The race for Bayelsa State governorship seat is already gathering steam five months to the November 11, 2023 poll.
Currently, a three-horse race appears to be in the offing among a crowd of 16 candidates, including two women.
The election was expected to be a race between the candidates of the two main parties: the incumbent Governor Douye Diri of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is seeking re-election, and former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, the surprising outing of the Labour Party (LP) in the last general elections has shaken up the contest, with the party’s candidate, Engr Udengs Eradiri, ex-Ijaw Youth Council president, hoping to repeat the upset LP recorded in the last poll.
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APC’s Sylva is banking on the support of some disgruntled voters who still feel that Governor Diri took another person’s mandate.
The outcome of the 2019 governorship election, which was won by the APC but was upturned in favour of the PDP by the Supreme Court, has thrown the ruling party’s camp into a panic mood; fearing that the APC may still get popular votes.
But the governorship candidate is said to be emboldened by the success of PDP during this year’s general polls in which the party cleared all the senatorial and House of Representatives seats and majority of the state assembly seats.
Governor Diri also believed that his performance in office, alliance with most political bigwigs in the state including ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and the zoning arrangement will earn him a second term in office.
Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has lifted embargo on campaigns, all the political parties that fielded candidates for the election are yet to begin their campaigns.
However, the major contenders and their promoters have been engaging in mudslinging, accusations and counter accusations
Recently, APC raised the alarm over alleged plans by the PDP to discredit its candidate.
Chairman of APC in Bayelsa State, Barr Dennis Otiotio-Odoni, alleged that Governor Douye Diri-led administration has perfected plans to use some disgruntled APC chieftains to campaign against the party and its candidate, Sylva.
Otiotio-Odoni, in a statement, urged APC members and supporters to discountenance any media outing from some elements masquerading as APC chieftains to discredit the party.
“It is sad that Governor Douye Diri who never won the 2019 elections has decided to invest in pettiness, anxieties and frivolities in the face of credible alternatives in a desperate attempt to deceive the good people of Bayelsa State.
“The sordid plan is to install hirelings and mercenaries on major media outlets to masquerade and speak as APC chieftains in a bid to discredit the party and its governorship candidate, Chief Timipre Sylva,” he said.
But Governor Diri, while addressing members of Prosperity Youth Coalition, a PDP support group, urged his supporters not to succumb to the propaganda and other antics of the opposition parties aimed at stoking violence in the state ahead of the governorship election.
The Bayelsa governorship seat rotates between the three senatorial districts of the state – Bayelsa Central, West and East.
The zoning arrangement, though unconstitutional, started in 1999 when the first civilian governor, Late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha from Bayelsa Central, held the governorship position for six years.
Alamieyeseigha was succeeded by his then deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan from Bayelsa East, after Alamieyeseigha was impeached in 2005.
Jonathan who was later nominated as the vice presidential candidate to late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was succeeded by Chief Timipre Sylva from Bayelsa East.
Seriake Dickson from Bayelsa West, who succeeded Sylva, governed the state for eight years between 2012 and 2020. He was succeeded by the incumbent, Senator Douye Diri from Bayelsa Central.
Some pundits believed that Diri’s Bayelsa Central should be allowed to complete their eight years before handing over to another person from Nembe, the only local government in Bayelsa East that is yet to produce a governor to rule for 8 years.
A PDP chieftain in the state, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Daily Trust that zoning has been an integral part of Bayelsa politics and the zoning favours Diri over Sylva.
But APC supporters countered the submission.
Protest over Sylva’s candidacy
Already, a chieftain of APC, Demesuoyefa Kolomo, has approached a federal high court in Abuja to order INEC to delete Sylva’s name from the list of candidates contesting the election.
Kolomo, in a suit filed by his lawyer, Abiodun Amuda-Kannike, SAN, wants the court to determine whether Sylva is qualified to contest the election having been previously sworn in as Bayelsa State governor for two times in the past in view of section 180(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Sylva served as governor of Bayelsa between May 29, 2007 and April 15, 2008 and May 27, 2008 and Jan. 27, 2012.
Why campaign is yet to kick off
LP’s candidate, Udengs Eradiri, said he was not out of time to campaign but was currently engaging stakeholders in preparation for the public campaigns.
He said he is coming to reposition the economy of the state which he said is currently dwindling under Governor Douye Diri’s administration.
He said: “We are not out of time to campaign; we don’t have many resources like other parties, but we are doing engagements, our campaigns will not be all about singing and beating of bands on the streets, but engaging people strategically.
“You can see there are no teachers in primary and secondary schools; under our government, the responsibilities of government must be carried out.
“There is no economy in the state, poverty everywhere, businesses are closing down, people are leaving the state, I’m coming to address those issues.”
Similarly, the Director of New Media to Governor Douye Diri, Dr Kola Oredipe, told journalists in Yenagoa recently that the campaign flag-off was delayed because the election was still far away.
He, however, said the governor is meeting different stakeholders and support groups and setting up teams ahead of the campaigns.
He said: “Election is still very far, election is in November and we are in June, a lot of activities have started, like meeting groups, setting up teams, endorsement, among others, but the public campaign is what you might not be seeing now, but in a very short while, the campaign council will come on stream.”