Over 1.8 million voters will on Saturday pick one out of 18 candidates seeking to succeed Governor Yahaya Bello as the governor of Kogi State in North-central Nigeria.
The winning candidates must have the highest number of votes and at least 25 per cent of the votes in at least 14 of the 21 local government areas (LGAs) of the state, the minimum requirement to be declared winner of the election according to Section 179 of the Nigerian constitution.
However, the governorship election in Kogi is usually between candidates from the majority Igala ethnic group in Kogi East Senatorial District and their opponents from the two other senatorial districts. The Ebira ethnic group, the second largest ethnic group in the state, are mainly in Kogi Central District while the Okun Yoruba constitute the largest group in Kogi West. The contest is no different in this election.
The election is believed to be a three-horse race involving the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Usman Ododo; the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Dino Melaye; and the Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) candidate, Murtala Ajaka.
Mr Ododo, 41, holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He is from Okene Local Government Area. Governor Bello comes from the same LGA.
Usman Ododo was a member of the Nigerian Youth Parliament, a special assistant to incumbent governor Yahaya Bello and chairman of the Kogi State Youth Council. He is the former Auditor-General of Kogi State.
Mr Bello is perceived to have handpicked Mr Ododo as his successor and many feared he would become Mr Bello’s puppet if elected into office.
Mr Melaye, 49, was the senator in Nigeria’s 8th National Assembly for Kogi West district. He is from Ayetoro Gbede in Ijumu Local Government Area.
In 2015, he defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) but returned to PDP in the buildup to the 2019 elections after months of political struggle with Mr Bello.
He was the spokesperson of the 2023 presidential candidate of PDP, Atiku Abubakar.
Mr Ajaka, 45, holds a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) degree in Sociology from the University of Abuja.
He hails from Igalamela/Odolu Local Government Area of the state.
He started his political career as the Deputy State Secretary of the now-defunct Action Congress (AC), FCT Chapter. He also served as the party’s National Assembly Liaison Officer.
Until he defected recently, Mr Ajaka was a member of the APC since the inception of the party in 2013. In 2020, he was appointed a Special Adviser to the national chairman of the party.
In 2022, he was elected the APC’s Deputy National Publicity Secretary at the party’s National Convention. He defected from the party this year after a court barred him from running in the party’s governorship primary.
Mr Ajaka is contesting under the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The APC fielded a Muslim Ebira (from Kogi Central) with a Christian Igala running mate (from Kogi East). The PDP candidate is a Christian Okun (from Kogi West) with a Muslim Ebira woman (from Kogi Central). Meanwhile, the SDP fielded a Muslim Igala (from Kogi East) and a Christian Okun running mate (from Kogi West).
However, the backgrounds of the candidates have made it difficult for pundits to predict how the votes will be shared, even though voters are likely to vote along religious and ethnic lines.
The common analysis projects the election between Mr Ododo of the APC and Mr Ajaka of the SDP. Kogi East, where Mr Ajaka comes from, has about half of the registered voters while Mr Ododo has the machinery of the ruling party and the state government behind his bid.
That analysis however underestimates the chances of the PDP candidate and his running mate, Habeebat Deen, who have been active in the state’s local politics for long.
Where do the votes come from
Kogi East Senatorial district has 905,274 registered voters, the largest voting bloc in the state constituting 49 per cent of the state’s total.
Also, three of the seven LGAs in the state with over 100,000 voters are in this district – Dekina, with 184,264 eligible voters; Ankpa with 164,514; and Olamaboro with 101,017. The district also has nine local government areas, compared to seven in Kogi West and five in Kogi Central.
Kogi West and Kogi Central have 25.46 and 25.15 per cent of the total votes respectively. While Kogi West has 466,790 total voters, Kogi Central has 461,096 voters.
In Kogi Central, the LGAs with the highest number of voters are Okene with 149,085 eligible voters and Adavi with 113,024. In Kogi East, Lokoja has the highest number of voters with 147,257. In the region, it is only followed by Kaba/Bunu which has 81,091 voters.
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