* Lulu, Diche, Ogar lead Eastern quest to return to power
By Boluwaji Obahopo
WITH Governor Yahaya Bello’s declaration, penultimate week to seek re-election, the political firmament is astir in Kogi State.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recently scheduled the governorship election for November 2, and yesterday rescheduled it for November 16.
To retain his position, Governor Bello must first of all pass the litmus test of clinching the All Progressives Congress, APC, ticket.
Currently, all divides are interested in who gets the ruling party’s ticket. Even the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP seems to be more interested in Bello not getting the ticket than who becomes its standard bearer.
Though the PDP has not categorically stated which senatorial axis will produce the governorship, its body language and political compass point to the Eastern flank.
Penultimate week, General Ahmadu Ali, retd, called for a meeting of governorship aspirants across the political divides, and 43 persons from Kogi East attended.
Kogi East’s position
Kogi East lost power the first time in 2015 following the death of the leading candidate in the election, Abubakar Audu, who was replaced by the current occupant, Yahaya Bello at the supplementary election, who went on to win and was sworn -in on January 27, 2016.
The coming of Bello, was seen by some as divine, as it unified the people of Kogi Central and West, who since the creation of the state had struggled unsuccessfully to occupy Lugard House. For the Ebira and Okun speaking people, Bello’s emergence was divine . Had the politicking in the state been left to numerical strength alone, they would never produce the governor.
Little wonder Bello’s emergence was greeted with joy in spite of the deputy governorship candidate, James Faleke, who was favoured by the former state party executive to replace Abubakar Audu. The swearing-in drew citizens from many parts of the state as hordes of people trekked from Okene to Lokoja to fill up the 25,000-capacity stadium used for the ceremony.
Three years later
However, three years after, Bello’s goodwill even among his kinsmen seems to have dwindled. Some of the people who prayed for a divine shift are at cross-roads. His critics said the governor had been overwhelmed by the task of governance, shadowed by a clique in government, such that not many from the West and Central who were united by his emergence can proudly say that his return ticket is assured.
Bello versus East
In the history of electioneering in Kogi State, except for former Governor Ibrahim Idris, who was elected back-to-back, no governor has been that lucky.
Currently, the November 16 race to occupy Lugard House, is a battle between Governor Bello and the East. The Eastern Senatorial District prides itself as controlling the majority of voters in the State. The East has 52 per cent of registered voters.
So far, Bello has been fair to all the districts in terms of distribution of political appointment and ‘stomach’ infrastructure. All the local governments had equal representatives in his cabinet. But it is a different ball game when it comes to distribution of infrastructural facilities. The East has been favoured more even better than the Central where the governor hails from. The Western senatorial district has been the worst hit as far as infrastructural presence of the government is concerned.
The governor’s kinsmen seem to be sitting akimbo and technically abandoned him if the words of their paramount ruler, HRM Ado Ibrahim is taken into contest. He averred that the governor only listens to the Igala and he wished they would return him to power.
Bello’s favourable disposition to the East is seen as part of efforts to woo the zone for his second term. Political analysts are of the opinion that such moves may end up in futility. To them, the only language the Igala-dominated East understands is political power. Had it not been divine, the zone would not have relinquished it easily.
Another credence to the Eastern theory is that Bello’s three other contestants within his party, APC, are from the East,. They are former NARSDA Director, Sheidu Ogar; former NFF President, Sani Lulu (Governor Nasir El-Rufai’s man in Kogi) and the Bassa candidate, Tim Diche.
However, Bello stands a good chance of emerging in APC. If he scales the APC hurdle, he will face other eastern candidates in the PDP, APDA or Labour Party because for now, no aspirant from the West or Central has shown interest in the race. They are all scheming for the deputy slot.
In PDP, the race seems to be among Abubakar Idris, son of the former governor of the state, Ibrahim Idris; Security expert Joe Erico and former Governor Idris Wada.
Feelers from the East show that they will be all out against the governor in the forthcoming election as many of them claim being marginalised in terms of juicy appointments.
Some said the governor’s long staff screening exercise was specifically designed to reduce the East staff strength in the civil service. They believed the Igala lost a substantial number to the exercise. The governor is also viewed to have gone ahead to paint the district in bad light, with 80 percent of people published to have acquired fake certificates as Igala, a development they decried as a huge embarrassment.
A visit to the Eastern part of the state showed that the district has remained a shadow of itself. Life is not what it used to be. Despite years of occupying the Number One seat in government, the area appears to have the highest level of poverty compared to the other zones.
The Igala’s disenchantment with the governor is a popular discourse in political gatherings. The Igala are lamenting that aside the Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja, who had remained visible, other appointees from the East are not accessible, and will be political liabilities to the governor’s quest.
