2023 governorship election: The Okun as pawns in Kogi’s power game of chess

Okun Yoruba voting patter in Kogi

Okun Yoruba voting patter in Kogi

Richard Elesho

The 2023 Kogi state governorship election may have come, but its horrific spirit hovers in the air. Its foul aspects ooze and defile the neighbourhood like the odoriferous stench of a poorly covered corpse. The Okun people found in the West Senatorial Zone of the state have once again asserted their rare but well-known reputation for self disdain.

They were at one and the same time the hero and the villain of the contest, depending on who is passing judgement. To the Ebira, they are the hero, ask the outgoing Governor Yahaya Bello, while to their Igala brothers in Kogi East, they are the villain. It remains a mystery for social scientists to unravel how the ethnic stock rated among the most educated in the country so easily commits to the good of others, even at the risk of jeopardising self-interest.

The last election shows how each of the three major ethnic groups in the state values itself. All the groups coveted the governorship seat. The West hinged their aspiration on the trite and weather beaten cry of marginalisation and demand for power shift. In the state’s 32-year history, no one has been elected governor from the area.

The Igala who have monopolised the office for more than sixteen years have been zealous and nostalgic about its return. Similarly, the Ebira have been unequivocal about power retention, having tasted its aura for eight years and is still counting.

Determined to reverse the trend, Kogi west Elders Council, in collaboration with Okun Development Association, ODA, took sporadic steps to make a case for a Governor of Okun extraction, including visiting President Bola Ahmed Tinubu twice to drive their agenda. The efforts were almost dead on arrival.

Suffice to say that all the zones had strong candidates in the election. Kogi West paraded electoral veterans like Dino Melaiye of Peoples Dempcratic Party, PDP; Leke Abejide of African Democratic Congress, ADC; and first timer Olayinka Braimoh of Action Alliance, AA. The Igala had Muritala Ajaka of Social Democratic Party, SDP as rallying point of their agenda. Ododo Ahmed Usman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was the sole candidate from the Central.

The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, returned the 41-year-old Ododo winner of the election. He won with a landslide, beating 17 other candidates to breast the tape. He polled 446,237 votes to defeat Ajaka, his closest rival, who polled 259,052. Senator Melaiye, an old war horse, came a distant third with 46,362 votes, followed by his equally experienced Okun kinsman Leke Abejide of African Democratic Congress, ADC who polled a paltry 21,819. More than half of Ododo’s winning ballots were from home.

With this outcome, Kogi will continue as the producer of Nigeria’s youngest governor. Outgoing Governor Yahaya Bello has been holding that title since 2016 when he clinched it at the impressionable age of 40. The neophyte governor-elect who just cut his political teeth won the election due to a number of factors, chief of which is a godfather’s support. Ododo’s chief sponsor is the incumbent, who galvanised grassroot support from Anebira.

He also won the poll because of the massive support he enjoyed from Kogi West. The election has once again confirmed that no ethnic group, irrespective of size, can singularly produce the governor without the support of at least one other. A tree, as they say, does not make a forest. If it was a football match, Kogi West could have been named ‘the zone of the contest.”

Almost all ballots in the Central were harvested by the APC. In fact, more than 70% of Ododo’s votes were cast by his Ebira kinsmen. The same goes for the runner-up. Indeed, a lion 87% of Ajaka’s votes were manufactured by his Omaye Igala country people.

Kogi West was a radical departure from the above. In spite of elders from the area coming out to endorse Abejide, the electorate did not deliver bulk vote to him or either of the remaining two candidates from the area. The only evidence of the elders’ endorsement of Abejide is in his ancestral Yagba East, where he recorded a slim lead over the APC. That is also the only LG won by the elders’ preferred candidate.

It is more instructive that Abejide’s 21,819 votes is less than half of the meagre 46,362 with which Melaiye emerged a distant second runner-up. Unlike Abejide, whose votes were restricted to Okun land, Melaiye’s votes spread beyond his tribe. For Okun, the endorsement has turned out to be a failure of strategy and a strong message to the elders on how not to meddle in partisan affairs.

That is not all. It speaks volumes that the 43,042 people that voted for Ododo in the five LGs in Okun land is more than the 40,518 that cast their votes for the three Okun candidates put together. The gap between the ballots of the ruling party and the combination of the three candidates from Okun land is embarrassing wider when one adds Lokoja and Kotonkarffe (the two remaining LGAs in Kogi West). Whereas Ododo raked in 76,916 votes from Kogi West, the combination of Melaiye, Abejide, and Braimoh got a little above 2/3 of that figure at 48,570.

The real tragedy of the Okun performance or the lack thereof, however, is not in their refusal to cast the ballot for their own, but in not turning up in great numbers to perform the all important civic duty. For instance, Adavi LGA alone had about 103,000 accredited voters. This is more than the number of accredited voters in the five LGAs of Okun land, which is put at about 88,000. Ditto, the miracle figure of about 244,000 accredited voters in Adavi and Okene LGAs in the Central, is more than the 152,000 accredited voters in the entire seven council areas of Kogi West. Meanwhile, INEC records still indicate that the Central has the lowest numbers of Registered Voters among the three zones.

Those who are conversant with the history of Kogi State would readily point out that playing the second fiddle and Kogi West are not strange bedfellows. For more than 12 years, they devoted their energy to helping the Igala tighten its grips on power. For now, they have shifted alliance and
busy helping Ebira consolidate on access to power. They seem to be the pawns in Kogi’s power game of chess. Perhap, they are the new hewer of stones and fetcher of water.

Will the other zones ever rally support for Kogi West to smell Lugard House? The answer is buried in the womb of time.