From all indications, the Bayelsa West senatorial by-election is a battle between two key political actors – immediate past Governor Seriake Dickson of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and former Deputy Governor Peremobowei Ebebi of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Zoning is likely to be a key factor in determining the outcome of the contest, writes SIMON UTEBOR
THE two dominant political parties, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), are getting ready to trade tackles in the Bayelsa West senatorial by-election. Bayelsa West is made up of Sagbama and Ekeremor local government areas. Former Governor Seriake Dickson is going to fly the flag of the PDP in the election, while former Deputy Governor Peremobowei Ebebi is the standard-bearer of the APC. The race is already filled with the frenzy, intrigues and drama that come with electioneering.
There have been alignments and re-alignments; clandestine night meetings are now the order of the day. But, a contentious issue that has resonated among political stakeholders in the district is the purported zoning arrangement of National Assembly positions between Ekeremor and Sagbama.
Dickson is from Sagbama, while Ebebi is from Ekeremor. Claims and counter-claims are being made as to which local government should produce the lawmaker to represent the district in the Senate has dominated the discourse.
Dickson and Ebebi, the two main political gladiators seeking the mandate of the people of the district are not relaxing on their laurels to outwit each other.
None of the two personalities is a pushover politically and otherwise. They both have an impeccable political pedigree and the remaining seven weeks will actually tell who the cap actually fits, despite the brouhaha about an unwritten zoning arrangement.
Whether the issue of zoning of National Assembly seats in Bayelsa West is real or imaginary, it remains one issue that has always constituted a cog in the wheel of politicking in the district.
Just as PDP faithful are insistent that zoning exists in the district, the APC contends that the whole arrangement is a ruse and non-existent, hence it does not subscribe to the arrangement, which will make it a political orphan in the power configuration in the district.
Incidentally, the first politician to represent Bayelsa West in the Senate since the return to civil rule in 1999 was from Sagbama. He is Emmanuel Diffa and he was at the National Assembly for four years; from 1999 to 2003. After Diffa, another Sagbama politician, John Kojo Brambaifa was in the Senate for another four years; from 2003 to 2007.
Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, a former Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, from Ekeremor was in the Senate for eight years; from 2007 to 2015. After Lokpobiri, Senator Ogola Foster from Sagbama represented the district. He was there for four years; from 2015 to 2019.
After Ogola, Senator Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, the current Deputy Governor, was elected in 2019. He was in the Senate until 2020 when he became deputy governor on February 14, 2020, following the Supreme Court judgment that nullified the victory of David Lyon, the candidate of the APC in November 16, 2019 governorship election.
However, it has yet to be established whether the above arrangement was a product of zoning of political positions in the district or not. Some political observers are of the view that all the arrangement happened at a time the PDP dominated Bayelsa politics, holding both the knife and the yam without recourse to other political parties.
Since the primary elections by both the PDP and the APC threw up Dickson and Ebebi as candidates respectively, the issue of zoning and rotation has been the campaign thrust of both flag bearers and their loyalists.
While Dickson’s supporters continue to insist that the ticket has been zoned to Sagbama as a result of a purported gentleman agreement reached with Bayelsa West political stakeholders, Ebibi’s loyalists contend that there was nothing like zoning in the district.
Recently, leaders of the two parties traded words over the alleged attempt by the APC to breach an existing agreement between the people of Sagbama and Ekeremor.
The uproar was generated following the emergence of Ebebi as the candidate of APC for the by-election. Political stakeholders from the zone had allegedly agreed that by the provision of the unwritten agreement between Sagbama and Ekeremor, indigenes of Sagbama are the only ones qualified to produce candidates to contest for the senatorial poll.
The argument was predicated on the fact that Sagbama would have completed its slot in 2023. But, Ewhrudjakpo had to vacate the seat after he emerged deputy governor.
So, the emergence of Ebebi from Ekeremor was seen as a threat to the accord.
While speaking in Sagbama on the emergence of Dickson as the candidate of the PDP, Special Adviser to Governor Douye Diri on Political Matters, Chief Collins Cocodia said with the deliberate breach of such agreement by the APC its candidate would be defeated. His words: “There is no contest in this bye-election; the APC candidate will be roundly rejected.
Why he wants to destroy the agreement between Sagbama/Ekeremor we don’t know. But, the people of the two local governments will vote against him.”
