Kogi Guber: Judgement Day Looms For Gladiators.||Anyigbaleft

With barely 24 hours to the much-anticipated Kogi Governorship election, all is set for a titanic battle for the soul of Kogi State by th...


With barely 24 hours to the much-anticipated Kogi Governorship election, all is set for a titanic battle for the soul of Kogi State by the 24 political parties cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and their flag bearers. One state;1.4 million registered voters with Permanent Voter Card (PVC), 3 senatorial zones, 239 electoral wards, 2, 548 polling units,and 24 candidates (with their running mates) will feature in a gladiatorial contest  for the sole right of occupancy to Lugard House, the seat of Government in Kogi Statecome Saturday 16th November, 2019.
To understand the colossal political battle that will be decided by Kogi electorates on Saturday, it is imperative that the cursory observer understand the undercurrents of political power struggles among contending political actors in the 28-year old State.

Background

 Kogi State was carved out of old Kwara and Benue States on August 27, 1991 by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Located in North Central Nigeria, Kogi State occupies 29,833 square kilometres and is the most centrally located state in the Nigerian Federation. Politically, Kogi is delineated into 3 senatorial zones; Kogi East, West and Central. Before now, executive political power has been held by Kogi East Senatorial Zone; late Prince Abubakar Audu (1992-1993 and 1999-2003), Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (2003-2011) and Captain Idris Wada (2011-2015). In fact, the first and second executive Governor of the State, late Prince Abubakar Audu was poised to become the 5th Executive Governor but for his tragic death whilst leading the votes count during collation in the November 21, 2015 governorship election.

Save for a 3-month interregnum in 2007 when Chief Clarence Olafemi, then Speaker, Kogi State House of Assembly from Kogi West, briefly acted as State Governor, executive political power has been wielded exclusively by Kogi East. Expectedly, this had caused a lot of dissatisfaction with the two other Senatorial zones who viewed the power balance in the State as unfairly tilted towards the more populous Kogi East zone.

It was against this background that current incumbent, Governor Yahaya Bello emerged in quite fortuitous circumstances as the first democratically elected Governor who is not from Kogi East.

Before he was picked by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressive Congress (APC) as their ‘replacement candidate’ following the death of Prince Abubakar Audu, Governor Yahaya Bello had emerged first runner-up behind late Prince Audu in the 2015 APC guber Primaries.

His replacement by the APC and subsequent victory in the supplementary election of 5th December, 2015 was expectedly the subject of various litigations before finally been put to rest by the Supreme Court following a landmark judgement delivered on September 20, 2016.

Stiff Opposition

The cross-sectional support and acclaim from every corner of the State following Governor Yahaya Bello’s inauguration on January 27, 2016 was hitherto unknown. Kogians, irrespective of tribal or religious affinity, keyed into his “New Direction” slogan, relative youth and bubbly personality; not to mention the manner of his “divine” ascension to the summit of political power in the state.

However, the honeymoon period proved to be short-lived as he has since faced stiff opposition from contending political forces and interests in the State.Since inception, Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration has been mired by accusations of anti-labour policies, political miscalculations and inadequate leadership capacity by critics and political opponents alike, notablyfrom the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP).
It is therefore a testament to the political mastery and long-gamesmanship of Governor Yahaya Bello that he has seemingly emerged from the firestorms of the past 3-odd years as the candidate to beat in a very strong field comprising Ibrahim Jibril Sheik of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA); Barrister Natasha Akpoti (SDP), and Alhaji Musa Atayi Wada (PDP) in Saturday’s election.

How They Stand
The leading candidates for the 2019 Kogi Governorship Election are undoubtedly Governor Yahaya Bello (APC), Barrister Natasha Akpoti (SDP) and Mr. Musa Wada (PDP). This is without prejudice to the 21 other political parties who have fielded candidates for Saturday’s election. Objective political analysis shows that at the end of the day, the contest will be between these 3 parties, with the rest left to squabble over the crumbs.

Since 2015, the incumbent governor and flag-bearer of the ruling APC, Yahaya Bello can arguably be described as the Governor with highest number of litigation against him, with more than 90 legal suits so far instituted against him by members of the opposition. His administration have also in the past 3 years been dogged by various allegationsby critics including unpaid state and local government staff salaries and pensions, prolonged staff verification/audit exercise which in their opinion caused untold hardshipto Kogi workers, and rising debt profile of the State. All these have been skilfully projected by the opposition as evidence of Governor Bello’s unsuitability for a second term in office and may pose significant odds against his victory on Saturday.

However, Governor Bello’s administration has posted excellent performances in the areas of job creation, human capital development, security, agriculture and equitable distribution of infrastructural projects and appointments in the State.In fact, data released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in 2019 shows that Kogi State under the Yahaya Bello administration was among 9 states in Nigeria that were able to reduce unemployment and underemployment rates between the third quarter of 2017 and the corresponding quarter of 2019, thus underscoring the administration’s commitment to job creation and employment generation in Kogi State. A 50-metric tonne capacity rice mill which have been completed at Omi, Yagba West Local Government Area is also testament to the administration’s focus on agriculture; as is raising the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the State from a low of N500 million monthly in 2015 to over N1.8 billion monthly IGR today.

The generational shift in leadership at all levels of government in Kogi State, exemplified by the youthful composition of Governor Bello’s cabinet and political appointees has greatly endeared the Governor to youths from all parts of the state and is a factor responsible for the massive support enjoyed by the youthful Governor heading into Saturday’s election.

