020 on the orders of the highest court of law, INEC therefore declared the two senatorial seats vacant and ordered bye-elections to hold on October 31.
In preparations for the polls, the two major political parties in the state, the PDP and APC, have since conducted their primary elections and candidates have emerged from each party for the battle.
For Bayelsa West, while the immediate past governor of Bayelsa state, Chief Seriake Dickson from Sagbama Local Government Area picked the PDP ticket unopposed, a former deputy and acting governor of the state, Chief Peremobowei Ebebi from Ekeremor LGA defeated other aspirants to clinch the APC flag to tackle Dickson.
From feelers reaching us coupled with our critical analysis of the two candidates vying for the Bayelsa West seat, the pendulum of victory could swing to either direction.
As it were, both candidates have begun underground moves, holding nocturnal and clandestine meetings and consulting stakeholders on how best to woo the electorate to their sides.
Chief Peremobowei Ebebi, popularly called the Odudu of Africa by his acquaintances, is a no less a personality in Bayelsa politics, having served as Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, deputy and acting governor of the state.
The former acting governor is also contesting under the platform of the APC that has all it takes to tackle the opposing PDP squarely, both financially and otherwise being the ruling party at the national level.
Apart from being an influential politician, Ebebi is said to be widely known for his liberalism and generosity as many of his followers and those who had worked closely with him would attest especially while he served in different capacities in the government of the state.
Ebebi’s disposition to human development is said to be speaking volume for him ahead of the Bayelsa West senatorial district.
Another odd which is also said to be working in favour of the Aleibiri born politician is the voting strength of Ekeremor local government area where he hails from. According to the latest number of registered voters in each local government area as released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, Ekeremor is leading with a total of 93,774 registered voters while Sagbama has 87,242 registered voters.
If voting strength is anything to go by, and if the people of Ekeremor decide to vote their own hundred per cent, Ebebi may have some edge over his Toru-Orua born opponent at the polls.
It was gathered that the electorate in Ekeremor LGA have declared what they christened as “Operation Deliver Your Local Government” ahead of the senatorial contest.
A youth from the Ekeremor extraction who gave his name as Peretoru Owei while speaking to TNN said “this election goes beyond party lines. It is about the political future of Ekeremor people. We can no longer allow only one man to dictate what should be done in Bayelsa West because of his personal interest. We have declared operation deliver Ekeremor LGA irrespective of our political parties. Enough is enough.”
Chief Seriake Dickson is the immediate past governor of Bayelsa state. He left office in February 14, 2020 after his restoration government held sway for eight years in Creek Haven.
It is therefore only those residing in a fool’s Paradise that may question Dickson’s financial war chest which may play key role during the electoral process.
It was while still in office as governor that Dickson’s rumoured ambition to go to the Senate rent the air, with reports then that he allegedly sponsored Senators Douye Diri and Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo to the Senate to actualize his senatorial dream but such speculations were condemned to the dustbin of rumour.
However, the speculators were vindicated when the former governor indicated his interest to run for the West senatorial seat immediately it was declared vacant by INEC.
Dickson is said to be banking on his political and financial influence as the immediate past governor and one whose party has been in government since 1999 when democracy returned to Nigeria till date.
The Ofurumapepe, as he is fondly called by his political allies, is said to be leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that he wins the senatorial election of his dream.
We gathered that on the day he won his party’s senatorial ticket at Sagbama, headquarters of the senatorial district, the ex-governor went diabolical as he took some ‘juju’ men to the water side in front of his Toru-Orua home to perform some rituals which pundits construe as measures to boost his electoral chances in order to come out victorious at the polls. Dickson has not confirmed this.
The Controversial Zoning Arrangement: What The People Say
In the build up to the Bayelsa West senatorial election, the peoples democratic party and its candidate, Dickson, have been championing the course of an ‘existing’ verbal zoning arrangement in the district which has now become a subject of controversy.
While the PDP is insisting on adherence to the said zoning formula, which it argues, now favours Sagbama, the APC says there had not been any special arrangement for zoning in that region, arguing that it is a ploy by the PDP and its candidate to gain political sympathy.
