By Dagogo George
September 3rd, 2019 has been set aside by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to conduct the Bayelsa State gubernatorial primaries.
And they are a motley of candidates who have obtained the intent and nomination forms to contest the election. The race for the party nomination is going to be tough for the candidates, given their number, and for the party.
The party specifically may not want to lose its stranglehold on the state, which it has controlled since the return of democracy in 1999. The party is also polarized by perceived support for some of the candidates by the outgoing governor, Henry Seriake Dickson. This is ditto for the party hierarchy at the national level.
The PDP aspirants in Bayelsa are in two categories: those belonging to Governor Seriake Dickson’s political camp, popularly called the Restoration Group, and those belonging to the independent candidates group.
Among the independents are former managing director of NDDC, Chief Ndutimi Alaibe; a businessman, Keniebi Okoko; Architect Reuben Okoya, former commissioner in the Alamieyeseigha administration; Joshua Maciver; and few others.
Notable aspirants in the Restoration Camp include the state deputy governor, the secretary to the state government, and the governor’s chief of staff.
Of the lot, Kemela Okara, the secretary to the government appears to be a pole ahead for the job, given his experience in the past eight years as he had served as commissioner and secretary to the government.
Okara, a respected lawyer and pastor who had twice served as commissioner of Trade and Investment under the outgoing governor, Seriake Dickson, said he is anchoring his campaign on the theme “Bayelsa’s Bridge to the Future”.
He is highly favoured by the current zoning arrangement in the state; he hails from Yenegoa Local Government in the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District slated to produce the next governor.
He is a respected God-fearing politician whose purpose for wanting to be the governor of the state, as defined by him, are “for the good of all and the love of Bayelsa”.
Indeed, he has been tipped for the job because of his closeness to the outgoing governor whom he had worked with in defining the vision of making Bayelsa a model of African economic success story. He is seen as the appropriate bridge to take the state to the next stage of economic advancement.
He is readily being tipped to be an agent of policy continuation in the state.
As commissioner, he articulated the state’s industrial policy to leverage the state’s comparative advantage in oil and gas. The policy essentially is aimed at improving oil and gas industrial activity, power generation, agriculture and light manufacturing.
Okara was also charged with overseeing the hosting of the State’s premier investment promotion platform, the Bayelsa State Investment and Economic Forum (BSIEF) in 2014 and 2015.
As Secretary to the State Government, he has been a key member of Dickson’s Restoration Group helping to birth a grand vision for Bayelsa State and the Ijaw nation within the context of the Nigerian nation.
His governorship pursuit is driven towards the consolidation of the solid legacies of the Seriake Dickson administration, which includes the education, health and infrastructure projects that the outgoing governor has put in place in the last 8 years, chief of which are the governor’s free education and Overseas Scholarships for Bayelsa Students, the building of the Bayelsa Teaching Hospital and the Construction of the Airport as well as several other laudable projects.
However good as his CV may read, there are some perceived weakness that will daunt his ambition. Specifically, he is said to be a Lagos politician, having lived and had a successful law practice in Lagos for years. This perception pales when his antecedents in the last eight years are taken into consideration
He has been able to convince doubters of his love for the state by being on ground since 2010 to serve his people. He contested for governorship, first on the platform of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and later joined the PDP to serve under Dickson to help to nurture the economic growth of the state
Other top contenders for the party nomination include Douye Diri, currently a Senator from Kolokuma/Opokuma and a member of the Restoration Group of Governor Seriake Dickson.
Douye Diri’s is equally favoured by the party’s unwritten zoning code, which cedes the 2019 race to Bayelsa Central. There are also speculations that he may be having the support of the outgoing governor, so as to trade his Senate position for the governorship position, in order for the party to regain the votes of the Southern Ijaw who voted the opposition in the February 2019 elections in Southern-Ijaw Federal Constituency seat.
However, Douye Diri’s weakness is his perceived arrogance and he is therefore not particularly popular with the grassroots and only narrowly managed to win the Senate Primaries and also narrowly won the general elections, even with PDP’s popularity in Bayelsa State. Specifically Mr. Diri polled 83,978 votes to defeat Festus Daumiebi of APC, who got 70,998 votes in the February 2019 Senatorial Elections.
Reuben Okoya, an architect and former Commissioner for Special Projects in Bayelsa, who is perceived to belong to the Goodluck Jonathan Group is also in the race.
He is a professional and a businessman and has been a member of the administration of DSP Alamieyeseigha and Goodluck Jonathan administrations.
His non-possession of an NYSC certificate while he served the State as a two-time Commissioner is his major drawback. Though he has gone ahead to obtain his NYSC Certificate thereafter, the issue of not being fit to have been appointed a commissioner at the time he was appointed is seen as a major reputational drawback.
Frederick Agbedi, a member of the House of Representatives representing Sagbama/Ekeremor Federal Constituency and one-time Director-General of the Seriake Dickson Governorship Campaign equally has an eye on the job. He is reputed to be a grass-root mobilizer and former close associate of the current governor. He also has an extensive understanding of the local politics of Bayelsa State.
However, he is not favoured by the current zoning arrangement because he is from the Bayelsa West Senatorial District where the current governor is from. He has denied knowledge of any zoning arrangement and is stubbornly pursuing his gubernatorial ambition.
There are rumours that he may be teaming up with the current Deputy Governor, retired Rear Admiral Jonah John, who has also declared his intention to contest for the governorship seat in order to frustrate the emergence of the candidate said to be preferred by Governor Seriake Dickson, Kemela Okara, the State’s immediate past Secretary to Government.
Another major contender outside the Restoration Camp is Timi Alaibe, a one-time managing director of the Niger Delta Development Commission and a serial gubernatorial contender. He is said to being backed by George Turner, an associate of Goodluck Jonathan
He is seen as a money-bag and has the capacity to fully bankroll his own campaign. He has worked closely with Niger-Delta militants, having served as the Managing Director of the NDDC and a member of the technical team on President Umaru Yar’Adua’s Amnesty programme.
However, he is perceived as lacking moral rectitude, having been a serial contender jumping from party to party in the quest at actualising his ambition. He is also seen as a Lagos politician who only comes on ground every four years to simply contest for the governorship of the State and retreats back Lagos once he is not elected.
Developments around the former NDDC boss indicate that he is working yet another tightrope in the mission to occupy the Bayelsa Government House.
The signs are ominous as the political elements are not smiling in his favour. It is the prevalent belief that Alaibe’s tendency to change political platforms remains a big river between him and the Creek Haven. How he crosses that river remains to be seen.
On the whole, the tilt is seen to favour Kemela Okara who stands for policy continuation.