Barrister Natasha Akpoti is no stranger to hotly-contested elections. As the flag-bearer of the SDP in the February 23, 2019 senatorial election in Kogi State, she ran a strong campaign against the APC candidate and eventual winner, Senator Oseni Yakubu. Her campaigns during the Senatorial election was marked by her dogged determination, charm and mass appeal; factors no doubt that propelled her to seek and eventually claim the gubernatorial ticket of the SDP as its candidate in the Kogi governorship election. Initially, her candidature was disqualified by the electoral umpire, INEC before an Abuja Federal High Court ordered INEC to reinstate her. Analysts are of the opinion that her lengthy absence from the campaign trail occasioned by her earlier disqualification by INEC may significantly affect her performance in Saturday’s poll as her campaign was effectively suspended during the ensuing legal battle to reclaim her party’s ticket. Nevertheless, like a true Amazon, she has been busy campaigning in the limited time available all over the 3 senatorial zones and drawing appreciable number of crowds and admirers in her campaign stops.

A huge odd against her is a noticeable loss of support and enthusiasm for her cause in her traditional base of Kogi central -incidentally the senatorial zone of incumbent governor Yahaya Bello- where political stakeholders and key decision makers have resolved to support the candidature of Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC.

The Wada family in recent times have emerged as a veritable political dynasty in Kogi East. The PDP candidate, Mr. Musa Atai Wada, is younger brother to the immediate past Governor of the State, Captain Idris Wada whose stint in office was terminated by the APC in December, 2015. Mr. Musa Wada is also a son-in-law to former governor Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, underscoring his connections with political royalty in the zone. Another weapon in his arsenal is his origin. Mr. Wada is from Dekina Local Government Area, one of the largest local government areas in Nigeria and one which boasts the highest number of registered voters in the state. He is also rumoured to have a deep financial war-chest and will undoubtedly spare no expenses in his bid to wrestle political power from the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello, back to Kogi East. The fact that his senatorial zone is the most populous in Kogi State is further boon to his electoral fortune in Saturday’s election.

The spectre of the powerful former Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello and now running mate, the politically dexterous Chief Edward Onoja however looms large in the front of Mr. Wada’s ambition. Chief Onoja who hails from Ogugu Local Government Area in Kogi East has since 2015, forged a reputation as a master political strategist and a wonderful foil to Governor Yahaya Bello. He has forged veritable political alliances with grassroot politicians in the eastern senatorial flank, as well as won the hearts of the youths of the zone with generous political patronage and appointments. It is little wonder then that the youths of the zone have seemingly rallied to the Governor Yahaya Bello/Edward Onoja cause as the best placed to protect their interests in the new Kogi State. He will prove a formidable match, especially in Kogi East, for the Engineer-turned politician in Saturday’s election.

Key Battle Grounds

As far as bloc votes goes, Kogi central senatorial zone with 5 LGAs is poised to deliver en masse for their son and incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello come Saturday. In fact, in a straw opinion poll survey conducted by BorderPoint NG on 1500 respondents from the senatorial zone in February 2019, 72 percent of respondents indicated their preference for the re-election of Governor Yahaya Bello. This view is seemingly reflected by many in the zone judging by the groundswell of support for the Yahaya Bello/Edward Onoja ticket in the days leading up to Saturday’s election by the people of the zone. Barrister Natasha Akpoti is expected to make strong showing in Okehi Local Government Area, especially in Ihima district but it will not be enough to stop Governor Yahaya Bello from coasting to a landslide victory in his home zone.

Kogi East senatorial zone is likely to be the key battleground for votes among the leading candidates from the APC, PDP and SDP. In fact, indications are rife that the election in the zone will be reminiscent of the Rivers 2015 and 2019 governorship elections, going by rising incidences of political violence that has characterized election campaigns so far in the zone. A titanic battle for political supremacy will be fought in Dekina, where Musa Wada of the PDP will go head to head with Alhaji Isah Echocho, the APC senator representing the zone in the National Assembly and an implacable opponent of the Ibrahim Idris/Wada political family. Adding more spice to the contest is unconfirmed rumours that Chief Edward Onoja has officially transferred his voters’ registration area to Dekina in order to take the electoral battle to Mr. Musa Wada on his home turf. Keen political watchers agree that whoever carries the day in Dekina will likely win the popular votes in Kogi East.

Kogi West comprising Kabba-Bunu, Ijumu, Yagba West, Yagba East, Kogiand Lokoja LGAs will likely play the role of ‘swing zone’ in Saturday’s election. The Court of Appeal-ordered senatorial election holding same day, and which will pitch former Senators Dino Melaye (PDP) and Smart Adeyemi (APC) respectively against themselves in a repeat of the February 23, 2019 senatorial election will be another interesting sub-plot to Saturday’s poll in the zone. Expect the Senatorial election to generate more interest among Kogi West electorates despite PDP’s Musa Wada picking his running mate from the zone.

Likely Outcome

Saturday’s election will be a close-run thing, with a winner emerging most likely after a second ballot. However, indications on ground shows that Governor Yahaya Bello of the APC has momentum on his side heading into D-day and barring any last minute changes in political alliances/alignments, it is almost certain that he will win re-election for a second term.

All projections by analysts, informed and uninformed alike, remains what they are: projections. The ultimate decision lies with the people of Kogi State and one only hope for their sake, that they get this Decision just right.

Shehu Nurudeen is Lead Strategist at BorderPoint NG, a public policy analytics and PR consultancy firm based in Abuja. He tweets from @dinstots.

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ANYIGBALEFT: Kogi Guber: Judgement Day Looms For Gladiators.||Anyigbaleft
Kogi Guber: Judgement Day Looms For Gladiators.||Anyigbaleft
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