By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Kingsley Fanwo, Ikechukwu Nnochiri,Levinus Nwabughiogu, Omezia Ajayi & Boluwaji Obahopo
ABUJA—The contention to replace the late Abubakar Audu as the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship candidate in Kogi State turned violent, yesterday, after supporters of the two major contenders clashed at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.
The resort to violence was despite last minute fence-mending efforts by the national leadership of the APC to woo the running mate to the late Audu, Rep. James Faleke as running mate to Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who was last night formally unveiled as the new candidate of the party. Bello was runner up to Audu in the party’s governorship primaries last August.
Faleke, who was recommended as running mate again flatly rejected the proposals with a response that he would meet the party in the courts to claim his mandate.
Besides that, another legal action instituted by the runner up in the penultimate weekend’s governorship election and incumbent governor of the state, Captain Idris Wada is to commence today. Wada, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, is seeking accelerated hearing in a Federal High Court, Abuja to stop the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, from forging ahead with the scheduled supplementary election this weekend and to declare him winner of the election.
The face-off between supporters of Bello and Faleke followed the early morning realignment of forces between Faleke and supporters of Mohammed Audu, son of the late candidate. At the end of talks between the two groups in Audu’s, GRA, Lokoja house, yesterday morning, they resolved to project Faleke as candidate and Mohammed Audu as running mate.
Bello had arrived the heavily fortified national secretariat of the party, yesterday, at about 2.42 p.m. He was followed by Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State who incidentally was chairman of the APC panel that conducted the APC governorship primaries last August.
The violence broke out when Bello arrived the party secretariat but was greeted with chants from supporters of Faleke who chanted “Faleke – Mohammed our choice.” The chant provoked a response from supporters of Bello who on their part started to chant ‘Yahaya Bello is the man.’ It was in the ensuing melee that supporters of both men started hurling invectives and subsequently, missiles at one another.
They were restrained after the arrival of more policemen who were able to separate them.
At 3.49 p.m. Faleke arrived the secretariat and about 4.40 p.m. fight broke out between supporters of Faleke and Bello and it took about 20 minutes before Police reinforcement arrived to quell the disturbances.
APC unveils Bello
Unveiling Bello at the end of the meeting, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun urged party leaders and stakeholders to accept the decision of the party leadership and ensure the party comes out victorious.
Odigie-Oyegun explained that the decision to nominate Bello was borne out of the need to conform to the electoral laws and to ensure cohesion and fairness.
He eulogized the late Prince Audu as the face of the party in the state, saying the party will miss his leadership qualities greatly.
While accepting the party’s nomination, Bello pledged to ensure immediate reconciliation of all aggrieved persons in the party, saying he was more than prepared to lead the party to a resounding victory on December 5. He called on all the party leaders to work with him to take the party to higher heights.
Yahaya Bello pledged to immortalize the late Prince Audu, describing him as a great leader who contributed immensely to the development of Kogi State while he was governor. He urged the youths of the state to team up with him to foster a united Kogi State.
Faleke rejects nomination as running mate
Few minutes after Bello was unveiled, Faleke formally rejected his nomination as running mate to Bello. Speaking to newsmen outside the party secretariat, he said: “We met for about two hours as you have observed and of course, we discovered that the meeting that we were invited for was just a mere briefing rather than it being where we could have deliberated and solved the quagmire we find ourselves in. We were only briefed about the position of the party.
“The party told us that we have nominated Alhaji Yahaya Bello. And of course, we made it clear as the political family of Prince Abubakar Audu; we told them that it is not acceptable and we are not going with it and I personally observed that my name has been submitted to INEC as deputy governorship candidate to pair with Alhaji Yahaya Bello and I told the national chairman in clear words that ‘Mr. Chairman, I have submitted a letter this morning distancing myself from that decision; that on no ground will I want to be associated with the decision of the party to pair me with Alhaji Yahaya Bello because I am already governor-elect.
“I also told him, Mr. Chairman, for us as a family, Kogi State political family, we are not taking part in that election, my name cannot be submitted because I was not even consulted in the first instance. The Governor-elect cannot yet become another deputy governorship candidate.”
Faleke who is currently a member of the House of Representatives also stated that it was out of place for Bello to join in the race midway as he was not part of it from the start.
He regretted that the party discarded all his appeal to go to court to persuade INEC to declare him winner of the election.
