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‘Miracle governor’, former minister, ex-commissioner — top contenders in Bayelsa guber poll

‘Miracle governor’, former minister, ex-commissioner — top contenders in Bayelsa guber poll
November 08
07:59 2023

The race to occupy the Bayelsa government house for the next four years is in full swing. On Saturday, the simmering cauldron of tension in Bayelsa will climax when voters file out to cast their ballots.

Although 16 candidates have been cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the exercise, all eyes are on Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the incumbent governor who is seeking reelection; Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Udengs Eradiri of the Labour Party (LP). 

Will the APC cause an upset and seize power?  Will the PDP maintain its longstanding supremacy in the state since the return of democracy 24 years ago? Or can the LP harness the influence of Peter Obi’s movement to wrest control from Diri?

TheCable analyses the strengths and weaknesses of the major contenders in the race.

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DUOYE DIRI (MIRACLE GOVERNOR)

Diri, the incumbent governor, is a popular face in the state’s political arena. Born in 1959, he was the senator representing Bayelsa central senatorial district from 2019 to 2020.

He became governor after the supreme court annulled the election of David Lyon, candidate of the APC, who was declared winner of the gubernatorial poll in November 2019. 

The apex court affirmed the judgement of a federal high court that disqualified Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, Lyon’s running mate, who submitted forged credentials to the electoral umpire.

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The news of Lyon’s sack hit the political landscape less than 24 hours before he was to be sworn into office. The APC candidate was already rehearsing ahead of his inauguration when his dream was cut short. 

Reacting to the court ruling at the time, Diri described himself as a “miracle governor”. 

“We’ve been in the wilderness. We’ve gone through a tortuous and winding road and at the end of the day, God himself delivered us. So, I have christened myself the miracle governor,” he said. 

Strength

Diri enjoys the support of the PDP members in the state, having won the party’s ticket through consensus in April 2023. He got 305 votes in the primary election. A total of 315 delegates were accredited to vote in the poll.

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In September, a significant endorsement reverberated through the corridors of Bayelsa’s political environment when the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bayelsa chapter, threw its weight behind Diri’s reelection bid. The backing implies that most Christian leaders across the state will be exhorting their congregants to rally behind Diri when they cast their votes on November 11. 

In a state where Christianity is considered the dominant religion, the endorsement could smooth over the governor’s reelection bid.

Diri’s potential performance was captured in a poll conducted by CellHub, a data mining group, and its consortium of data analysts and development experts. 

The survey, which included 2,100 respondents from all 105 wards of the state, indicated strong support for Diri’s reelection, with 48 percent favouring his second term bid. However, 34 percent of respondents remained undecided, while 18 percent expressed support for Timipre Sylva, the APC candidate. 

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John Paul, CellHub data mining officer, highlighted Diri’s effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic, infrastructural accomplishments, calm demeanour, and easy-going nature as factors that have endeared him to the majority of voters. The survey positions Diri as the “most dominant and widely accepted candidate,” followed by Timipre Sylva of the APC. 

The survey said that 34% of undecided voters could play a pivotal role in shaping the election outcome, as their support may swing in favour of the candidate who can effectively mobilise their voting strength.

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Weakness

The high percentage of multidimensionally poor people in Bayelsa, as reported by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), even though the state receives 13 percent oil derivation, could affect the governor’s reelection. 

The data reveals that a large portion of the state’s population is living in multidimensional poverty, indicating that Diri’s government has not been able to address the economic and social challenges faced by the people. If effectively “weaponised” by the opposition, this could hurt the governor’s chances at the polls. 

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Indeed, this forms the core of Eradiri’s campaign message. The LP candidate regularly expresses his bewilderment at the reported pervasive poverty in Bayelsa, considering the state’s relatively small population and the substantial revenue allocations received from diverse sources.


TIMIPRE SYLVA… BACK IN THE FRAY

Timipre Sylva is a former governor of Bayelsa who served from 2007 to 2012. He is the immediate past minister of state for petroleum resources. He was born in 1964. 

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Elected and sworn into office in April 2007, he served for about a year until the election was nullified, and a rerun declared. He won the rerun and was sworn in again on May 24, 2008, serving four more years.

Given his previous stay in office, Sylva’s candidacy for the upcoming poll has been entangled in a legal battle over his eligibility to vie for the position. 

On October 9, a federal high court in Abuja disqualified Sylva from contesting the November 11 election.

Donatus Okorowo, the presiding judge, held that Sylva, having been sworn in twice and ruled for five years as governor of the state, would breach the 1999 constitution if allowed to contest again.

The judge said Sylva is not qualified to run, because if he wins and is sworn in, he would spend more than eight years in office as governor of the state.

Citing the Marwa vs Nyako case, the judge said the supreme court had ruled that nobody can expand the constitution or its scope – and that if Sylva was allowed to contest the next election, it would mean a candidate could contest as many times as possible. 

The electoral umpire subsequently deleted his name from the list of candidates contesting the governorship election.

However, on October 31, the ruling of the high court was overturned by an appeal court in Abuja.  

In reversing Sylva’s disqualification, a three-member panel of the appellant court held that the trial court which nullified Sylva’s candidature lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit filed by Demesuoyefa Kolomo, who was not an aspirant in the primaries that produced Sylva as the APC governorship candidate.

Strength

As a former governor and minister, Sylva possesses a robust political network which could potentially boost his chances. 

Speaking recently, the former governor boasted of his popularity in the state and expressed optimism of being reelected. 

“I am already known as a former governor. So, there is nothing new in this for me,” he said. 

Weakness

Sylva is going into the governorship election with a divided and fragmented party. 

The former minister is said to have mishandled the grumbles that surfaced when he became the party’s flagbearer. 

Some party loyalists contended that, given Sylva’s prior roles as a former governor and minister, he should have allowed Lyon the opportunity to pursue the recovery of his “mandate” after it was withdrawn by the apex court four years ago. 

There is also an argument that Sylva’s popularity is diminishing within the state and that Lyon could have posed a better challenge to the dominance of the PDP. It is also rumoured that Sylva is embroiled in a feud with Lyon and Heineken Lokpobiri, minister of state for petroleum resources, who hails from the state. 

Last month, some APC stakeholders on the platform of Bayelsa APC Integrity Group accused Sylva of “running a one-man show” after he reportedly named himself as the director-general of his campaign.

Joshua Maciver, Sylva’s running mate, is also in the eye of the storm for inciting violence

Speaking at a campaign rally last month in Twon Brass, a community in Bayelsa, Maciver said anyone who does not support APC should be “chased into the sea to die”.


UDENGS ERADIRI, THE UNDERDOG

While political analysts opine that the Bayelsa governorship election is a two-horse contest, the performance of the LP in the 2023 elections underscores why the party should not be underestimated.

Born in 1976, Eradiri’s foray into the murky waters of politics began in 2011 when he unsuccessfully contested for the Kolokuma/Okpokuma Yenagoa federal constituency seat under LP. 

Since then, he has served in various other political capacities. Between 2018 and 2019, he was commissioner for youth development and from 2019 to 2020, he was commissioner for environment.

In 2021, he assumed the role of special assistant on youths and sports to the interim administrator of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). He continued in this capacity to then-acting managing director of NDDC from 2022 until January 2023 when the board was eventually constituted.

Strength

Backers of the LP candidate, who is a former president of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), believe that he may secure victory by leveraging the goodwill the party currently enjoys among sections of the electorate — especially the youth.

Weakness

Eradiri has never won an elective seat in the state or national elections. He will struggle to compete with Diri and Sylva who have well-established political networks across the state and country. 

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