Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello and Dino Melaye

BY BOLUWAJI OBAHOPO, LOKOJA

Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State finally regained the state leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC. The party structure is now firmly in his control. But it took him two years and four months, and fresh ward, local government and state congresses of the party for him to wrestle power from gladiators within the party. But his gain has not been total Uhuru; it has split the APC into groups and caused exodus of some bigwigs like Senator Dino Melaye, Hon. James Faleke amongst others.

Bello, since his inauguration on 27 January, 2016, had been locked in battle with opposition elements within the Kogi APC who stood firm in control. Never in the history of the state had a sitting governor been vilified by his party men like Bello witnessed. The running battle with APC elements such as Melaye, Faleke, a House of Reps member, and party executives was more than what the governor faced in the hands of civil servants and all the opposition parties combined.

The intra party opposition got to the peak when the party executives in Kogi, led by Hardy Ametuo, left Kogi and hibernated in Abuja, leaving the governor to operate with the GYB (Governor Yahaya Bello) APC caucus alone. The political dispute also endangered lives in the state.

Ametuo, who was the state chairman Bello met on ground, being a fellow Ebira person with the governor initially showed sign of cooperation with Bello, perhaps because of ethnic affinity. But, the relationship did not last beyond few months. Till he lost at the last state Congress, Ametuo and other top hierarchy members of the exco did not sit at any public function that required the presence of the governor and party executives.

The dispute between Bello and Senator Melaye, who represents Kogi West in the Senate, was another bad tonic for the governor. It even claimed three lives during a rally staged by Melaye in front of the State Polytechnic on June 12 last year. Clearly, the bitterness between both men plunged the Kogi into a major crisis that led to loss of lives and property, culminating in a failed recall of the senator.

The emergence of Bello as governor was very divisive. Then deputy candidate of the party to Abubakar Audu, Faleke, had laid claim to the governorship ticket but the APC had other plans. The party picked the first runner up at its primary election who was Bello as replacement for Audu in the supplementary election. Notably, Melaye was a strong supporter of Bello at this point. At Bello’s swearing in, where he was the master of ceremony, he (Melaye) called for all grieving parties to support Bello to unite the state.

Subsequently, the governor however failed to unite all factions in the party, making appointments from outside the party and side-lining those who worked for the party during the election. His problems further spilled into the civil service with workers being owed salaries for months due to a screening exercise to fish out ghost workers. Most intriguing was that he also lost control of the APC structure in the state as Kogi APC executive twice passed a ‘vote of no confidence’ on him.

But Melaye’s relationship with the governor was short lived. The senator soon changed his love songs for the governor to mourning songs. He latched on the workers’ crisis with Bello to humiliate him. He even mocked the governor by begging his other NASS members to donate rice for the state civil servants. This irked Bello who drew a political battle line with him.

Shortly after, there was an assassination attempt on the life of Melaye. Unknown gunmen attacked his home in Ayetoro-Gbede in March last year. The senator accused the governor of sponsoring the attempt on his life. The Ijumu Local Government Chairman where Ayetoro-Gbede is located, Taofiq Isah, was arrested in connection with the attempted assassination but the government denied being responsible for the murder attempt.

The appointment of Isah as Chairman of Ijumu Malaye’s wish contributed to the tension in their relationship. Thereafter, process to recall the senator was rolled into motion.

The attempt to recall the senator though backfired was purportedly backed by the governor as a good way to checkmate the senator. And every attempt thereafter to rally for peace didn’t yield positive result. It was clear that the duo were not willing to compromise in their quest to gain control of the state’s APC structure. At a time, the Bello had to create a parallel state APC exco to work with.

However, the governor took advantage of the senator’s battle with the police (which political pundits said has the support of the Presidency) to deny him any slot in the Congresses.

While Bello heaved a sigh of relief following the Melaye’s battle with police which incarcerated him throughout the Congresses period, he, however, faces another challenge with the APC deputy governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Faleke.

And so, the hopes for the resolution of the long running crisis in the APC were dashed after the governor and the Faleke/Audu factions organised parallel congresses. The factions in the state chapter of the party went back to the trenches in the parallel ward congresses in the 239 wards of the state. One of the two factions was the APC national leadership recognised camp led by Ametuo, loyal to the Faleke/Audu group. The other faction was led by Ibrahim Ahovi and loyal to Bello.

However, the National Working Committee of the party, led by former Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, accepted the Bello group list which has Abdullahi Bello as Chairman. He has been sworn in. The recognition of the governor endorsed party executive by the NWC changed the narrative of which camp has the upper hand and put paid to the agitation of the Faleke/Audu group.

Meanwhile, many who had thought the arrow head of the Faleke/Audu group, Feleke, will put up a fight were disappointed as the House of Reps member did a detour and returned to Lagos to continue his political struggles, apparently sensing that continuing the battle against the governor will end fruitless.

Melaye’s travails prevented him from making any in-road at the APC congresses. His decision to support the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as Senate President and his ‘bad mouthing’ posture of the Presidency at the floor of the NASS earned him the long running battle with the powers-that-be. Persecuted outside, pressed on all sides inside, Melaye took a way out with other senators who decamped back to the PDP last week.

With him gone, and Faleke’s return to Lagos; coupled with the party leadership selected by the governor recognized by the NWC, Bello has finally regained the control of the Kogi APC.

Though, the governor now sits comfortably in the control of the party structures, he, however, still faces a Herculean task of regaining the support, sympathy and confidence of the electorate in his 2019 second term bid.

Moreover, the departure of the two political gladiators (Melaye and Faleke) from the same local government area of the state may hurt his re-election bid. It may cause a decline in the fortunes of the APC in the area because, without doubt, the entrance of Faleke to Kogi West, especially the five local government areas of Okun land (where opposition has never won before), boosted the chances of the party in the last governorship election.

As things stand, the three senators from the state are in the PDP. Five of the nine House of Reps members are also in the PDP. Only two Reps members are in APC with the remaining one to be contested for in the August 11 bye-election.

The division in the APC may also play out in the Lokoja/Kogi House of Reps bye election. Already, the Faleke/Audu camp has produced a candidate in ADC, the Melaye affiliate camp has produced the candidate in the Social Democratic Party, SDP, while two of the embattled APC members have also become the Labour and Accord parties’ candidates for the election. The interpretation is that the bulk votes the APC should have received will now be divided between four forces. Incidentally too, all the four aforementioned candidates are from Lokoja local government area, leaving only the PDP candidate from Kogi LGA.

Though the governor has also make overtures to the Faleke/Audu camp through the reconciliation committee set up penultimate week, only the spokesperson of the group, Duro Meseko, would seem to have taken the bait and joined the Bello group, the rest are still operating in ‘diaspora’.

Whatever the fortunes of the APC will be in the House of Reps bye-election or next year’s general elections is pregnant; but, for now, the governor is in charge of Kogi APC

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