FOLLOWING this week’s inauguration of the screening committee for Bayelsa’s August 29, 2019 All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primaries, APC members and the party’s supporters told The Nation that the party is set for November 16, 2019 Governorship Election.
Most of the members, who spoke to us during the week, however said their major concern is the issue of disunity amongst the top stakeholders in Bayelsa APC. They therefore urged national leaders and other troubled statesmen to intensify ongoing efforts and ensure unity amongst the various sensibilities in the state chapter of the party before the date of the primary.
Pointing out that a united APC would be strong enough to effectively contest the November 16 Governorship Election against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), they warned that if the party fails to resolve the differences between the various interests and comes up with a candidate that is not generally accepted, PDP would gladly take advantage of the situation to ride to victory.
Aside the likelihood of the misunderstanding paving way for PDP, there is also the fear that if the disagreements are not amicably resolved before the primary election, the group that lost out may join hands with PDP to defeat APC. Top stakeholders in the party believe the party would have performed better than it did in the recently concluded general election if it had consciously taken necessary steps to resolve obvious issues in some troubled states before the primaries and the general elections.
RESOLVE TO TAKE
Given the recent utterances of the National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, analysts said the party seems determined to avoid all the mistakes that caused its defeat in some states like Imo and Taraba where they believed it would have won easily. For example, while inaugurating the Senator Abdullahi Gumel-led Bayelsa Screening Committee in Abuja, Oshiomhole had said the party had become wiser from courts judgements which disqualified its candidates for ineligibility in the past.
He said the party would guide against fielding candidates with questionable dates of birth, educational qualifications and various errors which the opposition party could latch on to snatch victory after losing at the polls.
Insiders and keen observers had maintained that APC, which was the ruling party in Imo State before this year’s governorship election, lost the election to PDP mainly because of the failure of APC to resolve the disagreement between the state’s former governor, Rochas Okorocha, and some powerful members of the party over his choice of successor. Sources said the national leaders of the party, after analyzing the outcome of the recent elections, have acknowledged the negative impact of disagreements and have resolved to handle things differently in the case of Bayelsa and Kogi states’ governorship elections.
Besides resolution of disagreements, it seems the party leadership has also resolved to be more careful in the choice of the party standard bearers even as it wants to be sure that only the best aspirant in every election is named the party’s candidate. This resolution, according to a source close to APC national secretariat in Abuja, includes ensuring that the candidates truly have the profile the claim to have.
This probably explained why Oshiomhole, while inaugurating the Bayelsa and Kogi states screening committee, cited the case of Taraba State where the Supreme Court disqualified APC’s governorship candidate after the party had participated in all stages of the election.
As he puts it, “Many put it that screening is a formality but because of our own peculiarity, people are sometimes economical with the truth. We need to do proper screening and ensure that those who pass the screening are likely to be able to stand not only winning election but of not being challenged after.
“We have a couple of cases where people claimed what they didn’t have or they swore to that affidavit such that they have two, three ages depending on what purpose they are swearing affidavit for.
“We have a recent case in Taraba where our governorship candidate who went through the entire election process, his candidature was nullified by the Supreme Court on account of falsification of age. So, if we thought before that screening is a formality, we have seen that we are not meticulous.”
The party chairman also urged the committees to observe contradiction in aspirant’s claims and examine issues raised against them without sentiment or partiality.
BAYELSA’S PECULIAR CASE
Before the former Governor of Bayelsa State and Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva, finally shelved the ambition of contesting for the party’s ticket ahead of the governorship election in the state, many had feared that it would be difficult to resolve the apparent disagreement between his supporters and the supporters of the other leading aspirants who wanted Sylva to remain only the APC leader in the state and allow other aspirants to contest for the governorship candidate.
As at that time, the leading aspirants for the ticket of APC were widely identified as Timipre Sylva, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri and Preye Aganaba. So, when Sylva was finally appointed the Minister of State for Petroleum, keen observers argued that the party in the state has been sufficiently empowered to contend with the ruling PDP and that all that remained was for Sylva to show leadership and support the strongest and the best aspirant for the job at a time like this.
Some observers who expressed this view said the contest for APC’s ticket may have been narrowed to a competition between Heineken Lokpobiri and Preye Aganaba. But Madam Ebiere Akpoebi, a woman leader in Ekeremor and member of APC, said because of Lokpobiri’s wealth of experience in the politics of Bayelsa State, where he served as the Speaker of the House of Assembly and his exposure at the federal level, where he served both as a Senator and as a Minister, “everyone in the state, who genuinely want APC to win in the forthcoming governorship election, should insist on the most experienced candidate. She reasoned that “with Sylva’s exit as an aspirant, Lokpobiri should be supported by all to fly APC’s flag.” Based on this kind of permutation, most analysts had also predicted immediate reconciliation of ardent supporters of Sylva and Lokpobiri, who had openly disagreed because of their conviction that it was their boss that should be given the party’s ticket. They argued that in the interest of the party, Sylva should settle every rift and disagreement amongst APC members in the state and ensure that the party fields its best aspirant.
