Governor Yaya Bello of Kogi State
  • Factors that will decide the winner

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress, APC, will in November 16, Kogi gubernatorial election slug it out with a handful of other contenders from other parties in the race to the Lugard House. Prominent among his opponents is Musa Wada who is flying the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) flag.

BusinessHallmark investigations in Lokoja have thrown up some variables that will determine the election, and who eventually wins the keenly contested race, especially between the two leading contenders – Wada and Bello.

There is a high level of tension, anxiety and uncertainty in the state over the election, the prevailing mood denotes a desire for a change, going by this newspaper’s extensive interaction with indigenes, majority of who do not want to appear in print because of fear of victimisation over their political leaning.

Nevertheless, Kogi is decidedly on the march again. An election to decide who governs her for the next four years is just by the corner on 16 November. Various political parties are gearing up for a fight ,but nearly all of them confided in this newspaper that the election is not going to be free and fair as allegations of imported thugs from neighbouring state of Edo are rife, as one party accuses the other of being responsible. There is also allegation of what most people say is police bias, though in a briefing with newsmen the police have professed neutrality in the coming election.

With incumbent Yahaya Bello firmly in custody of his party, the All Progressives Congress, (APC) ticket, the choice before the people appears like a simple one. The election should be more of a referendum on the rejection of much vilified Bello. But the task is not that simple to accomplish. The people are being presented with multiple choices.

A crowded field of candidates

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), moderator of the exercise fixed 5 September as terminal date for the conduct of primaries or nomination of candidates by political parties. The time table also set Monday, 9 September as deadline for the submission of names of candidates by parties.

Out of the 93 political parties in the country, about a score have shown interest in the contest by conducting congresses to nominate their respective standard bearers. While some of the primary elections witnessed state of the art manipulations and chicanery, most have passed without notice.

The candidates and their parties include incumbent Yahaya Bello of the APC, Barrister Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party, who was disqualified earlier but on November 7, a Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the National Electoral Commission to field her for the election (SDP), Engr. Abdulmalik Adama of Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Sheik Jibril of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Engr. Emmanuel Olorunmowaju Orugun of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP).

Others are Mohammed Abdullahi of Accord Party (AP), Abdulrazzaq Baba Emeje of United Democratic Party, (UDP), Engr. Musa Wada of the People Democratic Party (PDP) and Muhammed Zakari of Young Democratic Party (YDP). Musa Leslie Lasisi will hold the banner of National Action Council (NAC), while Jimoh Ahmodu will hold the one for Mass Action Joint Alliance (MAJA).

Most candidates are from the East Senatorial Zone of the state, underscoring the agitation for return of power to the area. From this obviously crowded basket of candidates Kogi people will choose their next governor.

A two-horse race

Only two of them are however, likely to count as strong. They are the incumbent Bello of the APC and Wada of the PDP. In fact, keen observers of the unfolding Kogi political theatre have narrowed the contest to a two-horse race between the behemoth political parties- APC and PDP.

SDP’s Natasha is positioning herself as a third Force in the race to Lugard House, and she is becoming more influential and widely accepted especially on account of her travails. Her victory on Thursday was celebrated across Ibira land, her strongholds and in many parts of the state.

Incidentally, all the parties in contention have interesting stories of intrigues, Machiavellian tactics and a return to naked wrist instead of wit in the quest for power. The primary elections of the parties have been characterised by grotesquery, ridicules and absurdity. Check the facts:

 

APC ticket/Yahaya Bello

The APC conducted a controversial primary election on Thursday, 29 August at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja, the State capital. Some 16 aspirants had obtained the party’s nomination and expression of interest forms at N24million each. The previous Thursday 22, all the aspirants appeared before a Screening Committee headed by Sen. Hope Uzodinma.

The screening result was delayed till Monday when only four aspirants including the governor were cleared for the primary. The un-cleared bunch of 12 aspirants cried blue murder. The following day, an Appeal Panel listened to their petitions and cleared four more aspirants.

The un-cleared lot included Admiral Usman Jibrin, Prof. Seidu Ogah, Mohammed Audu, Mustapha Audu and Babatunde Irukera, a lawyer and appointee of the presidency, who eventually secured late clearance about 12 hours to voting time.

The party adopted indirect primary against popular expectation. The election held amidst tight security with delegates dressed in cheap Ankara uniform as a mark of loyalty to the governor. Of course, the governor was elected almost unopposed having about 90 per cent of the votes.

