For the better part of its tenure in office so far, the government of Chief Timipre Sylva has been expected to conduct credible elections into the various local government councils in Bayelsa State, but the exercise has been repeatedly postponed. The outcome of the last attempt in November 2009 practically brought the state to its knees as stakeholders on both sides of the political divide, represented by Sylva and his deputy, were at loggerheads with one another.
The ensuing crisis was so severe that the governor was said to have collapsed when he received news in South Africa that placard-carrying Bayelsans were protesting, on the streets of Yenagoa, his continued tenure in office as governor of the state. The governor summarily cut short his trip to Cape Coast where he was said to be inspecting renovation work on his new hotel. What is more, the difference of opinion between the two helmsmen in Creek Haven has lingered inevitably, giving birth to impeachment attempts in the long run.
On April 1, 2010, fresh campaigns resumed in earnest with a radio commentary on the political ambitions of one of the contenders, Michael Ogbolosingha, and a jingle by another on the state television. The following day, the Bayelsa electorate were called upon to cross-check their names in the voters registration exercise, and by Saturday April 3, 2010, the elections were fully underway.
To say the least, the express manner in which the elections were conceived and conducted left many reeling with surprise, and has only gone a long way to fuel speculations that it is all a stage-managed affair yet again. One would have thought that, given the scandals surrounding the Sylva government in recent times, great caution should have been taken in preparing the mind of the electorate, and a transparent and workable time-table carefully drawn out to meet with the satisfaction of one and all before government went ahead with conducting the elections.
It cannot be discounted that elections into local councils have always been a testy affair, and it is unfortunate that the Sylva government is treating this with great levity. Why did it take government so long to perfect its modalities? Besides, one of the long-standing reasons given for the delay in conducting the elections was that the treasury for election sponsorship was as dry as the bottom of an empty frying pan. So, where did the funds emanate from so swiftly, just when government was under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC?
It is public knowledge that the Accountant General, the Director of Treasury and the Director of Finance were in the custody of EFCC hawks for the better part of two weeks, and have been summarily charged to court after being bailed from detention. In like manner, the Commissioner for Finance, Dr Silva Opuala-Charles was, until his recent apprehension, on the run over allegations that N500 million of public funds were misappropriated by the state government, apparently to sponsor a dubious and condemnable campaign against the emergence of Dr Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
These are truly unpalatable facts about Bayelsa that every discerning citizen of the state should freely condemn. It is bad enough to know that Chief Timipre Sylva-Sam was the most vocal governor among his colleagues in the Governors’ Forum in the campaign against the Acting President. That he was at the forefront of such a parochial exercise merely reveals him as a poor reader of the political weather, one who has failed to notice the hand of God in the life of his fellow politician from the same senatorial constituency.
Yet governance at the local level is not something to toy with because that is where democracy should be seen to take firm root. I have always believed that when local government elections prove to be free and fair, the best leaders would naturally emerge in the long-standing interest of the nation, and evolve over time to be worthy successors at the higher tiers of service in government. Alas, one of the greatest tragedies in Nigerian politics arises from the fact that power-hungry politicians at the top take lopsided interest in those who become councillors, by influencing the outcome of such elections with money and defining the parameters of performance according to their own calculations. Ultimately, this is done with a view to having the local gladiators uphold the selfish grip of their benefactors in power.
Not surprisingly, local politicians have become no better than serfs who make returns to their dons in office, vassals who pay regular homage to their potentates on higher ground, foot soldiers who do the leg work for their greedy generals. But that is not how it should be. Politics at the local level should be a training ground for the up-and-coming politician, a worthwhile social engagement that can afford each candidate an opportunity to serve with heart and might the primary interests of the communities that bred them. Now that Sylva has thought it worth the trouble to conduct the long-awaited elections, let us hope that the right candidates will fit into their offices and bring about a credible change in service delivery at the grassroots. Let us hope that mediocre elements are not given preference over and above more deserving candidates who merely get to be compensated afterwards with token offers.
For, if indeed Sylva stampeded the Bayelsa electorate to undertake a local government election that proves to be a non-event in the end, he can be sure that the narrow expectations that led him to eventual action will remain narrow and therefore unacceptable to the wider public whose votes count as heavily as the voice of God.