Seriake-Dickson

If Dickson is hungrier to get power than he is to serve, four years from now – if he is lucky to finish his tenure – it would not be a surprise if after being the first full two-term governor he also becomes the first since 1999 to lose power to the opposition.

It’s tempting to deny Governor Seriake Dickson credit for winning a second term as Bayelsa State governor in last Saturday’s governorship election, which had earlier been declared inconclusive. The story is not that Dickson won the election, but that Sylva lost. To be honest, until very recently, a Dickson victory seemed unlikely.

History was not exactly on his side. Since 1999, no Bayelsa governor has served out a full second term. It was widely speculated that even if history was not going to repeat itself a fourth time, the former First Family, Goodluck and Patience Jonathan, was going to lend history a hand. And by some credible accounts, in spite of the denials by Aso Rock to the contrary, that process seemed well under way before Dickson’s first term.

Dickson was part of a so-called Green Movement, a political platform for Jonathan’s second-term bid as governor. Whatever green ideas that platform may have nursed, Dame Patience didn’t exactly like the group’s browning effect on her husband. She marked members of the group, including AJ Turner, Senator Emmanuel Paulker, Fyneman Wilson, Clever Ikisikpo and Dickson, as enemies. And that was way back before he became governor.

Even though Jonathan later moved to Abuja after he was unexpectedly tapped as late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s running mate, paving the way for Sylva to emerge as Bayelsa State governor, bitter memories of the Green affair still lingered on. But it wasn’t long before Sylva ran into trouble for allegedly despising Jonathan during his difficult days as Number 2.

After all said and done, two things decided Dickson’s fate: his relationship with the Jonathans and the strength of the opposition. Neither favoured him.

Sylva was flattened in the power tussle and he failed to secure the PDP’s ticket for a second term. Dickson clawed his way back in spite of Dame Patience, but this time, he was also anxious to pacify the lady of steel.

In defiance of public criticism, he appointed her as permanent secretary in the state’s civil service and backdated the appointment to 1999 when she was supposed to have taken a leave of absence. For a while, it seemed Dickson’s place was finally secured – but it was only for a while. In the run up to his bid for a second term, old wounds ruptured in 2014.

It wasn’t about performance. As Eniola Bello said in his column on the back page of ThisDay on Tuesday, if contest for public office were about performance, we could dredge a one trillion naira lake to drown all four governors who had been in office since 1999 for every kobo they collected in the past 16 years. Bayelsa may parade a few rich militants who made good under President Jonathan, but the vast majority of the people are forsaken, desperately poor and miserable. Not even Dickson’s N9.8 billion flyover to nowhere has made any difference to their lives.

But I digress. After all said and done, two things decided Dickson’s fate: his relationship with the Jonathans and the strength of the opposition. Neither favoured him. He thought the First Lady was causing too much problem for the president in the run up to the 2015 election and said so in uncomfortably close quarters. Again, he was marked and that was the beginning of a frantic peace offensive in which Ijaw Governor General Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, among others, played a very prominent role.

The opposition failed to seize the moment when it mattered most. Of all the APC aspirants – or potential candidates – Sylva had the strongest base, yet he was the most vulnerable to his past. His strength would have been in helping to build a consensus. He should have swallowed his pride and invested his dream in a less divisive candidate. But what is politics if it’s not selfietude?

They managed to patch things up but the jury is still out on what the outcome of last Saturday’s election in Bayelsa might have been had Jonathan won a second term.

The opposition worked in two ways: first, it worked against Dickson, but when it mattered most, worked for him. Credible elections hardly take place in the South-South, largely because of the difficult terrain and ethnic diversity. Once the political elite have chosen a party, they also choose voters, and that settles it. But in the last election, the emergence of the APC as a strong opposition caused an upheaval and the rampant use of technology severely eroded old habits, especially ballot-stuffing.

The opposition failed to seize the moment when it mattered most. Of all the APC aspirants – or potential candidates – Sylva had the strongest base, yet he was the most vulnerable to his past. His strength would have been in helping to build a consensus. He should have swallowed his pride and invested his dream in a less divisive candidate. But what is politics if it’s not selfietude?

And that was just the hole in the helmet that Dickson needed. As the opposition set upon itself, Dickson fired the tribal arrow. He put it out there that the election was a war for the survival of the Ijaw nation and Sylva, who prides himself on being Nembe first, and then Ijaw, could not be trusted with the destiny of Nigeria’s fourth largest ethnic group at this dire moment.

That, among other things, worked.

Like much of the country, the South-South is experiencing its moment of political awakening. Godfathers and militants may have played a major role in the politics of the recent past, but I strongly believe that they are increasingly losing their grip. The power base is shifting as more and more citizens, especially younger ones, receive information about what is happening elsewhere.

There’s, however, a much bigger lesson beyond the triumph of tribal politics and the old boy’s network. Like much of the country, the South-South is experiencing its moment of political awakening. Godfathers and militants may have played a major role in the politics of the recent past, but I strongly believe that they are increasingly losing their grip. The power base is shifting as more and more citizens, especially younger ones, receive information about what is happening elsewhere. Above all, technology, even as simple as the mobile phone, is putting voters in charge of their destinies.

If Dickson is hungrier to get power than he is to serve, four years from now – if he is lucky to finish his tenure – it would not be a surprise if after being the first full two-term governor he also becomes the first since 1999 to lose power to the opposition.

He needs to roll up his sleeves. Only a short victory party will make his second coming meaningful.

Azu Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and a board member of the Paris-based Global Editor’s Network.