“I want to make it very clear that Alhaji Yahaya Bello did not take part in all our campaign processes and we are only contesting election in 91 polling units out of about 2, 548 polling units and we have made it very clear that if they go ahead to conduct election because I have pulled out that election would be challenged in the court of law, it will be null and void.
“We won’t be addressing you today if the party chose the path of honour. The path of honour we championed there was for the party to go to court and challenge INEC and Mr. Chairman told us directly without considering it twice that the party will not go to court and since the party is not going to court, we have taken it upon ourselves as our right to defend ourselves in court and we are challenging the decision”, he said.
At press time, leaders of the party were locked in a meeting with Bello to find a possible replacement for Faleke as running mate.
Okene erupts in jubilation
Meanwhile, the decision of the APC leadership to go ahead with Bello as candidate elicited jubilation across his ancestral home, Okene last night.
Market women, youths, motorists and Okada riders took to the streets to celebrate the nomination of Bello, who is in line to be the first person from the dominant Igala ethnic stock to be governor of the state.
Faleke meets Audu’s son
Earlier yesterday, Faleke had forged an agreement with Mohammed Audu, son of the late Prince Abubakar Audu for the two of them to work together. Under the agreement, Faleke would be projected as governor and Mohammed as deputy.
Among those present at the meeting between Faleke and Mohammed Audu were former PDP governorship aspirant, Jibril Isah Echocho; former Minister for Police Affairs, Humphrey Abah; and a member of the House of Representatives, Ismail Hussein.
Following the closed door meeting, Faleke addressed the crowd outside Audu’s Lokoja home and affirmed his determination to ensure he claims his mandate.
“We are here before you today in all humility and in deep sorrow over the unfortunate incident and happenings in our dear state, the Confluence State, a state with so much potentials but which has continued to fall victim under impotent and incompetent leadership since the trail blazing performance of our leader, late Prince Abubakar Audu; a man of style and competence who combined quality with humaneness, a man who detested injustice and oppression throughout his eventful lifetime, a man loved by our people for his philanthropy and general candour.
“So sad and unfortunate that just about when the celebration of our hard won victory began, where we defeated an incumbent government, a darkness was cast on the family, the state and indeed the nation with the loss to the cold hands of death of Prince Abubakar Audu. The joy of celebrating the much expected leadership and much deserved landslide victory of the historic election of November 21 was put on hold.
“As if waiting for the demise of this great and illustrious son of the land, the reactionaries pounced in on the situation and made fruitless attempts at truncating the process that ordinarily should have led to a smooth transition of power from the visionless and clueless handlers of our state to a new path of rescuing the state.
“It is on this basis that we address you today as a family, the biological and political family left behind by the late sage to state clearly that in view of the position of the law, the constitution and the Electoral Act, that the INEC erred by declaring the election inconclusive. While our lawyers have swung into action in getting a legal redress of the quagmire in which the enemies of our state have plunged us, we remain steadfast and resolute in defending the mandate that the good people of Kogi state bestowed on the Audu/Faleke ticket and by extension the APC.
“As it stands today, I remain the only person holding on to those votes cast for our party and no other person, going back to the primary election conducted on the August 28, 2015 whose life span expired immediately Prince Abubakar Audu emerged the candidate and the party requested him to nominate a Deputy in accordance to the constitution provision in section 187.”
Faleke who also said he stood a beneficiary of late Audu’s primary victory by virtue of section 187 of the constitution, took a swipe at Bello for wanting to benefit from the party that he (Yahaya) worked against at the poll.
“Muhammed Audu, the first son of Prince Abubakar Audu and myself are on the same page on this matter and have both resolved to do the right thing by the law”.
Audu’s son, Muhammed on his own said, it will amount to ‘political stealing’ if Bello is used to replace his late father, “A thief cannot come into your house in the middle of the night and say he owns your property. He can only steal it.
(Facing the crowd) “Nobody can steal your mandate. This is what my father stood for and this is what we shall all stand for. Just remember him in your prayer”.
Court hears Wada’s suit today
Meanwhile, hearing in the suit filed by Governor Wada seeking to compel INEC to declare him winner of the election is expected to commence today.
The suit which was lodged before the court on Friday has been assigned to Justice Gabriel Kolawole for hearing.
Enquiries by Vanguard yesterday revealed that the plaintiffs, through their lead counsel, Chief Chris Uche, SAN, have equally applied for an accelerated hearing of the suit.
Specifically, the plaintiffs, are praying the High Court to invoke its powers and declare Wada the winner of the inconclusive governorship election that held in the state on November 21.
