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Governor Seriake Dickson as Monk without Hood

As Chief Security Officers of their domains, in actual sense they may bark but lack the teeth to bite. Governors are usually at the mercy of the Federal Government or President. It is against this background that I submitted that governors are like Monks without hoods!

The December 5 governorship election in Bayelsa reminded me of one of the seminar papers I delivered in the University of Maiduguri many years ago. In the paper, I had amongst other things, argued that, though the 1999 Nigeria Constitution regards governors as Chief Security Officers of their domains, in actual sense they may bark but lack the teeth to bite. Governors are usually at the mercy of the Federal Government or President. It is against this background that I submitted that governors are like Monks without hoods!   

The December 5, Bayelsa inconclusive election re-enforced my position. First, the All Progressive Congress (APC) which was hitherto non-existent in Bayelsa State suddenly became a factor, following the desire of the central government to capture the state by hook or crook. The Secretary to Government of the Federation Mr. Babachir Lawal and the Minister of Defence, Gen. Dan Ali were reported to have made available all the repressive state apparatuses at the beck and call of Chief Timipre Sylva who later emerged the party’s governorship candidate, after a controversial primary.

With the backing of the federal institutions, APC’s apparatchiks led by Sylva suddenly bounced back from political Siberia, strutting the political landscape with exaggerated swagger, boasting that Bayelsa must fall. Many of the APC members took it seriously because Sylva had earlier boasted that the corruption charges on his neck would be quashed and it came to pass.  Government magic!

Then enter Saturday, December 5 when Bayelsa , the glory of all lands and Jerusalem of the Ijaw nation was put under siege and turned to a war zone by the Nigeria military.  Soldiers and Armoured Personnel Carriers were deployed in the oil rich state with a clear directive to deliver Sylva! The thinking of the APC as espoused by its national chairman, Dr. John Oyegun was that the state was too strategic not to be controlled by the centre.

On that faithful Saturday when elections held in the state, it couldn’t hold in Southern Ijaw, the headquarters of militancy because the dreaded militancy war lords, Africanus Ukparasia fondly called General Africa and Eris Paul popularly known as Ogunboss, who themselves are APC chieftains had launched an attack on Southern Ijaw, leaving five people dead on Friday night.  The insecurity in the area forced INEC to shift election in Southern Ijaw from Saturday to Sunday against Governor Dickson’s counsel. 

Stakeholders and ordinary voters were still living in fear. They protested against INEC plans to go ahead with the elections until enough security was put in place.  In fact many of them had not returned from where they had fled to. On the strength of this intelligence, the governor visited Oporoma, the headquarters of Southern Ijaw to see things for himself and advised strongly against going ahead with the polls on December 6, but his counsel fell on deaf ear.  

In defiance of the governor, election materials were distributed in the afternoon in contravention of the INEC guidelines. Critical stakeholders in the area like Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Hon Kombowei Benson was barred from going to his ward by militants.  

I was an accredited observer covering Ammasoma in Southern Ijaw.  I saw Soldiers connive with thugs to snatch election materials and taken to homes of APC chieftains. Some APC thugs like Divam, a son of a prominent APC chieftain, Abel Opomowe, popularly called T.O wore army uniform. Luck ran out of him when he snatched election materials, sped off, ran into a ditch and his vehicle summersaulted. If Divam ever survived the accident, then he should dance and give thanks to God the way King David did! 

I remember how election materials were hijacked, how many INEC officials were chased away while those who were not lucky were kidnapped. And people were killed especially in the coastal areas of Southern Ijaw.  In the few polling units where elections held, both accreditation and actual voting took place at night up to mid-night! These irregularities and the attendant violence finally forced the commission to cancel the polls in Southern Ijaw and fixed January 9, 2016 for supplementary election in the area. Analysts believe if they had heeded the governor’s advice, they would have averted the collateral damage done to the process, saved public funds from being wasted and innocent lives from being destroyed.  

But the governor was helpless. He watched the military overrun a state he theoretically superintends as chief security officer. The military boys mocked the governor and threatened to withdraw his security operatives. The Deputy Inspector General of Police (Training), Alhaji Hashimu Argungu threatened to arrest the governor should he protest the rape of democracy not minding his immunity against arrest. 

The governor of course, called his bluff, stormed the state owned radio station and mobilized Bayelsans against what he calls desecration of democracy and subversion of their right to choose governor of their choice. As the electorate trooped out to the street, Argungu issued a press statement, banning peaceful protest in the state but Bayelsans, women, youths and indeed the regular citizens on whose shoulder sovereignty rests heeded the clarion call of their governor and took over Yenagoa. They matched to INEC headquarters to demand the cancellation of the election before INEC bowed to their wish on Monday.    

Meanwhile, election held in seven out of eight local government areas. They are: Yenagoa, the state capital, Kolokuma/ Okpokuma, Sagbama, Ekeremor, Nembe, Ogbia, Brass.  In spite of the intimidation of voters by the almighty federal might, Governor Dickson and candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) was in a clear lead. What the governor lacked in federal institution, he gained in people’s support as he swept six local government areas with a total of 105, 748 votes while Sylva managed to win only Brass and polled 72, 534 votes.  

What actually impressed me about Dickson for which analysts are silent on is that he defeated Sylva in his LG, Nembe and defeated him in six out of 10 wards which make up Brass LG, where Sylva’s mother hailed from. And above all, Dickson remains one of the few governors ever to have won re-elections in the state capital cities which in his own case is Yenagoa.

My take from the Bayelsa experience is that the incumbent governor has already won the election. The upcoming elections in Southern Ijaw and the 101 polling units cannot change the equation for a number of reasons. One, Southern Ijaw is the stronghold of the PDP. The party controls the grass roots having produced the Council chairman and all the councilors, the four members of the state House of Assembly and the only member of the House of Reps.  

Apart from appointing key government functionaries like commissioners and SAs, The Speaker and Chief of Staff to the incumbent governor hail from there. The Dickson administration is reputed to have delivered on his campaign promise to the area through road construction and citing of major projects like schools and hospitals in Southern Ijaw. 

And above all, ,the first elected governor of the state and Chairman Advisory Council of the Restoration Campaign Organisation, late DSP Alamiesiegha, who was championing the cause of Dickson’s re-election hailed from Southern Ijaw. The thinking amongst most Ijaw people is that the only way the former governor would rest in peace was to re-elect Dickson. No date has been fixed for his burial. 

Many Ijaws also believe that the governor has performed and the only way to reward him was to retain him in Creek Haven. And as Dickson itches closer to his 50th birthday anniversary on January 28th, the campaign by his supporters is that the only birthday gift the governor expects from the people of Southern Ijaw is to follow the footsteps of the other six local government and re-elect him.  

Secondly, if the densely populated state headquarters like Yenagoa could only record about 40 percent voter turnout, it is unlikely for the APC to amass the needed votes from Southern Ijaw to upturn Dickson’s lead!    

In a nut shell, what played out in Bayelsa in December and what may play out next Saturday is a clash between federal might and the will of Bayelsans with the latter triumphing over the former. While I doff my hat for the electorate for their resilience and defence for the sanctity and majesty of the ballot box, the mess in Bayelsans has more than ever before made it imperative for the amendment of the constitution to empower state governors to practically control the security of their jurisdictions. It is by so doing that governors will truly bite and be monks with hoods!

Ruth Francis, National President of “Wake Up Bayelsa”, sent this piece from Yenagoa

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