Governor Yahaya Bello

Bello, in about his mid forties is the youngest governor in the country. The graduate of accounting from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria was a staff of Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. He left the commission after a brief stint and started running his transport business, Fair Plus; full time.

His bid to govern the State in 2015 met a temporary setback in the primary until Audu’s death. He is seeking a second and final term. Though widely rejected in the state on account of alleged lack of performance, he no doubt enjoys the backing of the federal government, being very close to President Buhari.

Political pundits in the state say he will win because of official backing, the alleged compromise of influential traditional rulers and politicians using money. In a free and fair election, it will be difficult for Bello to return going by high level of bitterness against him by civil servants and ordinary citizens who form the bulk of those that will vote.

PDP ticket/ Musa Wada

In PDP, 13 members bought the nomination and expression of interest form at N24.5m each. To make the selection process less rancorous, the party on Monday, 19 August screened and gave all 13 aspirants clean bill of health to participate in its primaries that took place on 3 September. The Screening Committee was chaired by Governor Darius Ishaku of Taraba State.

The PDP Primary Election was a different ball game. About 3,400 delegates participated in the exercise in which voting had been orderly and concluded at the Confluence Stadium. However, at about 1:45am, more than half way into sorting and counting of ballots, unknown gunmen stormed the venue shooting sporadically and dispersing the participants. In the pandemonium, one person died while several others sustained injuries and the electoral process became a big victim.

Governor Ahmed Fintiri of Adamawa State, Chairman of the Electoral Committee who escaped unhurt, convened a meeting of all aspirants the following morning at a Government Lodge where he completed the process, returning Engr. Wada as party candidate. Other aspirants notably Abubakar Ibrahim runner up in the election and Sen. Dino Melaiye who came a distant fourth, kicked and threatened to challenge its outcome.

Wada, an engineer and younger brother of former governor and co-contestant Captain Idris Wada hails from Odu Ogboyaga in Dekina Local Government of Kogi East. He is son-in-law to former governor Ibrahim Idris, whose son, Abubakar was also a fellow contestant for the PDP ticket. The PhD holder is a retired director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).

Determinant factors/ chances of the candidates

A major factor that will bear significant impact on the 16 Nov. governorship election is how the dominant parties managed their post primary crisis. The rancorous exercise had left big cracks on the fragile walls of the parties. The gall that defined the campaigns for the party ticket, have broken the big parties along narrow cleavages. Both parties are not unaware of this.

After what appeared like an initial unconcern and dilly dally, the APC and Governor Bello ate the humble pie. The party called a reconciliatory meeting between all aspirants (both cleared and uncleared) and the Governor. Admiral Jibrin did not attend the meeting. At the end of the parley, National Chairman Adams Oshiomhole announced that the aspirants had agreed to pocket their grievances and work for Bello’s re-election in the interest of the party.

In a related development the PDP at both state and national levels is said to be trouble shooting on how to reconcile all aspirants and stakeholders to make them queue behind the party ticket in the crucial Governorship election. Those who should know confirm the behind the stage moves for reconciliation.

The party’s candidate in a statement admitted that much. He said: “It is normal that in every contest, a winner must emerge; but in this case, nobody is a winner because as far as I am concerned, we all won. It is a collective victory. All of us who participated in the primaries are all aware of the challenges the people of Kogi State are facing, a horrible experience occasioned by the unresponsive leadership, maladministration and lack of direction of the incumbent governor.

“I am only elected and put forward to spearhead the battle to oust the unresponsive APC-led government of Yahaya Bello in Kogi State. It is a task that requires holistic effort to get done; a collective responsibility of all of my co-contestants.”

That is like stating the obvious. Without any doubts, Governor Bello is a formidable foe. One major advantage he has is incumbency factor. The term is loosely used to cover sometimes the illegal deployment of influence and state resources to promote selfish agenda. Although the governor ascended the throne by an accident of fate, he has done all to entrench his hold on power.

Bello became governor after inheriting the votes of Prince Abubakar Audu who died before his victory was announced by INEC during the last 2015 Kogi Governorship election. As at the time he mounted the saddle, the PDP was the dominant party controlling about 70 percent of elective and appointive political offices in the state. That was then.

