Bayelsa Political Kingmakers: Their Rise, Fall, And Revival – Ebiowei Lawal
In this report, EBIOWEI LAWAL took a glance at the political history of Bayelsa State from inception and all what you need to know.
The flight of the present-day democratic governance and political activities was launched across Nigeria in 1998 when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), headed by retired Justice Ephraim Akpata, announced that local government elections would hold on December 5, 1998, while state assembly and governorship elections on January 9, 1999.
In that announcement, it was also stated that National Assembly elections would hold on February 20, 1999, and presidential election on February 27, 1999. Just like in every other state across Nigeria, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Peoples Party (APP) set in motion the process to elect the candidates that would fly their flags during the general elections across all tiers of government.
In 1999, Bayelsa being a state that was carved out of the old Rivers State in 1996, the election that year was an open contest for all the political parties and their aspirants because nobody could lay claim to having political root of the new state. In fact nobody could claim ownership of delegates from all the political parties that existed then. But at that time, the APP had more political force than the PDP and AD, because its membership comprised all the foremost political leaders of Ijaw extraction from the old Rivers State. The chairman of APP then, George Fente, for example, was a highly respected politician way back in the old Rivers State.
One of the aspirants for the APP primaries, Chief Francis Doukpola, a renowned banker and his supposed running mate, late Chief Jonathan Lionel-Omo were perceived as men who had more financial muscle than all the politicians that pitched tent with the PDP and AD.
For this reason, the contest in the APP primaries was not as strong as that of the PDP, because they simply adopted Chief Dokpola, over his contender, Rt. Hon. Tuesday Kemeagbegha, a one-time speaker of the old Rivers State House of Assembly.
But on the other hand, the advantage the PDP had over the APP then was that it was more structured and strategic in the manner it went about its primaries and campaigns. The major contenders in the PDP were late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who came from Port Harcourt with a strong military background and Emmanuel Otiotio who also worked in Aso Rock.
And because the state executive members of the PDP were not in support of any of the aspirants, this made their primaries an open contest, thereby giving room for bloodletting that almost turned the state into a theatre of civil unrest.
At this point, the PDP in its wisdom sent the national secretary of the party, Mr. Eyang from Cross Rivers, to settle the crisis that emanated from the primaries in a meeting that was attended by all party stakeholders in Yenagoa. And in that meeting, Eyang was quoted to have said “even though Alamieyeseigha’s sin is as dark as the scarlet, all party faithful should wash him clean as white as snow.”
At the end of the said meeting, a peace pact was said to have been signed, Otiotio stepped aside and all aggrieved members of the party fell back into line and commenced work for the success of the party at the general election.
As for the AD, the state party executive was divided over the choice of the candidate that should be the standard bearer for the party. Hon. Seriake Dickson, the chairman of the party in the state, was on one side with Mrs. Stella Dorgu as the anointed candidate, while Hon. Ayibaitari Easterday, the secretary of the party, was on the other side with one Engr. Mark Amakuromo as their preferred candidate.
Just after the primaries and political parties were gearing up for the general elections, INEC made the announcement that turned the political tide against the dominant party in the state, the APP.
Local government, state assembly and governorship elections that held in other parts of the country on December 5, 1998 and January 9, 1999 had been postponed to January 30, 1999 over logistical reasons and claims of security threat.
By the time it got to the turn of Bayelsa to go into the general election, elections had been concluded in other parts of the country and the PDP had dominated the Nigeria political space.
Observers in the state said for this reason, some political elders who felt it would be a bad idea for Bayelsa to start its political journey as a state governed by an opposition party, made a u-turn and decided to work for the victory of PDP.
It was reported that Doukpola was coasting home to victory, if not for what political pundits now prefer to call the “Ekeremor betrayal” allegedly orchestrated by one late October Lokpobiri, Alamieyeseigha would have lost that election clean, clear and neat.
It was gathered that October Lokpobiri, who to a large extent controlled political activities in Ekeremor, had a son, Heineken Lokpobiri, whom he was sponsoring to take a seat in the State House of Assembly on the platform of the APP.
His son, Heineken had secured the APP ticket, but Alamieyeseigha, through some elders from the area, was able to convince October to join the PDP with assurances that his son would be allowed to win his election without any form of hindrance and contest.
It was this agreement that reportedly gave Alamieyeseigha the votes that turned the election results to his favour, making him the first elected governor of Bayelsa State and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as his deputy in 1999.