During his acceptance speech after winning his party ticket, Dickson had this to say about the zoning quandary, “l want to make this clear, l am myself a proponent of the zoning policy that has come to stay in this senatorial district.
“So, make no mistake about the zoning arrangement. It has come to stay. I am happy about the unity that we have fostered in this senatorial district. It is our collective prayer and desire, that those outside our senatorial district who preserve the unity of their own senatorial districts but who want to so the seed of discourse, they will fail again in Jesus’ name.
“It is not too late for those few of our brothers who are still on the other side who have always been with us and supported the zoning and rotation to retrace their steps. We are doing this to preserve the strength and unity of this senatorial district for posterity.”
Also speaking on the zoning quagmire, the Special Adviser to governor Diri on Political Matters, Mr. Collins Cocodia said “the two local government areas in the Bayelsa West senatorial district have an unwritten agreement which invariably means that if Sagbama is going to produce the senate, the Reps will automatically come from Ekeremor and Ekeremor currently has the Reps.”
But Ebebi, while addressing his supporters last week in Yenagoa, the state capital said “the issue of zoning has be buried as far as I am concerned because there have been instances.
“For example, in 2007, Dickson was contesting for senate. He had already picked the form and did everything but Heineken Lokpobiri became a Senator without buying that form. It was Alaibe that harmonized Heineken in. That was how Dickson was made to go to House of Reps.”
“Later, Heineken who is from Ekeremor contested against Brambaifa who is from Sagbama. So, where is the zoning?. This zoning you are hearing is Dickson’s idea. We are of the APC. I was also there. Now, l am of the APC.
“Recently, we told Dickson that now that he was almost finishing his eight years as governor, if he intended to bring the deputy from the West, he should bring him from Ekeremor because we were seeing Ewhrudjakpo on the screen, that it would be unjust to also bring the deputy from Sagbama but he refused.
Since he knows it all, he should not be complaining about zoning. Eight years as governor. Ewhrudjakpo was eight years as commissioner for works, became senator and now deputy governor, and Dickson wants to go to the senate. Look at it. It does not make sense.
“Dickson is oppressing the people of Bayelsa West especially the Ekeremor people. Even the Sagbama people are under bondage. This is the time for them to cast their vote to liberate themselves from the spell that Dickson has cast on them.”
Similarly, a chieftain of the APC and former member representing Sagbama constituency 3 in the Bayelsa state house of assembly, Mr. Ofoni Williams described the controversial zoning issue as a scam.
He said “l don’t believe in zoning. The zoning they are talking about is a PDP affair. Even within the PDP, there are many infractions about the zoning. Even the PDP itself does not believe in zoning.
“What the PDP is doing concerning the zoning is an act of blackmail to other political parties. In the whole of Bayelsa state, there is nothing like zoning.
“Take Bayelsa Central for instance, Southern Ijaw had two tenures with Senator Brigidi while Paulker from Yenagoa got three tenures. You can see the discrepancy; how come Yenagoa is having three tenures while Kolokuma/Opokuma has not even completed one tenure if there has been zoning?. Why are they taking it back to Southern Ijaw?
“Apart from that, there are other local arrangements made by the local people for their own consumption and maybe, the PDP. Like in my Ward 7 in Sagbama, there used to be a zoning arrangement for councillorship, but it has been jettisoned. It was Elemebiri’s turn but they gave it to Asamabiri. So the PDP itself does not believe in zoning. They should stop deceiving the people.
“Coming to Bayelsa West proper, after Brambaifa and after Senator Difa, what happened? You recall that about fourteen cars alongside our lodge were burnt down. Why? It was because of zoning. Yet Sagbama produced a senator for the second time in the person of Senator J.K. Brambaifa.
“After, Brambaifa, all the senatorial aspirants that bought forms were from Sagbama, Namely: Gordon Bozimo, Charity Vedelago and Seriake Dickson. No Ekeremor person bought the senate form. Heineken Lokpobiri became Senator by a stroke of luck by harmonization when they tried to settle political dispute between Alamieyeseigha and Alaibe within the PDP.”
As it stands, it is only the soothsayers that are better placed in the position to tell which direction the political chronometer of the forthcoming Bayelsa West senatorial bye-election will swing at last.