Southern Ijaw Local Government Area (SILGA) is the largest Local Council in Bayelsa State in terms of size and arguably competes with Yenagoa Local Government (the host of the State capital city) in number of registered voters in the State.
Bayelsa State is the only homogenous Ijaw State in Nigeria which was created in 1996 by Nigeria’s late military Head of State General Sani Abacha after many years of agitations from the Ijaw ethnic nation for a State of their own within the Nigerian State. Thus, in the spirit of Ijaw brotherhood, the Founding Fathers of the State instituted a clear intent to entrench fair, equitable and inclusive political participation through zoning and rotating the position of Governor of Bayelsa State among the three Senatorial Districts that make up the state, namely: Bayelsa East (consisting of Brass, Nembe and Ogbia Local Government Areas), Bayelsa Central (consisting of Kolokuma Opokuma, Yenagoa and Southern Ijaw Local Government Areas) and lastly Bayelsa West, which has Ekeremor and Sagbama Local Government Areas.
Thus far, from 1999, when the state got its first set of elected leaders till date, the beneficiaries of this gentleman agreement instituted by the Founding Fathers in the office of Governor spread as follows:
(1) The Late Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha who hailed from Amassoma, in Southern Ijaw Constituency 1, Ward 10, spent six and half years in office.
(2) Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan,GCFR, who hails from Otuoke Constituency 1 Ward 13; spent one and half years in office.
(3) Chief Timipre Marlyn Sylva who hails from Okpoama- Brass Constituency 1, Ward 4; spent five years in Creek Haven;
(4) The Honorable Henry Seriake Dickson who hails from Toru-orua, Sagbama Constituency 1, Ward 2; spent eight years in office. And now Senator Douye Diri of Sampou in Kolokuma-Opokuma Constituency 1, is the present Governor.
Similarly, the norm of zoning and rotating the position of Senator through local government areas also exists in the State across the three Senatorial Districts.
Below is the statistics of how this principle has been operationalized in deciding who represents the Bayelsa East Senatorial District at the Red Chamber of the National Assembly:
1. The Late Chief Melford Obiene Okilo from Emakalakala in Ogbia LGA was the pioneer Senator of the District from 1999 – 2003.
2. Senator Inatimi Rufus-Spiff from Twon-Brass in Brass LGA succeeded Okilo and served from 2003 to 2007.
3. Next was Senator Nimi Barigha Amange from Ogbolomanbiri in Nembe LGA who held sway from 2007 to 2011.
4.Senator Clever Ikisikpo, from Kolo town in Ogbia Local Government Area replaced Amange and served from 2011 to 2015.
5. Next came Senator Ben Murray-Bruce from Akassa in Brass Local Government Area who was at the red chamber from 2015 to 2019.
6. Presently, the District is represented by Senator Biobarakuma Degi Wangagha from Bassambiri in Nembe Local Government Area who took office in 2019.
What the foregoing shows is that outside the religious adherence to the rotational formula, each of the Senators have only served one term. Now let’s turn our attention to the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District that promises to be the most intriguing in the upcoming bye elections to fill the vacancies in the Senate created by the election of Senator Douye Diri and his Deputy.
The following is statistics for Bayelsa Central.
1. From 1999 to 2007 the late Senator David Kobinna Birigidi from Kanyabiri in Southern Ijaw represented the District.
2. He was replaced by Senator Emmanuel Paulker of Opolo in Yenagoa Local Government, who served three consecutive terms from 2007 to 2019; making him the longest serving senator from the district.
3. Finally, Senator Douye Diri of Sampou town in Kolokuma-Opokuma LGA replaced Paulker in 2019 and held sway until February 14,2020 when he was sworn in as the Governor of Bayelsa State. This leaves us with Bayelsa West which we shall now turn to.
Below is a breakdown of those who have occupied the post of Senator representing the Bayelsa West Senatorial District from 1999.
1. Senator Emmanuel W T Diffa from Adagbabiri in Sagbama LGA was the pioneer Senator of the District and served from 1999 to 2003.
2. He was replaced by another Sagbama indigene, Senator John Kodjo Brambaifa from Agbere who served from 2003 to 2007.
3. The position was then moved to Ekeremor LGA and occupied by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri from Ekeremor main town, who served two terms from 2007 to 2015.
4. Next was Senator Forster Ogola from Sagbama town in Sagbama LGA was served a single term from 2015 to 2019.
5. Senator Lawrence Ewrhudjiakpo from Ofoni in Sagbama took over in 2019 and served until February 2020 when he became the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State.
What the foregoing shows is that the zoning formula has been a key part of the political journey of the State.
Moreso, in anticipation of by-election to fill vacancies created by the ascension of Senators Diri and Ewrhudjiakpo, it is obvious there wouldn’t be much debate as to where the pendulum would swing to in the Bayelsa West Senatorial District in terms of the zoning formula and the outcome of the election. One can comfortably predict who would carry the day in the Bayelsa West Senatorial race. However, the same cannot be said of that of Bayelsa Central.
Bookmakers have their eyes fixed on the Bayelsa Central Senatorial District race where there exists potent political dynamics, strategic interests for future electoral successes and brinkmanship of the ruling versus opposition parties to warrant throwing up critical considerations as well as permutations that may alter the zoning arrangement in favour of Southern Ijaw rather than the Kolga where Diri is from.
In order to ensure fairplay, political stability, equity and inclusiveness, it is always better to rotate these elective offices amongst the participating local governments. In the case of Bayelsa central, it will appear that SILGA is ripe to produce a candidate especially if they can produce a very strong candidate that can represent not only the senatorial district but the whole state and by extension the Ijaw nation very well in the senate. This is what all senators are supposed to do in any case.
Therefore, political watchers may anticipate some horse trading, compromises, bombshells, upsets, realignment of forces, etc.
Even Covid-19 has done its bit to upstage certain factors and calculations of incumbency factors. However, what are the cerebral arguments canvassed on issues of sub and/or micro zoning will be interesting to the voters and political parties.