RISE OF THE FIRST POLITICAL GODFATHER
Immediately after he was sworn in on May 29, 1999, Alamieyeseigha automatically became the official godfather of politics in Bayelsa State because at the time he was the only one who had the powers to decide who held principal positions in the state judiciary, executive and legislative arms of government in the state.
Alamieyeseigha enjoyed absolute freedom because his rival during the PDP primary, Otiotio, was appointed Nigeria’s ambassador to Japan by President Olusegun Obasenjo and the running mate to the APP candidate, the late Lionel-Omo abandoned Doukpola in the governorship election petition tribunal and took an appointment in the Alamieyeseigha led government.
Also Chief Timipre Sylva, a Bayelsa East senatorial election candidate of the APP, who contested against the late Chief Melford Okilo of the PDP had also been advised to withdraw his petition against the elder statesman, also got appointed as Special Adviser on Inter-Party Affairs in the Alamieyeseigha-led administration.
As his second tenure election approached, it became clearer that Alamieyeseigha and all those he appointed into his cabinet had gotten so much power, money and built a strong political structure to make the 2003 general election in the state a walk over for the PDP.
It was in a bid to achieve this aim that Alamieyeseigha through his brother, Abel Ebifemowei, formed the first political movement in Bayelsa known as the Alamco movement. Alamco became the only rallying point for all politicians and political activities.
To have a deep rooted grip on power, Alamieyeseigha through the help of the Lokpobiri-led state assembly, created 32 Rural Development Authorities (G32) from the existing eight LGAs in the state and appointed his loyalists as chairmen to help him take control of political activities at the grassroots level.
Alaibe’s emergence gave rise to a new political movement called New Vision 2003. In the arrangement of that New Vision 2003 movement, Alaibe was to be the governorship candidate and Sylva his running mate.
The contest was so tight that the PDP state executive for the first time was divided. This division in the PDP hierarchy led to the removal of the secretary of the party, one Mr. Suokiri, and was replaced by Steven Diver, a loyal friend of Alamieyeseigha.
Even in the State House of Assembly, Alamieyeseigha had also lost gripe as he fell out with the Speaker, Heineken Lokpobiri, over suspicion that he was working for Alaibe.
FALL OF THE ALAMCO MOVEMENT
After winning the 2003 election, which was adjudged to be a one party affair by observers, Alamieyeseigha, was said to have masterminded the impeachment of Lokpobiri and replaced him with his loyalist, Boyelayefa Debekeme.
With this action, the depth of Alamieyeseigha’s desire to remain the political godfather of the Bayelsa State became manifest, just as the fall of his political career began. In his continuous pursuit of power, he stepped on the toes of highly placed politicians and began to have issues with the government at the center led by Obasanjo.
After winning the near-contest-free 2003 election, impeaching Lokpobiri in the state house of assembly, and reclaiming total political control, Alamieyeseigha was still not satisfied for the fact that Alaibe got re-appointment into the NDDC.
This may have resulted from the fear that if Alaibe could be so powerful to the extent that almost made him lose grip on power in 2003, in 2007 Alaibe through the NDDC may become too powerful to allow him decide who should be his successor.
In fact, there were speculations that the governor had confided in some persons close to him that he planned to sponsor Captain Matthew Karimo as governor and Abel Ebifemowei as his running mate in 2007.
In his bid to silence Alaibe, the only threat to his political movement, he stepped on more toes and accusations of his involvement in financial misappropriation and corruption started renting the air.
When Alamieyeseigha was said to have been advised to be careful about his dealings and reduce the frequency of his travels, he was said to have refused to heed to the advice and was eventually arrested in London in 2005 for money laundering.
It got to a point that Speaker, Boyelayefa, who was loyal to Alamieyeseigha was impeached, and Peremobowei Ebebi was elected Speaker to perfect Alamieyeseigha`s impeachment.
The moment he became Speaker, Ebebi went on with the plan to impeach Alamieyeseigha somewhere in Lagos since Yenagoa was not safe for them to carry out the coup.
To perfect the plot, Chief Benson Agadaga who chaired the judicial panel of inquiry in the impeachment process submitted its report to the Chief Judge of the state then, Justice Igoniwari, who also quickly approved it, the assembly sat and within 48 hours Alamieyeseigha was declared impeached.
Within few minutes Alamieyeseigha was declared impeach, he was arrested, tried and jailed. And that was how Goodluck was sworn in as governor, during that period that was build up to 2007 election.
