By Boluwaji Obahopo
GOVERNOR Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress, APC, is locked in a tight race to retain his seat with Engr Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in today’s governorship election.
This is in spite of the fact that 21 other candidates are in the race.
With the flag-bearers playing the ethnic card during the campaigns and given the issues they raised and how they stand in the local councils, the outcome of the election may be too close to call.
In the same manner, Senators Dino Melaye and Smart Adeyemi are squaring up in a make or mar contest for the Kogi West senatorial seat.
Apart from the exchange of brick-bats, mudslinging and violence that trailed the campaigns, it is worrisome that the election has also taken an ethnic coloration just like in time past. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had spoken about its fear of violence. Last Monday’s razing of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, Secretariat, whose candidate was initially disqualified by INEC but added barely a week ago through Court verdict, has further given credence to fear that violence may mar the poll.
Ethnicity has always played a major role in the outcome of elections in Kogi State. Kogi has three major ethnic groups scattered across the three senatorial districts: The Igala in the East, Ebira in the Central and Okun in the West. This time around, the ethnic card is between the Ebira whose son, Yahaya Bello, is sweeping with the APC broom; and the Igala whose son, Musa Wada, is taking shelter under the PDP umbrella.
In 1999, the contest between Prince Audu Abubakar from Kogi East and the late Architect Stephen Olorunfemi from Kogi West was largely based on ethnic interests. Audu had contested on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention, NRC while Olorunfemi ran on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
While people from the Eastern flank voted massively for Audu, Olorunfemi controlled votes from the West, leaving Kogi Central as the battleground.
This scenario was repeated in 2007, when the Central voted overwhelmingly for their own, Senator Salami Ohiare of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, against Alhaji Ibrahim Idris of the PDP from the East, who received massive votes from his senatorial district, controlled mainly by the Igala. Then, Kogi West was the free zone.
Those elections also witnessed high-scale violence, leading to loss of lives and destruction of property across the state. And now, as the state votes today the fangs of ethnicity and violence have led to apprehension. The development has made the Igala to consider PDP as an Igala party, and APC as an Ebira party.
INEC‘s record showed that 1, 646,350 voters registered in the state as of August 31, 2019. However, only 1, 485, 828, collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards PVCs, while 160,522 PVCs were uncollected.
The breakdown showed that Kogi East Senatorial district has the highest number of voters with 804, 715. Kogi West is second with 432, 515 voters, while Kogi Central is third with 409,120 voters; sharing a formula of 49, 26 and 25 percentage respectively.
The PDP candidate during an appearance in Kaakaki, AIT programme, fired a salvo saying that the votes from his senatorial axis would not be enough to make him governor. The people from the other two zones termed and condemned it as an ethnic card. But few days later, the Ebira Peoples Association, EPA, openly endorsed their son, Bello. The Igala too took same stand when their social cultural group, Igala Cultural Development Association, ICDA, throw its weight behind Wada, while the Okun Development Association, ODA also backed Bello; in order to negotiate power in 2023.
The development stirred political dust, and sensing danger, the three cultural bodies aligned later, decided to jettison their first stand, and organised a peace Summit. But their step came late; the zones had already pitched tents with their kinsmen in the race.
No doubt, the APC enjoyed more robust campaign than their opponents. Aside PDP that engaged in little open campaigns, the other 20 parties recorded no outing. Their presence was only on social media.
The APC enjoyed many endorsements from groups, ran a House-to-House campaign since September, had a separate team for open rally taking it Federal constituency by Federal constituency. The party commenced open rally campaigns on October 26 and has more advertised billboards and posters. The campaign ended in Lokoja on Thursday.
PDP started its campaign on October 25, but had three days off in honour of its DG campaign, Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf, who lost his wife. Aside the official flag off in Lokoja, the party refused to do mega rallies outside the state capital. It combined two to three council areas in a day, moving from ward to ward. The PDP also declined to campaign in the incumbent governor’s senatorial district, and refused to visit the Obaro of Kabba when their campaign train reached the Western headquarters. The party hinged its position on fear of being attack in Okene, headquarters of the Central district; and the Obaro open support for Bello. Their campaign ended on Wednesday at the Anyigba, Dekina LGA country home of its candidate.
The early days of Governor Bello’s administration were no doubt, certainly challenging going by the way he came into office and his efforts to secure legitimacy. There were several legal battles, including negative reports from a civil service screening that was meant to ascertain the real and genuine work force.
