The Tragedy of Bayelsa State’s Unending Electoral Cycle

by Matthew Ayibakuro

Rumbles, side-talks, murmuring, sighs and more. I was suddenly losing the attention of the civil society stakeholders I was making a presentation to on freedom of information in Edo State. In the midst of all the madness taking place in that state at the moment in the run up to the impending governorship elections, these civil society stakeholders were in a conference room creating an advocacy strategy for the enactment of a Freedom of Information Law in the state. 

But the distraction was not about that. It was in reaction to the breaking news that an Election Tribunal had nullified the governorship election that took place in Bayelsa State in November, 2019 and culminated in the dramatic inauguration of Douye Diri as governor of the state on the 14th of February 2020. The usual political reactions to this news over the last 24 hours belie the magnitude of the tragedy of this decision for the people of Bayelsa.

Let us make no mistake about this, the impact of yesterday’s decision by the tribunal will have the most devastating effects on the development prospects of Bayelsans in the short term, but also in the long term. I am deeply saddened, as should all well-meaning citizens of Bayelsa State. And the reason is simple: Bayelsa has been embroiled in an electoral cycle for over two years now, and no thanks to this decision, the state is now plunged further into this dizzying cycle of leadership uncertainty.

To put this in perspective, since mid-2018 when the primaries process commenced for the 2019 general elections, almost everything around governance in Bayelsa has revolved around the objective of winning elections, whether internally within political parties or in general polls. This two-year period – and counting, sadly – is supposed to be half the time an elected government should use in developing the state. But in Bayelsa, it has been used just for elections. This is why the befuddling celebrations and counter-celebrations have been astonishing for me.

For anyone who has the best interest of Bayelsa at heart – and as we know everyone claims they do – these are dark days; very dark days for the State. It is often said in politics that there is no victor and no vanquished after elections. Well, not in this case. In this unremitting situation, there is no doubting the fact that Bayelsa is the ultimate looser. And of course, we, its luckless inhabitants. We are all losers. Hopefully, the vanquishing is still some way off.

As a young professional living and working in Bayelsa, my passion – and that of many others like me – can be something of a poisoned chalice, especially when you see reactions to events like this on social media and on the ground. It is so easy to see how many people struggle to see the bigger picture in these situations. These are not good times: not for the PDP or APC or ANDP or anyone else, except, of course, those who selfishly but inevitably benefit from the highly monetised election processes in Nigeria. For them, Bayelsa is booming. For everyone else, well, we still struggle to have power and the most public services in our homes.

When you look at the bigger picture, what you see is the fact that, thanks to the extant election cycle, Bayelsa has had two vacant seats in the upper chamber of the National Assembly for many months now, whilst important laws are enacted, budgets are passed and revised, and of course, investigations focused on the Niger Delta region are being conducted.

When you look at the bigger picture, what you realise is the fact that, over the last two years: uncompleted projects have been commissioned for fanfare, projects that are entirely politically motivated have been initiated at the cost of billions of Naira, the state has gone through the enormous challenge of a novel global pandemic without an Executive Council, inestimable sums of money have been spent on legal processes from trial courts up to the Supreme Court – with that process set to commence again – and numerous lives lost either directly during election campaigns or indirectly, as an outcome of the unending electoral cycle in Bayelsa State.

So, if we could all take our heads out of these political black boxes and take a step back, we would realise these are not good times for Bayelsa State. I understand that politics can be a very emotional process and that people in different political parties would have an initial reaction to the feeling of losing or being victorious following a tribunal decision. But I do hope that, for the sake of our state, the dust settles quickly on these politically charged reactions, so we can meaningfully count the cost of these lost years. And, oh dear, isn’t there quite a cost to count? Lives lost, billions in debt, representations unrepresented, the ramifications of an unstable political situation on the economy, jobs lost, the impact on the education sector and literally everything else.

Unfortunately, whilst we can try to take lessons from these processes and avoid repeat mistakes – by political parties, by INEC, by Tribunals and other courts, by individuals with planetary egos – one thing we cannot get back is the time lost. And that is the ultimate tragedy of Bayelsa State’s Unending Electoral Cycle.

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