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Kogi 2019: 50 aspirants jostle to oust Bello

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WALE IBRAHIM

Following the successful completion of supplementary elections in 17 states on March 9, which came after the February 23 general elections, attention will now be shifted to Kogi State, where the governorship election has been slated to take place in November this year.

Kogi is one of the eight states where governorship election did not take place during the last exercise. Other states are Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Anambra, Edo and Bayelsa. However, as the dust raised by the presidential, National and state Houses of Assembly elections is gradually settling down, the battle for the soul of the Confluence State, as Kogi is known, has begun, as the gladiators are already mapping out strategies to capture the Lugard House seat of power in Lokoja, only waiting for the political umpire to set out the timetable and guidelines.

At the last count, no fewer than 50 aspirants from across the political divides are jostling for the political diadem, while others are said to still be consulting, with their foot soldiers, canvassing that they join the gubernatorial race.

Political pundits are of the opinion that the governorship election would be interesting because several factors will come to play. It is contended that if the result of the presidential, National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly elections is anything to go by, then the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, may be on its way to retaining power at the Lugard House.

This position was premised on the shocking results of the general elections in the state, where the APC and its presidential candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari, defeated the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, candidate, Atiku Abubakar. The opposition party was earlier favoured to win the state because of the popular belief that the sitting governor, Yahaya Bello, was not doing well, particularly in the area of payment of salaries, pensions and general administration.

But, surprisingly, APC won two senatorial seats; Kogi East and Central, while Dino Melaye was returned in Kogi West. The loss of Kogi West, our correspondent gathered caused a crisis between the party hierarchy and all political appointees from the zone.

Prior to the general elections, the popularity of the PDP had been on the rise, especially with Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president, picking the presidential ticket of the party. The hope then was for Buhari to be defeated, after which attention would now be focused on the governor in November.

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APC has its own internal wrangling. There were the aggrieved members of the party, who fell out of favour with the governor and the late Prince Abubakar Audu/Abiodun Faleke political family, which was said to have been denied many opportunities, following the demise of the Kogi political icon. Audu was the candidate of the party in 2015, while Faleke was his deputy governorship candidate. They were coasting home to victory when Audu slumped and died on November 22, 2015. Yahaya Bello, after much political horse trading became the beneficiary of that tragic incident. But, the two political camps have been at loggerheads since then.

It was gathered that many APC loyalists defected to opposition parties in the state, particularly the PDP, with the sole aim of wresting power from Bello.

Atiku Abubakar’s emergence, as the PDP presidential candidate was seen as the tonic needed to remove Bello from the Government House. The lingering face-off with Melaye, who was arrested several times for criminal offences and other subsequent events that followed, was expected to affect the fortune of the APC. It was learnt  that the travail of Melaye attracted sympathy to him, as people and some courageous civil servants vowed to ensure that he returned to the National Assembly.

However, with the loss of Kogi West Senatorial seat to the PDP, the ruling party allegedly returned to the drawing board in preparation for the March 9 state House of Assembly election.  The strategy paid off. APC won all the 25 seats, although not without complaints from the opposition parties in the state. The election was described as daylight robbery. There were allegations of brigandage, as thugs, aided by security agents, freely held sway, while the election was boycotted in some places by the opposition.

It is not yet a done deal for the governor going by the results in some states, which indicated that the electorate is becoming wiser. Some incumbent governors, like in Bauchi State, lost even when their party won other available positions. As a result, consultations are ongoing and permutations are being made as to what the result of the November election would be.

Speaking in a chat with The Nigerian Xpress, Director of Research and Documentation, PDP, Kogi State chapter, Mr. Dickson Achadu, explained that the governorship election in November would be a different ball game. He  noted that like what happened in other states, every candidate would be allowed to carry his own cross.

Achadu maintained that experiences and performances would be the yardstick before, during and after the election because the electorate in the state is looking forward to the PDP to return to power. Projects executed by the PDP while in power in the state, he said, are still intact and visible everywhere. He added that this would be to the advantage of the party, as the ruling APC in the state has nothing to show in terms of infrastructural development in the past three years.

He stressed further that the immediate past administration of Captain Idris Wada did excellently well in office and left indelible footprint on the sand of time, stating that that was why people of Kogi will prefer PDP to take the helms of affairs again.

APC, still basking in the euphoria of its just concluded electoral success, however, said itwas strategically positioned to retain the Lugard House. With two senators, seven House of Representatives members, 25 House of Assembly members, 21 local government administrators and commissioners, among other political appointees, the party has gone back to the drawing board to ensure that it wins the governorship election in November, taking advantage of its political strength and the diversity of its elected and appointed members.

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The party said that by August, when the administration started commissioning several projects to commemorate its third year anniversary in office, the doubting Thomases would know that APC is for real in the state.

But political observers are of the view that some critical factors that played up during the governorship election in some other states may likely affect voting pattern in Kogi too. One of such factors is the non-payment of salaries of civil servants and pensions, which has caused a lot of untold hardship for many workers.

They also believed that lack of visible projects in the last three years may determine whether the electorate will vote for APC or not.

It is expected that before the electoral umpire kick-starts the race by August, no fewer than 50 aspirants from APC, PDP, Social Democratic Party, SDP, and other political parties will be vying for the coveted position right from the party primaries.

Already, even within the APC, many aspirants are queuing against Yahaya Bello for the ruling party’s ticket. The list is loaded with who is who in the state, indicating that the governor may have to sweat to get the ticket of his party. They include former President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Sani Lulu, AVM Salihu Atawodi (rtd.), Dr. Seidu Mohammed Ogar, former Chief of Naval Staff, Usman Jubril, Mohammed Audu, son ofthe late two-term governor of the state, Prince Abubakar Audu, former militaryadministrator of Oyo and Ondo states, Col. Ahmed Usman, former commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources in the state, Dr. Tim Nda Dich, a legal practitioner, Mr. Babatunde Irukera and a chieftain of the party, George Olumoroti. Unconfirmed report has it that Faleke, who has just been re-elected into the House of Representatives, may be dragged to join race.

In the opposition PDP, The Nigerian Xpress learnt that, at least, 21 aspirants haveindicated intentions to contest the party primary, with more likely to join the race soon. Those who have signified their interest are the immediate past governor of the state, Idris Wada, former Commissioner for Health, Dr. Idris Omede, a legal practitioner, Mr. Haruna Abdullahi, Mohammed Shuaibu Tettes, the immediate past deputy speaker of the state House of Assembly, Ali Akuh, Abubakar Idris, son of former governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, ex-deputy speaker of the state House of Assembly, Emmanuel Omibije, Yakubu Enape, Joe Erico, Sunday Umoru and Zakare Alfa. It was learnt that some loyalists are rooting for Senator Melaye, whom they believe to be an albatross to Governor Bello.

Just few days ago, another son of the late Prince Audu, Mustapha Muna Audu, was adopted by 17 political parties. Mustapha, who is vying on the platform of Young Progressive Party, YPP, said he was on a rescue mission.

The SDP will be parading Sani Idakwo Philips and the only Amazon, who contested for Kogi Central Senatorial seat, Natasha Hadiza Akpoti, for the governorship race.

The question now is, who wins the race to Lugard House in 2019? Time shall tell, as Nigerians will be watching unfolding events from the Confluence State.

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