By Ralph Agbana
The race to succeed Yahaya Bello, the governor of Kogi State, is shaping up with lots of interesting sides.
There are of course, subsisting arguments for, or against the constitutionality of power rotation amongst the component parts of the state. There is also the usual capitulation by minorities in Kogi West and Kogi Central, populated mainly by the Yoruba and Ebira respectively, to the dictates of the larger Igala ethnic group in Kogi East. According to the 2006 census, the Kogi East senatorial zone accounts for 46 percent of the population of the state. People from the zone, however, have serially put forward voluptuous statistics, sometimes claiming to constitute 70 percent of the state. Other ethnic groups have been repeatedly consigned to the position of bystanders in the politics and economy of the state, until in the last two election cycles.
The clamour by the blocs has always centred on the imperative of equitable sharing of the right of occupancy of the Lugard House, Lokoja, which has been the monopolised by the Igalas, save for the 2015 political happenstance, which threw Bello up. From all indications, political contest in the state should no longer be business as usual.
That depends on the minority groups, whether they are smart enough to keep the governorship among them (Kogi West and Central) beyond 2024. In that case, the West and Central have to work on the strategies and modalities. The acrimonious jostle for the governorship by over half a dozen aspirants from Okunland in 2012, splitting the votes of delegates at gubernatorial primaries among themselves, rather than work as a unit, readily comes to mind.
In the nearly two decades of the current political dispensation, power resided with the majority Igala ethic group, upwards 18 years and until 2015, what had been noticeable was outright disregard for equitable share of power by the majority tribe in this state with heterogeneous mixtures.
In the first state election, held on December 14, 1991, Abubakar Audu of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) and Stephen Achema of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) starred in an all-Igala context. Audu won. He however did not last in office as he exited the Lugard House just after 22 months, no thanks to the abrupt end to the third republic dispensation occasioned by the controversial annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
In 1999, Audu was reelected governor on the platform of the All Peoples Party (APP), later All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), with the return to democracy, coming six years after his abridged first tenure.
His main opponent was Stephen Olorunfemi, a Yoruba from Kogi West. While Audu ran on APP platform, Olorunfemi flagged the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In 2003, Audu sought another term but this time he was defeated by kinsman, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, who ran on the ticket of the PDP, who served two terms in office.
By this time, the agitation for rotation of power to either Kogi Central or Kogi West had gathered momentum.
At some point, the formation of what became known as “League of Charter of Equity”, a coalition of Okun and Ebira stakeholders with the understanding of like minds in Igala attempted to push the power rotation agenda.
In the League of Charter of Equity were the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, late Chief Silas Daniyan, late Senator Ahmad Tijani Ahmed, late Dr Stephen Achema, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, General David Jemibewon, Prince Olusola Akanmode, Mrs Comfort Aiyepeku, Dr Farouk Abdulaziz, among others. The effort ended without achieving its goal.
Emerging from the shadows of the retiring elders, Prince Olusola Akanmode, as Deputy Chief of Staff in the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency, combining with Senator Tunde Ogbeha took over the struggle for power shift either to West or Central, providing leadership, coordination and logistics. The efforts also did not work.
Subsequently, hopes for power shift were dimmed further even after coalitions such as Okun/Ebira Agenda and Kogi Unity Group, midwifed by Akanmode had thrown up Senator Muhammed Ohiare (from the Central) as joint candidate of the ANPP and Action Congress of Nigeria.
Twice, the minorities came close to clinching the coveted seat in Government House, but the bold efforts of Senator A.T. Ahmed (central) and Alhaji Abdulrazaq Kutepa (west) in 2003 and 2011 respectively came to naught as the minorities failed to bond even when it was obvious the two zones combined had superior numbers in terms of population, local governments (12 against 9), electoral wards, delegates to the party primaries and voting strength in the general election.
