By Opuowei Daniel Zitimiyola

Last Saturday old war horses were on the racecourse. They raced for the number one place: the Governor of Bayelsa State. Many opined the race was for two but a third also took a place on the mark and raced in the hope to breast the tape or secure a space on the oval table.

Erstwhile Honourable Commissioner who erected a profile as Ijaw Youth Council President, Udengimobofa Eradiri, flew the banner of Labour Party. Eradiri, arrived the big stage challenging to ascend the throne. A wellspring of ideas, rich in thinking, eloquent in erudition. But that is how best it can go. Many interpreted him as a pretender and not a contender. He was not expected to go the whole hog but to hug attention for what men on the street describe as “cash out.” To execute a gubernatorial project is herculean and twice for a young person. It is made worse coming from a party with no spread, no support base, and worst sparring against veterans.

Former Governor, H.E., Chief Timipre Sylva, after framing an image on the national plane as Hon. Minister for State, Petroleum Resources, browbeat everyone to submission for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress in a bid to reopen a self-pronounced closed chapter. No one has influenced the politics of Nembe-Brass as Chief Sylva. At 26 he was a Member of the then Rivers State House of Assembly. At 42, he became Governor of Bayelsa State. When as Honorable Minister in charge of Petroleum resources, he influenced the placement of several persons mostly from his clan into choice agencies, he became the superman, talisman and leader rolled together and deified as the “Opuabi.”

Incumbent Governor of Bayelsa State, His Excellency, Sen. Douye Diri, with an impressive roster of achievements to his belt entered the racecourse in the rich colours of the People’s Democratic Party. A gentleman of the finest order. Diri waxed himself into the hearts of the people as a man of peace and humane disposition. Measured as he spoke, empathic in his act. He combined politics with good conscience. The Governor has the exceptional skill of walking the fine line of reconciling everyone. He said Bayelsa is one. There are no enemies to fight. No blood should spill on account of him.

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For weeks the trio showed brio campaigning as never seen since the founding of the state. They powered through land-locked communities and rowed through the maze of the Bayelsa water bodies to meet riparian communities with the message of a better Bayelsa. There were moments of inflamed passion and heightened emotion. Filthy data were exhumed. Court cases instituted. Intemperate comments spewed. Social media provocateurs trumpeted narratives from the comfort of their smart gadgets. They dragged and chewed at each other and at the candidates whose CVs they desire but may not reach in many lifetimes. The street gave heed to a new lexicon ” una go learn new thing.” There was more “we go collect am by force, ona go cry tire and heavens will not fall.” Tension therefore overtook the land.

The nation watched with gripping attention just as law enforcement was mobilized to demonstrate the height of their might.

At last, 11th November 2023 arrived. The election was held. Units to units, RAC to RAC, local government to local government, the people gave H.E Sen.Diri their votes save for two where the numbers turned in for his chief opponent were described as rogue figures. In the end, INEC returned the Governor as Governor-elect with 175,196 against 115,262 votes garnered by Sylva and 905 by Eradiri.

Many factors shaped the outcome. First. Eradiri was defined as an upstart with no network no networth and the necessary endorsement to travel against the strong headwind.

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Second. The Sylva-Mcaiver ticket walked a tightrope to the polls. The ticket suffered credibility deficit. It was characterized in terms of the odd rightly or wrongly.

Third. At the home front, the APC was a house divided down the middle. There are so many narratives to this. There is the story of the hangover from the 2019 slip. There are also the feelings of well-regarded and influential stalwarts that they have become outsiders in the house they claim they laboured to build. High-handedness was described as another. Grabbing the ticket as though the party in the state is part of a personal estate was also a major talking point.

Chief Sylva tried to mend fences. But it was beyond redemption hour. Many have made up their mind not to inhale oxygen in the same space with him. Factions were erected, and fractures were deep. Insider dealings to defrock him of his majesty gained epic proportion. These ones openly knocked the pillars from within. Some, choose to stay put and act “siddon look” as they say in pidgin. Others decided to part ways with the party.

Many argue that he did not read the tea leaves nor the writing on the wall or the cloud of a crowd of controversies or he just undermined the enormity of the problem.

Beneath the smooth, gentle facade on the surface, H.E. Sen.Diri paddled hard, fast and smart like a Dock. He worked day and night to exploit the division among the opposition to weaken their mission. Then, good works earned him plaudits, publicity and goodwill. He made gains with the beauty of big-ticket works of infrastructure.

His predecessors mapped the Glory Land drive from the ecumenical centre, he paved a dual carriage express road to the heart of town. It counts. Everyone has seen the finishing of the 42 Kilometres Sagbama-Ekeremor road. A major feat. The Yenagoa-Oporoma road, asphalted to Angiama community and the ongoing bridge linking Oporoma. Brave. The legacy of the ongoing Nembe-Brass road. Audacious. The Igbogene-AIT outer ring road. Bodacious. What about the security of lives and property? It matters. Workers’ and pensioners’ welfare, It counts. There are more.

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It was with this background, that the Governor met the people and men of conscience choose State over party.

Street to street and from community to community, the people exploded into ecstasy at the close of the count, They cried happy tears. Live concerts were staged. Thousand jammed when the composer of Diri ooo, number one, the Owigiri exponent and protege of legendary Robert Ebizimor, Alfred Izonebi, who trends as J-King, thrilled with his melody and stagecraft.

There are lessons in this for future good.

Character counts.

No one leader is a super-human. It takes both hands to clap. There are leaders because there are followers. Never take the people for granted.

Leaders should not alienate or tear followers apart and hope that when they come back and say sorry, the bend will mend.

Loyalty is consciously planted, regularly watered, and humanely fed for it to grow. It is also not cast in stone.

The people can change place or cause a rumble that will tumble things.

Also, no one has the birthright to dominate political and economic privileges.

Lastly, family differences and competing interests must be balanced. When a family feuds the family loses.

Optics, wishes His Excellency, Sen. Douye Diri and his Deputy, a successful second term.

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