The election of November 16 in Bayelsa is not what left us dumbfounded. It is rather the lessons from how we got to Nov 16. The implications of the feudal system of Nigeria’s politics and it’s culture of imperial arrogance driven by “I Pass My Neighbour” mentality, is quite deeper than we have assumed. And the damage is no less colossal. For a homogenous ethnic population Bayelsa shows that the gross disparity between resource pool and human development index of the Niger Delta and of Nigeria is not a problem of ethnicity. It is just a political elite trapped in a culture of mediocrity and lack of imagination which the feudal system formalized through our 1999 constitution.
The election result from Nov 16 has changed not only Bayelsa but also ownership title of the political playground of the Niger Delta. Suddenly everybody among our political elite now is vulnerable or appears to be more vulnerable going forward ! The real question is why didn’t our political elite see the danger ahead before November 16? Could only be because they tend to overrate themselves. Just look at an emerging “casualty” list:
1) The only former President from Niger Delta ( President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan- GEJ) has been robbed of a political platform. That platform was first diminished even when he was in office by a crude combo: first was that he misread the social forces that could have helped him to redefine success at the national political arena. Imagine if the masses had stood solidly behind him across Nigeria as true stakeholder groups in the electoral process. That would have been enough to prevent the crime scene of a most questionable election process in 2015 where high cost machines were paid for by INEC and the fear of underaged voters knocked the equipment into disuse. In addition GEJ had the arrogance of some Governors to contend with, including his own kith and kin.
For instance then Governor Amaechi felt better to challenge President Goodluck Jonathan’s apparent lack of sufficient attention to the economic interest of his own Niger Delta people ( a valid critique, in NY view). And when GEJ left office, his influence was deflated in his own backyard by Governor Seriake Dickson who should have treated GEJ as our region’s centre of energy & the biggest political asset of the Niger Delta.
2). If the leadership of a zone is to be determined by victory of a party in one’s home state, APC has a big room for the Edo Governor & his in-coming Bayelsa counterpart. They and their patrons should claim the seat at the table anytime President Buhari’s henchmen call for the midnight power-feast. Those who did not win in their states WILL NOW BE DESPERATE to find other credentials to claim relevance. Rightly or wrongly some persons in their respective home states now have cause to suspect every move that can create tension due to this development.
3) The capacity of Ministers to represent their political zones effectively is on the table too. Now what will this APC victory give to Buhari’s Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva? How will it benefit Bayelsa and Niger Delta? In 1979-82 we saw Prof Ambrose Alli who was UPN Governor of Bendel State sandwiched by NPN of Gov Melford Okilo ( old Rivers) and Governor Clement Isong ( then South Eastern State). Still Prof Alli valiantly planted UPN development programmes and discipline among the political elite in Bendel State then. It hastened progress of Niger Delta economy at the time, because the NPN States were forced to rise to the challenge.
Will that happen now? I doubt so because the present political parties do not have the party discipline of our Second Republic (1979-1982). Otherwise it will show respect to those who appear to be doing a good job based on performance assessment. One such person is the Minister of Transport, Rt Hon Amaechi. He has in my own judgement, beaten every other Minister to the back seat. Just before the 2019 general election, his followers invested him with a new title as a Lion. It is a title that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia did not make so popular for African politicians.
But Rt Hon Amaechi has shown such sheer energy and service to Nigeria, that you cannot ignore his claim to the title. Twice he led President Buhari’s campaign from the front. And twice he delivered victory. In 2019 he even got a little help from rhe judiciary whose members he was widely accused of instigating a midnight crusade against, to purge some of them of corruption. If it is true, he deserves the title of Lion even more. It is only a true Lion that will dare go strolling in a Cattle settlement or RUGA that belongs to the judiciary in this day and age!
According to media reports the Minister of Transport has been able to extend railway link to Daura on the way to neighbouring Niger and is clearing ground to plant a Federal University of Transport there. Can you imagine that he achieved all this when his counterpart in the Ministry of Works, Power & Housing (in President Buhari’s first tenure), was busy lamenting about no fund? As Rt Hon Amaechi said in the video clip on Whatsapp platform at the valedictory Exco meeting with President Buhari before the new cabinet came into existence, one thing he was very sure of was that he has not been “Islamized”. But I don’t think such a credential makes him a beautiful bride in a system that does not appear to believe in innocence and fair mindedness.
The proof of the pudding will be what happens from now. For instance whenever a measurement of hard- copy indicators is conducted between Katsina State and Cross River state from 1914-2018, it will show that Daura is hundred of miles behind Calabar in terms of historical contribution to the national economy. It should make logical sense that Calabar deserves more transportation infrastructure investment than Daura. We would expect that in a political system where a self-confessed Marxist who believes in social justice is the Minister of Transport, Calabar will be awash round the clock with dredgers, giant cranes, earth movers and Tower scaffolds for even an 8- lane highway, bustling Seaport and new railway terminus, to open Cross River State as a new land gateway to Nigeria’s Middle Belt.
