The recent exchange of words between Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, and the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has deepened the political face-off between the PDP and APC in the state ahead of the forthcoming general elections,OSA OKHOMINA in Bayelsa examines the issues
Unlike other politicians in Bayelsa State, the duo of Governor Seriake Dickson, and the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, have left no-one in doubt about the face-off between them.
Both Lokpobiri and Dickson are among the highest beneficiaries of political offices in the state since 1999. While Senator Lokpobiri was a Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly during the era of the late D.S.P Alameiseigha and later became a senator after the sharing of political spoils following the impeachment of the late governor, with an harmonisation arrangement between the the Governor Goodluck Jonathan, and the former Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Mr. Timi Alaibe.
Whereas Lokpobiri is now a minister and a deputy leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the animosity has remained unabated. Lokpobiri is also considered a thorough bred politician with close fatherly tutelage in the art of politics and full grip of the politics of Ekeremor Local Government Council, where he hails from, and Bayelsa State.
Dickson, who has now emerged as one of the best grassroots politician in Bayelsa State, also emerged as one of the brightest brains behind the formation of the Green Movement, a political group floated by Jonathan, in the state.
Though he is formerly in the opposition with the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Dickson’s performance under the Green Movement, later earned him an appointment as Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of the State. He was later uplifted to become member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency of the State.
He later emerged as the governor in 2012, after Jonathan considered him worthy. For many of his followers, Dickson has not disappointed the people.
The closest they have gotten to work together was as members of the PDP and as members of the National Assembly.
Since then, they have both become sworn enemies with open name calling and accusations against one another over issues of election violence, insecurity, sponsorship of militancy and cultists.
Many political observers claimed that the animosity between the duo started after the second term bid of the senator to return to Red chamber.
Dickson, who had gained control of the party as the governor of the state, frustrated Lokpobiri’s attempts at getting the PDP ticket. Though Lokpobiri conducted a parralel primary in Sagbama to emerge parralel candidate of the party, the governor ensured that his candidate, Senator Foster Oguola, emerged the accepted candidate and won the Bayelsa West Senatorial seat.
The event, which was tensed and was nearly marred with violence by their supporters in Sagbama town, also led to the exit of Lokpobiri from the PDP.
Also, an attempt by the Minister of State and Senator to recover his perceived lost manadate at the court ended up with suspected loyalists of the governor, invading the court and scuttling expected justice.
The hired thugs disrupted court proceedings that had at least 15 lawyers, including a pregnant woman and two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in attendance. They shattered properties in the facility, turned chairs in the court room upside down and scattered files on the floor. Lawyers were seen hiding under tables.
Lokpobiri, who spoke on the incident said the court was in session to deliver a judgment on his case against the governor’s preferred senatorial candidate, Foster Ogola, over the validity of the latter’s candidacy for Bayelsa West senatorial district.
Lopkobiri claimed that the PDP illegally substituted his name with Foster’s, and had filed a suit accusing Foster of issuing false information to INEC.
He added that the attack on the court was the second, claiming that earlier, thugs had gone to seal the court and stopped the Judge from entering the court, forcing an adjournment.
Since then, the cat and mouse game between Dickson and Lokpobiri took root in Bayelsa politics. Dickson however, left no-one in doubt about his series of intention to mock a former governor of the state, Timipre Sylva, Senator Lokpobiri and the APC.
In a reply to some numerous criminal allegations against him, including the alleged use of militants during the last Governorship election in Ekeremor Local Government Council, Lokpobiri dismissed it as ‘cheap blackmail’ and ‘character assassination’ the claim leveled against him by Dickson that he is allegedly involved in cases of sponsored killings and unholy romance with militants.
According to Lokpobiri, though the accusation by Dickson that he purchased arms and equipment for the militants is a figment of his imagination and do not have anything to do with militants, the theatrics of Dickson is a dance of the absurd on the misfortunes of the people of the Ndoro Community in particular and Bayelsa State at large.
The minister, in a statement issued recently via e-mail and in response to the allegation of sponsored violence and criminality against him and Sylva, said the open attack launched by the governor is a display of the penchant at abusing eminent leaders of the Ijaw Nation and his trademark of politics of blackmail and character assassination.
According to Lokpobiri, “As a matter of fact, the people of Bayelsa State and indeed the Ijaw Nation know me and my pedigree so well and do not need any response from me to discern the truth in this regard. That I was with my kith and kin at Ekeremor from 31stof 2017 ro 2nd of January,2018 to celebrate the new year with a football match, wrestling contest and fun fare made Governor Dickson claime that he had evidence that the militant, Kareowei and his killers were in Ekeremor, celebrating with me, is not only false but wicked and most ungodly.”
“The same militant even came to threaten me on the eve of the New Year and fired some rounds at the river before zooming off. Interestingly, I shared my thoughts on the incident with one of our most respected security officers on my way to Abuja for a meeting with President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at the Presidential Villa on the 3rd of January, 2018.”
“The accusation of the purchase of arms amd equipment for the militant is also a figment of the imagination of Gov. Dickson. I do not have anything to do with the militants and had never met him.”
