BY THE FUND FOR PEACE AND PARTNERSHIP INITIATIVES IN THE NIGER DELTA (PIND)
Transition of gubernatorial power has historically been fraught with violence in Bayelsa. In 2012, for instance, political tensions were high, with reported explosions at party secretariats, cultist violence targeting political aspirants, a reported assassination attempt, kidnappings, and general political thuggery. Now, in 2015, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed 5th December 2015 for the Bayelsa State gubernatorial elections, and there are signs that conflict issues are emerging once again.
While the March 2015 presidential elections were relatively peaceful in Bayelsa, the next challenge will be how to maintain peace and security, as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) warm up for an election that is likely to be keenly contested. In many ways, the results of the gubernatorial elections will be more directly significant for local constituents and ethno-political interests than the presidential contest, especially given the prominent role that political patronage plays in the state with political leaders rewarding their supporters with privileged positions in government establishments and lucrative government contracts. Bayelsa has always been a PDP state, but the emergence of the APC as the ruling party at the federal level has reduced the 16 year-long popular support enjoyed by the PDP, and contributed to a stream of defections to APC. One leading defector includes former Governor Timipre Sylva, whose tenure was terminated by the Supreme Court two months prior to the 2012 elections. Thus, there are indications that political thugs and ex-militants may be less unified than usual in their support for a single candidate or political party. Both leading contenders, incumbent PDP Governor Seriake Dickson and APC candidate Timipre Sylva, are ethnically Ijaw of the Izon subgroup). However, the fault lines could take on a regional dimension, as Sylva is from the Nembe axis in the South, while Dickson is from the northern Sagbama axis. Moreover, despite the fact that both candidates are Ijaw, ethnic sentiments are being politicized inasmuch as APC is being painted by some as anathema to the Ijaw cause.