The deal behind Timipre Sylva’s support for oil minister Heineken Lokpobiri

The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources’ appointment was not a foregone conclusion. He was given a significant push by his predecessor, Timipre Sylva, whom he owes a favour in return now.

Meetings between the Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Heineken Lokpobiri, and his mentor and predecessor Timipre Sylva, have gathered pace over the last few weeks. The latest talks between them, which took place at Sylva’s house in the capital of Bayelsa State, Yenagoa, provides the most recent demonstration of the men’s shared interest in this highly strategic area.

The state of Bayelsa in the Niger Delta region is home to most of the country’s oil and gas resources, along with Delta and Rivers. It is also home to the Ijaws ethnic group, which former president Goodluck Jonathan belongs to. The ex-leader briefly served as governor of the state between 2005 and 2007 before Sylva took over until 2012.


A win-win situation

Despite the good relationship shared by both men, Lokpobiri had to negotiate skillfully to get his ministerial appointment and a deal was struck behind the scenes. The outgoing governor of Rivers State and powerful new Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for Abuja, Nyesom Wike, helped Lokpobiri convince President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Sylva to pick Lokpobiri. In exchange, Lokpobiri was asked to back Sylva who is running for reelection in the upcoming gubernatorial election on 11 November under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket.

Lokpobiri has pledged to win a majority of votes in Ekeromo, one of the eight local government areas (LGA) in Bayelsa State, and he has a significant asset to help him. In July, Heineken’s younger brother Jonathan Lokpobiri was appointed leader of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), a historic Ijaw lobby group that is key to winning elections in Bayelsa State and on whose network of highly organised young activists Sylva fully intends to draw.

A deputy governor in the way

But an obstacle threatens to get in the way of Sylva’s victory in Ekeromon, the historic home of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP): Joshua Macaiva, the candidate running for deputy governor on the APC ticket. Macaiva is a former leader of the militant organisation Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). MEND waged a bloody battle against the state and oil corporations in the oil-rich region between 2006 and 2009 before President Umaru Yar’Adua offered an amnesty to 30,000 of its militants. But the upheavals experienced in the delta during that time, which saw oil and gas infrastructures vandalised daily, are still vivid in the minds of its inhabitants.

Macaiva was not Sylva’s first choice, but he was imposed by MEND leader Government Ekpemupolo, known as Tompolo. Tompolo struck a deal: in exchange for funding Sylva’s campaign in Bayelsa, Sylva would have to rope in his former comrade in arms Macaiva who would then become deputy governor if he won.

A political protégé of Sylva’s, Israel Sunny Goli now also threatens to get in his way. Sylva first appointed him youth assistant during his first term as governor, then backed him when he joined the local assembly of Brass in Bayelsa and then as an MP until May. However, Israel Sunny Goli is furious at once again being deprived of the deputy governor’s seat and has recently voiced his resentment by criticising Sylva on all Bayelsa state radio channels.

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