Governor Seriakae Dickson was on January 9th returned as the winner of the Bayelsa State governorship election. This followed the declaration of the results of the supplementary elections conducted in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and 101 polling units in six other local government areas.
The supplementary elections followed the cancellation of the election in Southern Ijaw and the 101 units due to irregularities in the governorship election conducted on December 5, 2015. Dickson, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, polled 134,988 votes to triumph over his predecessor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Chief Timipire Sylva who polled 86,852 votes. A total of 232,167 votes were cast in the election out of which 6,647 votes were rejected as invalid.
Moses Siasia, a younger brother of Nigeria’s Under 23 football coach, Samson Siasia, who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, took a distant third with 1,572 votes despite a high-profile campaign.
Sylva, who had earlier predicated his possible victory in the governorship election to amassing significant votes to wipe away the 30,000 plus lead of Dickson, garnered last December, however, failed to record the upset in the local government area. In the end, he got only 10,216 votes out of the 33,607 valid votes cast in the local government area that is also the base of Dickson’s late patron and first civilian governor of the state, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
Although it was an election, it seemed more like a war. Intimidation, ballot box-snatching and shooting were rampant. A coalition of 60 Civil Society Organisations condemned the PDP and the APC for their actions and statements in the run-up to balloting. It beggars belief that these criminal acts occurred in spite of the fact that Solomon Arase, the Inspector-General of Police, deployed 5,000 officers, boats and helicopters for the polls. There were also military and 4,000 Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps personnel on duty.
Yet, on January 7, hoodlums were able to bomb the country home of the Speaker, Bayelsa House of Assembly, Konbowei Benson, destroying part of the property in Korokorosie, Southern Ijaw. A former speaker of the state legislature, Boyelayefa Debekeme, the Chairman of Ekeremor LG, Billy Tobiye, and the traditional ruler, Agbodo Gbaseimo, were attacked on the eve of the election.
Following the declaration of the results, Barrister Otiotio, agent of the APC candidate immediately renounced the declaration of Dickson as the winner, saying the election should have been declared inconclusive on the claim that the difference between the two leading candidates was less than the number of cancelled votes. He also alleged irregularities in voting in some sections of the state. His claim was immediately dismissed by Agbedi, the PDP agent who blamed the irregularities on the APC even as he acclaimed the performance of Dickson as the reason for the PDP victory.
However, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the highest elected PDP official in the Federal Government, congratulated Dickson saying the victory was sweet. He said: “It is a sweet victory, coming against all odds. It is a testimony to the performance and popularity of Governor Seriake Dickson and our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
“I commend the people of Bayelsa State for standing up to be counted, for protecting their democratic rights to freely choose their leaders. They have made a resounding statement to the effect that the state remains a PDP enclave and that they are committed to keeping it so.” He, however, charged Governor Dickson to repay Bayelsans for their faith in the PDP and his leadership credentials with greater transformation in his second term. He also enjoined him to reach out to his opponents for the peace and progress of the state, while ensuring that every part of the state is fairly treated irrespective of their political choices.
The state chapter of the PDP, however, rued what it described as the cost of human lives it took the party to achieve victory. The party stated this through the Director of Publicity, Restoration Campaign Organisation, Jonathan Obuebite, shortly after the declaration of the results. “It’s painful that this victory has come with so much pain because we lost dear ones. Those who died are our brothers. So many are yet in the hospitals nursing life threatening injuries because our opponents wanted to win at all cost. We wish to express our deepest condolences once again and to assure them that their death will not be in vain”, it stated.
In his acceptance speech, Bayelsa State Governor, Henry Seriake Dickson, thanked the electorate for ensuring his re-election for another four years, but said there would be no celebration because of the number of lives that have been lost. The governor in an emotion-laden statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, released to journalists in Yenagoa, however, vowed that he would do everything possible to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice. He promised to work tirelessly to justify the mandate given to him “as we tried to do in the first four years to almost universal acknowledgement and approbation.”
The crusade for peaceful polls and the integrity of our elections should start with the prosecution of the offenders in the Bayelsa poll. And it is a step in the right direction that Arase has vowed to prosecute all those who committed criminal acts in the Bayelsa election.
They must not get away with their savagery. The President should compel Arase to enforce the provisions against violent conduct, murder and criminality as enshrined in the Electoral Act 2010 and the 1999 Constitution. This move will serve as a good lesson to sponsors of violence and hired hands ahead of the 2019 general election.