The GYB phenomenon is undergoing its litmus test. It is the rave of the moment.
Everywhere in Lokoja is agog for the governor. The gunshots, the rallies and the monies are attending the tremor of campaigns.
They are shaking the heavens and the earth and the people are running to and fro, not certain if the direction is right.
But on Saturday it will be the real test of his electoral value as the people of Kogi State file out to empower a new governor. Will it be Governor Yahaya Bello (GYB) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) or will it be Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP)?
The election is a crucial decider for the APC and the PDP, not because there are no other political parties contesting the election, but because the two parties have a high stake in the election that has both local and national implications.
The two parties at all levels are throwing all their financial and tactical wherewithal into the contest.
The winner takes all and the losers are damned. This is the philosophy driving the desperation of the election in Kogi State.
The activities of the other little known parties would be serving as weights either against or in favour of either of the two leading candidates.
In fact, there are 22 other political parties running for the governorship. Their own impacts have not been very effective, but they are not so ineffective to be ignored by the APC and the PDP.
Mr Bello became governor after the death of Abubakar Audu of the APC in the last governorship election. Mr Audu died just as the results were being collated, and the results declared showed he was coasting home to victory against the former governor, Idris Wada, of the PDP.
GYB was the runner up at the APC 2015 primaries. At the demise of Mr Audu, it became the decision of the party to hand the victory of Audu to Bello.
Not a few doubted that Mr Bello could win the election if he was the party’s flag bearer ab initio.
Howbeit, fate smiled on him and he inherited the deceased’s votes and became governor, as often said, on a platter.
The November 16, 2019 election is, therefore, his first real election to become governor and he would be riding on his own popularity and acceptance by the majority of the people of Kogi State.
The APC and the PDP candidates both emerged from controversial primaries. The losers rocked the boats, but the leadership of the parties managed to maintain the peace.
The APC primaries held on Thursday, August 29 at the Confluence Stadium in Lokoja having 16 aspirants for the ticket.
They joined the race after paying N24 million each, one of the most expensive governorship forms in Nigeria’s political history.
After such a high cost, the Hope Uzodima-led screening committee cleared only nine of the 16 aspirants. The indirect primaries format was used against the demand of the majority of party members and aspirants.
As expected, Mr Bello scored about 90 per cent of the votes to be declared the winner of the primaries. Some of the aspirants disqualified joined other political parties to actualise their ambition.
The PDP primary was no less rancorous, even though it began peacefully. To avoid the APC mistake, the PDP cleared all its 13 aspirants who had parted with N24.5 million each as nomination fees.
On Monday, August 19, the delegations converged on the Confluence Stadium to elect their flagbearer. The exercise started peacefully, but midway into the exercise, hoodlums invaded the venue, scared away delegates and officials and left one person dead.
Governor Ahmed Fintiri of Adamawa State, who chaired the committee, managed to convene a meeting of all aspirants the following morning at the government lodge, where the rest of the processes were concluded and Mr Wada was declared the winner.
This did not go down well with other aspirants such as Abubakar Ibrahim, runner up in the election, and Dino Melaiye. Both threatened to challenge the outcome of the primaries.
Both political parties, although threatened by the agitations of disenchanted members, and weighing the enormity of the task of winning the coming election, managed to calm frayed nerves of their aggrieved members.
Mr Bello is running to return for another four years. He is young, said to be the youngest governor in the country.
However, in terms of performance, many Kogi residents believe he did not do well. Some persons who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in Lokoja said Mr Bello squandered his good will by not putting much effort in human and capital development of the state.
His conflict with workers and the inability to pay salaries running into several months earned him a bad image with the organised labour and the ordinary Kogi worker.
The non-payment of salaries touches on most families in the state. However, contrary opinions abound that the governor did his best given the reality of the financial crisis which hit most of the states of the federation.
They argue that if given a second chance, he would improve on the work he had started and make Kogi citizens reap the full benefits of his governance.