On the allegation that political appointees under President Muhammadu Buhari have brought nothing to the state, Lokpobiri described the claim of alleged underperformance against him as a Federal Minister as petty and preposterous, saying: “on my contribution to nation building as Honorable Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, my constituency is the entire country and there is no denying the fact that my colleague and I have worked so hard to reposition the sector to the admiration of all Nigerians.”
“Agriculture has been reported by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBC) as the highest contributor to the GDP in 2017.The claim by Governor Dickson that he has not seen anything I have done in my village is therefore petty and preposterous.”
“The theatrics of Governor Dickson is a dance of the absurd on the misfortunes of the people of the Ndoro community in particular and Bayelsa State at large. Common sense in good governance dictates that the proper thing to do is to attend to the needs of the displaced persons and do the needful to help them return to their community and rebuild their lives. This what all people of goodwill and I expect him to do as Governor of Bayelsa State.”
“Let it be known that the shameful campaign of calumny against me is not an account of stewardship that should be the focus of a transparency briefing. Governor Dickson should use his briefs to explain to the good people of the State why there is starvation and misery when he has spent over trillions of naira on non-existent projects leaving the Bayelsa people with no functional roads, hospitals, schools, water, a huge backlog of unpaid salaries and a tattered economy.
Internal debt burden controversy
But the recent issue of high debt burden incurred by the state under the administration of Dickson was first stoked by Sylva and Lokpobiri.
While Chief Sylva, during his last birthday celebration held in Yenagoa, alleged that the Dickson-led administration has been engaging in frivolous spending, alluding that “the present administration has received over a trillion in allocation and other monies with an alleged debt profile of over N750billion.”
He added that : “This administration in Bayelsa, which I called “Kleptocratic” has received over a trillion naira in allocation. But what you see in Bayelsa is hunger. That is why I’m saying they are rats and they eat everything. And yet they are owing over N750 billion.
“Don’t worry, the future belongs to us. The future belongs to you. But each of us must do everything not to allow them steal our destiny like they have stolen our money. If you allow them, they will steal your money and your destiny because they are rats. ”
Lokpobiri accused Dickson’s administration of owing N800 billion in debt.
He alleged that the governor had received over N1.2 trillion from the Federation Account, with no serious achievement to show for it, arguing that Dickson had failed to live by the oath of his office.
But in a statement by Dickson’s Special Adviser on Media Relations, Mr. Fidelis Soriwei, the governor expressed shock that somebody of the status of a minister could show a ‘demeaning lack of capacity’ for a simple research to find out the truth about the true state of affairs in Bayelsa.
He referred the Minister to a report released by the Debt Management Office (DMO) in September 2018, which he said provided in details the debt profile of all the states of the federation as of June 2018.
He stressed that the DMO, the federal agency which is the authoritative body on states and federal government debt profile put the total debts owed by Bayelsa State at N123 billion.
The Bayelsa State Government also backed their defence with a latest report which indicates that it is among the most fiscally stable states in Nigeria is a confirmation of the frugal nature of the Hon. Seriake Dickson-led administration.
The State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Daniel Iworiso-Markson in a statement said the new Fiscal Sustainability Index published by the group is a true reflection of how the government has managed its finances in the last six years.
Iworiso-Markson while congratulating Governor Dickson for the feat, said unlike some other states, Bayelsa have revved up its internally generated income and slowed down on borrowing to fund key projects.
The mouthpiece of the Bayelsa Government stated that the state clearly passed the assessment module of fiscal stability and ability to cover recurrent expenditure without borrowings.
According to him, with the confirmation of the healthy financial profile of the state by no less a reputable and credible research agency like BudgiT, critics of the government can now bury their heads in shame.
Iworiso-Markson particularly berated recent outburst by some leaders of the opposition in the state, who claimed that the government was on a borrowing spree, saying the latest report has portrayed the depth of their ignorance about the state finances.
He pointed out that those who are making unfounded allegations of financial recklessness against the government has forgotten that the Dickson administration is still repaying loans obtained by the previous government.
The Commissioner argued that rather than support Dickson to continue in his good works, they are shamefully making spurious and malicious claims, forgetting so soon how their profligacy and misrule took Bayelsa many years backward.
Iworiso-Markson particularly called out Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, the Minister of State for Agriculture for his reckless remarks against the government, even when he has failed to attract a single project to Bayelsa State since his appointment.
He said: “ Nobody is taking the minister’s spurious allegations seriously because somebody with an analytical mind would know from the reports released by the Debt Management Office in September 2018, which provided in details the debt profile of all the states of the federation as of June 2018 which learly revealed that Bayelsa is one of the least indebted states in the country.
“It is not in doubt that the Restoration administration ensured the repayment of debts incurred by the junior minister’s political godfather and leader, Chief Timipre Sylva, in addition to the steady execution of several big ticket projects across Bayelsa, including the Bayelsa International Cargo Airport”.
Many political observers told LEADERSHIP that the endless bickering between Dickson and the APC leaders may not cease soon.