How Diri showed leadership in Bayelsa PDP primaries

fdadc governor douye diri
fdadc governor douye diri

From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa

For two years that he has been in the saddle of governance in Bayelsa State, opinion has been divided over the leadership characteristics of Governor Douye Diri. For supporters of the governor, Diri is a calm leader that takes his time to take decisions and would refuse to be stampeded into doing  anything. According to them, that Diri is not dictating to the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on how to run its affairs does not mean he wants to dodge the responsibility of being the leader of the party.

However, for those against his leadership style, Diri has been too shy to take over the reins of leadership of the party which has given room to all kinds of unpalatable stories that portray the party leadership as weak and heading for an implosion as the 2023 race for elective offices draws near.  They pointed to the clash in January 2022 between supporters of two chieftains in Yenagoa as an example of how Diri has left a void in leadership that could injure the party and precipitate its implosion before the general elections.

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The primaries for the selection of PDP candidates for the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly has been completed peacefully and throughout the process, the consensus is that Diri displayed calmness and maturity  to the admiration of all. Even the ugly incident in Ogbia town where one Michael Isaiah was gunned down was not enough to discount the peaceful nature of all aspirants and their supporters during the process.      

According to investigations, Diri’s political brinkmanship in pronouncing his neutrality in the process of picking candidates was the overriding factor that gave every aspirant confidence to accept the outcome of the elections.

To demonstrate his neutrality, Governor Diri during the State Executive Council meeting asked all political appointees interested in contesting for elections to resign from the government. He reiterated that while everyone has the right to pursue its legitimate ambition, to avoid distraction from government delivering the dividends of democracy to the people, such an office should bow out.

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Some of the appointees however paid lukewarm attitude to his directive such that the governor had to repeat it during a function at his country home in Sampou, Kolokuma/ Opokuma Local Government. His remarks were at the backdrop of the clash in Yenagoa involving two chieftains interested in the Yenagoa/ Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal constituency, which would be vacated by Steve Azaiki who then had announced that he would not be seeking re-election.

According to  Diri, PDP as a party in the state had a structure that must be followed strictly through nominations and elections when the time is right warning anyone with a negative agenda to rethink.

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Diri who emphasised his brand of politics which is peaceful engagement tasked politicians to change their old ways of playing God, mudslinging and thuggery, stressing that whoever God destined to occupy a position would eventually emerge no matter whose ox is gored.

His words: “Now we are in a political year. Some have begun to scramble to become members of the National Assembly or the House of Assembly. I have received several calls that some people have started having processions while some are preparing thugs. That is not what Bayelsa State wants.

“We have a political party structure, particularly those of us in the PDP. We opened our two arms to receive everybody. But thereafter we will sit down, consult and have a credible process of nominating who goes to the House of Assembly or National Assembly and who gets what, how, why and when.

“I earlier told members of my cabinet who have interest in any political offices to put in their resignation and I mean it. So, I’m using this occasion to re-emphasise it.

“This goes to all other political appointees be they Special Advisers, Technical Advisers or Senior Special Assistants. If you want to contest for any political office, please put in your resignation.”

  Diri’s political dexterity also came into play when he successfully navigated the party out of potential land-mines arising from a clash of ambitions among his political associates.

As of the time the party began sale of forms over 100 people including all incumbents were interested in vying for the 24 House of Assembly tickets available for take in the party primaries. To prune down the number of aspirants, Diri delivered a master stroke by suggesting that all first timer lawmakers be given automatic tickets to return so as to solidify their legislative experience. The lawmakers that benefitted from this include Tare Porri Ekeremor Constituency I, Bonny Ayah, Southern Ijaw constituency I, and Dr Charles Daniels, Brass Constituency I.

For the remaining 21 consistencies, after consultation with key stakeholders, the number was pruned down to three aspirants per constituency to slug it out for delegate’s votes.   

The Special Adviser Politics to the Governor, Chief Collins Cocodia in an address at the 70th State Executive Council meeting reiterated the desire of Governor Diri to ensure the best candidates emerged for the party.

“Our party is one big united party, His Excellency has clearly said he would not going to be directly involved in either selecting or appointing anybody that wants to contest any elective position.

So he has urged you to follow the due process of the party constitution which is available to all contending aspirants and those that have already declared interest and His Excellency also emphasizes the need for those who need to contest elective positions to resign.”

Findings indicated that some aspirants unable to get the desired green light from Diri approached former governor, now Senator Henry Seriake Dickson to endorse them. Dickson, as an astute politician realising the danger in their quest issued a disclaimer that he has no candidate and would only back candidates endorsed by the governor and stakeholders of the party.