With Jonathan elevated to the position of governor, constitutionally, Ebebi took over the seat of Deputy Governor, while Hon. Werinipre Seibarugu became the Speaker and Nestor Binabo, deputy speaker of the State.
BIRTH OF THE GREEN MOVEMENT
For Jonathan alone, politics meant dirty business that no honest man should venture into. If not for political friends, mostly his kinsmen in Ogbia Brotherhood, Jonathan would have preferred to complete the remaining two years of Alamieyeseigha’s tenure and return to the classroom where he was more at peace with himself.
It took the effort of the likes of Dr. Tarila Tebepah, Chief Agadaga, Justice Igoniwari, Nelson Azibalonari, Chief Asara .A. Asara and late Oronto Douglas to convince Jonathan to contest the 2007 governorship election.
It was on this premise the Green Movement that served as a rallying point for supporters of the Jonathan governorship ambition was formed and many commissioners that served under Alamieyeseigha keyed into the Green Movement agenda.
At this point, Seriake Dickson had also left the AD and joined the Green Movement whilst he was serving as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under the Jonathan administration.
But before Jonathan made up his mind to contest the election, Alaibe had taken over the structures of PDP from the ward level to local government area. But when the time came to constitute a new state PDP executive, Jonathan was completely shot out as Alaibe seemed to have total control.
Jonathan led a state delegation to protest to the party hierarchy in Abuja to consider that as a sitting governor, he should also be given the privilege to nominate some persons to fill sensitive positions in the state executive.
In order to create a leveled playground for all aspirants of the party, Jonathan was given the opportunity to bring in Tarila Tebepah as secretary, Alaibe brought Fred Agbedi as chairman, while the godfather of Sylva, King Edmund Dakoru gave Darius Obiene the opportunity to serve as deputy chairman of the party in the state to conduct the primaries of the party.
When the time for the party primaries came, the Green Movement of Jonathan and New Vision 2007 were the major political forces in the race for the ticket of the PDP but Sylva on the other hand had left Alaibe and started his own movement called the Covenant Movement.
This time Alaibe was very sure of clinching the PDP ticke because he had the chairman and some executive members of the party on his side. It was learnt that in that excitement Agbedi led some party faithful to Opokuma, where they gave Alaibe a PDP flag, signifying their support for him.
The act was perceived not to be in line with the PDP constitution, the Jonathan group on that ground petitioned the party chairman, Agbedi, and again Alaibe was pressured to step aside and allow Jonathan to fly the ticket.
With Alaibe out of the way, Jonathan won the primary, while Sylva and Doukpola came second and third respectively. Just when moves to ensure that all parties that took part in the primary were co-opted into working for the interest of the party, Jonathan was asked to be the running mate to the late Alhaji Musa Yar’ Adua, thereby making the seat vacant again.
So when the time came to shop for who should replace him as the governor and flag bearer, Jonathan was asked to nominate somebody, he chose Doukpola from Bayelsa West to succeed him.
Jonathan’s choice didn’t go down well with Sylva who was already threatening to go to court, it also didn’t go down well with his deputy governor, Ebebi. Sylva’s argument was hinged on the fact that according to the party’s constitution, in the absence of Jonathan, the aspirant that came second in the primaries should take his place. And for Ebebi, if Doukpola who hails from the same Bayelsa West Senatorial District as himself becomes governor, it would be unrealistic for him to become deputy governor and at the same time could not return to the state assembly.
“He has sacrificed so much in the coup that made sure that Alamieyeseigha was gone for good, and therefore it would be disastrous for his political career if he leaves the office of the deputy governor,” a close aide to Ebebi later revealed.
With this in mind, Ebebi supported and pushed for a Sylva/Ebebi ticket. Again, in order to avoid litigations, the party leadership met and finally accepted the Sylva/Ebebi alliance to ensure justice prevailed at the end.
To also appease Alaibe and Jonathan, the party also came up with a 60-40 PDP ticket sharing arrangement, where the tickets of the PDP for all the national and state elections were shared amongst loyalists of Alaibe and Jonathan. According to this arrangement, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, Senator Barigha Amange, Honourable Clever Ikisikpo, Honourable Donald Egberibein and Honourable Seriake Dickson got the party ticket to the National Assembly on the slate of Jonathan, while Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, Warman Ogoriba and Honourable Nadu Karibo got the party ticket to the National Assembly on Alaibe’s slate.