As the Peoples Democratic Party gets set for governorship elections in five states, choosing candidates for the states, particularly President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state Bayelsa, brings back political intrigues in the party while the opposition warms up for a do-or-die battle
In December this year and early next year, governorship elections will hold on different dates in Bayelsa, Kogi, Cross River, Sokoto and Adamawa states and many political parties are already heating up the polity as they jostle to choose their flag bearers. In Adamawa State, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP will have to contend with the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State who won his party’s primary election two weeks ago, is seeking a second term in office. But Nyako’s popularity with the people is said to have waned over allegations of non-performance.
But he has the advantage of being an incumbent. Moreover, Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, VP, is said to have asked his supporters to vote for Nyako, a move that came as a surprise to political observers in the state in view of the fact that Nyako has done everything to keep his distance from him. But the former VP is still believed to be eyeing the PDP presidential ticket in 2015, and may have reached a deal with the leadership of the party.
Nyako’s main challengers are Marcus Gundiri of the ACN and Buba Marwa of the CPC. Gundiri is believed to have more popular grassroots support than the other candidates. He is an engineer and a retired federal permanent secretary currently working as a water consultant. He has the backing of Boni Haruna, former governor of the state, and most of the political appointees of his administration scattered across the state. Dalailu Ala, chairman of the ACN in Adamawa State, told the magazine last week that if the state conducts a free and fair election, his party would get 95 per cent of the votes. “We are the most popular party in the state right now and the only thing we’re afraid of is the insincerity of the government. They are spending taxpayers’ money to influence voters. They are planning to buy the people’s votes, but we believe our people will vote for their conscience,” he told the magazine.
Marwa is an old warhorse and he believes the people will vote him as governor. Although hugely popular as a person, his governorship ambition does not appear to have the support of the political elite in the state. Marwa is the only prominent figure in Adamawa CPC, which is a minus for someone who hopes to win a governorship election in a rural state like Adamawa. In Kogi State, the governorship election comes up on December 3 this year. Like other places, the PDP ticket has been a subject of intense contest and intrigues. The court finally cleared Idris Wada, a former pilot who pioneered the defunct Executive Aviation Services (EAS), as PDP flag bearer and he has kicked off his campaign. Last Wednesday, he was at the Presidential Villa to see the President, confirming that he is the accepted party candidate. Seven aspirants contested for the sole party ticket, including the incumbent deputy governor, Phillips Salawu, and Jibrin Isah who won the party primary last January before court ruled that Governor Ibrahim Idris’ tenure would expire in 2012. Wada, said to be the sitting governor’s son-in-law and business associate, was foisted on the party despite all serious division and acrimony it raised in the party. David Mark, president of the Senate, had to be drafted to Kogi to broker peace.
This is expected to affect the electoral chances of the ruling party on December 3. To take advantage of the bad blood in PDP the opposition parties have formed an alliance led by Abubakar Audu, a former governor of the state, to dislodge PDP. How the party papers over the cracks caused by the primary will determine their fate next month.
The political scenario in Sokoto State is also similar to the ones mentioned above. In the state, the battle to unseat Aliyu Wamakko is ironically much more intense within the PDP, the ruling party which is fractured along interest groups such as the youths and elders within the party. The youths are backing the candidacy of Senator Abubakar Gada while some elders in the party prefer the incumbent governor. Ironically, the race also involves a kinsman of Senator Gada, Illa Gada, another senator from Gada Local Government area of the state who is however the governorship candidate of a rival Democratic Peoples Party, DPP. For now, Senator Gada is on suspension by the PDP for alleged anti-party activities. In the approaching election, Wamakko may want to use his power of incumbency but not without some challenge within his party and the opposition, which include the ACN.
Perhaps much more acrimonious is the ongoing political battle in Bayelsa, President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state where the state governor, Timipre Sylva, is locked in a fierce battle with forces that seem determined to deny him the ticket for the race. Indeed, the heat is so much that if the governor could turn back the hands of the clock, he may have wished he had forgone the court judgement that increased his first term by an extra year and contested the governorship election last April. Then he would have clinched the PDP governorship ticket of his state without any stress as the tide was in his favour then. Now things have changed so much and the waves of his political career appear to be in recession as he failed to make the first batch of aspirants cleared by the National Working Committee, NWC of the party in Abuja last week for the November 17 governorship primary.