But a chieftain of the APC from Sagbama, Chief Perekeme Kpodoh faulted the claims of the PDP on the issue of rotation. Kpodoh, a former Chief Security Adviser to former Governor Timipre Sylva insisted that though some political stakeholders met and resolved to uphold the existing agreement between Sagbama and Ekeremor people, the issue which was raised recently was planned by PDP members to satisfy the “whims and caprices of their paymasters”. Such an arrangement cannot be binding on APC leaders.
Also, on Wednesday, a political group, All Progressives Congress Grassroots Mobilisation, Sagbama/ Ekeremor, kicked against the decision of Ebebi to contest the district’s by-election on October 31.
Their criticism was borne out of the fact that top political stakeholders from the district had at a recent political summit insisted that Ekeremor should not contest the vacant position in adherence to the existing agreement, since they already have Fred Agbedi as the incumbent House of Representatives member.
The political leaders were said to have issued a joint statement where it was allegedly agreed that Sagbama should complete the tenure of Ewhrudjakpo for an Ekeremor person to start a fresh tenure in the spirit of the age-long agreement on power sharing.
Ibide Brown said recently that political leaders and stakeholders of the district were not comfortable with the decision of the Ebebi to contest because it violated an unwritten agreement on power rotation between Sagbama and Ekeremor.
He expressed resentment at the idea that Ebebi, from Ekeremor, would contest the election to go to the Senate when Fred Agbedi, also from Ekeremor, is in the House of Reps.
Brown condemned in strong terms the decision of Ebebi or any other person from Ekeremor to contest in the senatorial election. He said Ekeremor had completed its own eight years through Lokpobiri from 2007 to 2015.
Also speaking, Hitler Moses claimed that the leader of the APC in Bayelsa, Chief Timipre Sylva should not have given the ticket to anyone from Ekeremor because of the agreement.
He said stakeholders in the LGA would resist any unconscionable assault on the zoning arrangement. He said: “No candidate can undermine the tenets of the zoning arrangement and expect us to work for him.
“We have resolved not to work for any candidate from Ekeremor because it is wrong. The candidate of APC in the senatorial bye-election should be from Sagbama since Fred Agbedi is in the House of Representatives now. We cannot deviate from the zoning arrangement between Sagbama and Ekeremor. The zoning arrangement must be honoured for the sake of posterity and I expect my party, the APC, to do so. We cannot just go against the wishes of the people and count only on the federal might to win the election.
“We will not support any arrangement that will break the long-time agreement. We are not against Ebebi as a person but we will not support a breach of the zoning arrangement.”
Gale of defections
Due to the contentious issue of zoning, some protesting members of the APC in Sagbama appear to have punctured the senatorial ambition of Ebebi. The aggrieved members stormed the Toru-Orua country home of Dickson, to formally defect to the PDP.
The defectors, led by former Chairman of the Ogobiri Youth Association, Mr Ekadi Tonbiri Desire were received on behalf of the state chapter of the PDP by the Sagbama chairman of the party, Ofoni Oyafikunmo, the Senatorial Vice Chairman, Michael Magbisa, the Chairman Sagbama, Embeleakpo Alade.
The defectors included elders, women and youth leaders from various communities, including those in Ward 11, the largest in the local government area.
The leaders of the group were Amadiowei Ekadi, from Ogobiri community, Chief Kongo Koria (Kabiama community), Ebiyakpo Dagana (Dagana community), Patrick Okunbiri Preye ( Ogobiri) and APC women leader Felicia Araye from Ogobiri, among others.
A spokesman for the group, Ekadi Desire said the APC members decided to pull out of the party because of the violation of the zoning agreement.
The youth leader said that it was common knowledge that the two National Assembly positions in the district are shared between Ekeremor and Sagbama.
He said that it was inconceivable and provocative for the APC to field a candidate for the forthcoming senatorial contest from Ekeremor when an Ekeremor son, Fred Agbedi still occupies his position in the House of Representatives.
He said that a fair and just system should not have allowed an Ekeremor person to contest the senatorial election in a brazen violation of the existing accord on zoning of National Assembly seats in the area.
He described Ebebi’s emergence as a deliberate and unacceptable oppression of APC members in Sagbama by the APC.
He stressed that the aggrieved members defected from the APC because of their belief in Dickson’s ability and readiness at all times to defend the Ijaw interest.
