The quest on who occurs the Creek Havan ahead of the November 11 governorship election in Bayelsa State, has charged the political atmosphere into a more intense, fierce and intriguing battle for political survival and dominance in the next four years.
Since the return of democracy in 1999, the political landscape of Bayelsa State has been dominated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with all the previous state governors elected under the platform.
Unlike the 2019 guber election, about sixteen candidates will be jostling to succeed the incumbent governor, Senator Douye Diri, who is also contesting for a second term in the forthcoming election. Among the candidates are 14 males and 2 females.
Political observers have anticipated an epic battle between the two prominent candidates, Douye Diri of the PDP and the main challenger, Timipre Sylva of the All Progressive Congress (APC), who is aiming to upset the PDP and its stronghold.
But at the moment, it appears that the hitherto underrated candidate of the Labour Party, Engr. Udengs Eradiri, has become a force to reckon with, riding on the wave of his popularity as a former president of the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) and that of the party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi.
Other candidates in the governorship election include, Subiri Waibodei Joseph of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Osuluku Binalaiyefa of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Simon Imotimi Karioru of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Idikio Warmate Jones of the Accord Party and Kalango Stanley Davies of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), among others, as candidates for the election.
However, there are dominating factor that may introduce some dynamics to the forthcoming governorship election. These factors, include choice of running mates by candidates, the emergence of a third force in the political landscape, INEC preparedness, security and vote buying.
Choice of Running Mate
The choice of Joshua MacIver as Timipre Sylva’s running mate, has generated a lot of controversy. It is believed that Sylva’s decision may affect his chances at the poll considering a similar incident that cost APC its victory in 2019 after the Supreme Court invalidated David Lyon’s election a day prior to his swearing-in on February 13, 2020.
Joshua MacIver is currently facing a court case for allegedly lying on oath when he declared that he was not an ex-convict when he filled out his form by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
A Governorship aspirant of the APC, Mrs. Isikima Ogbomade Johnson, had challenged his eligibility while contending that Maciver was allegedly convicted of murder and terrorism by a court of competent jurisdiction in 2006, and as such he was not qualified to be the running mate to the APC governorship candidate, Timipre Sylva.
The conduct of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections has been widely criticised as falling below the expectations of Nigerians over the hitches associated with the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the upload of results to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Results Viewing Portal (IReV).
The electorates seem to have lost confidence in INEC with the impression that their vote does not count. The perception is that INEC has been reduced to a point where people who think they are in control have total influence on postings of INEC officials and how they are going to write result.
The November 11 off cycle election has presented an opportunity for the commission to redeem its battered image by ensure a level playing ground for all political parties and their candidates contesting for the election.
In a press briefing in Yenagoa, the resident electoral commissioner, Bayelsa State, Barr. Obo Effanga had assured of INEC preparedness in a free and fair contest. He insisted that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) would once again be deployed for voter accreditation and transmission of result.
Effanga said, “Nothing has changed with the process of election in Nigeria. We are still going to conduct election based on the provisions of the constitution, electoral act and guildlines of INEC.”
More certain is the possibility of electoral violence which has intensified in some local government areas of the state since February. Incidents have been notably higher in Nembe where there has been frequent attacks by armed youths which resulted to deaths, burning down of buildings, voter intimidation by thugs and voter apathy.
Recently, the army had arrested some thugs with arms and ammunition and it has been alleged that those perpetuating the violence have been stockpiling weapons ahead of the election. The activities of these thugs have affected the registration of voters in the local government area and are likely to also affect the election proper.
In this present day politics in Nigeria, there is no denial that money plays an important role in choosing who becomes a leader. Vote buying has become a common feature in Bayelsa politics, arising from poverty, unemployment, apathy, insecurity and party supremacy, among others.
Election observers in previous governorship and house of assembly elections in the state, have confirmed there were cases of systemic vote buying especially in some riverine communities. The reverse will not be the case in the November 11 governorship election. It is widely believed that vote buying will play an important role in determining who will secure the highest votes during the election.
The main candidates
Since his emergence as the governor after the Supreme Court ruling on February 13, 2020, Senator Douye Diri believes he has shown capacity in turning the fortunes of the state around in term of infrastructure, education, health agriculture, sports, skills acquisition and human capacity development, and deserves to be re-elected for continuity.
Speaking at the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation Democracy Dialogue Series recently held at the Local Content Tower Conference Hall in Yenagoa, Diri said he has done enough to merit a re-election for second term.
He said, “On November 11 this year, Bayelsans will be going to the polls to elect a governor. I hope I have done enough to merit their endorsement for a second term.”
In addition, the governor seems to be much at an advantage ahead of other top contenders considering the fact that the PDP totally won the Senate and House of Representatives seats with a majority of 19 out of 24 House of Assembly lawmakers, in the just concluded general elections.
The emergence of the former minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva as governorship candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), to a large extent, had given the APC a boost to engage the ruling PDP in a good contest. He is believed to have the wherewithal to match the incumbent governor who has the state resources at his disposal.
Sylva had contested for the governorship position in 2015 and lost to the former governor, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson and this is his second attempt at contesting for the exalted position since leaving office as governor in 2011.
The odds may seem to be against Sylva winning the election as then case may be but he cannot be underestimated considering his popularity, financial influence as well as possible support from his ruling APC government at the national.
It is also believed that the disunity among APC party stakeholders, the political approach to unseat an incumbent governor as well as Sylva’s choice of Joshua MacIver, who has a pending court case for ineligibility as a running mate, are some of the factors that may likely hinder the APC, from getting the deserved victory in the forthcoming governorship election.
This is the first time the Labour Party flag bearer, Engr. Udengs Eradiri will be contesting the governorship. His entrance into the governorship race, has somewhat changed the political calculations in the state. He has proven to be a third force to reckon with since his emergence as the LP gubernatorial candidate.
He is very popular among the youth who see him as one of them and has used his influence and antecedents as a former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) and also a former Commissioner for Youth Development under Dickson’s administration, to sell his PEAP agenda to young people. It is believed that he could pull a surprise in the election.