The business argument for this is solid, that it will create one huge international market for agro-industrial productivity and a massive organic food Export Free Zone. Never mind that Cross River State is Niger Delta. But it hasn’t happened. Not much can be seen in Akwa Ibom or any other part of Niger Delta as an original economic investment decision in favour of our home zone since 2015. And Amaechi has served about the same length of time as GEJ! Haba Mallam!!
4) The election result has not improved Governor Seriake Dickson’s market value to Bayelsa State or the PDP. It is clear that he never thought of himself as the Governor history will remember for opening the back door to Ijaw heartland for any other party, than the one Ijaw Elders felt proud to identify with from 1999 .
5) What becomes of the common man in the unfolding scenario in Bayelsa? How do we ensure that the new regime does not follow “I Pass My Neighbour” mentality and further worsen the quality of life and human index standards of the Ijaw man, woman or child? The signs are ominous!
Someone said former President GEJ taught Governor Seriake Dickson a lesson with this November election. Really? It may be so but don’t buy this account as a solution to the challenges ahead. Yes, there was a melting point when Governor Seriake Dickson’s conduct made his former “god fathers” helpless & provoked public anger . But they had been so from the day he was sworn in to do a second term, without GEJ as President of Nigeria. The PDP, APC, APGA or any party does not control any Governor or legislator in Nigeria.
Like a true Emperor, a Governor claims the entire arena of decision- making to himself. Every seating Bayelsa Governor appears to jump into that bandwagon: Isnt that what all Governors do since 1999? They are Emperors and act it with gusto! They become gods in their own little territories.
Teaching someone a lesson suggests that you are in control. The situation unfolding in Bayelsa now in my view, appears to be a sad continuation of the classical “Crackers biscuit metaphor” . Check Odili & Amaechi, Tinubu & Ambode, Jonathan & Timipre Sylva, etc. The list is endless. The drama by GEJ and Seriake Dickson, now is only a “narrative continuum”: When you break Crackers biscuit, it hardly comes out as neat pieces! In Nigeria it often tends to leave those around the dining table who broke the biscuit, with far less pieces than they imagined. They make do with a survival scramble for the pieces on the floor. The winner takes it all!
This happens where the winner becomes the owner of the party & government. That is what we learn from the recent US experience with Donald Trump as President. He has literally swallowed the Republican Party as Michael Bloomberg argued in Businessweek of October 14, 2019 edition titled “Trump Won’t Stop His Abuses of Power”. In my view President Buhari should file claims for the US to pay intellectual property rights on Donald Trump’s playbook. It is a stolen copy of field notes that belong to Nigerian politicians from 1999.
Like a Nigerian politician, Donald Trump simply created a Republican Party after his own image. He never plays by the rules of the party, unlike Ronald Reagan or the George Bush lineage that followed party discipline! Donald Trump is buying over the party by demolishing everything he met. He deploys freely the theory of brinkmanship in politics. He puts all Republican elected officials on a rolling barrel. And they become beholden to him.
Same story in Nigeria since 1999. Our politicians appear to be OWNERS of the party once they “win”. So the only rules they go by, are the rules of the OWNER ( the man of the moment).
Bayelsa after Seriake Dickson, cannot be any different. The emptiness of Nigeria’s politics is driven by the hidden force of “I Pass My Neighbour” mentality since 1999. The “Winner” tends to take all, and reduces the rest of us to praise singers or an angry audience watching by the sideline. With time, the tension and struggles to play Emperor, will damage the big masquerade and he will leave the arena with a tragic limp.
And the loser? It includes the one time winner. In this Bayelsa case, the owners of PDP in the state lost the “people power” which resides in our abused electorate. Bayelsa workers were denied of a future to be proud of. Pensioners are not even on the Governor’s discussion list. The State was reduced to Yenagoa and no more! Did you see the video footage of polling activities on TV? In Amassoma & other places, people were lining up in knee-high flood water to vote. Government abandoned them all through! They sleep in canoes.
So on election day, the people simply looked the other way. They allowed those who showed more muscle, to throw their Emperor’s government down by any means possible.
When the public tends to dislike the opposition more, they shout and throw themselves in the line of fire to chase the hungry hawks away. That was what happened in 2015 in Rivers State. Despite the power of incumbency under Governor Amaechi’s brand new APC front, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike snatched the office of Governor of Rivers State for the PDP. And in 2019 the same people put their lives on the line in different communities to fight off the hurricane of Federal might against Governor Wike.
Can the new man be the People’s Emperor to reverse the anguish they suffered under Governor Dickson? That can only happen where the people are organized as strong stakeholder groups to set the agenda of governance. Professional groups, Labour associations, Women organizations, Social platforms and Business fronts need to stand up to push a coherent public agenda that will create a high productive and decentralized economy for the state
Those who think “it is their own turn” now to benefit from the intoxication of political power, won’t let it happen. Are we prepared to fight to break the feudal system which PDP started and has passed over to APC? Or we should prepare to raise Almajiri groups in Brass, Nembe, and everywhere else that has a corridor to the Atlantic.