By Femi Folaranmi
In the build-up to the Bayelsa State governorship election held on November 11, 2023, several intriguing events occurred that eventually shaped the outcome of the election with incumbent governor and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Douye Diri emerging winner.
Before the election, Diri knew he was up against a formidable force represented by the candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Chief Timipre Sylva whose pedigree as a highly tactical politician could only be ignored at the peril of the opponent.
While Diri was upbeat that his record of performance and achievements should earn him re-election, he did not allow the arrogance of the incumbent factor to cloud him. He was on the field canvassing for votes in the 105 political wards in the state. Even at that, he was aware that campaigning on record of performance was enough to give him victory.
Having been at the receiving end of the short political stick in 2019 when he lost to the APC David Lyon, Diri, aside seeking to get critical endorsements from PDP leaders and influential Bayelsans to boost his chances at the polls, also exploited the internal crisis in the APC to persuade top hierarchy of the party to work for him.
Diri remains the greatest beneficiary of the former government of Henry Seriake Dickson government by inheriting the Restoration Government political structure. As it is wont to happen, he has to have his own men and own the political structure. Thus the Prosperity Government political structure was created out of Dickson’s political structure. Some Dickson’s loyalist’s felt slighted and drew back. Some went to join the APC fuelling speculations that Dickson may have decided to sit back and watch Diri battled the APC.
To be sure, Dickson is a political behemoth in Bayelsa State. His influence in Bayelsa West comprising Sagbama and Ekeremor Local Government Areas cannot be underestimated.
The speculation of a rift between Dickson and Diri became rife when the governorship campaigns kick-started and the former was not on the podium to campaign with Diri.
However, all speculations were laid to rest when the campaign trail moved to Bayelsa West and Dickson was on hand not only to campaign for Diri but only to endorse him.
The reception held for Diri in Dickson’s community Toru- Orua, Sagbama Local Government Area set the tone for Dickson’s endorsement of Diri. It was there, Dickson made the famous, “The Coast is clear speech’’ which gave a clear direction to those who were confused on where Dickson stood on the election.
Dickson said the coast was clear for Diri to be elected for a second term while endorsing him and his deputy, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo.
Dickson seized the opportunity to applaud Diri and his campaign team for relentlessly mobilising support and strengthening the political base of the PDP, stating that there was no opposition in the state to contend with him in the November 11 governorship election.
Dickson said: “I congratulate the Director-General of the Diri governorship campaign and his team for doing a good job by galvanising the base of our party.
“I can see that the coast is clear. From the eyes of an experienced hunter, l can see that your current hunt will be very successful.”
He continued: “When l endorsed Senator Diri in 2019, all hell broke loose. But today, l am very happy that the Diri they said l imposed on them has become a good product for Bayelsa.
“The visit of the governor and his entourage demonstrates that a man who starts hunting in the thick forest, started from somewhere and this visit shows that he had not forgotten the road from where he got into that thick forest.”
Diri on the occasion also shed light on the relationship between him and Dickson to demonstrate that there was bad blood between them.
“For the benefit of anybody who is in doubt about the relationship between I and Senator Dickson, l want to make it clear that there is no rift between us. I am sure beyond reasonable doubt that he is with me,” he said.
The result of the elections showed how critical Dickson’s support and endorsement turned out to be with the PDP polling the highest number of votes, 35, 504 votes while the APC could only poll 6,608 votes.
Jonathan’s timely endorsement
Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s endorsement of Diri for re-election went a long way to tilt the political contest in the direction of the PDP and its candidate. During the 2019 election, Jonathan was non- committal to the Diri governorship bid obviously because he backed another candidate during the primaries.
Jonathan’s cold shoulders to Diri in 2019 was what the APC exploited by visiting him and galvanised support for David Lyon then.
In the build-up to the November 11 governorship, Diri has been criticised severally for not appointing an Ogbia politician to any major position after Senator Sunday Benson Agadaga resigned as Chief of Staff to contest the senatorial election sought redemption.
Ogbia is a strategic local government with the people usually voting in bloc for their preferred candidate. The APC won the Presidential in Ogbia and it was poised to sweep the governorship election, given the rate of development, NDDC MD, Dr Sam Ogbuku who hails from Ogbia has done for the people. In fact, political bookmakers had already predicted that APC would win Ogbia massively.
Diri’s inner political caucus are aware of the grumbling in Ogbia Kingdom and they moved to salvage the situation.
