Nigeria Burning on all fronts [2]…even Bayelsa

Read also Bayelsa State Governor, Timi Sylva in trouble. and Why Asara Must Be Stopped In Abuja

The politics of who controls the Bayelsa Peoples Democratic Party has altered greatly since the elevation of Goodluck Jonathan as the Acting President, writes Olamilekan Lartey As the announcement of the dissolution of the Federal Executive Council in far away Abuja hit Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, last Wednesday, there were jitters in government circles. Coupled with the arrest of top officials 

of the government by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, there was eerie silence as government functionaries suddenly went underground. Rumours that the State Commissioner for Finance, Silva Opuola-Charles, had only managed to evade the EFCC agents, for instance, only fuelled the sense of siege the more. 

It might have been a coincidence, or some element of fate, but several people in government circles said the feared crack- down on the Gov. Timipre Sylva administration had finally started. Indeed, the uncertainties that had surrounded the Sylva administration had deepened since Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan, a former governor of the state, was elevated to the position of the acting president. The discovery of an alleged N500million slush fund used to fund an anti-Jonathan campaign confirmed the fears. Three weeks to scheduled first local government elections in the state, there are no signs that the poll will take place. Candidates that emerged after a volatile primaries of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party seem reluctant to go into the field to campaign for the April 3 election. 

Even the opposition parties seem not prepared to take part in the poll. The uncertainties that surround the council poll are a perfect symbol of what has become of politics in this state of less than three million people. The elections have been postponed thus far because the government is scared that control of the grass roots will swing over to its perceived opponents. Sylva had last year explained that the security situation in the state, particularly the militant insurgency that had infiltrated grass roots politics, made the election impossible. The governor said security reports had shown that even militants were sponsoring candidates for the elections. He added that the N900m required by the state independent electoral commission was just not available. 

What was, however, not made public was the impact of the factonalisation of the PDP in the state. It was gathered that although Sylva was governor of the state, he was not in control of the party. The structures that brought Sylva into office are still in the very safe custody, as it were, of those who had worked for his success. To have held the election then would have placed the third tier of government in the hands of forces now opposed to the governor, both in and outside the PDP. That move, sources said, was the tear in the PDP umbrella in the state. 

On the one hand is the faction loyal to Sylva. This faction was headed by Chief Rufus Abadi, as the chairman. Abadi, today has been hounded out of the state by gunmen allegedly sponsored by members of his party and he is believed to be hiding in Abuja. On the other is the group known as the Abuja politicians who pledge their allegiance to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan. Also in that formidable faction is the Special Adviser to the ailing President Umar Yar’Adua on the Niger Delta, Mr. Timi Alaibe. In that group are all the state‘s representatives in the National Assembly. The chairman to that faction is Fred Agbedi, a known critic of the Sylva administration. The fear of this group, or allegations of any association whatsoever with it, is the beginning of wisdom for loyalists of the governor‘s camp. The greatest sin a PDP member can commit in the state , one chieftain who craved anonymity said, was to be ”termed a VP man or an Alaibe Boy.” Those who had been unfortunate enough to be caught in that web of conspiracy have faced various politically motivated charges, ranging from treason to gun running. It took Justice Olayinka Faji of the Federal High Court, Yenagoa, to bring sanity to the season of anomie unleashed on the state by the feuding factions. 

It also took the intervention of President Yar‘Adua to broker a truce between Alaibe and Sylva. Alaibe‘s appointment as honorary adviser to the president on Niger Delta Affairs had given the Alaibe camp a newfound influence in the Presidency that the Sylva camp could not match. But the Vice-President, as he was then, was considered the latest obstacle to Sylva‘s path to total control of the party and an easy access to a second term in office. 

Despite attempts to play down the lingering friction between Sylva and Jonathan in public, incidents of harassment of perceived loyalists of the Acting President were rampant in the state capital while brutal attacks on his close allies became the order of the day. The ensuing media battle, although through proxies, soon revealed that something was amiss despite the denials. 

Agbedi was at the vanguard of the anti-Sylva camp. The camp was conveniently located in Abuja , where it hauled diatribes at the administration at home. That was the situation until Jonathan was elevated to the position of acting president last February. 

Although the Chief Press Secretary to Sylva, Doife Ola, had stated several times that there was no friction between his boss and the Acting President, unfolding events, however, prove otherwise. Sylva, it was gathered, was conveniently absent at the meeting where the South-South Governors Forum pledged their support to Jonathan. But Ola insisted the governor‘s absence had nothing to do with his relationship with the Acting President.

Ola said, ”It‘s not an issue at all that the governor was not at the meeting with his brother governors. Let‘s not use that as a sign of anything.” 

The governor‘s other aides have blamed the deliberate misinformation on mischief makers, particularly the media. That mischief, it was learnt, had gone even beyond the shores of the country. In stories that were circulated on the Internet, Sylva was alleged to have funded and mobilised miscreants to disrupt the rallies of the Save Nigeria Group in several cities in the country. The governor was also alleged to have provided funds for the campaign to ensure that Jonathan did not become the acting president at the peak of the political impasse that nearly grounded the country. The N500m bribe to fund the anti-Jonathan campaign is now the subject of a massive EFCC probe. 

Indeed, a former political adviser to Sylva and national coordinator of the pro-Sylva group, the Movement for Good Governance in Bayelsa, Dr George Fente, said Sylva and Jonathan were mutual political bedfellows that the current political impasse in the county could not separate. He blamed the misconceptions on political sycophants and job seekers. He said rather than look for loopholes to fault the relationship between the eminent sons of the state, Bayelsans should take steps to bridge any existing gap between the two. 

He said, ”It will be unfortunate for anybody or group of people to contemplate that Sylva or any other Bayelsan could be so unpatriotic and selfish as to work against the political interest and elevation of Dr Jonathan.” 

Events of the past few weeks, however, pointed in a different direction. Known acolytes of the Acting President in the Sylva administration had either been forced to resign or sacked from the government. The state Commissioner for Information, Chief Asara Asara, a former adviser to the acting president when he was governor, resigned from the cabinet.

”Sylva was supposed to be the servant of the people. I regret that we all worked to bring the governor to power, but he has refused to listen to wise counsel. I can no longer defend what is indefensible. I have to take my bow and that is what I have done,” Asara said while leaving the Sylva administration.

He has since relocated to Abuja to join the growing band of anti-Sylva forces who now hang around Aso Villa. Although Asara did not openly canvass support for the acting president in the struggle to take control of the PDP in the state, his bluntness about the recklessness of the administration was obvious: he was soon ostracised and rendered redundant. 

But this was not so for the Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, Chief Ayakeme Whisky, who was sacked from Sylva‘s cabinet through a radio announcement on Saturday, March 6, 2010. Whisky had been at the forefront of the agitation for Jonathan‘s elevation to acting president. A protégé of the elder statesman and respected Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, Whisky was the National Secretary of the Clark-led South-South Elders and Leaders Forum, which had lambasted governors of the Niger Delta for opposing Jonathan. 

Whisky said, ”Very discerning minds know that my current travails are a direct consequence of my active involvement in the activities of SSELF. The forum called on all Nigerians to enforce the rule of law and to make the vice-president to act as president,” he said. 

But the state government through Ola said he was sacked because of alleged incompetence.

But in all, with Jonathan consolidating his hold on power at the federal level, there is fear in the state that the acting president‘s attempt to make his home state a brilliant example may signal a pay back to those who had undermined his influence in the state in the last two years. 

Body Text ‘Jonathan’s elevation and new face of Bayelsa politics’ culled from PUNCH