April 30, 2023

Kogi governorship contest: Tinubu’s first real test



By Tonnie Iredia

One of the distractions in Nigeria’s governancenarrative is the requirement for the nation’s president to supervise the day to day running of his political party. It is for the same reason that governors run both their states and their political parties. If so, why do political parties elect officials to run the parties? It appears late to allow the question to delay our thought process because for some 8 years, Nigerians watched how President Muhammadu Buharihad to personally pilot the affairs of his party, the All Progressives Congress APC at several critical junctions.

At a point, he had to get a caretaker committee to lead the party, while in the midst of doubts and tension, he had to single-handedly nominate the current national chairman of the party. In other words, if Bola Ahmed Tinubu wins all the cases against his election, he would assume not only the leadership of Nigeria but also that of the ruling party.

But will Tinubu be able to bring sanity to the APC if he becomes what they call the national leader that supervises his own chairman? The first proof would probably be how he handles his immediate task of resolving the tension currently brewing in Kogi state where the APC’s primary election has moved to the courts for settlement. The story that is told is that of alleged attempts at manipulating the choice of party members which ought to be freely given in a democracy.

The next governorship election in the state is some 6months away- perhaps enough time to deal with all preliminary matters leading to the contest fixed by the electoral body for November 11, 2023. At first, the party reportedly decided on the indirect mode of primaries in which delegates would vote to determine the best aspirant to become the party’s candidate. As it happens in virtually all our political parties across Nigeria, there were visible fears that the process might be hijacked.

Two major developments were to later present a new picture of doubts and at the same time some hope. The first was that an Abuja Federal High Court nullified the convoluted delegate list for the primaries. The court presided over by Justice James Omotoshovoided the ward and local government congressessaid to have been conducted on February 7 on the grounds that they were not conducted in compliance with the Electoral Act 2022, as well as the Constitution of the APC.

The second was a letter issued by the National Secretariat of the party changing the mode of the primaries from indirect to direct, making it possible forall party members and not just a handful of delegates to take part in the primary election. Notwithstanding this intervention, thesurreptitiousshelving of party rules for a contest tended to create palpable fear that some powerful forces had a plan to manipulate the process to arrive at a premeditated conclusion. 

If some aspirants imagined that all would be well sooner or later, they were proved wrong. First, on the eve of the primaries the governor unveiled his anointed aspirant, Usman Ododo a former auditor-general of the state which made it difficult for some of the aspirants to remain in the race. The allegation was that some of them were forced to withdraw.Interestingly, Edward Onoja, the current deputy governor and prime loyalist of the governor was one of those that withdrew. 

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) seven other aspirants voluntarily withdrew from the race at a meeting held at the party’s secretariat in Lokoja and presided over by Governor Yahaya Bello. Did Onoja, whom many thought the governor would naturally favour voluntarily withdraw? If so, did he not get his principal’s initial consent before joining the race? Onoja’s only comment was “To God be the glory for life and divine health. My appreciation to my leader, HE Alhaji Yahaya Bello and all my supporters for your love and prayers. Let love, patience and perseverance lead. I Am forever grateful.” Many are still interpreting the poetic statement.

The primary election which has since been held between Ododo and those who didn’t withdraw saw Ododo coming out strongly as the clear winner. Patrick Obahiagbon the secretary of the election committee spoke in ‘Latinized English’ while announcingUsman Ododo’s scored of 78, 704 votes to beat six other contestants with his closest rival Salami Momodu scoring as low as 1, 506 votes, only. With such a wide margin, one would have expected the rivals to congratulate the winner, but that has not been the case as some have now gone to court to challenge the irregularities,real or perceived, that they observed. A serving senator, Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West) who was one of the aspirants complained that no election took place in his area. Another contestant, Sanusi Ohiare corroborated Adeyemi’s complaint adding that from information available to him from the other 238 Wards in the State no election took place.

A damaging reputation which Bola Ahmed Tinubu must work hard to change is his party’s inclination towards the conduct of fake party primaries. Happenings during the last general elections seem to confirm this as APC’s political culture. Sometimes it is elevated to as high as what former governor Ibikunle Amosun called “off-shore rigging.”

For example, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt presided over by Justice E. A Obile had to nullify APC primaries in Rivers state while ruling on a case brought by one George Orlu and others against the party. The Judge found as of fact that many persons who should have participated in the primaries were illegally excluded. In Benue state, the Court of Appeal held that the APC failed to conduct valid primary elections in 11 of the 27 local government areas of the state. In Adamawa state, Justice Abdul-aziz Anka of the Yola High Court nullified the APC primaries in the state on account of over voting. In Abia state,the APC produced both Ikechi Emenike and Uche Ogah as governorship candidates of the same party leaving their rightful flagbearer to be determined by the judiciary.

Asiwaju Tinubu and the APC have a duty to show to the judiciary and Nigerians that their party has grown-up by quietly reviewing the fresh controversies in Kogi State. To start with, is not intriguing that Governor Matawalle of Zamfara state who was duly appointed as chairman of the Kogi governorship primary election committee vanished during the contest and left the secretary to do the job?  If he had previous engagements why did he accept the appointment or could it be that he suddenly discovered happenings he could not stand and left in protest? Whatever answer is provided to any of these questions cannot project the APC in good light. While no one can stop a governor from preferring one aspirant over others especially a pragmatic fellow like Yahaya Bello who after 8 years is well positioned to be certain about his best choice, the opinions of the generality of the APC members must not be circumscribed.

Indeed, the APC ought not to allow Nigerians to see their party as temperamental. Just before the last presidential election, some Nigerians who were virtually fed up with the party had a change of heart when the party decided to zone its choice to the South after 8 years of a president from the North. This policy wasremarkably arrived at in the interest of peace, fairness and equity. Why will the same APC allow its next governorship candidate to come from the same ward and zone as the outgoing governor? Does it mean thatthe APC’s eulogised inclusive disposition is inapplicable to certain states? If the APC is truly the party to beat, it must take the lead in Nigeria’s drive towards a better nation. But if the party cannot bring to an end its inability to adhere to internal democracy rules, it cannot be seen as the party to unite the nation towards positive developmental growth.