By Richard Elesho
Despite being about nine months away from next year’s general elections, the spirit of the Kogi Governorship poll is already tormenting the state’s landscape. Not unexpectedly. Stakeholders have all eyes on the guber, even as activities towards the general elections enter full swing.
Discussions and heavy permutations on the poll are ongoing across all parties and ethnic groups in the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has scheduled the election for November 11, 2023. The off-cycle exercise will hold concurrently in two other states, namely Bayelsa and Imo.
It is exactly one year to the poll and the shape of the contest is slowly crystalizing on the horizon.
Political parties have started witnessing ecstatic gyrations and cross movements, preparatory to the selection of candidates through the Primary election coming up between March 27 and April 17 next year.
A triumvirate dogfight
As the dates draw near, the most talked about factors in the poll are which of its two formative blocks (Benue and Kwara) and three Senatorial Zones will produce the Governor. Each of the zones is dominated almost exclusively by distinct ethnic groups. Igala and Bassa dominate in Kogi East with nine Local Government Areas, LGA. Okun Yoruba and Kakanda with seven LGAs are in Kogiwest while Ebira and Ogori are in Kogi Central with five LGAs.
The State was created out of Benue and Kwara States in 1991, by President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida’s military regime. Kogi East is the old Benue block, while both Kogi West and Kogi Central make up the Kwara block.
Incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello from Okene in the centre is statute barred from the contest. He is on the last lap of his second tenure, which comes to a close on January 26th 2024. After eight years of his stewardship, people from the two other zones have been on standby anticipating power rotation.
The zone is however not eager to relinquish power without a fight. It is vigorously pursuing a campaign for power retention. Not rotation. An indication of this is a giant billboard mounted close to the Government House in Lokoja. Promoters of the continuation agenda hinge their demand on equity, justice and fairness. This is how.
Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the East through the late Abubakar Audu, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris and Capt. Idris Wada has governed the State for a cumulative seventeen years. The Central through Bello has governed for eight years. The West has never tasted it. Thus, an amorphous group, Kogi West Vision Initiatives, argue that to balance the equation, the Central should be allowed to complete sixteen years.
Babajide Olorunmaiye one of its foot soldiers pontificated further on the position. “The IGALAS had a tenure of 16 years as Governor and the Ebira should be allowed to do 16 years to enable Kogi West to spend 16 years when it is their turn.
There’s no need to rush this agitation for power shift to Kogi West Senatorial District to avoid being shortchanged.”
Curiously, Okun people are queueing up behind the plot. Prince Mathew Kolawole, Speaker of the House of Assembly flew the earliest kite on the matter. On Tuesday 20 Sept. during a stakeholders meeting of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Lokoja he praised Bello profusely for what he called his achievements adding that if possible, he would have preferred another Ebira man to continue after the Governor.
Although he was booed at the event, the idea he mooted has since gained velocity. One name often associated with the continuation agenda is Jamiu Asuku, Chief of Staff, CoS to the Governor. Many people believe he is Bello’s anointed successor. A United Kingdom-based technocrat of Ebira descent, Momoh Yusuf Obaro is also said to fix his gaze on the number one office, just as the State’s Accountant General Momoh Jimoh, Sen. Yakubu Oseni and Haruna are also said to be in the race.
Demand for power shift to the West
Kogi West which has become the underdog in the power struggle is mounting some resistance. Notwithstanding the dubious role of the faceless campaigners which analysts fear may have been orchestrated by outside forces, the zone is making strong demand for its turn.
Indeed many groups, notably Okun Rebirth Group, ORG, Kogiwest Governorship Awareness, KWGA, Movement and Okun Vision Initiative, OVI, have risen to condemn the power retention heist. OVI was most vociferous and lucid in a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Don Olusiyi. He described the retention plot as a comic attempt to stand logic on its head.
“If 16 years of Kogi East, Eight years of Kogi Central at the expiration of His Excellency, Alhaji Yahaya Bello and Zero years of Kogi West as shown in the 16-8-0 formula is unjust, unequal and unfair according to this group, how then can an additional 8 years for the Central be the correction to a lopsidedness both the Central and West complained about before 2015?
“Justice, Equity and Fairness is 16-8-8 after which Kogites must learn from the mistakes of the past.
It was obvious what the goal was when this absurd logic was first put in public space but to make it look like an agitation by persons from Kogi West is not only laughable but annoying. How can any sane individual or group moot such a ridiculous agenda not to talk of propagating the same?”
Many politicians from the West are being mentioned in the race. They include former Deputy Chief of Staff in the Villa, Sola Akanmode, current Finance Commissioner Asiwaju Asiru Idris, businessman Dr Bolu Rotimi, Sen. Dino Melaye, Sen Smart Adeyemi, former Finance Commissioner Abiodun Ojo, Reps James Faleke and Leke Abejide.
The East demands power return
On its part, Kogi East, which has endured frustrations since losing power in the supernatural circumstance in 2015, has never disguised its desire to recapture it. The zone’s attempt in 2019 failed through a combination of poor preparations and masculinization of the electoral process. The zone is set to change its sack clothes and demand a power shift to the old Benue block.
Politicians from the zone are believed to be ironing out their differences ahead of the poll. Not a few of them have been named as viable aspirants. They are former Governor Idris Wada, his brother Engr Musa Wada, incumbent Deputy Governor, Edward Onoja, party chieftain Murtala Ajaka, businessman and son of a former Governor, Abubakar Ibrahim and LG Auditor General Salihu Ododo.
Governor that may be made from outside
So many aspirants. While the Gladiators junket the field, analysts postulate that the Governorship poll will be influenced by extraneous forces, like never before witnessed in the state. The outcome of the general election will go a long way in determining the next occupant of Lugatd House, as the Kogi seat of power is named.
Gov. Bello will want to have a say in the choice of who succeeds him. But, that desire may suffer a setback after the Presidential election. Analysts opine that if his party, the APC wins then Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu may show more than a passing glance in the Kogi poll. Similarly, if that party lose the Presidency, bookmakers posit that whoever emerges victorious will like to make a bold statement for his party in the off-season polls.
“As matters stand, it may be a no-win situation for Governor Bello after the Presidential ballot. One thing is certain that the next Kogi guber election will be coloured in no small measure by national politics.” Dr Ruben Igbalari, a public affairs commentator told The News.