As the PDP drama in Bayelsa intensifies, with all fingers pointing at Aso Villa as the source of the script being played out, Bayelsans and Nigerians sit and ponder what the dénouement would be
By Stanley AZUAKOLA
By the time you are reading this, Timipreye Sylva, the straw-clutching Bayelsa governor, may have inched a step or two closer to political Golgotha or he may have received a desperate lifeline. Any of the above scenarios would be consistent with the fast paced unpredictability of Bayelsa politics. For now, Governor Sylva finds himself once more in a familiar position – contending for his political survival.
Goodluck rubbed off on Sylva in 2007. Runner-up in the PDP governorship primary that year and licking his wounds, Sylva got an unusual gift when the winner of the primary, Goodluck Jonathan, was surprisingly picked as vice-presidential candidate to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He stepped up to fill the void and bulldozed his way into Creek Haven, the Bayelsa seat of government. The election was annulled months later by the judiciary due to alleged malpractices and a new one conducted which he easily won. Come February 2012, he would have ruled for five years.
For Bayelsans, it has been an underwhelming five years. Sylva’s incompetence is a state-wide consensus, even his supporters know it. During a campaign rally in the build up to the April elections, Bayelsans expressed their distaste with his leadership when they booed and pelted him with pure water sachets. It was funny reading an interview recently granted by the state’s deputy governor in which he was asked what the administration’s selling points would be. “By the time our opponents within and outside PDP come out with their arguments that they’re better than us,” he said, “we will come out with our achievements.” In other words, the administration’s selling point would be to counter opposition arguments. Only a government with little or nothing to show will sit back and play defence to opposition salvo.
Yet there is something piteous about the way Sylva has scrambled helter-skelter to salvage his mandate since the beginning of his present ordeal, which culminated in his disqualification by the party. He has fasted publicly, he has made pilgrimages to visit “men of God”, he has daily professed loyalty to President Jonathan “his father”, he has asked traditional rulers and fellow governors to beg on his behalf, yet the doors remain firmly shut against him and a heavy federal might in the state greatly emasculates him.
Sylva’s problem is not his unpopularity with the masses. PDP has endorsed far more unpopular candidates in the recent past. His problem is his unpopularity with President Jonathan.
Jonathan, The Repentant Chinese
As much as President Jonathan has tried to project a straight face in public and feign ignorance over the matter, hardly anyone is fooled. Saying he has no hand in Sylva’s disqualification is like Obasanjo saying he had no hand in pushing the third term agenda. The president has always publicly touted a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of the states, much like the Chinese profess non-interference in the internal affairs of the countries they do business with. It seems, however, that privately, there has been a transformation.
Sylva, it appears, would be the first casualty of the transformation of Jonathan as he gradually begins to assert himself. I clearly remember how in October last year, a public holiday was declared in Bayelsa to herald President Jonathan’s three-day working visit, and how another public holiday was announced by the impulsive Sylva in April of this year to celebrate Jonathan’s victory in the April polls. My mind flashes back often to that day in April when Alayingi Sylva, the governor’s wife, addressed a gathering of Bayelsa women and declared to them in sincere sobriety that “President Jonathan will never, never, never disappoint you.” Oh, pity! Pretty Alayingi must be feeling pretty blue now.
To be clear, the PDP had every right to disqualify Sylva or anybody else for that matter. Courts have ruled that the issue of who should be a candidate of a given political party at any election is a political one to be determined by the rules and constitution of the party. The problem is that this case seemed to have been determined not by the party’s rules and constitution but by the whims and caprices of a personality.
The normal procedure is to tell the governor why he’s unqualified for the position he aspires to, a position he’s held for almost five years and for which the PDP chairman, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, had boasted only a few weeks ago that he was eminently qualified for. But that is the normal way, not the PDP way.
Thus, while the governor claims to be unaware of the reasons for his disqualification, Baraje says he (the governor) has been informed, but the party prefers not to make his “sins” public. The question then is: To what or for whose purpose is this sudden secrecy? Naturally, all fingers will point to Aso Rock considering how well reported the spats between President Jonathan and Governor Sylva have been since they first locked horns in the 2007 Bayelsa PDP governorship primary. Keeping the reasons for Sylva’s disqualification secret negatively rubs off on the president. The major winner so far in all of this is Hon. Henry Seriake Dickson.
Dickson, The Lucky Kid
The PDP governorship ticket is compensation for this loyal Jonathan ally who served as attorney-general to the then Governor Jonathan government and has been a member of the Federal House of Representatives since 2007. Whether he would make a better alternative to the incumbent is another matter altogether. It is difficult to take a man like Dickson seriously, whose manifesto promises “to establish an Economic Advisory Council which will lay the foundation for a blueprint to transform the economy.” In simple English, Dickson has no blueprint at present on revamping the economy, but if he wins, he will establish an Economic Council whose function would be to lay the foundation for a blueprint which, I’m guessing, another committee will build on before a blueprint is designed, after which he will then talk about implementation. If that manifesto is to be believed, then Bayelsans might want to gear up for four more years of the same.
The most troubling aspect of candidate Dickson for me is fallout from his legislative records. There’s no disputing the fact that he was/is a very proactive lawmaker, sponsoring bills, contributing to debates and imposing in committees. Two bills he sponsored give me cause for pause though, for two different reasons. The both were not passed.
The first was the Political Parties (Internal Democracy) Regulation Bill 2008 which sought to liberalise the choice of candidates for elections by political parties. This was a good bill, no doubt, but when viewed in light of recent happenings, the irony grips in a way only Nigerian politics can. Dickson, “the democrat”, who desired then that internal democracy should be institutionalised in political parties, is today the beneficiary of a crude manipulation of the system. He has shown, even before setting foot in Creek Haven, that he is a man with malleable values.
The second bill sponsored by Dickson, more controversial than the first, was The Legislative House Powers and Privileges Amendment Act. As much as Dickson chooses to deny it, this bill basically sought for far-reaching immunity for legislators. If it had passed, security agencies would have been barred from arresting any legislator unless the person was caught in the act. Even if a competent court issues a warrant, the proposed bill stipulated that the warrant must first be endorsed by the head of the legislative house to which the legislator belonged. Curiously, at the time Dickson was championing this strange bill, his handling of one hundred and fifty million naira meant for stocking the Bayelsa State Ministry of Justice library during his time as attorney-general was being investigated, which made his intentions suspect. Enough said about Dickson.
There seems to be no silver lining for Sylva. He is toast. I have no sympathy for him, however. His experience is actually the norm in the broken-down city that is the PDP. If roles were reversed, he would have gamed the system every bit as much as Hon. Dickson and President Jonathan have done, indeed that was exactly what he did to get the ticket earlier this year just before the Appeal Court ruled that his tenure was yet to expire.
The PDP national leadership would not reverse itself. If the almighty Governors’ Forum could not save Sylva, no human persuasion can. He does have the option of trying out on another party platform though, but it might be too late for that now with the elections around the corner. Bayelsa is one of the states without a modicum of opposition. Thus, if he chooses that route, he would have to start from scratch. Sylva might have cash, but he has neither the charisma nor popularity to execute that successfully. As it stands, the lone sliver of hope for Sylva might be the judiciary where he’s already lodged challenges against both his disqualification and the legality of even conducting another primary in the state, considering that he’d earlier this year gotten the party’s ticket.
For now, as Sylva the pitiable stumbles and Jonathan the repentant Chinese surges forward with Dickson his lucky kid, Bayelsans the unfortunate watch and dare to hope.