Though it appears inevitable that he would be cleared eventually for lack of cogent reasons to stop him, the scar the exclusion left in his political career may eventually affect his electoral chances. There were audible beads of sweat and sorrow in his voice when he reacted to the gang-up to stop him by any means necessary. “What is clear to me, my supporters and indeed all lovers of democracy in our dear country Nigeria is that there is a desperate attempt by certain forces to illegally exclude me from seeking re-election as governor of Bayelsa State on the platform of the PDP.”
Rufai Alkali, a professor and national publicity secretary, PDP, last Tuesday issued a statement clearing a “first batch” of four aspirants without the sitting governor, who according to the existing norm should have the right of first refusal. According to him, “After a thorough review of the reports of the Screening Panel and the Screening Appeal Panel, the leadership of the party has so far cleared the first batch of contestants for the gubernatorial primaries in Bayelsa State as follows: Orufa Justine Boloubo, Henry Seriake Dickson, Enai Christopher Fullpower and Kalango Michael Youppele.
The screening panel headed by Idi Adamu, a retired general, sat in the South-south zonal office in Port Harcourt and cleared Sylva, among other aspirants, and issued him a clearance certificate. The Appeal Committee head by Abiodun Olujimi, a former deputy governor of Ekiti State, sat in the party headquarters in Abuja and considered petitions against the aspirants. It cleared Sylva for lack of competence to investigate some allegations against him, which are criminal in nature. However, it submitted its report to the NWC asking it to decide Sylva’s fate.
The Appeal Panel considered a petition against Sylva by Oracle, a law firm, which accused Sylva of anti-party activities, acts constituting threats to national security and treasonable felony. Not being a security agency, the panel pleaded lack of jurisdiction and rather recommended, “that the NWC and the elders of the party look into the matter and decide appropriately.” Sylva is also alleged to operate foreign accounts in contravention of his oath of office, an offence within the competence of the Code of Conduct Tribunal to prosecute. Oracle is not a party in the contest and should have taken its petition to the anti-graft agencies and appropriate security agencies for investigation, pending when Sylva would lose immunity as governor.
In addition, John Idumange of the Niger Delta Integrity Group, said to be a PDP member, also alleged that Sylva was terrorising his political opponents. Sylva was also alleged to have threatened to attack Jonathan’s interests, kill the President and his wife should he not get the ticket. To Sylva, “Everything that has been written is a figment of some people’s imagination and I have told the party so... I believe that the party will conduct a fair primary. I am a founding member of the PDP. I wish to remain a member of the PDP. And we all look forward to a free, fair and transparent contest.”
Last Tuesday, after a meeting of the governors and the Presidency on the contentious issue of September federal allocation committee, a delegation of PDP governors, including four governors from the Niger Delta, allegedly met with the President and wanted to know what the problem was about Sylva. They also allegedly reminded Jonathan about the pact he had with the PDP governors on the last April election, arguing that the pact still subsists in the case of Sylva. The President, who just returned from the CHOGM summit in Australia, was said to have washed his hands off the case, saying it was a party affair and he did not want to interfere. An aide of the governor also alleged that Sylva had also reached the President to ask why he was being persecuted by the party. The President reportedly declined having a hand in Sylva’s ordeal.
TELL’s investigation showed that Sylva’s days as the governor of Bayelsa may be numbered for many reasons. Though the President has maintained a pregnant silence, the activities of his aides and associates, which appear to be against the return of Sylva, suggest where his sympathy lies. Sylva is seen as a source of shame to the President because of his woeful score card in Bayelsa State. He is accused of bad governance, corruption and driving the oil-rich state deep into debt. Currently, the EFCC has investigated some corruption cases against Sylva and may have established some grounds to arrest the governor if not for his immunity.
A source says Jonathan has no personal grudge against Sylva but the prospects of another four years of him for the Ijaw homeland are too gloomy to contemplate. Indeed, to the so-called elders of Bayelsa politics who want Sylva out, it was found that the urgency of their campaign goes beyond the allegation of Sylva’s non-performance. They are already looking at the political configuration after Jonathan leaves office in 2015. The President left his political associates stranded in Bayelsa after being elevated from governor to vice president. He could not provide many of them with federal jobs and Sylva refused to accommodate them. Even those he gave appointments resigned for deliberate marginalisation. One of them told the magazine in confidence that it was better not being in government than working with Sylva.
There were alleged cases where Sylva ignored ‘notes’ sent to him by the President. A source stated that Jonathan has endured a lot of indignity from Sylva because of his gentle nature. But Diofie Ola, the chief press secretary to the governor described, his boss’s relationship with the president as “perfect.” According to him, “My governor has a perfect relationship with Mr. President; they don’t have a problem.