The Nation gathered during the week that the zeal expressed recently by some APC grassroots members in Bayelsa State that Sylva’s appointment will lead to immediate reconciliation of his supporters and Lokpobiri’s supporters was punctured with reports that Sylva may have finally resolved to back another chieftain of the party, David Lyon, for the governorship ticket of APC.
An unnamed aide to Sylva was recently quoted in a media report as confirming Sylva’s support to Lyon’s candidature.
The report quoted the aide as saying; “Lyon is our candidate and I know he will win the ticket soon”.
It seems since this latest twist was introduced into the APC’s contest for the governorship ticket, more members are angry and confused much more than ever.
Akpoebi for example told The Nation on Friday that if this report is true, it means majority of our party leaders in the state are not in tune with the realities at the grassroots level. According to the woman activist, “It is unfortunate that our leaders remain oblivious that APC is today not united to fight PDP. We at the grassroots know where it pinches. As I talk to you, we have no concrete united structure that we can call APC’s structure. Our big men, our leaders reside in Abuja granting media interviews and deceiving themselves and only come during elections. They do not realise that the strength of any party could be found only amongst the masses at the grassroots that support it. In our case, it seems they do not know we exist. Even when they chose to distribute few booties, it does not trickle down to the grassroots. The big men just remain there in Abuja and they make no serious effort to establish reasonable means of communication with the grassroots. If you ask me, that is not the right way to defeat the ruling PDP,” she said.
Another APC member in Yenagoa, Mr. James Datonye, reacting to the latest report on the alleged support Lyon seems to have received from the party leader in the state at the last minute, said, “Until recently, most observers have not reckoned so much on Lyon, an oil and gas industry player. We have all known and lined behind known frontline aspirants like Lokpobiri and Aganaba. So, this development is bound to leave us more confused, disunited. It will make us easy target.” He therefore argues that given the proximity of the APC primaries, APC leaders should think of uniting and consolidating what it already has and which many believe will work instead of introducing fresh intrigues that will only result in further misunderstanding.
“To me, it is late in the day to toy with fresh intrigues. I believe APC leaders in the state should leave ego aside and unite to produce the candidate they know has what it takes to win the state for APC,” Datonye said.
Aside Lokpobiri, Aganaba, and Lyon, the other APC aspirants that actually picked the party’s nomination form and are therefore poised to participate in the governorship primaries include former Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) Frankland Briyai; former Commissioner of Police, Deseye Poweigha and Chief CK Amgbare.
The fears notwithstanding, our searches confirmed that the national and state leaderships of APC are determined to win the forthcoming poll, though they know PDP’s equal resolve to retain the plum seat it has held since 1999. So, the stakes are high.
SO, WHO WILL FLY APC’S FLAG?
The recent intrigues notwithstanding, the list for the governorship tick is not altogether too long.
Today, barely a week to the August 29 primary election, frontline aspirants for APC ticket include:
A former Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, the first aspirant to formalise his governorship ambition on the ticket of APC by picking the party’s nomination form, is generally acknowledged as a strong contender for the APC ticket in Bayelsa.
Several factors seem to be in his favour. Such factors include the power of his grassroots campaigns and the quality of the promises he had so far made to Bayelsan electorate. Added to these is his continuous emphasis on the need to provide basic infrastructure in the state, even as he accused the ruling PDP government of poor performance. He lamented the rustic state of Bayelsa 20 years after its creation, promising that he will prioritise provision of basic infrastructure, which he said is missing.
Lokpobiri in a recent twit also wrote, “Our communities don’t have hospitals. Every child born should be able to live a reasonable life. I am a village man. We will ensure that hospitals in all the communities are equipped to tackle these diseases that kill our people.”
His strong criticism of PDP state government has so far raised the stakes in the ongoing campaigns on who would succeed Governor Seriake Henry Dickson. Some of the issues he and his campaign team have raised are today the major issues that may determine the voting pattern in the forthcoming election. As a result, some leaders and electorate call him the people’s conscience.
Considered as the most experienced and formidable of all the aspirants, Lokpobiri, born March 3, 1967, has the advantage of serving in all the critical arms of government. A lawyer who holds a PhD, he was the Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly from June 1999 to May 2001 and was elected Senator in April 2007. He later served as the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development.
These means that he is expected to have deep knowledge of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive, a rare rounded preparation for the office of governor in Nigeria.
Perhaps because of this, insiders said he is highly favoured by APC leaders that are not led by any personal interest.
Even before he formally picks the nomination form, Prince Preye Aganaba, who hails from Odi in Kolokuma-Opokuma Local Government Area, is one of the aspirants that have received wide media mention. A prince of the royal family of Aganaba of the ancient town of Odi, Aganaba studied Computer Engineering at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, Port-Harcourt.
As a founding member of APC in Bayelsa State, Aganaba is well known in the state’s APC politics. We gathered that he also has age and possible support of youths and women as the major factors going for him. It remains however to be seen how these factors will come to play in the primaries.