Many Kogites would not forget in a hurry how the tremendous effort of Senator AT Ahmed made him to emerge as the unifying personage in Ebiraland while also he became the symbol of power shift amongst the people of the West, with sizable goodwill in the East. Yet, the strongman of Ebira politics lost narrowly to Ibrahim Idris via a run-off at the famous primary of the PDP held at the Lokoja Cinema House ahead of the 2003 polls.
Ahmed, after his failed bid in 2003, pushed on and was widely seen as the major contender for the 2007 election. He was killed in a motor accident on a trip from Abuja to Okene, his hometown on Saturday, June 10, 2006.
In the run up to the 2011 poll, prominent gladiators like Akanmode, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN), Telecoms businessman, Mr Deinde Abolarin and Alhaji Abdulrazaq Kutepa, Chairman of Waltersmith Petrolman, among others, all from Kogi West, needlessly filed out in their numbers for the PDP governorship primaries.
If the September 2011 primary was lost to Jibrin Isah Echocho as a result of multiple aspirants from Kogi West, only the minorities in Kogi West and Central could explain how they lost the ticket of the then ruling PDP to Idris Wada, an Igala in the rerun primary of November 2011, involving just Wada and Kutepa.
Kutepa, a minority-minority from Lokoja axis of Kogi West had posed unprecedented challenge to the Igala prolonged rule, in terms of his huge war chest, charisma and determination. With weak opposition parties to contend with and at a time picking up PDP’s ticket was a guarantee for winning elections in the state. It was the closest the minorities had come to producing a governor. But despite having the edge in terms of numbers of delegates only the minorities could explain why and how Kutepa lost the PDP ticket to Idris Wada.
Consequently, in 2012, Idris Wada, a retired pilot, from Dekina, Kogi East succeeded his kinsman and friend, Ibrahim Idris.
Then it Happened!
WADA, after his first term ending 2016, sought a second term, constitutionally. Again, his major contender was none other than Audu Abubakar. It was Audu’s third shot, although his first tenure in the truncated third republic would not count. Audu had clinched APC ticket at the August 2015 primary. However, in a dramatic change to the narrative of Kogi’s governorship elections, Audu, already declared winner in majority of the 21 local governments and coasting to unassailable victory, died, midway into the announcement of the results of the November 21, 2015 governorship election. Popular expectations that his running mate, James Abiodun Faleke, a Yoruba from Kogi West would replace his late boss in what was supposed to be a joint mandate were dashed on the ground that he did not participate in the party primary and other legal technicalities. The lot then fell on the underdog Yahaya Bello, an Ebira and runner-up in the August 2015 APC primary. Out of the blues, the APC hierarchy nominated Bello as replacement candidate for the predictable supplementary election, thus becoming the first minority to rule Kogi State.
Bello’s first tenure ending in 2019 presented the avenue to a fresh test of the long-standing quest for bonding by the minorities. Unlike in the past, this time, the coalition was strengthened by the advantage of incumbency.
Against all odds, Bello was reelected in 2019. His election for a fresh term also put to trial the numbers hitherto claimed by the majority Igala tribe as the votes from Kogi Central and West clearly outweighed those from the East. The results announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), showed that APC polled 406,222 votes to defeat PDP, which polled 189,704 votes. Intriguingly, 236,004 votes, more than half of the total votes cast for the APC, came from Bello’s Kogi Central.
Then, these questions followed: did Bello owe his emergence as a second term governor to any coalition? Will he be obliged to support a candidate from Kogi West, in other words, to complete the rotation of power? Will he bank on the 2019 bloc votes from Kogi Central and opt for an Ebira successor and will it be difficult to blackmail him if he decided to do so? Will the incumbent damn the talks about equity and return the baton to a successor from Igala majority ethic group?
According to a chieftain of the APC who spoke to The Guardian anonymously, “to a reasonable extent”, Bello owed his second term victory to the coalition of support from outside the central, especially with the West’s support and the expectations of the people of Okunland is that the governor will reciprocate, when done with his second and last term.