At some point, Kogi State was always in the news over non-payment of salaries. A challenge that had partially been overcome. The state workers now get their salary between 25th and 26th of the month, but the council workers are still on percentage payment. Wada made the matter a campaign issue.
Bello on the other hand commissioned and flagged off some critical infrastructural projects across the state. He also renamed the state Varsity after former governor, Prince Abubakar Audu; whose death facilitated his becoming a governor. Audu named the varsity after himself in 2002 but it was revoked by his fellow Igala kinsman, former Governor Ibrahim Idris in 2003.
Musa may be new to politics but he enjoys the support of his Igala people. Bello too has almost 100 percent of his Ebira people.
The West is divided. The zone is negotiating for power swift in 2023 and believe that Bello offers a quick passage to their ambition because he had only one term left unlike Wada who has eight years of two terms to use. The zone is also of the opinion that the Igala had for long held on to power and never showed sign of relinquishing it. The Igala have always boasted of having the highest population, and since politics is a game of number, they will win.
How the parties stand
Going into the poll, the PDP has not been able to resolve the internal crisis that tore the party apart after the governorship primaries. Two persons are still challenging the primary in court, one of them is Abubakar Idris, the son of former governor Ibrahim Idris. The former governor too has not aligned with Wada who married his first daughter. Penultimate week, Idris was said to have walked Wada out of his Abuja residence when he visited in the entourage of Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.
With the current in fighting it is to be seen how the PDP will turn the tide in its favour at the election
How zones will vote
Another area of interest in the election is the West. This area and people remain dynamic in their voting pattern. They are however faced with a herculean task this time around to deliver for APC and ask for power in 2023. This strategy has therefore made the area to be on its toes. Already some aggrieved APC big shots who left the APC in anger are returning to the broom party.
Oil business tycoon, Jide Omokore who has great influence in the Yagba axis has given open support to the APC candidates. Though the PDP deputy governorship candidate, San Aro is from Yagba West and may likely win the council area but he faces serious challenge in MopaMuro and Yagba East where majority of Omokore foot soldiers are residing. The election appears 50:50 Yagba Federal constituency.
The Kabba/Bunu/ Ijumu federal constituency may favour the APC. For Kabba/Bunu, the prospect of losing the Speakership position occupied by their son who has performed credibly may make them pitch their tenth with APC. For Ijumu, Smart Adeyemi and Dino Melaye who are contesting for Kogi West senate rerun hails from the council area and may go neck-to-neck. But advantage for APC is the return of the APC break away James Faleke group, who went to ADC in the last general election but has since returned. The federal constituency looks favourable to APC.
The Lokoja/Kogi federal constituency may end up a tie. While the Kogi council area has always voted for APC, majority of the Lokoja voters always go for PDP. Lokoja Ward A vote alone accountfor 40% of the entire votes of the federal constituency. A similar scenario may play out in this election, coupled with the recent Appeal court verdict which upturned the victory of an APC candidate for the PDP.
The central has five council areas of Adavi, Okene, Okehi, Ajaokuta, and Ogori/Magongo. Aside Ogori/Magongo (the smallest LGA in the area), all other council areas peopled by the Ebira. APC may record 90 percent of the votes.
PDP candidate, Musa Wada may have the upper hand. His council area of Dekina has the highest number of registered voters. The area in the past also recorded highest casualties of electoral violence. Also, majority of the projects ongoing or just initiated by Bello are situated in the zone, a move considered to be aimed at wooing them for their support for his re-election.
Similarly, the hope of APC is in the nomination of Chief Edward Onoja, as running mate, which has no doubt further tightened the noose of victory for the APC. Onoja is from the Eastern Senatorial district. He is in charge and in firm political control of the area. The area had looked forward to using the 2019 poll to regain power with the voting population they have. But the failure of Igala aspirants in the APC and the entrance of Edward as Gov. Bello’s running mate has further changed the conservative thinking of the East.
APC has control of the centre and institutions that conduct elections. PDP has displayed inability to march the APC money-for-money. APC has better structure in the state with a sitting governor, six out of nine House of Representatives members; two out of three senators, and 25 of 25 state lawmakers to its credit. All the council administrators are APC.
The PDP without federal might has twin of nine House of Representatives members, no sitting senator, no council chairman and member of the House of Assembly.
As it stand, PDP may win East, APC seems favourite for Central. Who ever conquers the West has the mandate.