The appointment of Hon Mietama Obordor, member representing Ogbia Federal Constituency as the campaign Director- General was a political masterstroke with far- reaching implications on the positive side. Obordor is seen as a political godson of Jonathan and several pundits believed his appointment gave a sense of belonging to Jonathan.
On the day of the grand-finale of the PDP campaign, the leadership of the party were in Yenagoa and visited Jonathan in his residence. The thinking was that he was going to endorse Diri during the visit, but he did not; rather he spoke generally and only wished that the people would re-elect Diri.
“I have been in touch with our governor and I believe he should be encouraged to do his eight years. He has been able to stabilise the state. Let us find a way of doing things. We cannot kill ourselves; we do not want a crisis,’’ he said.
While this was a subtle endorsement, the Diri camp wanted home. So, when Vice- President Kashim Shettima came to grace the APC grand-finale which was seen as APC’s demonstration of seriousness with the Bayelsa election, Diri led a high-powered delegation to Jonathan in Otuoke with the sole mission to get his unambiguous endorsement and neutralise Ogbuku’s impressive influence in Ogbia Kingdom.
At the event which had traditional rulers from Ogbia Kingdom in attendance, Jonathan did not mince words in commending Diri for appointing Obordor as campaign DG and went further to direct his kinsmen to vote for Diri.
Hear him: “I thank the Otuoke community for giving the governor and his team this warm reception. For us in this senatorial district, one thing we should know is that when somebody picks one of your own to lead him in a political contest, that means that person will never forget you.
“For the governor to select Obordor from this senatorial district and indeed from Ogbia as his campaign DG, it means that Governor Diri has the mind to do something for you and will not forget you. And I plead with you all to reciprocate so we can get the benefit in store for us.”
Diri knew the magnitude of what Jonathan did for me because the endorsement by the former Nigerian leader smoothened the road to victory for Diri.
His words: “It is no news again that you were head and neck deep in this race of governorship of our state. It was a public show when you hosted me a few days before the election and endorsed our ticket, and that spoke volumes for our victory.
“This election was won because you came all out to support my candidature, and to support continuity, and to support zoning in Bayelsa State, and you didn’t mince your words when you did that.’’
G 5 support
Since the PDP presidential primaries, there has been no love lost between former Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike and Diri because of the latter’s support for Atiku Abubakar. Indeed, Wike had made a public showing of his support for Sylva during one of his events in Port Harcourt. There was no doubt about Wike’s backing of Sylva to upstage Diri.
To assuage the feelings of Wike, a former governor of a Niger Delta state had taken Diri to Wike to settle their rift. That seemed not to yield fruit until a member of the Federal Executive Council brokered peace between Wike and Diri.
The first sign that all had become rosy back between the two was when the PDP South- South Zonal Vice- Chairman, Dan Orbih and Chinda Ogundu, two henchmen of Wike visited Diri and endorsed him for re-election.
Two days before the election, Governor Seyi Makinde sneaked into Yenagoa to galvanise support for Diri. He hosted a meeting of the leadership of the Yoruba community who had major voting strength in Yenagoa, its environs and parts of Ogbia especially Elebele.
During the meeting, Makinde pleaded with the Yoruba community to vote for his friend, Diri and demanded to know the concerns of the Yoruba community. The leadership of the Yoruba community only pleaded with Makinde to assist them in acquiring a facility they used for their monthly meeting.
Makinde granted their request and this prompted the President, Mr Kayode Olaosebikan and the secretary, Mr Sunday Adunoye to issue a directive to all Yoruba to vote for Diri.
The statement issued read: ‘’The leadership of the Yoruba community, Bayelsa State after an extensive meeting with the governor of Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde and consultation with political office holders from the South West held an emergency congress at the community hall today, 9th of November and resolved as follows; we hereby endorsed the second term bid of Governor Duoye Diri; we resolved that all Yoruba sons and daughters irrespective of party affiliation in the eight local government areas of Bayelsa should cast their vote for Duoye Diri on Saturday’s governorship elections; we sincerely thank Governor Seyi Makinde for graciously purchasing for us the Community Hall for our meetings.’’
It was therefore not surprising that the PDP won Yenagoa massively and also won Elebele which has a high concentration of Yoruba people.
APC internal crisis
The internal crisis in the APC since 2019 robbed it of the desired unity with which it could have mobilised for victory. Major leaders of the party deserted Sylva and allowed him to campaign on his own. Several of them who said they were not empowered by Sylva refused to join his campaign despite interventions by the national leadership. Several of them including high- ranking members of the party worked for the PDP to ensure Sylva is defeated at the polls.
(This report was originally published by Daily Sun)