NewsWest AfricaBayelsa – Nigeria's bellwether state


Posted on Friday, 19 February 2016 15:52

Bayelsa – Nigeria's bellwether state

By Lindsay Barrett and Patrick Smith

After a violent, disrupted election Dickson prevailed. Photo©Gov Dickson official blogThe January victory for the PDP shows that the former ruling party can still be a potent force.

It was the first big test of Nigeria's democratic health after the dramatic national election in March 2015. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was under a new chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, and the election for the governorship of Bayelsa State, the home state of defeated President Goodluck Jonathan, was due on 5 December.

we witnessed a massive movement of former PDP [members] scrambling to join the party [APC] because of the opportunities

In the new political landscape, Jonathan's People's Democratic Party has become a regional grouping, controlling states mainly in the oil-producing Niger Delta and southeast. Bayelsa's incumbent governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, was seeking a second term on the PDP ticket.

Dickson's opponent was Timipre Sylva, a former PDP member who had also had a stint as Bayelsa governor but had fallen out with Jonathan and defected to the All Progressives Congress(APC).

A bare-knuckle political bruiser, Sylva was convinced he could use the APC's new power at the centre to bluster his way back to the governor's mansion. It did not work.

Dickson tells The Africa Report that after Sylva emerged as the APC candidate, "we witnessed a massive movement of former PDP [members] scrambling to join the party [APC] because of the opportunities they felt they would gain from the centre. But despite of all that and the use of so-called federal power in the election, the people of Bayelsa stuck to the PDP."

It was a high-stakes game. The election was marred by fighting, ballot snatching and allegations of malpractice from both sides. Such was the violence and disruptions to the distribution of ballot papers in the Southern Ijaw area that INEC officials suspended voting there until a supplementary election could be held on 9 January.

Although Dickson had won in the other six local government areas, Sylva tried to galvanise voters in his stronghold of Southern Ijaw to overturn his opponent's victory.

Twelve people died in the state on the 9 January polling day and many more were injured. Initially, both sides applauded the impartiality of the electoral commission, but after INEC announced Dickson the winner, Sylva and the APC vowed to go to the electoral tribunal.

For the PDP, the Bayelsa result was the first good news for many months. Some party loyalists saw it as the first stage in the party's national comeback. It may prove a disincentive to would-be PDP defectors, especially those based in the party's strongholds.

For Dickson, it reinforces the country's political pluralism: "My victory is an indication that Nigeria can never be a one party state." ● 

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