The statistics has since changed, courtesy of Bello’s ruthless style and savvy. During the last general election, the APC rode roughshod to snatch victory at the polls. Today, all 12 National Assembly members but two are APC members. All 25 House of Assembly members are also from the party. The 21 Local Governments are manned by Bello’s appointees.

So, from less than 30 percent presence, Bello has forcefully moved the APC to nearly 100 percent control in the state. With such ‘sterling performance’ pundits opine that the APC is the party to beat in the election.

In a recent interview Bello exuded his traditional confidence in his victory.

“Well, we have performed so wonderfully that the people of Kogi state are eager that 16 November should come and let them speak with their votes and I know they will speak very well and re-elect me, the APC and we shall become victorious.” He added that “If not because they are not politicians, labour leaders would have taken the fore front to campaign for my re-election.”

That is as far as confidence can go. But, the election will also be determined by issues and people. One issue that will shape the pattern of voting is staff welfare, where Bello’s performance is generally rated low. Until very recently, payment of workers’ salaries and pensions were observed in the negative.

Although many civil servants have received their salaries up to date, courtesy of the release of bailout funds by the Federal Government, majority are still wallowing under the burden of unpaid wages. While some are owed just about eight months, there are others who have not been paid at all since Bello became governor nearly four years ago.

In addition, more than 100 lecturers at Kogi State University who were summarily sacked for going on strike by Bello are in their quarters not praying for him!

“The Bible says affliction will not arise a second time. Bello’s government has been an affliction, many people believe. My God will not allow Bello to win. We have suffered much under this government,” Pa. Molade, a retiree told this Business Hallmark.

The twin issues of infrastructure development and good governance will also dictate how people vote in the coming poll. Unfortunately, the Bello administration has little to show in this direction. Aside the Revenue House -a beautiful edifice which accommodates the State Revenue Service, renovation of Government House and some street lights, the administration has little to advertise as dividends of democracy.

These are issues that have dominated the campaigns of his enemies, and in many of APC campaigns, it is laughter and derision galore. But there is fear in the state, and many may not show up at the polling booths, especially if they are not APC sympathisers because of alleged importation of thugs to “teach” those who don’t want Bello well at the polls a lesson.

Another smothering factor that may compel the pattern of voting is agitation for power shift and ethnic considerations. Bello, an Ebira minority from Okene in the Central Senatorial Zone is the chief beneficiary of impromptu power rotation imposed by the uncommon circumstance of a candidate’s sudden demise.

As most Kogi electorate vote along ethnic lines, the Ebira are almost certainly going to vote for their son to remain in Lugard House, while Igala are tipped to vote any of their more than ten children in the race.

Since power slipped from the dominant Igala following the death of Audu, the ethnic group has been mourning the loss. In the rush to reclaim power, heirs of established political families in the zone have shown more than casual interest in the current race to Lugard House, a development critics described as ‘dynasty politics’.

For instance, two sons of Late Audu, Mohammed and Mustapha and their uncle, Yahaya unsuccessfully vied for the APC ticket, while Abubakar, son of former governor Ibrahim Idris also sought to be PDP’s standard bearer.

Incidentally, Wada is also viewed by many as a dynasty politician, because of ties with Capt. Idris Wada and Alhaji. Ibrahim Idris. The ability of the PDP candidate to play the ethnic card and present himself as a fresh option from the challenges of the recent past may go a long way to determine his success at the poll. His Igala kinsmen may not hesitate to cast their votes for him, giving him invaluable numerical advantage over the incumbent.

Since each of the two senatorial zones may chorus ‘to your tent oh Israel’, they will both invade Kogi West for the winning votes. Both parties are popular in the area.

The SDP candidate, Natasha Akpoti has been engaged in commendable activities across the state. The lawyer and social activist is a half caste. Her late father was a medical doctor from Okene in Kogi Central, while her mother is Russian. Natasha is extremely popular in the Central and her bid to represent the zone in the Senate during the last election was only allegedly derailed by Bello’s rough tackles. The matter has been settled in her favour by Federal High Court Abuja.

Her gubernatorial ambition is making waves across the state and she is a candidate to watch as November 16 draws near. The majority of voters sampled say they will cast their ballots for change, what that means will be determined on November 16, they also fear that their votes may not count going by what they alleged to be hindrance: the high number of political thugs ready to arm twist the people on the day-16.

 

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