Troops and police have been deployed in President Goodluck Jonathan’s home state in the oil-rich Niger Delta to boost security amid an escalating row over the incumbent governor’s exclusion from a re-election run.
Armed police manned dozens of checkpoints around Bayelsa’s state capital Yenagoa on Thursday and armoured personnel carriers have been driven into the region, witnesses said.
“The security situation is because we don’t want to take any chances and we have position our men around for stop and search due to the political atmosphere in the state,” state police spokesman, Eguavoen Emokpea, told Reuters.
Bayelsa has hundreds of km (miles) of oil pipelines and other industry infrastructure crucial to Africa’s largest crude exporter. Violence in the delta’s vast swamps and waterways has in the past cut oil output, moving global prices.
The political row began last week when the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) listed sitting governor Timipre Sylva as one of four people who failed to get through a screening process to stand in a leadership primary due to be held on Saturday.
They gave no reason for his exclusion. One Western diplomat said Sylva may have “become unpopular with someone right at the very top of the party”. A lot is at stake.
“The Bayelsa PDP row over cleared candidates for the PDP primaries has led to an escalation of tension in the delta region and could usher in a new bout of violence that could affect oil production if it is not handled properly,” said Kayode Akindele, partner at Lagos-based investment group 46 Parallels.
“The key variable is if ex-militants previously loyal to the interested parties decide to enter the fray. The president will want to show he has control of his home state for political and personal reasons,” Akindele added.
State governors are among the most powerful politicians in Nigeria, wielding influence over national policy and in some cases controlling budgets larger than small African nations.
The PDP is dominant in southern states and the incumbent governor is usually the firm favourite to win re-election.
The party gave no reason for Sylva’s exclusion but it is the first time an incumbent governor has been disqualified from running for re-election under the PDP ticket.
Sylva’s team took the matter to a high court in the capital Abuja and won an injunction to stop the primary but the PDP said in a statement on Thursday that it had not received any order from the high court.
The bailiff at the court told Reuters they had tried and failed to serve the PDP secretariat on Wednesday but pasted the ruling on the gate of the party office.
The court notice said it was restraining the PDP from conducting the primary, requesting that the party chairman “shall, within 72 hours of being served with the said motion on notice, show cause why the plaintiff (Timipre Sylva) shall not be entitled (to run in the primary).”
Africa’s most populous nation held nationwide elections in April that international observers and many Nigerians said were the fairest since the end of military rule in 1999.
But they were also some of the bloodiest, with hundreds killed in post-election violence, mostly in the largely-Muslim north where the main losing candidate had strong support.
Five state governorship votes, including in Bayelsa, were delayed until 2012 because the incumbents had another year left on their tenure.