How choice of deputies may influence parties’ fortunes in Kogi guber poll
With the governorship election in Kogi State barely two months away, candidates of various political parties are back in the trenches. The choice of Chief Edward Onoja, current Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello, as running mate didn’t come to many as a surprise.
His choice is considered most strategic. Bello’s major opposition and PDP’s candidate, Musa Wada, comes from Kogi East, where Onoja also hails from.
From the campaign so far, All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate and incumbent, Governor Bello, appear to be the target. Governor Bello must be defeated at all cost, seems to be the rallying call, for alleged non-performance in his first tenure. Although there are several other political parties equally fielding candidates for the November 16 gubernatorial election, stakeholders in the state have said the fight may just be between the two dominant parties, ruling APC and the main opposition in the state, PDP.
The national leadership of APC is not also leaving anything to chance. If the recent declaration of the party’s National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, is anything to go by, then Governor Bello is already sure of 100 per cent support from the party’s hierarchy.
While speaking shortly after the reconciliation meeting between the aspirants who participated in the August 29 primary of the party, Oshiomhole affirmed that the performance of Governor Bello in three and half years is higher than that of all the past 13 years of PDP administrations in the state.
According to Oshiomole, “Weighing the performance of the previous administration and that of Governor Bello, you will score the current governor higher if we must tell ourselves the truth.
“Bello did not only inherit salary arrears from his predecessors which he had defrayed, but also inherited burdens of infrastructure, projects approved and money paid but were not executed and the governor is doing all such projects today.
”Even our party’s enemies will agree with us that Bello has done well in the area of security. If the people are not secure, no meaningful development can take place. I have had three of my relations kidnapped in Kogi State while travelling from Edo to Abuja during the last administration.
“I have people who live in Kogi State and we all know the level of insecurity in that state before. But today, you can all agree with me that the current governor has addressed the issue of security in Kogi.”
Oshiomhole stressed that the rot left behind by the 13 years’ rule of PDP in Kogi State could not be cleared in four years by the Bello-led APC government, while urging the people to support the governor for a second term. Oshiomhole also noted that the meeting was to resolve all grievances arising from the primary election in Kogi State and to harmonise the party for the 2019 election.
“I am glad to let you know that all our aspirants, including those that were disqualified and those that contested and lost had agreed to work with Bello, who is the APC flag bearer.”
Perhaps, one of the bold steps being taken by the leadership of the party to ensure a smooth ride to victory, according to some APC loyalists, is the nomination of Onoja as Bello’s running mate. The choice Onoja is strategic as it will greatly impact the electoral fortunes of the candidate of PDP, Wada, who is from the same East Senatorial District. The area accounted for over 50 per cent of the state’s registered voters. According to Adejoh Nuhu, an APC leader from Idah, the decision of the governor to run with another running mate is another masterstroke capable of enhancing the chances of Bello in the area.
The conferment of a merit award on Onoja as Commander of Igala Kingdom by Igala Cultural Development Association (ICDA), a social-cultural group, on the same day he was pronounced deputy governorship candidate, has also gone a long way to show how acceptable he is by his own people.
In a letter presented and announced by the president of ICDA, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq Amodu, to the Ejeh Olamaboro, His Majesty Simeon Ujah, for onward presentation to Onoja, said Bello’s running mate is a personality to reckon with, being a man who has dedicated himself to the service of Igalaland, adding that the people of Olamaboro are proud of his achievements.
While speaking recently in Lokoja, the Director-General on Media and Publicity to Governor Bello, Kingsley Fanwo, said the emergence of Onoja running mate will give Bello the desired lead in Kogi East considered to be the most populated of the three senatorial districts of the state. Onoja was said to be instrumental to the landslide victory recorded by APC in the area in the presidential, National and state Assembly elections.
Another indigene of the area, Alfa Muhammed, noted that Onoja has contributed to the development of Kogi East more than any single politician from the area. He particularly said the actualization of Igala Unity House in Anyigba, the commercial nerve centre of Igala kingdom is a major credit to Bello’s administration and Onoja in particular.
According to Muhammed, “Our people love him, because of his ability to attract several projects to the area as a Chief of Staff. We believe that he will do more as deputy governor.”
Also reacting to the emergence of Onoja as running mate to Bello, the Speaker of Kogi State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Prince Matthew Kolawole described it as a good omen for the rapid development of the state. Kolawole said the combination of Governor Bello and Onoja is a perfect ticket that would deliver an overwhelming victory for APC come November 16. He said it would also afford them the opportunity to consolidate on the modest achievements of the new direction administration.
