As the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released guidelines for the November 2019 governorship election in Kogi State, public focus has shifted from the February and March polls. Judging from the past, governorship elections in Kogi have always proved to be a different ball game, the victories recorded by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last elections notwithstanding.
For instance, in 2015, despite that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won majority seats in the state Assembly, that did not save the ruling party from defeat in the governorship election held eight months later in November.
Aside this, the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello will be up against history. To begin with, no non-Igala has ever won Kogi gubernatorial election since creation of the state in 1991. In terms of population, the Igala-dominated Kogi East Senatorial District is reputed to account for more than half of the state’s population.
So, that Bello, an Ebira from Kogi Central is governor was by accident, occasioned by Abubakar Audu’s death.Below is a window into the ruling APC’s standing and the main opposition party in the state, as well as factors likely to influence the November governorship election between the two leading parties.
The Audu/Faleke/GYB Rivalry Renewal
The war of attrition between the Abubakar Audu/James Faleke and Governor Yahaya Bello factions, occasioned by the internal crisis, which erupted after APC’s electoral victory in 2015 electoral victory may still be haunting the ruling party.Presently, the factional state chairman, Haddy Ametuo and other members of the state executive committee allegedly sacked by Governor Bello and replaced with loyalists in the run up to the 2019 elections are in court demanding recognition of their own list of executives, following the parallel congresses held at the ward, local and state levels in 2018.
The case before an Abuja Federal High Court has been adjourned till June 3, 2019. Pending the court ruling, concerned APC members in the state have expressed fears that in the event Ametuo’s prayers are granted, the development portends dire consequences for the ruling party’s recent victory at the polls. They cited the fate that befell APC in Rivers, Zamfara and Delta States, where court rulings on similar cases affected the party’s fortunes.
However, Ametuo dispelled such fears, saying Kogi’s case is slightly different from those other states, in that it is not a pre-election matter. This notwithstanding, a victory for the Ametuo-led executives will certainly return the party machinery to the Audu/Faleke group.Speculations are rife that APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and national party leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu may back the Audu/Faleke camp, should they push for an alternative candidate to Bello, who is said not be in Tinubu and Oshiomhole’s good books.
The genesis of the crisis is traceable to the death of Prince Abubakar Audu, the APC governorship candidate in the 2015 election. Audu’s passage, however, occurred before INEC announced results, declaring the election inconclusive.
INEC’s position effectively put paid to wide expectations that Faleke, Audu’s running mate would be declared governor-elect, since he ran on a joint-ticket with Audu. But powerful forces had bypassed Faleke and allegedly pushed for Bello, runner-up at the APC governorship primaries, as replacement candidate.
The long, tedious road to justice was eventually settled at the apex court, which ruled in Bello’s favour. But the crisis did not end there. Faleke rejected the offer to become Bello’s deputy. Alongside his political godfather, Tinubu and others, Faleke also stayed away from Bello’s inauguration. Several reconciliatory panels set up at the instance of APC national leadership did not achieve their aims.
So, while Bello has been in control of government, Faleke has held on to the party’s soul, until last year’s parallel congresses. Eventually,Bello, backed by erstwhile APC national chairman, John Oyegun had his way with the inauguration of the factional executives loyal to him.
Although, Faleke had returned to Lagos State, where he was elected a third time as member of House of Representatives, his name has again resonated in the forthcoming governorship election in Kogi, though he debunked the rumour.
Last week, he said: “In the past few days, I have received phone calls from various people from Kogi State, particularly from our brothers and sisters from the Eastern senatorial district on a purported meeting with my leaders towards coming to Kogi to contest for the governorship election slated for November 2019. I wish to say clearly that I was not in such a meeting.
“I have just been reelected by the loving people of Ikeja Federal Constituency to represent them for a record third term. I understand what Kogi people are going through now, but let us continue to pray for God’s intervention…”
Also mentioned in the mill of speculations as possible hopefuls to slug it out with Bello are son of the late Audu, Muhammed Audu, Senator-elect, Kogi East Senatorial District, Jibrin Isa Echocho and Director-General, Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Babatunde Irukera. It was not immediately known who the Audu/Faleke group would sponsor to challenge Bello, but what is making the rounds are pointers to renewal of the old rivalry.
