As voters in the oil-rich Bayelsa State count down to the November 16, 2019 Governorship election, background findings and field reports by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) have provided some insight about the factors, which could determine the shape and character of the electoral contest.
The report, titled: The Godson Turned Godfather: Governor Dickson & Bayelsa’s 2019 Election, provides an overview of the electoral process and the dynamics of the political environment in Bayelsa. The findings indicated that although 45 political parties are fielding candidates for the election, the contest is presumed to be a two-horse race once again.
Like the 2015 gubernatorial election, the data from the report points at a straight battle between the two prominent political parties – PDP and APC. However, unlike the previous elections, the contest is projected to be much closer.
It would be recalled that in 2012, the incumbent Governor, Serieake Dickson, received 89.4% of the votes cast by the electorate amidst turnout of 72%. Even when the election was declared inconclusive by INEC, the incumbent Governor Dickson won 60% of votes cast to defeat, Timipre Sylva of the APC, who fell short with 38%, in the election that followed. In terms of turn out by the electorate, the State witnessed a meagre turnout of 37%.
Looking at the relative strengths of the political parties, and extrapolating on how they would fare on November 16, the CDD report notes that the political hegemony of the PDP in Bayelsa State, which has remained a tough nut to crack for the opposition APC would again be tested. It notes that the improved performance of the APC in the 2019 general elections where the party won over 35% of the vote and secured a victory in Jonathan’s backyard – Bayelsa East senatorial zone, might be a sign that traditional voting patterns are less certain to hold in the 2019 governorship election.
Who’s in the running, and from where
With a total of 45 political parties contesting in 2019 governorship poll, CDD observed that the number represents a significant increase in political parties taking part in the process compared with 2015 when just 20 political parties contested in the governorship poll. The report goes on to add that in the history of the State, no woman has either been elected governor or deputy governor.
“In 2019 just three women (7% of the total) will contest for the governorship while 13 (29% of the total) are seeking to be chosen as deputy governor. However, with the two leading political parties – APC and PDP-having no female members of the ticket and having won 98% of the votes cast in 2015, Bayelsa’s two-decade wait for a female governor or deputy is set to continue.
Of the 42 male candidates that are contesting for this election, just 7% are between the ages of 30 and 35. Most (53%) fall into the 36 to 45 categories, with 16% over the age of 55. The governorship candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) is the oldest contestant at 70 years old.”
The politics of zoning
Subsequently, the report went on to weigh in on the debate on zoning. It was observed for instance that Bayelsa Central senatorial district produced Diepreye Alameiyeseigha, the first democratically the states’ first governor. Alameiyeseigha hailed from Ijaw South LGA. Goodluck Jonathan who ruled after him came from Ogbia LGA in Bayelsa East senatorial zone. Timipre Sylva is from Brass LGA, the same senatorial district as Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent Governor Dickson is of Bayelsa West senatorial district in Sagbama LGA.
It was noted that ahead of the 2019 elections, coalitions of interests are clamouring for a shift of power to Kolokuma/Opokuma LGA – the least favoured LGA in terms of political patronage of high-ranking government officials and where the candidate of PDP, Senator DuoyeDiri, hail. The two leading political parties, PDP and APC, factored zoning into their choice of candidate.
Both candidates are from the same senatorial district, Bayelsa Central. David Lyon is an indigene of Southern Ijaw LGA, where the State’s first elected governor came from and the LGA which has the second-largest number of registered voters after the state capital, Yenagoa. Lyon named BiobarakumaDegi-Eremienyo, the current Senator representing Bayelsa East who hails from Nembe LGA, as his running mate.
Rancorous party primaries
According to Section 87 of the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended), the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for various elective positions can be by a direct or indirect process. When a political party adopts the direct method, only its registered members are allowed to vote for any candidate aspiring to vie for elective positions. Indirect primaries allow select members of a political party, called “delegates” to elect on behalf of the members.
The CDD report points at the internal disputes within the PDP, which shaped the contest for the ticket. However, it was pointed out that the primary election conducted in Bayelsa in September 2019 could be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back. According to the report, trouble started brewing in the build-up to 2019 general elections over allegations of a skewed primary election in favour of all the National and State House of Assembly candidates loyal to Governor Dickson’s “Restoration Team”.
