BY ISIAKA OYIBO
This weekend’s gubernatorial election has 22 political parties in contention for the governorship. The prospects of four of the leading contenders Capt Idris Wada of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Prince Abubakar Audu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Deacon Ubolo Opanachi of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Barrister James Ocholi (SAN) of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) are considered here.

James Ocholi, CPC
Ocholi, who used to belong to the PDP is hoping to use the performance of CPC in the April election to launch the party to success in the gubernatorial poll.

CPC, it will be recalled created upset when it defeated the PDP in Lokoja/Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency via protest votes. Also recently, his aspiration received a boost from his colleagues in the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA who endorsed him as Kogi NBA’s official candidate. Ocholi recently x-rayed the backgrounds of three co-leading candidates, namely Audu, Wada and Opanachi and declared himself the best of the lot.

“We know they have done nothing to endear them to the people of the State. I know one of them has ruled the state twice under the ANPP and NRC and we know why the state had to change to PDP and we equally know how badly the current administration has ruled the state.

L-R: Prince Abubakar Audu, ACN, James Ocholi, CPC, Idris Wada, PDP, Ubolo Opanachi, ANPP

What the state need now is a leader with a thought out, clear vision and programmes. The state needs a man of high integrity, intellectually astute, rather than those people who have mismanaged the fund of the state and are ready to dole out their ill gotten wealth to win election.” But the CPC will have a long way to go in the election owing to its limited structures.

Deacon Ubolo Opanachi, ANPP
Opanachi, a former Accountant General in the state is as such hoping to emerge as the surprise joker in the pack. He may not be the candidate one can quickly tip to win the election based on the resuscitated ANPP structure and performance in the April poll when the party won only three state assembly seats via protest votes, but he is equally not a push over.

Audu’s exit from the ANPP was believed to have left the party dead, but calculations have since changed and the party which was in power between 1999 and 2003 is back in contention courtesy of Opanachi who is said to have a big war chest.

Aggrieved ACN members who were upset by the way Audu and his running mate Henry Ojuola, both from the ANPP crossed over and “took over” the party are also said to be rooting for Opanachi. Opanachi shares the same local government, Ofu and federal constituency with Audu where Opanachi’s candidate had the edge over Audu’s at the April parliamentary polls.

Opanachi has stepped forward to present himself to the electorate as the best alternate. Opanachi who was in the PDP before leaving to join ACN and finally settling down as the ANPP standard bearer has said that he is in the race to fight the injustice perpetrated by the two former regimes of Audu and Idris.

He said Audu has nothing to offer the state, as a result of this, he said the former governor only harped on past glories when he was governor and has not been able to come up with fresh ideas. He also warned the electorate to beware of the PDP campaign statement that Wada would build on the incumbent’s legacies, saying Idris has no good legacies anyone can build on in the interest of the state and her people.

Opanachi who has the support of a section of the electorate who want the next Kogi governor to be a Christian for the first since the creation of the state.

Asked in an interview with VANGUARD while he should not share in his alleged failings of the Idris administration since he served under Idris, the ANPP flag bearer who said he left PDP because Idris imposed his candidate on the party, said he was not an accomplice based on the fact that he was a “mere civil servant” who acted based on orders and was not part of the decision making process.

Prince Abubakar Audu, ACN
Audu has contested all the governorship elections held in the state since its creation in 1991 and has ruled the state on two occasions. He said he still has a point to prove that he was rigged out by the PDP in 2003 and 2007 and that after he left office, governance was pushed to the back seat by his “visionless” PDP successors.

Audu will not only be relying on his performance during his first and second tenures when he built the Kogi State University, Kogi State Polytechnics, Confluence Beach Hotel and initiated the Obajana Cement project among others, but also the solidarity support of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led ACN governed states, whose leaders have not hidden their bid to extend their expansion beyond the southern hemisphere into Kogi.

He has also presented himself to the minorities who clamour for power shift as their best option since the constitution only allows him to rule for a single term of four years, having ruled the state between 1999 and 2003. Audu will however go into the race with a poor record of three defeats in the hands of the PDP in 2003, 2007 and the 2008 rerun and a party, ACN that hitherto was not well grounded in the state having won one Reps seat and one state assembly seat that have turned out to be protest votes in PDP strongholds and may not follow the same pattern subsequently.

Audu will also have to cope doing without the support of his backers in the 2008 rerun, such as Prince Olusola Akanmode, Colonel Usman Babanaawa, his running mate in that election, Senator Muhammed Ohiare, strongman of Ankpa politics, Alhaji Hassan Yakubu who have left for the PDP.

Also commissioners and other political office holders who served in his two previous governments have since left him and are now with the PDP. But Audu’s major sin while he was governor was his alleged high handednes. But Audu admitted he erred and has said it was a mistake of the head and not of the mind.

