Outgoing Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, must have learnt a thing or two from the recent governorship election in the state, writes Emmanuel Addeh
It’s easy to be drawn towards Governor Seriake Dickson. Dickson has the gift of the gab. The governor of Bayelsa can easily convince even the most critical of his style of governance that he’s the greatest thing that has happened to Bayelsa since sliced bread. He exudes the confidence of a warrior, the subtlety of a salesman and the intellect that far surpasses that of the average Nigerian politician.
He cuts the picture of a man of conviction, whose personal opinion about every issue cannot easily be swayed. Like his physical stature, which could be intimidating, Dickson’s confidence, which many interpret as arrogance or overconfidence, can be quite overwhelming.
Going into the poll, even his political enemies would easily admit that Dickson would be a hard nut to crack. They recall his exploits in 2015, when the All Progressives Congress (APC) had just won elections at the federal level with Muhammadu Buhari as president. Against all odds, Dickson as the incumbent won his re-election.
Not the type to yield ground or be caught unawares, Governor Dickson, the politician, has the uncanny ability to foresee future political threats even before they begin to manifest and then begin the process of neutralising such risks.
But like every human, like every politician, and even army generals, who lead troops to war, Dickson has his own weaknesses. Military tacticians sometimes design war strategies wrongly and get their foot soldiers killed at the warfront. For most of strongmen, their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness.
For the governor, many believed that he took on many unnecessary battles on too many fronts at the same time. He, perhaps, had too many people around him who couldn’t look him in the eye, tell him the truth and damn the consequences.
In doing a post-mortem, it must be said that even the governor’s detractors will privately admit that he hasn’t been a complete failure in developing the oil-rich, but mostly riverine state with a very difficult terrain to carry out needed development. Whether it was enough, given the resources available to Bayelsa with the smallest population in the country remains debatable.
Looking back, a number of factors may have hastened the defeat (temporary or not) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the November 16 governorship election in Bayelsa, although the governor and his party insist that they were clearly rigged out. The APC and PDP will also have their day in court following the several pending cases. First, how did Dickson get her?
The civil service reforms
Bayelsa is clearly a civil service state. With many people in the state depending on their take-home pay for survival, any major attempt to shake the system was expected to come with some backlash.
Spinning from his first term, the governor a few years into his second term said he had decided to take the much-talked about reforms to the next level, maintaining that the cost of maintaining the bureaucracy was skyrocketing.
He took off multiple names from the ministries, downsized in the departments and restructured salaries. This did not sit well with many people, especially the civil servants, who have families they could easily convince that the governor was the source of their problems.
Put in proper context, the economic meltdown of about less than two years ago, took its toll on the state’s resources, leading to unpaid salaries at the time and necessitating a cut in government spending.
The fallout of the reforms and cost-cutting measures in government institutions, were the Amassoma riots in which certain persons from the area, including at least a security agent were killed. The Niger Delta University located in Southern Ijaw, where the late Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, hails from, was created partly as a source of income for locales.
An attempt to restructure the place and make it run like a standard university was always going to be resisted, although part of the loss of the area, which was returned by over 120, 000 for the APC to the PDP’s over 4,000 could be attributed to the fact that David Lyon, the APC candidate also hails from the council.
Many of the people, mostly unskilled served as cleaners, clerks etc in the institution. But Dickson insisted that a university was not meant as a source of food for communities, but a place where World Class academic learning should be carried out. He stressed that the number of the non-academic staff far outweighed the teaching staff, which he said was an anomaly.
In the end, some names were removed, people’s source of livelihood was threatened, leading to the riots and the locking up of the entrance gate to the institution by the protesters for days and shutting down academic activities.
Security personnel were deployed to open the gate for willing students to learn. This led to clashes between indigenes and the police, resulting to deaths. The governor’s damage control strategy did not seem to achieve much. This was a campaign issue during the polls, which the opposition latched on.
The Goodluck Jonathan Factor
Would the incumbent, Seriake Dickson, have become governor without the almost unilateral backing he got from former President Goodluck Jonathan? Many would readily give an absolute ‘no’ as the answer.
But as it was wont to happen, the relationship soon went cold. In the main, it was argued that if not that Jonathan lost the 2015 election, it would have been difficult for Dickson to return as governor. The frosty relationship did not just start in the run-up to the poll. Even during major events, Jonathan was never seen in the Government House.
However, it was aggravated, when the two leaders could not agree on a governorship candidate to support. Dickson told journalists that he visited Jonathan 16 times to sort out the matter before deciding to go it alone. While Jonathan had Timi Alaibe in his mind, Dickson had Diri, his former deputy chief of staff. Diri won the primaries. Jonathan did not forgive Dickson for the ‘embarrassment’.
In the end, Jonathan had his own game plan: he who could not be stopped at the primaries must be halted in the main election. At best, he completely washed his hands off or at worst worked against Dickson. With the gale of APC visits to the former president, at least, thrice since results of the election were announced, it is safe to pick the latter.
Consequences of an Unpopular Candidate
The day Senator Douye Diri was publicly endorsed by Governor Seriake Dickson, as his choice successor, it did not generate any excitement. Diri had been in government for a considerable length of time before he went into the primaries.
Yet, not many were freaked by the prospect of him being their governor. He hadn’t related with the people as much as he needed. Selling him to the electorate was an uphill task.
…And a Running Mate from Sagbama
Governor Dickson never publicly admitted that he was gunning for the senate. But the information in the public space was that the entire plot was to ensure that Diri and his running mate, Lawrence Ewhrujakpo, won the election to pave the way for him to run for the senate after Ewhrujakpo’s victory in Bayelsa and subsequent resignation from the senate.
Therefore, picking the PDP running mate from Sagbama, his own council was to some observers, a major political miscalculation. To them, his plan to control the entire levers of power in Bayelsa was like biting much more than he could chew.
PDP’s Uncommitted Foot Soldiers
The PDP went into the electoral warfront with many uncommitted foot soldiers, who continually lied to their principal on the actual situation reports. Information in the public space was that funds for mobilisation never got to those they were meant for.
This, in the main, played out three days to the election, when the PDP rally was attacked in Nembe and several party supporters were injured, killed or roughly handled.
The ‘expendables’ mostly youths, who escaped the bloody battle and sullied by the event, were still in a screaming match with their leaders late into the night as to why their ‘mobilisation’ was still being held after going through a near death experience in the hand of the thugs while working for their party.
Federal Might/State institutions
Aside the alleged elite conspiracy against Dickson, many of them felt slighted, because their input on who governs Bayelsa was not processed or at worst discarded. But the APC came ‘fully prepared’ to win the poll by all means.
Observers, who have had the courage to speak out after the poll have highlighted the issues of intimidation by federal forces, ballot box snatching, violence and sometimes connivance with the electoral umpire as some of the matters that marred the poll.
Dickson’s Position on the Poll
The governor believes that the election was massively rigged in favour of the APC, especially in Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Jonathan’s council and Nembe, where massive votes were, according to him, allocated to the APC. He describes insinuations that the PDP lost because he ‘disagreed’ with Jonathan as undiluted balderdash.
“In Ogbia, there was no collation done. In most of the areas, at the conclusion of voting, the soldiers came and rounded up everybody and forcibly took them to Ogbia town and asked all PDP leaders to leave to enable them replace pre-written results. And so the results announced for Ogbia, like those for Southern Ijaw and Nembe were not real.
“What has happened in Bayelsa is one of the most brazen acts of distortion and rape of our democracy. What took place was not a democratic election. It was a military coup. It was the height of conspiracy by the federal government and security agencies to subvert the democratic rights of our people for the sole purpose of foisting the APC on the people”