Alleged arrogance of local council administrators appointed by Bello is also being cited.
Although, the Attah Igala, HRM Ameh Oboni (II) who is the chairman, Kogi Traditional Council has shown tremendous support for the governor it is arguable if such support will translate to electoral favour. It is debatable if traditional rulers from the East will provide open support to candidates, who are not from the zone.
Riddled by allegations of poor performance, the governor could have wormed his way into people’s heart through prompt payment of salaries. That would have been his best assurance to a second term.
These issues notwithstanding, the governor and his supporters are up beat on his chances. They have expressed confidence about defeating any governorship candidate fielded by opposition parties in the state even if the candidate was from Igala land.
Bello’s spokesman, Kinsley Fanwo, said those saying any Igala candidate can defeat the governor are probably still living in the past. “In Kogi of today, under the leadership of the dynamic and innovative governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the state has changed from an ethnic jingoist state to one that is closely knitted, cohesive, and ready to move forward into prosperity. It has been something that they don’t like. By this I mean the few elite who are always beating the drumbeats of ethnicity in the state. No Igala candidate can defeat the governor come November 6.”
However, the popular belief in the Eastern circle is that the Igala are set to reclaim what they felt belongs to them by virtue of their numerical strength. According to Sanusi Ibrahim, “over the years, we have been sceptical about power shift. Governor Bello has proven that power shift is aimed at injuring the East and I can assure you that this would be corrected in November.”
Bello’s sins performance
The coming on board of Yahaya Bello as governor of Kogi State was viewed by many as accidental. Though clouded in controversy, many, especially those from the Central and Western senatorial axes who are yet to taste the seat of power saw it as a blessing.
Bello at inception came with a toga of New Direction. Many political stakeholders have carpeted him on it. Former governor of old Bendel State, General Tunde Ogbeha, retd, Ogbeha said the governor’s disposition to governance was anything but new. To him, it is more of ‘’No Direction than New Direction.’’
Senator Dino Melaye during the swearing in ceremony said: “Kogi people voted for Audu, but God voted for Yahaya Bello. Many have since asked: Were the gods wise in their choice of Bello for Kogi at a time like this.’’
Another raging debate is the issue of Fulani herdsmen. Last year, obviously in trying to curry the favour of the President, the governor was quick to welcome the Fulani to the state and stood in favour of the establishment of herdsmen colony. A development that was kicked against by majority of the state citizens.
Although the song of suffering had spread wide and became a hit track in the state, the government of New Direction in the past 40 months has shown her capacity to secure lives and properties of people. The rate and incidence of kidnapping and armed robbery had gone down drastically. Kogi is now relatively secure than what it used to be. Though, political upheaval has resurfaced especially during the last general election.
Bello has repositioned the State Internal Revenue Service. He built a world class office for the outfit in less than a year in office. The IGR of the state has now jumped from its N400 million to an average of N1 billion monthly. The agency said it is targeting N3b monthly before the end of the year.
Bello has also invested in agriculture that will provide sustainable food security and jobs for the teeming jobless Kogi youths. Work is ongoing in Omi to build a world class rice mill. Kogi forests and produce are now protected by relevant laws with the intention to generate revenues and protect the environment by discouraging indiscriminate lumbering and other practices dangerous to the ecological system.
Bello’s kinsmen, monarchs endorse him for second term
However, kinsmen of the governor from Kogi Central have endorsed his second term bid to return to Lugard House.
Also, traditional institutions in Kogi West and Kogi East are also backing the governor to continue in office till 2024.
The governors kinsmen and the traditional institutions from the West gave their endorsement, Tuesday, at a separate events in Lokoja, the state capital.
Speaking on behalf of the traditional institutions, the Obaro of Kabba, Oba Solomon Owoniyi, said the governor has done a lot in his first term and there was no need to change him midstream.
He listed some of achievements of Governor in the West under four years to include the establishment of the multi bilion naira Omi Rice Processing Mills, Isanlu Water Project, ongoing expansion of Isanlu general hospital and provision of drugs for all hospitals/clinics in the area.
Spokesman of the Governor’s kinsmen, the Special Adviser to the governor on Local Government and chieftaincy affairs, Abubakar Ohere, said there were correspondences and agitations from the good people of the zone for the governor to continue for another four years to enable him consolidate on his achievements.
Reacting, Bello assured the people of the state that his second term will witness massive human capital development.
He likewise debunked relocation of multi billion naira Bio Ethanol plant in Alape area of Kogi West to Central. He said instead of the circulated falsehood of the relocation, the Okun people would house four of such plants in different part of the senatorial area.