Dickson remarked after the defection that the APC leadership was allegedly executing a deliberate plan to cause needless division and tension in the senatorial district which shouldn’t be allowed.
He thanked the people for their support in all his elections such as the ones into the House of Representatives, the governorship, his re-election and the Senate.
He said that those who were received into the PDP would be given equal rights as other PDP members, and urged them to join party members in the campaign.
But, countering the claim, Ebebi has declared point-blank that there was no zoning in Bayelsa West. He urged the PDP to forget about zoning in the district. The APC flag bearer said he was prepared to face Dickson at the poll and that the PDP’s zoning argument was dead on arrival.
Ebebi argued that Dickson destroyed the zoning arrangement through the choices he made against popular opinions before leaving office as a governor. He said the argument by some PDP members that it was the turn of Sagbama to produce the next senator amounted to playing on the intelligence of the zone.
He said those promoting such arguments were simply encouraging political greed and attempting to make Sagbama superior to the principles of justice, equity and good conscience. The APC candidate recalled that Sagbama, through Dickson, occupied the governorship position for eight years with his kinsman, Lawrence Ehwrudjakpo, occupying a sensitive position in his administration as the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure.
He said during the 2019 general election, Dickson brought Ehwrudjakpo, his Sagbama kinsman, to contest and win the Bayelsa West election, adding that the former governor, against all entreaties, made Ehwrudjakpo a deputy governor.
He said if Dickson had valued the zoning arrangement in the district, he would have supported someone from Ekeremor to emerge as a deputy governor to give Sagbama moral rectitude to lay claim to the Senate.
Ebebi said it would be unfair for Sagbama, having occupied the governorship for eight years to still retain the positions of the deputy governor and a senator, making Ekeremor a political orphan.
The former deputy governor said if given the chance, he would pursue legislation that would address the underdevelopment and ecological problems in the zone. He promised to focus on the empowerment of youths and students through scholarships and human capital development.
Ebebi challenged Governor Diri to make public the financial status of Bayelsa. He wondered why the state was listed among insolvent states.
Also, an APC stalwart, Berry Negerese, said it stood logic in the head to insist on zoning, adding that the political undercurrents and not zoning had remained the sole determinant of the emergence of a senator from the district.
He said: “I am not against anybody’s ambition, there is nothing like zoning. If the former governor so valued zoning and saw Ekeremor as his brother, he was a governor for eight years, his kinsman was a commissioner for works for eight years, that same person went to the Senate and is now the deputy governor from the same Sagbama. Dickson in 2019 had the governor, senator and deputy governor. We are not fools.”
Some political stakeholders that cut across party divides shared their sentiments on the contentious issue that is tearing the district apart. For instance, the Acting Chairman, Bayelsa State Volunteers, Lucky Asanakpo has berated a faction of APC for not keeping faith with the gentleman’s agreement.
In a statement, Asanakpo expressed his disappointment at the leadership of APC for fielding a senatorial candidate from Ekeremor to contest the October 31 election, contrary to the agreement that only candidates from Sagbama should be allowed to contest the election because it would upset the zoning arrangement.
He, however, said the PDP candidate, Dickson would emerge victorious in the election because of his enviable track record in the service of humanity over the years. He said today, Ekeremor people could travel by road to their local government as a result of the road constructed by Dickson besides other important infrastructural developments in the area.
Asanakpo called on all well-meaning people of the entire zone to vote massively for Dickson because he has the charisma and all the attributes of a lawmaker who could fully represent the people without fear or favour.
He described Dickson as a visionary and an articulate leader who understands the challenges of his people and could always make the necessary demands on their behalf.
“Bayelsans and indeed the people of Bayelsa West should support the ambition of the former governor since he is the best candidate for the position, adding that will help to maintain the zoning arrangement,” Asanakpo remarked. Also, the political leaders of Peretorugbene community have vowed to rally support for Dickson in the senatorial by-election.
PDP Chairman, Solomon Agwana, while addressing members of the community from PDP, APC and other political parties said the PDP was mobilising all members of the community across party lines and affiliations to deliver what it called “block vote” for Dickson.
Chairman, Bayelsa State Civil Service Commission, Dr Peter Singabele, Boyelayefa Debekeme the leadership of the community would mobilise members to vote for Dickson.
For Adonba Amgbare, a PDP stalwart from Sagbama, the APC is allegedly playing the ostrich if it pretends that there is no zoning arrangement put in place in the district.