He said APC has taken the right decision to nominate a versatile and grassroots politician to deputise a visionary and result-oriented governor.
Bello would also be counting on his kinsmen from Kogi Central Senatorial District, who would naturally give him overwhelming support.
However, one factor which might work against the governor is the fact that he is of the minority Ebira ethnic extraction and would be facing PDP’s candidate who is from the majority Igala ethnic group. In Kogi, ethnicity plays a significant role in political decisions. This is moreso that the Igala, who lost grip of power in 2015, following the death of Abubakar Audu, are now determined to have power back.
Although the governor has been able to address the issue of unpaid salaries and pensions to a great extent, the negative perception formed over time by the state’s workforce and the generality of the people on these issue could be one of his weak points in the forthcoming election. The issue of alleged poor performance is also considered by many as another major low ahead of the election.
What is worse, Bello will run against Wada who is from the majority Igala ethnic group, which has the largest voting population in the state. Apart from being an Igala, he is also from Dekina Local Government Area, which has the largest voting strength amongst the 21 local governments in the state.
Also, Wada is the younger brother of former Governor Idris Wada and also a son-in-law to former Governor Ibrahim Idris, having married Idris’ eldest daughter. Given this scenario, Wada would most likely enjoy the support of these former governors in the forthcoming election.
The PDP’s flag bearer is also said to have strong grassroots support and financial wherewithal to prosecute his governorship ambition. Wada has also picked a former House of Representatives member, Sam Aro, as his running mate from Kogi West Senatorial District. This is an added advantage for Wada in terms of political support from that district. Aro is said to enjoy the support of his people, particularly from Yagba West, who all along felt marginalised political. They desperately desired the position of the deputy governor to compensate for Senatorial seat, which they have consistently lost to Kabba Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency.
Samuel Ade from Yagba East told The Guardian that they would do everything possible to support their own, Aro, noting,
“We lost the Senate to Kabba Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency and speaker to Kabba. This is the only thing we are now holding onto. We support the PDP and Wada for remembering us”.
While Wada will contend with Onoja in Kogi East, Aro will also face serious challenge, as he will square up with another governorship candidate from the same Yagba Federal Constituency, Mr. Emmanuel Orugun of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP). Orugun emerged candidate of his party in its primary through consensus arrangement. Yagba people may want to console themselves in Orugun, because of the failure of Senator Dino Melaye to secure the ticket of PDP, which would have given them a rallying point to actualize their ambition of producing a governor.
Perhaps, one of the weaknesses of Wada is the fact that he is being viewed as a greenhorn politically, having spent most of his life in the maritime sector. Another odd against Wada is that he would most likely secure fewer votes in Kogi Central Senatorial District given the fact that one of their own is in the governorship race. While Bello would coast home with block votes from his Central District, the same cannot be said of Wada who would be battling with strong politicians like Onoja.
Some of the aspirants that contested the primary election with Wada were aggrieved with the outcome of the exercise, with Abubakar Idris, who came second threatening court action. This could be an odd against him if he is unable to reconcile with them to work with him for eventual victory at the November poll. This means that the party would be going into the election with a divided house.
Meanwhile, major stakeholders in the party have also said that Bello’s victory in the primary has further united members of APC family.
While reacting to the development, Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Abubakar Ohere, described Bello’s victory as evidence of purposeful leadership and grassroots-based governance.
Also, a staunch loyalist of Bello, Senator Smart Adeyemi, said the emergence of the governor is the best option for the party.
According to him, “Governor Yahaya Bello will win the general governorship election in the same manner he won the primary. Winning elections is not an internet affair, but acceptability by the people based on convictions by stakeholders across the political entity. Governor Bello is a man of covenant with God; such people will not be confronted by men with mere wisdom. Winning the November poll has become simpler with the governor holding the flag of the party in view of his sterling first-term performance.”
However, in a swift reaction, Kogi State People’s Democratic Party applauded the decision of delegates of APC to elect Bello as the party’s flag bearer for the November 16 governorship election in the state.
While r eacting to the emergence of Governor Bello, PDP, through its spokesman, Bode Ogunmola, said the choice of Bello would ensure an easy win for his party on November 16. PDP said it is confident of victory given the poor performance of Bello and the general public resentment against his administration.
“It is a well known fact that Governor Bello cannot win any local government given his poor performance and the way and manner the resources of the state are being massively looted,” he said. “His desperation to return is to save himself from going to prison over looted funds. That was why he had to spend hugely to get strong contenders disqualified.”