By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
It is clear and beyond doubt that the evolving components of the Nigerian constitution have always sought to legally prevent identities such as ethnicity, religion, and regionalism from becoming the basis of political organisation and a contest for state power.
Contrarily, ethnic-identity politics of Kogi state, proved to be quite resilient, igniting incessant ethnic-factionalism and tensions for the past two decades. Nevertheless, ethno-identity politics and pressures are not unique to Kogi state, but a culture that is inherent in Nigerian body politics.
However, it is clear that the current governor of the ‘confluence’ state, Yahaya Bello, who is gearing up surreptitiously for presidential race come 2023 has, by his re-election, been able to destroy the politics of ethnicity, and reduced its potency to the barest minimum in the state.
Kogi state was created in 1991 from patches of Kwara state and Benue state. The state is made up of 21 local government areas with three senators representing the state since the return of democracy in 1999. The core languages spoken are Ebira, Igala, Nupe and Yoruba.
The current governor, Yahaya Bello, comes from Ebira tribe, who was declared the winner of the 2015 elections after he was chosen on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, replacing Abubakar Audu, a leading contestant from Igala tribe in the same elections, who passed away prior to the conclusion of the polls.
Professor Mathew Adesoji, a political scientist told BusinessHallmark that “The ethnic identities in Kogi state have always had a very strong divisive influence between the three ethnic groups: Igala, Ebira, and Okun. He said that the Igala have always dominated the political space counting on their numerical strength to the chagrin of the Ebira and Okun.
Before the creation of the Kogi State, Okun Yoruba populations lived in Kwara state alongside some of the Ekiti and Igbomina neighbours. Their perceived marginalisation in Kogi state has made them to call for a state of their own and, proposed that it is made part of the south-western geopolitical part of Nigeria.
Since 1991 and the partial lifting of partisan political activities by the military juntas, the Kogi political scene was flooded with political moguls representing the three major ethnic groups in the state driven by mutual fear of domination and marginalisation of one zone over the other.
Some of the main and early actors though they have fizzled out included: late Dr. Stephen Achema, Prince Abubakar Audu and others for the Igala Kogi East; Samuel Olorunfemi, Shola Akanmode and others for Okunland in Kogi West; late Chief A. T. Ahmed, Moses Okino and others for Ebira Kogi Central.
“Kogi political elites who developed within the contours of their senatorial zone sought to maintain their privileged domain by magnifying ethnic artifice to gain access to the Lugard House”, Dr. Lanre Olufeagba, a sociologist at Brigham University said in a telephone chat with BusinessHallmark.
Continuing Olufeagba said “Given the political notion of democracy, and with the three dominant ethnic groups in place, it could be argued that the broad political issue in Kogi state is control of political power and its instruments.
“For this reason, within a short post-military political life in 1998/99, politics in Kogi state was riddled with a cry of marginalisation. The crucial argument is that ethnic identity politics in Kogi was nurtured by the military during the historical restructuring of Nigeria, leading to the creation of Kogi state in 1991, which was triggered by winner-takes-it-all political culture in Nigeria.
“The state had also experienced the factional struggle for power between the leading political elites of the three dominant ethnic groups. Consequently, marginalisation resurged as it pursued people to reconsider political participation and reassert their ethnic identity in the state.
Fehintola Dada, a former chairman of Kabba/Bunnu Local Government Area informed this newspaper that the current governor, Bello was able to dismantle the ethnic identity politics through the inclusiveness that cut across the three senatorial zones in his first term in office.
“He brought smart and brilliant people on board from the three senatorial areas, look at the deputy governor now, Onoja who is of Igala stock, he was his chief of staff in Bello’s first term. These people sent home and mobilised for him. Bello also won over traditional rulers from the three senatorial areas”, Dada stated.
This newspaper learnt that the ability to win over traditional rulers from the three senatorial areas, and poaching into his ranks influential youth leaders from the three senatorial districts ensured his defeat of ethnic politics and his smooth ride to second term. The influence of money was also fingered in his ability to rein in identity politics to barest minimum.
An influential member of his cabinet from Ebira confided in this newspaper that the governor deployed money to “bribe” political influencers in the state. A mark of his success in defeating politics of ethnicity is the consensus from all members of the state assembly asking the governor to run for president come 2023.
Just less than one year into his second tenure as governor of Kogi State, members of the Kogi State House of Assembly has called on Yahaya Bello to gun for the presidency. The 25-member house made the unanimous call at plenary three weeks ago in Lokoja.
The assembly asked the governor to throw his hat in the ring. The House in its plenary described Bello as fit for the office in view of his outstanding performances as governor and in view of the fact that the North Central Zone has also not had the opportunity to be President. They therefore urged him to seek a higher office in 2023.
The House in a unanimous motion further urged that the office of the nation’s presidency or vice be zoned to the North Central Zone of Nigeria. In a motion moved by the Majority Leader, Hon. Abdullahi Bello and supported by all members, the House said the North Central Zone has not had a shot at the presidency and described Gov. Bello as a right peg in a right hole to lead the nation.
Bello was elected for a second term in a controversial Governorship poll on Nov. 16th, 2019. He took his second oath of office on January 27th. In the last three months or so there have been tremendous agitations over a shrouded presidential ambition.
In fact some months after his second inauguration his posters for the 2023 presidential election appeared in Lokoja. Although it was debunked, the State has not known any dull moment since then.