The citizens of Kogi State are gearing up for another governorship election on November 16. They will decide whether to return or replace incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello.
In the 2015 election, Idris Wada, the incumbent governor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was roundly defeated by the late Abubakar Audu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Mr Audu, who attempted to return to the Government House for the third time, died as it became clear he was winning, allowing his victory to slip away. He had about 41,000 votes more than his closest rival.
The 2015 election was contested by 22 political parties, with APC and PDP as the frontrunners. Mr Wada had the then sitting deputy governor, Abayomi Awoniyi, as his running mate, while Mr Audu had James Faleke as his.
Governor Bello was not in the picture. He did not contest the election because he failed to clinch the APC ticket at the primary election, although he came second.
The interpretation of the Constitution and the Electoral Act forced it on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to recognise Mr Bello as the candidate of the APC who had the entire votes garnered by the late Audu transferred to him.
His emergence as governor without sweating it out on the fields of the electoral campaign has been described as a miracle only possible within the Nigerian arrangement.
However, the parties are heading for the primaries again for the November 16 poll. The time of long speeches is over. It is time for the governor to have a real test of his popularity.
Although many other parties would be contesting the election, the challenges within the APC and the PDP would be of more attraction to the majority of voters due to the intrigues likely to attend the proceedings of the primaries.
The APC has scheduled its primaries for August 29 but the mode of the exercise had been the issue working to tear the party apart. While the governor and his supporters appear to fancy indirect primaries, other contenders are angling for direct primaries.
The party stakeholders are in court over the mode of primaries to be adopted. Unless the matter is treated with alacrity before August 29, the Zamfara treatment might be hanging over their heads.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that those seeking to wrest the ticket from the governor are no pushovers, some of them have held high governmental positions in the state and national levels.
It was gathered that two sons of the late Abubakar Audu, Mustapha and Mohammed, and their uncle, Yahaya Audu, have shown interest in picking the APC ticket on August 29.
The number of aspirants has soared. At the last count, eight had notified the party that they were prepared to fly its flag at the election. Notable among them are Seidu Mohammed, a professor and former Director-General of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA); former Chief of Naval Staff, Jibrin Usman; and a former Chairman of the Nigerian Football Federation, Sani Lulu Abdullahi.
Most of the contenders are from Kogi East, which is the largest voting bloc in Kogi State. The governors of the state had emerged from the Zone since 1999 until Mr Bello from Kogi Central mounted the saddle in 2015.
Close watchers of the developments in Kogi State think the rush from the east district to snatch the baton from him could as well be his strength.
This argument is sustained because the aspirants would be splitting the bulk of the votes coming from that zone if they go to the primaries divided, while the governor would naturally consolidate his stronghold, which is the Central and the West.
The governor is also marching into the fray with his incumbency advantage. He is believed to be a loyal party man and could easily get the ears and sympathies of the kingmakers in Abuja.
If he emerges as the APC standard-bearer on August 29, it would not be because he is popular, it is most likely, many think, those contending against him had no political structures to oust a sitting governor.
Some Kogi stakeholders are wont to embrace the view that Mr Bello is a greenhorn in Kogi politics. But this could be a naive conclusion when weighed against his performance at the last governorship primaries of the party when he was the runner up, ahead of many well-known politicians.
At the primaries, while Mr Abubakar scored 1,109 votes, Mr Bello scored 703 votes to place second. A senator, Nurudeen Abatemi, came a distant third with 400 votes.
Others performed poorly at the primaries. It would be worthy of mention that Mr Bello received about 400 votes from Kogi East alone, which showed he had a good following from the zone.
In spite of his chances, there are odds against the governor. He has his battles from different fronts. The crisis over workers unpaid salaries has remained a sore point in the entire life of his administration.
He also has been fighting with his deputy, Simon Achuba. The decision to impeach him may be a political miscalculation that could be counterproductive in the prosecution of his aspirations.
Forces against him are building up within the party, if they find common ground and unite behind a formidable candidate, it might spell doom for Mr Bello and he could go down in history in the list of incumbents who failed to get the APC ticket to seek a second term in office.
Mr Bello is apparently finding it difficult to handle the crisis within his party at the moment, and it also appears that the national secretariat of the party has not been able to find an antidote for the smouldering bitterness that is threatening his ambition. If the APC approaches the November 16 election in their current state, they may be bidding goodbye to Lugard House.
It is very clear the PDP is working hard to take over power in the state. It appears the outcome of the primaries would give impetus to this direction. The posters of Dino Melaye, the senator representing Kogi West is all over the place in the state.
He is formidable and capable of ruffling feathers and indeed the feathers of Mr Bello. Perhaps not many saw the reasons for the exchange of “fatal fists” between Dino and Bello prior to the defection of the senator from the APC to the PDP.
Mr Melaye is a frontrunner for the PDP ticket ahead of the governorship election. But another unexpected battlefront opened against the governor on August 23 when the election petition tribunal in the state nullified his election as the senator for Kogi West and ordered a fresh poll. It will be interesting how he will juggle this with his governorship bid.
Mr Melaye also has Idris Wada to contend with. Mr Wada is seeking a chance to complete his two terms as governor and would be matching up against Dino and others in the coming days.
The other aspirants are Joseph Ameh, a security expert, noted for his grassroots politics. Salia Atawodi, a retired Air Vice Marshal; Abubakar Suleiman; Grace Adejo, the only female aspirant in the party; Ibrahim Abubakar, the son of a former governor of the state, Ibrahim Idris; Bayo Averehi, Mohammed Shaibu, Victor Adoji and Bayo Agberedi.
Mr Wada is believed to have a chance, coming from the eastern senatorial zone with a huge voting population. It is often said that politics is a game of numbers; Mr Melaye could pull the west and the central together to neutralise the build-up from the east.
This conjecture is sustainable particularly if the APC ticket goes to Mr Bello. It will be an interesting outing for Dino and Bello to slug it out in a battle that would be determined on the battlefields of Igala land.
There is a pervasive ambience of calm within the PDP in Kogi State. This is no doubt a plus for the party as it proceeds with the activities of the primaries which had been scheduled for September 3.
There were recent moves by some of the aspirants to forge a consensus, a move that had been applauded by the party’s hierarchy. National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, had noted that the party was ready for whatever the aspirants decided, whether to have a consensus candidate or go all out for the contest.
Natasha Akpoti is the face of the Social Democratic Party in Kogi State. She is also from the same senatorial district with the incumbent governor and her activities in the state’s political terrain had shown her as an ardent anti-Bello element.
She was the senatorial candidate of the PDP in the last general elections and she is seeking to emerge as the candidate of the SDP in the coming days.
Besides her SDP, the other parties are yet to portray their aspirants in strong terms. There is a lull in the realms of other political parties. When they go to sleep only to wake at the eleventh hour of the game, the people are condemned to either vote the PDP or the APC.
The two leading parties are certainly left alone to re-enact their rivalry in the coming governorship election. However, the outcome of the primaries would provide a glimpse of what the fireworks will look like at the election proper.