The Guardian gathered that the Audu/Faleke camp is poised to challenge the incumbent for the APC gubernatorial ticket. From Bello’s camp have come strong words dismissing all the threats to Bello’s candidature as empty.This means a return to the trenches by the two opposing factions after the protracted legal battles over ownership of the 2015 governorship mandate between Bello and Faleke. This time, all things being equal, the battlefields will be the primary starting from August 2, 2019.
“No Vacancy In Lugard House”
Aside divisions that broke APC into two irreconcilable factions, Yahaya Bello’s government would also go down as he most unpopular in the state’s history. It had come under public opprobrium and severe media criticism as an administration with uncommon disdain for civil servants, one that loved to owe workers salaries and without any tangible performance in infrastructural development, despite the huge resources at its disposal.
Despite all that, the APC was able to declare itself victorious, thus announcing the “No Vacancy” slogan. This means it would take a lot of work for PDP to upturn the table against APC in the governorship holding in November. Buoyed by the victory, a group loyal to Bello, “Operation No Vacancy in Lugard House”, boasted that the November governorship election would be a mere formality. According to the group’s coordinator, Anthony Ogah, APC’s performance in the last election is a referendum on how well Bello has piloted Kogi’s affairs in three years.
‘Elections, A Farce, Misnomer’
But the PDP has stated that no real elections held in Kogi, especially on March 9. The Deputy State Chairman of PDP, Sam Ranti Abenemi, while rejecting the entire state House of Assembly election results as announced by INEC, noted that democracy may have been “murdered” in Kogi State.He said: “The performance credited to APC was a misnomer. Kogi people could not have turned up in large numbers to vote and reward politicians that have performed abysmally with another tenure.
The PDP ascribed the ruling party’s electoral victories to state sponsored militarisation and unprecedented electoral malpractices.“Without over stating the fact, we presently have the worst government in Nigeria, where workers’ salaries are not paid for many months. The Judiciary has been on strike for almost five months. Our people’s determination to end bad governance, which could only come by voting out APC and elect credible representatives, as witnessed on February 23 and March 9, 2019 was crystal clear, resolute, strong and unwavering.
“But all these were subverted by the APC-led administration in the state, wherein administrators, government officials, political thugs went berserk, and in Rambo style, killed, intimidated, caused violence, hijacked ballot boxes, and outrightly wrote results…”
Options Before The PDP
Aside contention that APC’s victories were stage-managed and not a true reflection of the electorate’s wishes, PDP members are basking in the fact that governorship elections in the state are unpredictable. They pointed to 2015, when the then ruling PDP won two thirds of the state House of Assembly seats, but lost the governorship.
One of the options available to PDP is to field an Igala candidate, especially when Bello, an Ebira beat the odd to pick APC ticket. Ethnicity is a strong factor in Kogi governorship election. Fielding a candidate from the majority Kogi East Senatorial District will be a huge advantage to PDP, which is also comfortable in Kogi West.
The other option is to consider picking its candidate from Kogi West. This option is premised on the fact that the zone has proved to be its strongest hold from the start. It is also the only senatorial district won by the party in the February 23 polls, both the senate and the presidential.
In the event Bello, from Central picks APC ticket and the possibility of multiple candidates from other parties emerging from the majority Kogi East zone, which can split the votes there, a formidable PDP candidate from West, capable of getting a bloc vote and with PDP still commanding a strong following in the East, could be a way out for the opposition party.
An analyst said: “The PDP cannot afford to come out of the primary divided. It will be its greatest undoing. Only a united, purposeful and determined PDP stands a chance against the ruling party, which is expected to once again deploy both state and federal might at its disposal, as witnessed during the past elections.
“State sponsored electoral violence is another major challenge for PDP. Sadly, the entire process could be decided on the altar of this grim factor. If the level of violence witnessed in the last election is to be repeated in any future election, then the electorate will be wasting their time casting their votes.”
A long list of aspirants has propped up in the race for the PDP ticket, but a few have strong presence across the three senatorial districts. They are the immediate past governor, Capt. Idris Wada; a successful businessman and oldest son of former governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, Abubakar Idris; security expert, Dr. Joseph Erico Ameh; former President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and a former state Commissioner for Health, Dr. Idris Omede and Senator Dino Melaye.