His political opponents consider him a major disaster. One who is desperate to hold on to power through the use of force.
He is criticised for the manner he ensured the removal of his former deputy through the House of Assembly in spite of a no-case verdict of the panel raised by the Chief Judge of the State. He is also blamed for the violence spreading across the state.
Ordinary citizens have no problems believing that the woes of the opposition in the build-up to the election were orchestrated by the governor and his supporters.
A computer operator at a business centre visited by this reporter noted that the burning of the SDP secretariat, the harassment of its candidate, Natasha Akpoti, and other candidates being harassed are pointers to the level of desperation of the administration to hold on to power through unwholesome means.
He said he might not come out on Saturday to vote if tensions continue to rise in the capital city.
Looking at a superficial consideration of the opinions of the average Kogite, one is tempted to conclude that the feeling is to deny him a second chance. The ballot may speak differently.
Dele Williams, the candidate of the Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria (GDPN) told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that the major problem of the coming election is the ethnic and regional politics.
He said with these combined forces, it is almost impossible for the citizens of Kogi State to get the benefit of electing the best candidate.
If his assertions are anything to go by, then we can conclude that the balancing of the regional forces and the identity of the candidates would determine how they would fare on Saturday.
Mr Bello is from Okene Local Government Area in the Central Senatorial District. His identity as an Ebira man from a large ethnic group in the state, gives him an advantage over most of the candidates.
He is certainly not going to match up with Mr Wada who is from the East Senatorial District if the ethnic factors are held constant.
Assuming that the voters are motivated by the identities of the two leading candidates, mustering votes from Kogi West would therefore become their focus.
The background would certainly be Lokoja, Ajaokuta and the Kabba/Bunu areas where Dino Melaye (PDP) and Smart Adeyemi (APC) are equally flexing their political muscles on how to emerge victorious as senators for the district.
Mr Williams lamented the continued delineation of voters along ethnic lines, saying it would hamper development and keep competent candidates away from power.
A voter, Samson, in Lokoja said the beneficiaries of the arrangement, even though they know that it hurts the people, would never seek to change the equation.
Kogi East is the largest region in the state. it has a combined voting population of 804,715 registered voters of the 1, 646,350 total registered voters in the state.
It naturally follows that Kogi East has also the highest number of local governments in the state. Of the 21 local governments in the state, nine are in Kogi East.
Total registered voters in Kogi Central, where Mr Bello hails from is 409,120 with five local governments; while Kogi West has a total of 432,515 registered voters with seven local governments.
It may be simplistic to conclude that any candidate who wins the east will be returned as governor, but the fact that the incumbent is not from the east does not mean that he has no following from the east.
His deputy is from the eastern senatorial district. He is also very popular and capable of pulling huge votes for the governor. Besides, members of the House of Assembly whose membership is dominated by legislators from the eastern region are certainly for the incumbent.
Given that majority of voters are wired to vote for their political parties given their level of enlightenment, it is unlikely that they would lose the broom so suddenly after they had reigned with it in the last four years.
Mr Wada, an Igala, had concentrated his campaign in the eastern senatorial district where he hails from. He is from Dekina Local Government Area. His brother, who was the former governor of the state, Idris Wada, is campaigning for him vigorously and calling on his people to cast votes for their own.
The voting strength of the Igala nation is the reason why all the past governors of the state came from the region.
Mr Bello’s emergence was by a twist of fate. If election is a game of numbers, then it is the democratic right of the Igala people to produce the governor of the state while others would simply follow behind. Unless the incumbent governor has developed a foolproof strategy to demystify this legend, his efforts may be in futility.
Royal father’s tacit support
A Lokoja-based journalist who is from Igala land, expressed frustration over the division created by the Attah Igala, the paramount traditional ruler of the Igala land, Michael Idakwo Ameh Oboni II.