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Hear him, “As I have always maintained in a political period all ambitions are legitimate. People should pray, consult and work hard. In my current position, I do not have any special candidate for the forthcoming election. As father to all in the PDP, candidates I will support are the candidates endorsed by the governor and stakeholders across the state. I know that a number of people may feel disappointed that I am not endorsing or pushing for them. I believe the governor as the leader of the party leading the consultation with stakeholders and leaders and managing the aspiration of members will look into all emergent issues and resolve them in the interest of the party”

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Few days to the primaries, an official of the party who has observed Diri at close quarters said his leadership style is unique such that he has ensured internal democracy prevailed.

“He made it clear to the party that he is not ready to impose any candidate on the party rather that it should be the stakeholders that would pick the strongest candidate. He has been true to his words as the primaries were seamless producing strong candidates that would win election for the party in 2023”

    Diri would further demonstrate he is a consummate politician with the emergence of candidates of the party. For the House of Assembly, many of the aspirants voluntarily withdrew while others forged ahead. At the end of the primaries, out of the 14 incumbents that contested the primaries, 13 were returned by delegates while Naomi Ogoli lost her re-election to Gabriel Ogbara who coincidentally was her predecessor.

For Yenagoa/ Kolokuma/Opokuma Federal constituency seat where there have anticipated shown down between serving member Yenagoa constituency I, Hon Oforji Oboku and the Commissioner for Education, Hon Gentle Emelah who has been eyeing the seat since he was a member representing Yenagoa Constituency III,  Diri was able to convince Emelah to remain in the state executive council leaving Oboku to run unopposed. That gesture immediately defused tension in Yenagoa and peace reign.

Another contentious issue was Bayelsa West where contending parties have been pushing for and against zoning. The bone of contention was the Bayelsa West senatorial seat currently being held by Dickson.  While Hon Fred Agbedi, current member representing Ekeremor/ Sagbama Federal constituency, was gunning for the Senatorial seat arguing that it was the turn of Ekeremor to take the Seat, stakeholders in the senatorial district were clamouring for Dickson to return. The controversy over the issue was so intense that it pitted some members of the state executive council and the legislative arm from Bayelsa West against each other. To make matters worse, Dickson and Agbedi were both political associates of Diri. Amidst threats of dire consequences from both parties on the decision he takes, Diri was between a rock and hard place.

“The governor convened a meeting of Bayelsa West stakeholders where he spoke to them passionately about the contributions of Dickson to the party especially during the election that brought him in 2019. He harped on the need to allow Dickson to continue in the Senate to attain the ranking status that could be strategic for the Ijaw nation. He appealed to Agbedi to seek a return ticket to the House of Representatives.  The method deployed by the governor could not make Agbedi refuse. Thus what people expected would bring problems was resolved seamlessly,” said a source.

Another knotty issue was Bayelsa Central where incumbent Senator Moses Cleopas who was chairman of the party that ensured the emergence of Diri as Bayelsa governorship candidate against all odds, was facing a threat from Diri’s immediate past Secretary to the State Government, Chief Friday Konbowei Benson. Cleopas had threatened a “political tsunami” if he was stopped from contesting. Again Diri convened a stakeholders meeting of Bayelsa Central where it was agreed that Cleopas and Benson should vie for the ticket. Benson has since emerged winner Cleopas has accepted his fate.

Also in Ogbia Federal Constituency where the incumbent Fred Obua was contesting against the zoning principle in the area, Diri ensured all that signified the intention to contest were allowed leading to the victory of the Chairman, Ogbia Local Government Area, Ebinyu Markin Turner. 

Two chieftains of the party, Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Chief Collins Cocodia and Pastor Chris Debunsha, Senior Special Assistant to Agbedi on Media and Publicity, commended the conduct of the primaries particularly that of the National Assembly.

Cocodia described the National Assembly primaries as hitch free, pointing out that the peaceful conduct of the primaries is a reflection of the leadership style of the Governor, as he has made unity and togetherness as his watch word.

Debunsha said the peaceful conduct of the election will galvanise all candidates of the party and their constituents towards preparing to win all elections at the poll.

He commended Diri for his openness, fairness and a level playing field given to all aspirants that participated in the state party primaries.

To further cement unity in the party, Diri has reabsorbed cabinet members and other appointees, who earlier resigned and later stepped down for a consensus aspirant during the primaries.

Governor Diri, who stated this during the 76th State Executive Council meeting in Government House, Yenagoa commended the peaceful conduct of the aspirants during the exercise.

While congratulating the winners of the primaries, Diri enjoined them to reach out to the losers for reconciliation and work together for the success of the party in the forthcoming elections, stressing that the exercise was a family affair and that the PDP was the ultimate winner.

“I keep saying that this is an internal family affair; from these primaries, there is no winner or vanquished, we are all winners, and our party is the winner.

“So, while I congratulate you for emerging as our candidates from the senatorial to the House of Representatives to the state House of assembly, I urge you to immediately reach out to those who could not make it.  Let me congratulate all those who did not make it but contested as sportsmen, you’re good sportsmen.

As it stands, PDP has emerged stronger from its primaries and as the 2023 elections draw closer, the party has proved all cynics wrong that it remains the party to beat. 

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