Despite protests, threats of defection and a petition to the National Working Committee of the PDP, the party-endorsed these aspirants and presented them as candidates in the 2019 general elections. In voting for to determine who emerges the gubernatorial flag bearer of the ruling party in the state, Senator Douye Diri beat 20 other contestants to emerge victoriously. He polled 561 votes to defeat his nearest challenger Timi Alaibe, who many believed had the support of Goodluck Jonathan, by 196 votes.
The APC ticket: Directly chosen
On its part, the APC is said to face challenges concerning the process of the selection of her flagbearer. After postponing the primary twice in compliance with conflicting court judgements over the mode of her party primary, it eventually held direct primaries for the six aspirants on 3-4 September. Oil magnate and philanthropist, David Lyon got most of the votes, 42,138, far ahead of his nearest rival DiseyePoweigha, who won just 1533 votes. Although the election Collation Officer, Senator Emmanuel Dangana under the Chairmanship of Yobe State Governor, Mai-Mala Buni, described the poll as credible and peaceful, others did not agree. One of the aspirants, Prince Preye Aganaba, wrote a petition to the appeal committee set up by the party, claiming that the primary lacked credibility and was rife with irregularities.
Determining the Winner
The report points out that Bayelsa has always been the stronghold of PDP, but the growing popularity of APC in the State could make the election fiercely contested. Having won a senatorial seat, two seats at the House of Representatives and four places in the State House of Assembly in the last general elections, the APC now has its sights set on the governorship. The State could serve as a launching pad for the ruling party at the federal level to make inroads into the South-South region ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Fake News Prevails
Indications from the field indicate that in Bayelsa, just like in other parts of Nigeria, Facebook and WhatsApp are the two social media platforms most used to peddle fake news and misinformation. This it was observed is complemented by fake news entrepreneurs who circulate the information in markets, football viewing centres, motor parks and bars. The report warned about the potency of fake news and the threat it poses to security in the governorship poll.
“Of particular concern is the deliberate attempts by the political parties to spread false information and shape the narratives before polling day. Both the APC and PDP in Bayelsa run media hubs dedicated to producing and disseminating misinformation and the spread of falsehoods.”
Beyond words, the likelihood of violence
The report reminds that the Niger Delta in general, and Bayelsa State, in particular, have a history of electoral violence. This, it notes is not unrelated to established insecurity pervading the region. Threats to security were listed to include cult violence, piracy, abductions and attacks on oil facilities. Ahead of the election, reported incidents such as the stockpiling of arms and weapons, assassination of PDP ward Chairman, Seidougha Taribi, and sustained and heavy gunfire on 30 September 2019 at the premises of Bayelsa State House of Assembly over its change in leadership, indicate a strong likelihood that electoral violence will be a significant feature of this forthcoming election.
Looking at the pre-election environment, the report stated that the violence witnessed is driven by the political contestations and brinkmanship precipitated by the outcome of the party primaries. The accusations and counter-accusations, it was observed accentuate the threats of violence on Election Day.
“For instance, the recurrent bickering between the National Publicity Secretary of the APC and his counterpart from the PDP on alleged plans by either party to unleash violence on Election Day is capable of inflaming supporters. In response to the posturing of the political actors, the Nigeria Police Force, the lead agency on election security has announced plans to deploy a total of 31,041 officers for election duty in Bayelsa.
According to the authorities, the deployed personnel will protect critical locations during the elections, including polling units, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) offices, the take-off point of sensitive materials as well as INEC offices in the State.”
An impartial umpire?
In the area of logistics, the report acknowledged that Bayelsa State has a unique geographical terrain. Movement within the State is said to be mostly by limited water transportation, making it challenging to mobilise personnel and materials for elections.
“This has previously resulted in the late, or non-arrival of logistics and personnel. There have also been situations, as recent as the 2019 general elections, where politicians deliberately sabotage INEC efforts by making it almost impossible for its officials to transport materials to some locations. This emphasizes the need for INEC to consciously guard against situations that could cause this election to reach an inconclusive verdict, like in 2015, and to produce a credible result.”
In the face of these realities, the report goes on to recommend that regardless of the outcome of the governorship election, what should be of utmost concern to Bayelsans is that peaceful and credible polls take place and reflects the will of the people. CDD therefore implored voters to shun violence and peacefully protect their votes. The pro-democracy think also called on INEC to address the incidents of vote-buying ongoing in the form of buying of Permanent Voters Card and also work to stem vote-buying during the elections.
Finally, the Centre called on the leadership of security agencies and personnel on the ground to maintain a non-partisan stance in the election. According to the CDD, “the security should refrain from being dragged into such sceptre as witnessed during the 2019 general elections.”