“The people of Igala land are saying one thing, the Attah Igala is saying a different thing from what his subjects are saying, is that not a serious division?” he said.
His decision to confer on the governor one of the highest titles of Igala land, the Oga-Onu-Ogu-Attah of the Igala kingdom, three weeks to the governorship election is a boost for Mr Bello as he sought to make political inroads into the eastern region of the state.
The traditional ruler was greatly criticised by his people for his action. But in defence of his decision, Mr Oboni said he had no regrets in conferring the title on the governor.
His reason: the governor has awarded a contract for the construction of a bridge across River Niger from Idah, his town, to Agenebode, in Edo State. A project that would open up Idah for investment and development.
But his critics say he did that after the governor handed him a Rolls Royce. For Mr Bello, the conferment confirmed that the Attah Igala was detribalised.
A punctuation in Mr Bello’s desire to consolidate victory from his Okene home town is represented by the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Natasha Akpoti.
She is not hesitant in spraying her bile against the governor who she describes as a huge failure and lacking in competence. The ‘conspiracy’ to get her out of the ballot has failed in the courts.
She is now back on the ballot after INEC dropped her for an alleged invalid nomination; thanks to the order of the Federal High Court.
Although the APC has refused to make comments on the matter, PREMIUM TIMES investigations indicate that there is a discomfort in the governor’s camp at her reemergence.
She will be earning some votes from the Central Senatorial District, the votes many believe would have been cast for Mr Bello, thereby narrowing his chances of winning with a wide margin from his own area.
This permutation is well known to the PDP candidate and his campaign council has not failed to lend its voice in support of the female candidate in her travails at the hands of thugs suspected to be working for the governor and the APC.
The attacks she had received, coupled with the threats to her life signify to any discerning observer that her place as the SDP candidate coming from the same district with the incumbent governor, is a credit to the PDP and its candidate, Mr Wada.
“She is not fighting to win the election, but to stop the governor from returning to the Lugard House,” a party supporter quipped during an informal political discussion with his colleagues in Lokoka.
Known to be a staunch Buharist, Mr Bello may be bulldozing his way to the government house on Saturday, with all the state and federal forces behind him.
This is the expectation of many APC and PDP supporters alike. Getting the police on his side may not be too difficult. A controversial posting of his former ADC, Usman Shugaba as INEC security coordinator for RACs arguably testifies to a grand plot to seek advantage for the governor and endangering electoral process.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that a journalist blew the lead on the plot before the PDP raised the alarm. The police immediately cancelled the posting, but Mr Shugaba, although has been transferred, is said to be still hanging around the governor in Lokoja.
Just this week, Yahaya Bello got a Senate approval to be paid N10 billion as a refund for projects completed by the last administration. In spite of the criticisms, the Senate went ahead to approve the sum.
That it is coming a few days to the election raises suspicion that the funds would be diverted to fund his return bid.
Leaders of APC have ensured he had a smooth emergence at the primaries and are giving all the support to win Saturday’s election. As the ruling party, the advantage is enormous and the morale is ever increasing. Going to the polls with it is encouraging.
The police have promised to safeguard all voters, electoral materials and officials. According to the DIG of Police in charge of Operations, Abdulmajid Ali, trouble makers would be dealt with and eligible voters would cast their votes in a secure environment.
But activities leading up to the election suggest that it might not be safe on election day. Attacks on the opposition has been rampant and no arrest has been made so far.
Mr Williams says it is a strategy to win the election. Once the voters are scared away from voting, then the incumbent would win without much trouble. Although the monopoly of violence is not with the government in power, the perception is that it is most culpable.
The outcome of Saturday’s election would be determined by the people. A large turnout of voters is enough to intimidate the intimidators.
If the police provide adequate security and an enabling environment and the INEC officials play by the rules, only the popular candidate would definitely carry the day.
The votes must count to demonstrate that the power truly belongs to the people.
At the end, either Mr Bello or Mr Wada is expected to win the election.