Everything you have read in the newspapers is a figment of people’s imagination. We went to welcome Mr. President on his return from CHOGM in Australia. As I speak to you now, my governor is part of the Governors’ Forum going to the Villa to meet with Mr. President.”
Even then the thinking in Jonathan’s political family is that if Sylva gets a second term, not only will Bayelsa lose, they too may go into political oblivion. By the time of another governorship election in Bayelsa in 2016, Jonathan will have little or no influence on the governor. Many of those with the President on national duty will return home to seek political space, which they believe Sylva will not give.
So to them, now is the best time to get him out. Jonathan’s hands are no longer tied because he is now beyond the blackmail of Sylva’s fellow PDP governors who forced a deal on him to give every returning governor a ticket, irrespective of performance. The President’s men are seeking for an important act of courage on his part to get Sylva out. But executing the plan appears sticky. The surest bet is to deny him PDP ticket but the challenge is how? It appears next to impossible to disqualify him legally, according to the party constitution. And because of his immunity, the security agencies cannot investigate him till he is out of power. The screening and appeal panels lack the professional constitutional competence to indict him. The 2010 Electoral Act states that only a court of competent jurisdiction can stop an aspirant from running for political office. This means that only an executive high-handedness can stop Sylva from running for the primary with ominous possibilities of reversal by a court.
It will take a lot of hard work to stop Sylva. Dislodging him and his associates from the state party structure will not be easy but the job has already begun. The state party chairman loyal to him has been removed by the Wadata House and a new one appointed that may not favour him. In addition, the state security outfit named Famou Tamgbe, meaning “kill and throw away,” allegedly used by the governor as political enforcers, has been disbanded by the inspector general of police. These may have watered the road that will lead to Sylva’s political demise.
Now, what are the options available to the embattled governor? Not many. His only chance appears to be to fight it head-on and hope that Jonathan would back down, as he is known to do. Our investigation strongly suggests that Sylva cannot retain the governorship seat outside PDP. Consequently, decamping to another party will be a political suicide, so he may choose to fight dirty. The coming fight, many people fear, may reverse the gains of the amnesty programme. Sylva may not be popular on the streets but he has a network of young men he has empowered and they will likely support him as the source of their daily bread.
Timi Alaibe, former presidential adviser and former managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, is the leading contender for Sylva’s job. He resigned his high profile job as the adviser to the president on the implementation of the amnesty programme and joined the governorship race in 2010. With the sweetheart, rub-me-I-rub-you deal between Jonathan and the PDP governors, which guaranteed them tickets for their support for his presidential aspiration, Alaibe was left with no option than to decamp to Labour Party, LP to pursue his ambition. Even with the weight of incumbency against him, Alaibe was confident he could dislodge Sylva. And it was believed that if anybody could dislodge him, it would be Alaibe. As fate would have it, the court ruled that Sylva’s tenure would expire in 2012. About six months after, Alaibe has returned to PDP to contest for the party ticket. The magazine was told that only two people among the list of aspirants would be more acceptable to Bayelsans other than Sylva – Alaibe and Godknows Igali, a former Nigerian ambassador to Cameroun, now the permanent secretary, ministry of water resources.
Alaibe’s star-crossed quest for the governorship ticket of Bayelsa dates back to 2003 when he was the only politician strong and courageous enough to challenge Diepreye Alamieyeseigha for the party ticket. Despite all the intimidation and violence, he nearly dislodged the then respected ‘Governor General’ of the Ijaws. When Alams, as he was fondly called, was arrested in London on money laundering charges and Jonathan became the acting governor, despite Jonathan’s reluctance to take over his principal’s job, he needed Alaibe’s strong influence to garner the two-thirds majority to impeach Alamieyeseigha. Then it was alleged that the game plan was for Jonathan to hand over to Alaibe in 2007 but this did not happen.
Before this, both men fell out over the sharing of political positions after the fall of Alamieyeseigha. Meanwhile, Jonathan strengthened himself and consolidated his hold on power so that by 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo, the then president, prevailed on Alaibe not to contest the PDP primary against Jonathan. The fear was that given his strength and popularity, Alaibe could upstage Jonathan. It was learned that the gentleman’s agreement was that Alaibe would take over after Jonathan.
