Recently, a non-governmental organisation held a stakeholders conference in Abuja over the forthcoming Bayelsa state election. ENE OSANG writes that among the issues discussed were the place of women and the need to reduce violence.
Last week, the media director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, released a report by the centre about the political contest ahead of the off-cycle governorship election in Bayelsa state.
According to the report, 45 political parties are fielding candidates for the upcoming governorship election slated for November 16 with presumtion of its conduct taking a two-horse race once again.
Like the 2015 gubernatorial election, it is assumed to be a straight battle between the two prominent political parties – PDP and APC.
Recall that in 2012, Governor Dickson received 89.4% of the votes cast by the electorate amidst turnout of 72%. Although the election was declared inconclusive by INEC, Dickson won 60% of votes cast to defeat Timipre Sylva of the APC who fell short with 38%.
Seemingly, the political hegemony of PDP in the state has remained a tough nut to crack for the APC. Yet, the impressive performance that APC displayed in 2019 general elections where the party won over 35% of the vote and secured a victory in Jonathan’s backyard might be a sign that there is likely be a shift.
The report noted that a total number of 45 political parties are contesting in the governorship election which represents a significant increase in the number of participating political parties compared with 2015 when just 20 political parties contested.
It is worthy to note that in the state, no woman has either been elected governor or deputy and the upcoming election has recorded only three women (7% of the total) who will contest for the governorship while 13 (29% of the total) are standing for deputy governor slot.
Sadly too, with the two leading political parties with no female contestants of their ticket and having won 98% of the votes cast in 2015, Bayelsa’s two-decade wait for a female governor or deputy is set to continue.
Of the 42 male candidates that are contesting for this election, 7% are between the ages of 30 and 35. Most (53%) fall into the 36 to 45 age categories with 16% over the age of 55. The governorship candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) is the oldest at 70 years.
Politics of zoning
Bayelsa Central Senatorial District produced Diepreye Alameiyeseigha, the first governor. He hailed from Ijaw South LGA. Goodluck Jonathan who ruled after him came from Ogbia LGA in Bayelsa East Senatorial zone. Timipre Sylva is from Brass LGA, the same senatorial district as Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent Governor Dickson is of Bayelsa West Senatorial District in Sagbama LGA.
Ahead of the election, coalitions of interests are clamouring for a shift of power to Kolokuma/Opokuma LGA – the least favoured LGA in terms of political patronage of high-ranking government officials and where the candidate of PDP, Senator DuoyeDiri, hails from.
Interestingly, the two leading political parties factored zoning into their choice of candidate as both are from the same senatorial district of Bayelsa Central. David Lyon named BiobarakumaDegi-Eremienyo, the current senator representing Bayelsa East who hails from Nembe LGA, as his running mate.
Rancorous party primaries
Primary contests within political parties have become an integral part of Nigeria’s electoral system. It is a process through which members of a political party vote or chose a candidate of their choice to select the flagbearer for an election race. According to Section 87 of the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended), the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for various elective positions can be by a direct or indirect process. When a political party adopts the direct method, only its registered members are allowed to vote for any candidate aspiring to vie for elective positions. Indirect primaries allow selected members of a political party usually called delegates to elect on behalf of the members.
The PDP candidate: Anointed
Internal disputes within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are an accumulated crisis that started long before the Bayelsa primary race. However, the primary election conducted in Bayelsa in September 2019 may be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
Report has it that trouble started brewing in the build-up to 2019 general elections over allegations of a skewed primary election in favour of all the national and state assembly candidates loyal to Governor Dickson’s ‘Restoration Team’.
Despite protests, threats of defection and a petition to the National Working Committee of the party, it endorsed these aspirants and presented them as candidates in this coming elections, the report noted.
The report stated further, “In voting, Senator DouyeDiri beat the other 20 contestants to emerge victorious as the candidate of the party. He polled 561 votes to defeat his nearest challenger Timi Alaibe, who many believed had the support of Goodluck Jonathan by 196 votes.”
The APC ticket: Directly chosen
The APC is faced with challenges concerning the process of the selection of its flagbearer. After postponing the primary twice in compliance with conflicting court judgements over the mode of her party primary, it eventually held direct primaries for the six aspirants from 3rd to 4th September. Oil magnate and philanthropist, David Lyon got most of the votes, 42,138, far ahead of his nearest rival Diseye Poweigha who won just 1,533 votes. Although the collation officer, Senator Emmanuel Dangana under the chairmanship of Yobe state governor, Mai-Mala Buni, described the poll as credible and peaceful, others did not agree. One of the aspirants, Prince Preye Aganaba, wrote a petition to the appeal committee set up by the party, claiming that the primary lacked credibility and was rife with irregularities.
Where the pendulum would likely swing: A projection
Bayelsa State has always been the stronghold of PDP, but the growing popularity of APC in the state could make the election fiercely contested. Having won a senatorial seat, two seats at the House of Representatives and four places in the state assembly in the last general elections, the party now has its sights set on the governorship. This could serve as a launching pad aimed at making appreciable inroads into the South-South region ahead of the 2023 general elections. It is therefore likely that the ruling party would do everything possible to ensure its party wins the governorship seat.
Fake news phenomenonThe report however noted that in Bayelsa, just like in other parts of Nigeria, Facebook and WhatsApp are the two social media platforms most used to peddle fake news and misinformation about the election.
It spreads fast and is a potent security threat to the forthcoming election in the state.
“Of particular concern is the deliberate attempts by the political parties to spread false information and shape the narratives before the polling day. The two major parties run media hubs dedicated to producing and disseminating misinformation and falsehood,” it noted.
The likelihood of violence
The Niger Delta in general, and Bayelsa in particular has a history of electoral violence. This is not unrelated to established insecurity pervading the region. Ahead of the election, reported incidents such as the stockpiling of arms and weapons, assassination of PDP ward chairman, Seidougha Taribi and sustained heavy gunfire on September 30, 2019 at the premises of the state House of Assembly over its change in leadership, indicate a strong likelihood that electoral violence would be a significant feature in the coming election.The report noted what it called pre-election violence by the political contestations precipitated by the outcome of the party primaries.
“The accusations and counter-accusations accentuate the threats of violence on election day. For instance, the recurrent bickering between the national publicity secretary of APC and his counterpart from the PDP on alleged plans by either party to unleash violence on that day is capable of inflaming supporters.”
In response to this, the police has announced plans to deploy a total of 31,041 officers for election duty on that day. It said the deployed personnel would protect critical locations including polling units, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) offices, the take-off point of sensitive materials as well as INEC offices.
CDD implore voters to shun violence and peacefully protect their votes, stressing that regardless of the outcome of the election, what should be of utmost concern to Bayelsans is that peaceful and credible polls take place and reflects the will of the people.
It called on INEC to address the incidents of vote-buying during the elections.
The centre also called on the leadership of security agencies to maintain a non-partisan stance in the forthcoming elections.