They argued that in view of the death of the gubernatorial candidate of the APC, Audu, before the final result was announced, Wada, being the only surviving candidate with the majority of lawful votes cast at the poll, ought to be declared winner.
Therefore, they prayed the court to compel INEC to forthwith issue Certificate of Return to Wada.
Cited as 1st – 3rd defendants in the suit were INEC, the Attorney General of the Federation and the APC, respectively.
More so, the plaintiffs, are praying the court to issue an order of injunction restraining APC from organizing or holding a fresh primary election for the purpose of any supplementary or other election for the Kogi State governorship election 2015.
They asked the high court to declare that APC lacked the legal right to organize or hold a fresh primary election for the purpose of the supplementary election, having regard to the immutable statutory timeliness provided by enabling sections of the Electoral Act 2010 and the INEC timetable for Kogi Governorship election.
The plaintiffs also urged the court to declare that the AGF, Abubakar Malami, SAN, was not competent to issue directives to INEC to allow APC to substitute its candidate for the Kogi governorship election after the commencement of the election, and that such directives are null and void for being inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution.
Besides, the plaintiffs want the court to hold that APC could not lawfully nominate a candidate for the supplementary governorship election fixed for December 5, without a valid and legally cognizable primary election conducted within the mandatory timeliness specified by the Electroal Act.
They specifically beseeched the court to declare that, “having regards to the provisions of Section 141 of the Electoral Act, 2010, voted scored by a candidate who died during an election cannot be inherited by or transferred to a person who was not a candidate at the said election and who did not participate in all stages of such election, for the purpose of concluding such election”.
The suit was supported with a 36- paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by the PDP State Collation Agent for the Kogi state governorship election, Mr Joe Agada.
Agada averred: “That with the demise of APC’s candidate, the two leading candidates became Wada with 199,514 votes and and that of the Labour Party with 8, 756 votes.
“That I know as a fact that INEC on this basis ought to declare the Wada the winner of the governorship election of 21st November 2015, being the only surviving candidate with the highest number of votes and scoring 25 per cent of the votes in all the Local Government Areas of the State.”
Meanwhile, ethnic champions in Kogi State entered into the argument yesterday. While leaders of Ebira ethnic groups drummed support for Bello who could become the first Ebira man to govern the state, Okun ethnic groups on their part coalesced under the Okun Development Union, sent a high powered delegation of some of the most influential persons from the state to meet Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a national leader of the APC.
The Ebira Renaissance Group, ERG and Ebira Youth Congress, EYC, at a joint press conference in Lokoja expressed concern over the ethnic dimension the contention for the office of governor has taken.
Coordinator of ERG, Pastor Joseph Suleiman, who spoke on behalf of the groups pleaded for a judicial resolution to the crisis.
On its part, the umbrella body of the Okun nation, Okun Development Association has drummed support for the candidature of Faleke. The body says anything short of Faleke’s candidature will be unacceptable to the Okun people.
The National President of Association and a former diplomat, Prof. Paul Fadumiyo told Vanguard that the theory of inconclusiveness was skewed to deny the Okun people the governorship position in Kogi State.
He called on the leadership of the party to ensure justice is done in picking a replacement for Audu, saying the people of Okun will reject the choice of Bello as Audu’s replacement.
Also, the ODA national president led a group of eminent Okun leaders to the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu to drum support for Faleke. On the entourage was a former Health Minister, Prof. Eyitayo Lambo.
Bello Support Organization Hails Nomination
A support group, Bello Support Organization has hailed the nomination of Bello as the candidate of the party, saying it is time for all party faithful to unite for a new Kogi State.
Speaking to Vanguard shortly after the nomination of Bello in Abuja yesterday, spokesman of the group, Hon. Abdulrasaq Asiru called on the leaders of the party to bury their differences in order to forge ahead.
Meanwhile, INEC confirmed yesterday that it had received Bello’s nomination as the new candidate of the APC.
INEC’s Deputy Director, Publicity, Nick Dazang, who confirmed the development last night in Abuja yesterday however, also said the commission was fully ready for the exercise.
“They have sent the name of their replacement candidate, the second runner-up in their primaries, that is Yahaya Bello, to the commission.
“The commission is committed to conduct the two elections, that is why in respect of Kogi, in spite of what happened, we came out with public notice which invites the APC to submit its replacement candidate for the election”, he said.