Amgbare, a pioneer/cup winning chairman of Bayelsa Queens Football Club, said: “I think APC has missed it again. I say so because rotation though, not written, but it is something that has come to stay between the two sister local governments of Sagbama and Ekeremor.
“Critical stakeholders from both local governments are unanimous on this, including the very APC flag bearer. If my memory is not failing me, the only time this issue became an issue of debate was in 2015, when the then-senator, Heineken Lokpobiri, attempted to run again. It was this same APC flag bearer that moved then that zoning should be maintained. For me, what has happened, has made it even easier for our candidate, Dickson.”
He predicted that Dickson would have a landslide victory during the poll. He said Ekeremor people are even more resolute on wanting Sagbama to finish their term which has been running since 2015 and would run out in 2023.
Amgbare added: “Don’t forget experience is also a factor in this hallowed chamber’s business. Of course, you will agree with me that Dickson is one man that has the much-talked-about experience and courage in this era of contentious bills here and there. In my candid view, the best man for the job now is Dickson.”
But a chieftain and founding member of the APC, Chief Perekeme Kpodoh has denied ever endorsing Dickson for the election. Kpodoh, who endorsed Dickson a few months ago, has made a U-turn.
The former Chief Security Officer to Sylva admitted that the reference he made about Dickson was to ginger the APC leaders to wake up from their slumber and shop for a credible candidate to puncture the alleged ‘third term’ plot of Dickson who allegedly hoodwinked the people to make him the sole candidate of the PDP for the district’s poll.
The APC leader, who hails from Sagbama as Dickson admitted calling on the APC leaders to conduct transparent party primary to select good candidates.
He commended the party leadership for listening to the yearnings of members and putting in place processes that ensured the emergence Ebebi and Chief Abel Ebifemowei as the party’s candidates for Bayelsa West and Bayelsa Central districts.
He described the purported ‘gentleman agreement’ on zoning as a PDP arrangement orchestrated by Dickson to ensure his smooth transition to the Senate. He noted that the senatorial bye-election was about money politics and violence, but an election that Ebebi would win because he had the support of the people in Ekeremor and Sagbama.
While maintaining that nobody should be allowed to intimidate or blackmail anybody ahead of the election, Kpodoh expressed optimism in the ability of APC to win the poll because “we are ready as a people to reject a man who is bent on securing a third term ambition through the back door in Bayelsa.”
He said such an arrangement could not be binding on APC leaders, noting that in the spirit of true rotation, when the former Governor finished spending eight years as governor, the deputy governorship slot should have gone to Ekeremor. He wondered why Dickson solely picked Ewhrujakpor, a serving senator, as a deputy governor.
He claimed that those who adopted the gentleman agreement at a meeting in Sagbama were PDP members who deceived those at the meeting with rhetorics. He said the argument that Ebebi was once a deputy governor had nothing to do with zoning but was made possible by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which he claimed did not last.
Also, a group under the aegis of the APC Frontiers has kicked against the candidature of Dickson, arguing that government must not be a family affair.
The group led by a former aide to Sylva, Chief Bodi Arerebo, said the endorsement of Dickson by the PDP was a violation of an earlier ‘gentlemen agreement.’
Arerebo, therefore, pitched his tent with Peremobowei Ebebi, who recently dumped the PDP for the APC to contest for the vacant Bayelsa West Senatorial District’s seat.
He contended that the positions of Senator and member of House of Representatives in Bayelsa West Senatorial District are shared between the two LGAs.
The group said Dickson had served at the House of Representatives and also served eight years as governor of the state, hence he should give other people the chance to serve since it is not a family affair.
Who the cap fits
Dickson and Ebebi have intimidating and rich political experience. Since the dawn of democracy in the state, both have featured prominently at different times.
For Dickson, his foray into politics after about a decade of service in the Nigeria Police Force before he voluntarily resigned in 1994 as a Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police, has been eventful and intriguing.
The former police officer turned lawyer turned politician has held different political offices. Dickson began his political career as a member of the defunct Alliance for Democracy and was elected as the Bayelsa State Chairman of the party from 1998 to 2000.
Ebebi is also a man with high political pedigree. As far as Bayelsa politics is concerned, he is not a political Lilliput. He has navigated the political turf of Bayelsa State since May 1999, and may well be one of the oldest, luckiest and richest politicians in Bayelsa.