Power Struggle: Goodluck Jonathan versus Timipre Sylva

In domestic and international affairs, power and public service are the principal goal of politics. But power – the ability to sway the direction and decision of others in order to meet one’s stated and unstated objectives comes first. Hence, power is the ultimate goal of politics; the endgame of nation states and decision-makers. In exercising power therefore, there is bound to be a clash of perspective, a clash of will.

If such clashes (power struggles) are not properly handled, anarchy, tragic plotting and cut-throat opposition may become the order of the day. In this respect, Power Struggles has always been part of the human existence. It is unavoidable. What we have in Bayelsa State – the Cold War-like face-off between the Vice President and the State Governor – is not out of the ordinary. It is to be expected.

Even so, both men have taken the extraordinary steps of denying the existence of any power struggle. Their camps have followed suit: denying there is any friction between both centers. And indeed, both sides have continued to maintain that the Vice President and the Governor have mutual trust, mutual admiration and respect for one another — even though their public pronouncements betrays their private angst and outbursts.

Goodluck Jonathan and Timipre Sylva are children of destiny. A clairvoyant may have foretold their future, but from what is known of both men, neither had cosmopolitan political ambition. But the dice began to roll in their favor when Alamieyeseigha’s criminality caught up with him; and again when there was vacancy at Aso Rock.

But while Dr. Jonathan relied heavily on fate and the vengeful nature of President Obasanjo, Mr. Sylva had fate and Alamieyeseigha, plus the backing of Edmond Daukoru, the then Energy Minister. Chief Daukoru pulled strings, recalled favors and, allegedly, he dropped off about fifty million dollars to the delight of Chief Anthony Anineh (the erstwhile Chairman of the PDP).

Long before fate and fortune smiled on both men, Goodluck Jonathan was an obscure, genteel and unremarkable university professor. For him, Port Harcourt was his pinnacle. Timipre Sylva was a gofer, a file-pusher and an ex-this-ex-that; and later, a public servant who fell out with Alamieyesigha before landing a job as Daukoru’s Personal Assistant. What we had were two men with no grand political ambition. That was then.

Today, Jonathan is the Vice President of Nigeria; Sylva is the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State. And although both belong to the same political parry and are of the same generation, there are no records of friendship or cordiality between both men. It is even doubtful if both men had crossed path or socialized in the same circle prior to 1999. And even if they had, it is doubtful if one liked the other. We at least know today that there is mutual mistrust and suspicion between both men in spite of the spirited denials.

What’s at the center of the Power Struggle? From all indications (corroborated from nine independent sources in Abuja, Lagos, Amasomma, Port Harcourt and Yenagoa), the political future and fortune of Bayelsa State is at stake: (1) Who is the numero uno of Bayelsa politics; (2) Who determines the contestants and the outcome of the 2011 elections; and (3) Who controls the money and the political fortune of the Ijaw Nation?

Although some of these and other related questions may become moot in the event more Ijaw States are created; but for now, they matter, they mean a lot. And so, besides the personal mistrust and suspicion between Jonathan and Sylva, there are also the issues of ego and self-aggrandizements. And of course there is the issue of one person’s misperception of his opponent: each man overrates his worth and then underrates his opponent’s capacity.

As the battle rages, the major political block in the State is patiently waiting for one group to destroy the other, or to self-destruct. In the meantime, the people suffers, the State has been in a standstill for almost 90 days. No Commissioners and Advisers are in place to help shape and implement the affairs of Government. And why are there no commissioners and advisers?

According to my sources, “The Jonathan Camp is alleging that Governor Sylva has consistently failed to keep his end of the bargain vis-à-vis the spoils of the 2007/2008 electoral war; (2) that he has never been honest with the VP on this and other matters; and (3) that the Governor’s camp has been rude to and has been undermining and isolating the Vice President.”

The same sources are saying that “the Sylva Camp is insisting that (1) The Vice President been too demanding and overbearing; (2) That the Vice President been making other gratuitous demands of the Governor; and (3) just as was the case in 2007, the Vice President is trying to stuff the Cabinet with his loyal supporters, thereby leaving little room for the Governor’s supporters to benefit from the spoils of war.”

In spite of all the denials, sources and newspaper accounts make certain facts clear:

There is the tension within the State PDP; and there is a proxy war between the supporters of Jonathan and Sylva in and out of the State Assembly. The maneuvering is intense and is likely to consume both sides. Put in an uncomplicated way: Bayelsa State is in a state of flux, in a bedlam.

Beyond the Jonathan versus Sylva Cold War is the Timi Alaibe Factor. Alaibe is with the NDDC, and is perhaps the richest Bayelsan under 50 years. He is perceived to be cunning and ruthless and generous with formidable political machinery that has the wherewithal to destroy the best both Jonathan and Sylva have to offer.

Though very bright, Goodluck Jonathan is the weakest link: he may not survive the Aso Rock intrigue; do not have strong political machinery; and is not well liked by the majority of the men and women in the creeks. He is not a slugger and has no street-fighter mentality that’s needed to survive the Creeks. Still, it would be dangerous if his opponents underrate him.

Timipre Sylva may yet surprise everyone. His biggest problems are threefold (1) his alleged “demons;” (2) his over reliance on Chief Daukoru; and (3) he is said to lack charisma and foresight. Still, he doesn’t look like a man who takes slights lightly. Alamieyeseigha was a crook, yet, people knew what he stood for. Not so with Sylva.

Twelve years after Bayelsa State was created, the place has not changed that much. In fact, much of the State — in terms of its recent political and economic development — reminds one of some of the descriptions offered by G.I. Jones and Kenneth Onwuka Dike.

Outside of the State Capital, Yenagoa, the place is mostly a collection of villages and huts — devoid of modern amenities like water and sewage treatment plants, libraries and science laboratories and well-equipped schools and hospitals.

Where has all the money gone? What happened to all the billions and billions of Naira that has been allocated to the State since 1999? Today, no one can account for 70% of the money given to successive governments since 1999. And so, while the State’s heavyweights and lightweights are jostling for power and money, the State is left to rot; the majority of the populace are left to wallow in poverty, misery and hopelessness.

Written by
Sabella Ogbobode Abidde
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