Although it’s unconstitutional, the three local government areas of Bayelsa East Senatorial District have respected a zoning arrangement since the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999.
The people of Bayelsa East, comprising of Ogbia, Nembe and Brass LGAs see zoning as a means of fostering unity, peace and togetherness among themselves by giving them equitable opportunity to have one of their citizens in the red chambers of the National Assembly in every four years.
Daily Trust observed that the arrangement, no doubt, has made the process of electing a senator for the district rancour-free and less cumbersome compared to the situation in the other two senatorial districts of the state – the Bayelsa West and Central, but several citizens of the senatorial district are already scheming for the single tenure arrangement to be abolished to give room for the area to produce a ranking and experienced senator in the red chambers.
Consequently, every political party has respected the arrangement of the Bayelsa East people in the previous elections by ensuring that their candidates are limited to the benefiting local government.
Some prominent politicians from Bayelsa East include former President Goodluck Jonathan; former Governor Timipre Sylva (now the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources); immediate past deputy governor of the state, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd); Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Mr Abraham Ingobere and several others.
It was gathered that even the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had desired to break the zoning arrangement when Dr Goodluck Jonathan was the President by giving an incumbent senator a return ticket, but was resisted by the masses.
Interestingly, the senatorial district has produced the best representatives at the Senate compared to the two other senatorial districts in the state.
Single tenure arrangement
The gentleman arrangement started in 1999 with the election of the first civilian governor of old Rivers State, late Sir Melford Okilo from Ogbia local government to represent the district between 1999 to 2003. It was gathered that though he did well at the Senate, people desired for him to go for second term considering his political exposure and influence in the national politics then, but he declined the offer and rather brought Senator Inatimi Spiff from Brass LGA to succeed him in respect of the zoning arrangement.
The trend continued in 2003 as Spiff was denied a return ticked in favour of Chief Barigha Amange from Nembe LGA who represented the senatorial district from 2007 to 2011. He also sought for a second term ticket but was denied because of zoning arrangement.
In 2011, the senate position rotated back to Ogbia LGA, and then President Jonathan close ally, Chief Clever Ikisikpo, was elected on the platform of PDP between 2011 and 2015, though he tried to use the influence of Jonathan as president, but the people resisted, a situation that brought Senator Ben Murray-Bruce from Brass LGA between 2015 and 2019.
Bruce was very vocal in the Senate but constituents accused him of ineffective representation in terms of human empowerment. He withdrew from the 2019 senatorial race at the dying minute into the PDP primary after obtaining the form to contest, citing zoning arrangement in the district as his reason of withdrawing.
Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo from Nembe LGA is currently representing the district. He was elected in 2019 on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) and he may likely give way for candidate from Ogbia LGA in 2023 where the zoning favours.
Though the two other senatorial districts – Bayelsa West and Central, also try to rotate the senatorial positions between the local government areas under them, but unlike Bayelsa East, in Bayelsa West, each local government is given opportunity to do two terms, while in Bayelsa Central, the zoning arrangement is not very strong as the immediate past Senator Emmanuel Paulker from Yenagoa LGA was in the Senate for twelve years before he was succeeded by the incumbent governor of the state, Senator Douye Diri, in 2019. Upon election of Diri as governor, Senator Cleopas Moses from Southern Ijaw LGA is currently representing the zone.
Constituents demand renegotiation of zoning arrangement
Some constituents from Bayelsa East have called for renegotiation of the zoning arrangement among the three local government areas in the district to give the zone opportunity to produce a returning and ranking senator, who will have the experience and connections to attract good dividends to the zone as the rotation moves to Ogbia again where the zoning started in 1999.
An indigene of Bayelsa East and National President, Niger Delta Nonviolence Agitators Forum, Comrade Wisdom Oniekpar Ikuli, said though zoning arrangement has helped in no small measure in fostering and promoting peace, unity, harmony, mutual respect and cooperation as well as reducing tension and violence to the barest minimum, there is a need to renegotiate the one term arrangement because it has deprived Bayelsa East the necessary experience in the Senate.
He said: “There are internal rules in the Nigerian Senate that are never compromised. One of such rules is the issue of ranking senators. These ranking senators head several committees that give them control over several federal government ministries, departments, agencies, commissions and others due to their oversight functions.
“Because of the constitutional powers of oversight, they often have access to several employment opportunities, contracts and other countless opportunities. Their interests are often considered and built into budgets of the ministries, agencies, parastatals that they are chairmen in the Senate and are performing oversight.
“Unfortunately, Senators from Bayelsa East have never been qualified to be admitted into the revered cycle of ‘ranking senators’. So, our senators are often treated as novice, second class senators. I am sorry for using some of the words like baby Senators, but this is the obvious truth and it is the best word we can use to describe our senators and their pitiable situation. Very often, they are given remnant positions including vice chairman and members of committees after the juicy positions have been shared among the ranking senators.
“When we look at the development, it is the constituents that suffer most because they are deprived of great opportunities that they are supposed to get if their senators were among the league of ranking senators who can use their privileged positions to attract great opportunities in terms of employments, contracts and projects to their people,” he said.
Another constituent from Bayelsa East, Comrade Wilfred Frank Ogbotobo, said though the rotational method adopted by the senatorial district has it advantage, as it fosters equity and fairness among the three local governments, but it has affected the service delivery by the successive senators.
He said: “The capacity for quality law-making, like good wine, needs time to mature and perfect, before it gets to terms with the needs of good governance. Of course, ours is a very young democracy, and I think the rotational practice is thriving well within our system because our inter communal relationships, which have dwelt more on mutual distrust than trust, which are still at the confidence building level.”
A reliable source close to Senator Biobarakuma Degi Eremienyo told Daily Trust that though the senator has not declared his intention to contest again, but if the people of Bayelsa East senatorial district want him to return, then he will contest.
Bayelsa West: Constituents move against Dickson’s plot
In Bayelsa West, where the immediate past governor, Senator Seriake Dickson, is currently representing, it will be a fierce battle to produce the next senator in 2023, as the former governor is already scheming for a re-election contrary to the zoning arrangement in the area.
Though, Dickson’s Sagbama LGA will complete its two tenure by 2023, supporters have justified reasons for Dickson’s re-election, especially as the APC candidate during the 2019 by-election in the district was from Ekeremor LGA, thereby breached the zoning arrangement.
In 2015, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, after serving his Ekeremor LGA’s two term in the Senate had sought for PDP’s return ticket but was denied a re-election because of zoning arrangement.
Recently, a political group from Bayelsa West, Bayelsa West Patriotic Front (BWPF) has urged Gov. Douye Diri to remain resolute on the rotational agreement in the district for peace and unity to reign in PDP.
The National Coordinator of the group, Comrade Owei Ebiagbe, in a statement advised the governor not to be deceived by the accolades and encomiums showered on him during the Yuletide by Senator Seriake Dickson and remain committed to the principle of rotation in the senatorial district based on equity, fairness and sense of belonging in the party.