The process of electing a gubernatorial flag-bearer to fly the All Progressives Congress, APC flag in the scheduled November 16, 2019, Beyelsa state governorship election was thrown into uncertainty, as a Bayelsa State High Court sitting in Yenagoa, the state capital, granted an interim order on Wednesday, August 28, restraining the APC from adopting direct primary method for the party primary.
This legal bombshell is coming hot on the heels of a sudden directive by the National Working Committee of the APC to postpone the Bayelsa State governorship primary election till Saturday, August 31, which is a departure from earlier date of Thursday, August 29, already fixed for the election.
Ruling on an application brought before the Court by Messrs Japan Christopher, Evinson Oyindeyinfa, Oddu Ovinmiebi and Obiriki Isaiah, who had sued for themselves and also on behalf of concerned members of APC in Bayelsa state, Justice E. G. Omukoro of the Bayelsa High Court granted the order upon hearing a motion ex parte, directing that the APC refrains from adopting the direct primary option for the rescheduled guber primary.
It will be recalled that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had, in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, on Tuesday, August 27, upheld the reports of the screening and appeal committees for the Bayelsa governorship aspirants.
The Senator Abdullahi Gumel led screening committee for the Bayelsa governorship aspirants had screened seven governorship aspirants, out of which six were cleared to participate in the guber primary.
They six cleared aspirants are: Mr. Aganaba Preye Steven, Sen. Heineken Lokpobiri, Prince Ebitimi Christopher Amgbare, Ms. Diseye Nsirim Poweigha, Mr. Lyon David Pereworimini, and Engr. Prof (Mrs.) Ongoebi Maureen Etebu.
The seventh aspirant and former INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Cross Rivers state, Dr. Briyai Oyeins Frankland was however not cleared to participate in the Party’s governorship primary and the APC NWC upheld his disqualification based on Section 3 Paragraph “L” of the Party’s guidelines for the nomination of candidates which requires that aspirants are card-carrying members of the party for a period of one year.
The party had also not found any record of Dr. Briyai’s membership of APC nor any documents of his financial status in the party books and he was therefore considered ineligible and duly disqualified.
In the statement from Mr. Lanre Isa-Onilu postponing the primary, the APC had specifically announced the adoption of direct primary for the state guber selection process.
The statement said, “The party has also adopted the direct mode of primary in line with the written request of the Bayelsa State chapter and majority of the stakeholders.
“This is in compliance with the decision of the APC National Executive Committee, which grants state chapters and majority of party leaders in a state, the right to decide on the mode of primary they wish to adopt.”
However, the word on the streets of Yenagoa, the Bayelsa state capital, is that those who went to Court to challenge the direct primary process earlier announced by the APC, have not only championed the position of the hitherto front runner in the guber race, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, but may have actually been acting out a script prepared by the former Minister of State, Agriculture, who had already thrown his considerable weight and advocacy behind indirect primaries.
His position is quite contrary to the one held by former Bayelsa governor and now Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, who has canvassed for direct primary from the onset. In fact, it was already accepted as a forgone conclusion that Chief Timipre Sylva was going to contest the Bayelsa guber election again, under the APC, after losing controversially to incumbent governor Henry Seriake Dickson, in an acrimonious and bloody election, which had required a high tension re-run in some critical communities, before a winner emerged.
The overwhelming opinion in Bayelsa was that a Timipre Sylva candidature was definitely going to give the ruling PDP a real fight in the election, especially against the backdrop of the fact that a sizeable crowd of distinguished aspirants had already emerged in the PDP fold, many of whom were crucially poised to cash in on the fact that governor Dickson was completing his second mandatory tenure and so was ineligible to contest, which left the coast very clear for anyone who would be brave enough to challenge whoever his Bayelsa restoration political movement anoints, to succeed him.
But it was later suggested by several knowledgeable sources inside APC, that President Buhari, no less, had personally prevailed on Sylva not to contest and had instead compensated him with the lucrative Petroleum Resources portfolio, which placed Sylva right next to the President, who is also the substantive senior Petroleum Minister.
With the petroleum ministry secured, Chief Timipre subsequently endorsed his protégé, Mr. David Lyon Pereworimini, popularly called David Lyon, as his preferred guber candidate, though many people actually believe that Sylva had personally handpicked him and compelled him to join the race, which accounted for why he was a late entrant and one of the last to pick the nomination, after it was confirmed that Ministerial position for his leader was well secured.
Prior to the entrance of David Lyon into the race, the generally accepted belief was that picking the APC guber ticket would be an easy stroll for Chief Heineken Lokpobiri. His robust pedigree as the pioneer Speaker of Bayelsa State House of Assembly, a two-term senator and an immediate past Minister, were sufficiently intimidating and had already made him the overwhelmingly choice of the APC, if they were to have any chance at all, of toppling PDP and the bulldozing machinery of governor Seriake Dickson. He also had the backing of quality, top notch APC people behind my aspiration.
However, the entrance of Chief David Lyon, a Bayelsa based businessman and oil magnate, noted for his expansive philanthropy and grassroots appeal, changed the permutations dramatically for the APC.
Although he has consistently denied claims by some politicians that he was compelled into the Governorship race by Chief Timipre Sylva, the fact that he has already been endorsed by the Minister has put that lie to rest and the growing opinion within APC ranks is that the trust and confidence which President Buhari has reposed in Timipre Sylva by making him his junior Minister in the Petroleum Ministry, may have sent clear and strong signals to the party hierarchy that he had the President’s endorsement of his interest in the guber process.
The recent court ruling to restrain the APC from adopting direct primary in conducting the guber selection, if not vacated or addressed before Saturday August 31, is however, likely to once again raise the spectre of two different guber primaries, which was the albatross of the APC in some key states, during the last general elections.
The present scenario suggests strongly that the guber primary will be a two-horse race between Heineken Lokpobiri, who has embraced indirect primary and David Lyon, fronting for Chief Timipre Sylva, who wants direct Primary.
The decision to postpone the Bayelsa gubernatorial primary from Thursday 29 to Saturday 31, may have bought some time for the APC to try and sort out the legal implications of going ahead with the direct primary which it had earlier adopted, but the gradually emerging conclusion to the matter is that there may be two APC governorship candidates after August 31 and since it is the party that contests an election, it will ultimately be the courts that will settle the matter as to who would be the substantive candidate in the November 16, Bayelsa Governorship election.