He added: “Governor Yahaya Adoza Bello is a leader who loves fairness, justice and equity, so we in the West believe that the governor will do what is needful by pulling his weight in support of power shift to the West Senatorial District. The activities and disposition of Governor Bello in the appointment of many West senatorial district people in his cabinet and his fairness in ensuring that development gets to the zone is a testimony of his fairness and belief in equity, so we believe strongly that the governor cannot change as that is part of his person and what distinguishes him from many leaders that don’t consider fairness and justice in their actions and decisions.
“The Igala ethic group was evidently in power approximately 18 years and the ride over the other senatorial districts was going to continue after Audu emerged as the governorship candidate of the APC in 2015 and was coasting to a third victory until the cold arm of death denied him. This means the Igala only let go of power when it was no longer under in their control. So, once we had a co-minority as the sitting governor, we saw that as the best opportunity to retain power within the minority groups with the hope that our time to produce the governor will come next. The fear of continued domination by the Igala played a big role in the last election when Kogi Central and West for the first time in history decided to come together to ensure that power was retained in Kogi Central for another four years.”
Beyond the West, talking of events culminating in Bello’s second term victory cannot be exhausted without mentioning the contributions of APC supporters in Kogi East, led by Bello’s deputy, Edward Onoja, who ensured PDP candidate in that election, Musa Wada, a fellow Igala was disallowed the bloc votes from that zone.
AWKWARD as it may sound, in view of the years of domination of power by the Easterners, APC supporters in Kogi East want power to shift back to them in 2024. Further to this, is the factor of Onoja and his support for Bello both in 2015 and 2019. There is said to be an unwritten agreement that Bello would handover to his bosom friend (Onoja), at the expiration of his (Bello’s) two terms.
Notwithstanding, based on the thinking that the second term victory of Bello’s was largely due to the unprecedented bloc vote from his homestead, Ebiraland, activities around politicians from Kogi Central and their allies from the other zones continue to fuel suggestions around additional eight years, to in a way even for the Ebira close to the long years of domination by the Igala, if not equaled.
Alarmed by this line of thought and Bello’s silence over his succession plans, interest groups like Kogi West Agenda (KWA), chaired by Alhaji Mahmud Inuwa Muhammed, Kogi West Elders’ Forum (KWEF), led by former Military Governor of Old Oyo State, General David Jemibewon (rtd) and Kogi West Initiative (KWI) led by former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mallam Musa Ibrahim, have kicked against any attempt to deny Kogi West its “rightful” turn to produce the governor of the state in 2024.
The platforms on different occasions admonish all political parties to consider fielding their governorship candidates from Kogi West with the caveat that this time, the zone would reject the position of running mate to any governorship candidates from the East or the Central zones.
Kogi West Elders Forum in the communique signed by Jemibewon and read by former Managing Director of Daily Trust Media, Alhaji Isiaq Ajibola contended that the zone has not produced a governor since the creation of the state over 39 years ago. KWEF demanded that the time has come for the zone to produce governor after Yahaya Bello ‘for justice, equity and complete power shift”.
KWEF reminded Bello of Kogi West’s support during the last election and that based on their knowledge that he is a democrat, he would honour their “modest agitation for power rotation in the state”.
Kogi West people reasoned that Bello must first implement the power shift principle he advocated at the federal level, by using Kogi State as an example, thereby showing the infallible strength of good character and integrity required to lead a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria.
At a one-day summit of KWI, held in Lokoja last October, the group explained that the demand of the people of the zone to produce the next governor was not a declaration of war on other zones but a legitimate demand.
Similarly, last month, Kogi West Business Class, a forum of captains of industry and private business owners also met in Abuja to strategise on how to ensure that what appears the best chance of the people of Kogi West to produce the next governor of the state is achieved. The group of eminent personalities from the Okun/Lokoja axis resolved to achieve their aim through engagement and negotiations with stakeholders from the other two senatorial districts.