Again, this was not to be. The cards were reshuffled again in Jonathan’s favour and he was chosen as running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. This stroke of luck made Sylva governor. Without Alaibe in the race, Jonathan easily won the party primary, and Sylva, then aide of Edmund Daukoru, then petroleum minister, came a very distant second and Francis Dukopola, a highly respected elder of the state, third. Alaibe tried to go for the ticket when Jonathan was upgraded but was legally hamstrung, as he did not take part in the primary. Asked to choose, Jonathan picked Dukopola to replace him and Dukopola was announced the PDP candidate. However, Sylva and his godfathers fought back, insisting that logically if the winner could not take the job, it was only fair the man who came second should take it, not the third. With Daukoru behind him, PDP eventually gave the ticket to Sylva. And it looked as if after Sylva, Alaibe would at last be compensated. When it appeared as if the party wanted to get Sylva out through an Ikedi Ohakim strategy of decamping to another party and returning to PDP later, Alaibe joined LP. Unfortunately, the election did not hold.
Now that it again appears the red flag is out for Sylva, Alaibe returned to the party he was one of its leaders in the Niger Delta, thinking he would be the obvious choice. But so far, they have denied him the waiver he needs to qualify to run in the primary. The party constitution requires that a member should have spent a minimum of two years in the party to be eligible for elective position. Having decamped to LP, Alaibe now requires a waiver to contest. Both his ward and local government chapters of the party endorsed his application for waivers as required but the state chapter strategically refused to endorse his application to the national secretariat.
Consequently, he failed the screening at Port Harcourt and failed again at the Appeal Panel in Abuja because he does not have a waiver. He says it is his right but PDP says it is a privilege only the NWC can grant. Since 1999, it is not known who the PDP had denied a waiver application before this. Abubakar got a waiver to contest the presidential primary against Jonathan despite objection from his state chapter. People are wondering why Alaibe’s case should be different.
The magazine’s investigation suggests that Alaibe may have been tricked into a political cul-de-sac. He appears not to be the choice of the Presidency and the self-styled Bayelsa political elders. A source alleged that he was tricked to leave LP where he had a sure ticket and return to PDP to neutralise him. As it is, he may not get the waiver, or he may get it too close to the primary to be ready for the contest to pave way for the chosen candidate to emerge.
On paper, for now, Dickson, member representing Sagbama Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives and a former attorney general and commissioner of justice of the state, appears the frontrunner for the party ticket. This is his second term in the House and he is the chairman of House Committee on Special Duties. Previously, he chaired House Committee on Justice. He has appointed Fred Agbedi, a former state chairman of the party and a Jonathan associate as his campaign manager, giving the impression that he is the President’s candidate. However, a cross section of those interviewed stated that only two of the aspirants – Alaibe and Igali – would be preferred to Sylva. They say the rest are pretenders.
Igali appears to be the one who will get the ticket in the end. Currently, he has not been screened because he was attending the United Nations conference on water when others were screened but it is hoped that he will beat the deadline. He had always been in the wings for the job but the political hawks were too strong for him. He is close to Jonathan and nearly became his chief of staff when the cabinet was recently reconstituted. He is seen as compromise candidate between Alaibe and Sylva, and may be more malleable. But he may have some potential landmines ahead of him. He is still functioning as permanent secretary and has not resigned his position. The Electoral Act requires candidates to resign at least 30 days to the election. The election is in January 2012 and the poser is when will he resign his job? Can he be chosen as PDP candidate without resigning his job? Currently, is he a member of PDP and a civil servant? If not, when did he become a member? If his membership is not up to two years, will the party grant him waiver without granting Alaibe? If Sylva, Alaibe and Igali do not make it, then Dickson becomes the leading contender for the party ticket. However, to dislodge two strong men like Sylva and Alaibe with immense influence in the creeks may pose security challenges for the country, if unjustly done.
However, Abubakar Baraje, acting PDP chairman, told the press last Thursday afternoon that there was no cause for alarm as what is going on in Bayelsa State is “politicking.” According to him, “We have not sacked Sylva; he won election before and we believe he can still win election.... You people know I am a systems man and what I mean by this is that I allow things to be thoroughly done. Eleven people bought forms in Bayelsa. Between the period of screening and appeal, we received complaints on these eleven people. We asked them to invite all the eleven people and the NWC deliberated on their report, even the ones we received from people outside the party. It was after we had looked into all these complaints that we cleared some people. We will keep releasing more names until we complete what we are doing.” Considering its antecedents, the PDP may end up putting its house in order before the election but at what cost?
Additional reports by ADEKUNBI ERO
and TAJUDEEN SULEIMAN