Before contesting the Bayelsa governorship election, David Perewonrimi Lyon was literally unknown to politics. He owned a security firm and held no known government position.
But on Sunday, after a keenly fought election that local and international observers say was fraught with irregularities and violence, INEC declared the All Progressives Congress candidate governor-elect of the Niger Delta state, ending the Peoples Democratic Party’s 20-year reign.
The electoral body said Mr Lyon scored a total of 352, 552 votes to defeat the PDP candidate, Duoye Diri, who had 143, 172 votes.
He swept six of the eight local governments in the state.
“That Lyon David of APC having satisfied the requirement of the law is hereby declared winner and returned elected,” Faraday Orumwese, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Benin and the returning officer in the election, declared Monday morning in Yenagoa.
It seemed Mr Lyon was up against a greater political force than himself. Apart from being backed by incumbent governor Seriake Dickson, Mr Duoye is a serving senator who has a rooted political background. Before his election in 2019 as a senator, Mr Diri, 60, served as a member of the House of Representatives.
He was the Commissioner for Youth and Sports in the state when the former president Goodluck Jonathan, was governor.
But Mr Lyon, 49, never held or contested for any top political position until two months ago when the current junior petroleum minister and former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, influenced his nomination for the APC ticket.
As an unknown figure, Mr Lyon’s victory at the primaries expectedly triggered an internal crisis and legal battles that remained unresolved until a day before the elections.
Heineken Lokpobiri, one of the five aspirants defeated by Mr Lyon in the controversial APC primaries, disagreed with the outcome, insisting he was the party’s authentic candidate.
After the party failed to resolve the issue internally, Mr Lokpobiri, a former minister, headed to the courts, asking it to declare him the winner.
Barely 48 hours before the polls opened, the federal high court in Yenagoa, the state capital, ruled that the APC had no candidate for Saturday’s polls.
To the APC’s relief, the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt on Friday promptly set aside the November judgement of the high court and ordered the electoral commission, INEC, to allow the party’s registered candidate to contest.
It seemed the 11th-hour legal hurdles would mar APC’s chances. A wide margin of 209, 380 votes was more than enough to make all the difference in an oil-rich state political observers see as key in APC’s quest to spread into the South-South region, ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Until now, APC only had Edo in the region.
David Lyon – Defying the odds
The choice of Mr Lyon as the man to lead the charge in challenging PDP’s reign in Bayelsa did not entirely surprise some in the state.
Although not a popular figure, some knew him as a philanthropist and a good orator.
“He is very open-minded and generous,” said Goddey Niweigha, the community development chairman of Odi town and an APC supporter.
Instructively, Odi is in Kolokuma Opokuma LGA where PDP’s Mr Diri comes from. Many were surprised that APC could get more than 8, 000 votes in the LGA.
“He spends so much on paying school fees for our children, he has sent so many people abroad. Those that lost their jobs, he gave them money to start a new life,” Mr Niweigha said.
The party supporter said Mr Lyon is loved because he believes in investing in human lives.
“He has a security company which has employed more than a thousand Bayelsa indigenes,” he said.
Mr Lyon is the CEO of Darlon Security and Guard, a private security firm in Bayelsa State. He was born into the Olodiana clan of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of the state.
Protest vote against PDP?
Some analysts believe the APC’s victory was more than anything else, a protest vote against the PDP and Governor Dickson’s long but hardly helpful governments.
Mr Niweigha described the administration of the outgoing governor as sectional, saying Mr Dickson only cares about people in his circle.
He said under Mr Dickson, those not connected to power are likely to “die of frustration” if they survive rampant violence.
“Two years ago, he dismissed so many workers and this caused so much deaths in the state,” he said.
“He cuts people’s salaries. Those in level 14, he pays them level 9 salary. He only pays gratuity to those close to him.”
The APC governor-elect also benefitted from the rift within the PDP fold. It did not come as a surprise that he won in ex-president Jonathan’s Ogbia Local Government Area.
The ex-president who is also a former governor of the state is believed to have withheld support for his party, PDP, over a disagreement with Governor Dickson, who ensured Mr Diri was sponsored as the party’s candidate at the expense of Timi Alaibe, reportedly backed by Mr Jonathan.
The stunning turn of events that heralded Mr Lyon’s victory has now presented the governor-elect a unique challenge of changing the landscape of the riverine state, largely blessed with oil and mineral resources but plagued by poverty.