Bayelsa 2019: Allow Level Playing Field – Luke Onyekakeyah

October 29, 2019

The success or failure of the November 16, 2019 governorship election in Bayelsa and Kogi states will depend on how the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), conducts itself. The seeming over-vaulting ambition of the party to “capture” the two states, by all means, raises concern. All the states must not be in the ruling party because we are not a one-party state. I find it rather undemocratic that APC wants to take all the states because it is in power.

I must say, in particular, that the way the APC chairman, Adams Oshiomole is beating his “war” chest is frightening. The comrade chairman is marshalling every arsenal at his disposal as if there is an invasion that needs to be defended. There is no civility in the campaigns, coupled with the apparent partiality of the Federal Government in advancing funds to the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, simply because he is APC while leaving Bayelsa State.

Eyebrows are being raised as to why President Buhari, the other day, approved the sum of N10 billion to Kogi State, which is also holding a scheduled governorship election on November 16. Buhari reportedly said, “the money would be used by the state government to settle local debts it incurred as a result of the projects executed on behalf of the Federal Government.”

The question is why release such huge amount to Kogi State now, which has an incumbent APC Governor Yahaya Bello, seeking re-election? The APC government did the same thing during the last governorship election in Osun State when it suddenly released N19 billion to Governor Aregbesola, who owed civil servants in his state months of salary arrears “clear.

Why are these “charity” approvals made only to APC states during the electioneering campaign? Why was Bayelsa State not given the same money for projects it executed on behalf of the Federal Government?

The public perception is that these monies are meant to buy votes in view of the timing. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) forbids vote-buying in any form and has charged voters to report such practices accordingly.

All the talks about making our electoral process rancor-free seem to be mere rhetoric. If this democracy must survive, the political actors must refrain from making elections look like a battle. We need a level playing field for all parties and contestants to the campaign. Otherwise, the ills that have plagued our elections will resurface.

Already in Bayelsa State, there is mounting apprehension over how to conduct a free and fair election and who will succeed Governor Seriake Dickson. The ruinous do-or-die politics has been reenacted, as the polity is tensed up, which should not be the case. No lessons have been learned from the awful past experience.

Like in other states, contenders for political office are not lacking in Bayelsa. There are capable men and women aspirants, who would like to govern the state. People invest everything within their power to outwit their opponents. The election in Bayelsa is usually a do-or-die affair as in other states.

Before the PDP’s Senator Douye Diri emerged as its flag bearer for the election, some twenty other aspirants slugged it out with him. Diri pulled 561 votes to beat his closest rival, Timi Alaibe, who pulled 365 votes at the hotly contested party primaries.

In the case of APC, six aspirants including Heineken Lokpobiri, Aganaba Steven, Ebitimi Amgbare, Diseye Poweigha, Lyon Pereworimini, and Ongoebi Etebu contested the primaries in which David Lyon pulled 42,138 to emerge the winner. He was followed by Diseye Poweigha, who garnered 1,533 votes.

Having selected their flag bearers, the next thing is to sell the parties to the electorate using the manifesto during campaigns. Like I said earlier, whereas the PDP is on the ground as the incumbent, the APC is struggling to register its presence in a state it has never held sway since 1999 when this political dispensation began.

The seeming plot to neutralise the PDP in the forthcoming governorship election in Bayelsa State may not affect anything. Those plots and scheming are normal during elections. If PDP is a tree planted in 1999 in Bayelsa State, it has developed huge roots that would be difficult to uproot. We should begin to appreciate the fact that some parties are endemic in some states to reduce the tension associated with electioneering campaigns in the country.

In the United States from which we copied the current democratic arrangement, there are red states and blue states that reflect party dominance. While the red states belong to the Republicans, the blue states belong to the Democrats.

A state like California, obviously, belongs to the Democrats while Texas is for the Republicans. While this somewhat established party demarcation allows the other parties to campaign, they do it with reservations, knowing full well that the dominant party will eventually win. There is nothing like “capturing a state” that is not your colour. It is rare.

In Nigeria, under the present political leaning, the South-East and South-South, including Bayelsa State, is PDP dominated; whereas, North-East and North-West, largely belong to the APC.

It is foolhardy for the APC to believe that it could, overnight, win Bayelsa State, the same way PDP cannot easily win Kano State. The people in these states already know the party they belong to and vote for. They can’t easily be swayed overnight to vote against their conscience. It is important, in our electioneering campaigns, to recognize this fact.

For me, news about people defecting to other parties in the heat of the electioneering campaign is part of intimidation to frighten the gullible. As a matter of fact, no serious politician would defect from his party in the heat of electioneering campaign. Such development shows that something is wrong with the politician; or to put it another way, something is wrong somewhere. It could be that those have been compromised and it won’t stop them from voting their conscience.

I am saying this based on the experience from the last general elections in Imo State. Former Governor Rochas Okorocha and his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, whom he wanted to succeed him as governor, did everything humanly possible to win people over but to no avail. In the heat of the electioneering, many people defected to Uche Nwosu’s Action Alliance (AA) party overnight, thereby giving the false impression that he had the whole state in his pockets. At the election proper, what happened? Many people voted against Uche Nwosu, despite having been apparently bought over.

There is a new political consciousness that Nigerian electorates are beginning to imbibe. The understanding that any money floated during the election is public money, indeed, our money is fast gaining ground. The attitude of Nigerians now is to collect the money from the politician and vote him out, since he wants to use our money to buy us. This is the new thinking shaping our elections.

It is very unfortunate that while there is clamour to improve on the past electoral failures that were marred by violence, vote-buying, rigging, intimidation, etc, the powers that be don’t seem to be interested in seeing change.

There is no doubt that Bayelsa State is a flashpoint in Nigerian politics because of its strategic position as a major oil producer. The tension is worsened by the fact that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is the opposition party, gearing as it were, to take over the state.

And so, my call for a level playing field is directed mainly to the ruling APC. The party should take it easy. It should not invoke fire and brimstone just in an attempt to take Bayelsa State.

Experience has shown that during elections such as this, the ruling party will muster all forces at its disposal and descend on the state it wants to “capture,” with a view to intimidating the electorate.

Consequently, what ought to be a civil electoral contest is turned into a chaotic battle. This should not be the case. We would like to see improvement in Bayelsa and Kogi states election, but that would depend on the APC.

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