“I am still the same Prince Audu Abubakar. The difference is that I am more matured because I am older than what I was. I am more tolerant, I am more accommodating and friendly. What happened then was that I was doing virtually everything with my business experience.

I had no time for laxity. As far as I am concerned, nobody wronged me. I believe I have wronged everybody and I apologize. Whoever I have wronged should please forgive me. To err is human, to forgive is divine. It is the mistake of the head and not that of the heart.”

Idris Wada, PDP
Based on the factors of incumbency, structures and resources, the ruling party is generally believed to be the party to beat and its flag bearer, Wada, no doubts, is reaping from the seedling. The carnival-like campaign tour of the various local councils spiced with showbiz anchored by popular artistes from Nollywood and the impressive turn-out are a testimony to PDP’s strength.

Although, outgoing Governor Ibrahim Idris who is leading the campaign train continues to draw criticisms from members of the public, particularly primary school teachers and local government civil servants for failure to pay their relativity and promotion arrears, among others, the PDP has trudged on with its campaign with attendant promises and announcement of fresh contracts for new projects.

When the team visited Yagba West and Yagba East Councils last Thursday, Governor Idris promised to award the contract for the Egbe-Ogbe Road as well as reconstruction of dams in Egbe and Isanlu. Similar promises were made in Kogi Central and East while also asking the various communities that have benefitted from the present administration to reciprocate by voting en masse for PDP.

Idris’ government has also promised to commence table payment of outstanding salaries for the aggrieved teachers, whose grievances were seen as a major obstacle. Commissioner for Information, Dr Tom Ohikere, while addressing journalists at the weekend, confirmed government’s decision to commence the payment, debunked insinuations that it had asked workers to vote for the PDP as a condition for effecting the payment of their salaries.

Saying the outgoing government has no records of uncompleted projects, Ohikere emphasized that the new contracts awarded and payments due to workers would take effect before the December poll.  The other issue the PDP will have to deal with is the public rating of the Idris’ performance in the past eight years, which has drawn flaks and commendations as well.

While opponents believe government presence had not counted in Idris years in office, compared to the infrastructural development witnessed during the administration of Abubakar Audu, supporters feel the outgoing governor was an improvement in the area of human development.

Saying Audu’s rule was autocratic, PDP supporters said Idris was humane and ran an open door policy while also pointing to projects in the area of roads, health care, education and youth empowerment. As the PDP campaign train went round the state, it pummeled all the achievements credited to the Audu regime as white elephant projects with mere structures used to siphon money from state coffers with little emphasis on personnel and sound foundation.

The PDP leaders said the projects, such as the state owned varsity were on their way to extinction saying efforts put in by the succeeding Idris Idris administration helped resuscitate the projects. However, the strength of the PDP appears to lie with the quality of its candidates, Wada and his running mate, Arc Yomi Awoniyi.

Wada’s personal achievements and accomplishments in life as a trained pilot who became a world class flight instructor at age 23, once an airline owner and the distinction of coming from a prominent Igala family in Kogi East zone, is making things going for him.

With his father, Wada Ejiga, still fit and agile at over 100 years old, described as an institution in the Igala having served as a judge; the PDP candidate is believed to be winning approval from retired civil servants, clergy and opinion molders, across which his father had built bridges.

The younger Wada, like father, is credited with sound leadership and managerial attributes and as one who is not given to frivolities. Outside his base in Kogi East, Wada’s running mate, Yomi is his biggest asset. According to Otunba Funsho Owoyemi, a PDP chieftain in Kogi West, an enclave of the PDP since 1999, admitted at the rally in Odo-Ere that the zone initially looked shaky for PDP following the protest votes in Yagba and Lokoja/Kotonkarfe in state and national assembly polls.

He however assured that Yomi’s emergence has softened the grounds for the party. He said that Wada’s choice of running mate was the best thing to have happened to PDP in the zone as Yomi was more acceptable to the stakeholders from rival camps of the zone given his family background as the son of a prominent Kogi leader and nationalist, late Chief Sunday Awoniyi and his nomination, which came as a concession to runner-up in the primary election, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Kutepa.

Although Opanachi’s running mate, Jide Atta, comes from this zone, one man who believes the ANPP’s strategy would be inconsequential is former Chief of Army Staff, Gen Salihu Ibrahim (rtd). He said, “It is a pride we are with the ruling party. We have also had the chance of being deputy twice.

What we look forward to is the earliest opportunity to get someone from central to vie for the governorship slot through the machinery of PDP. That is the collective aspiration of most of us from the senatorial district. For this particular election coming up in December, we are doing all we can to ensure that PDP wins, because we think our fortune is tied to PDP.”

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