By Abu Michael.
It is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has raised the curtain for the conduct of the 2023 gubernatorial election in Kogi State.
The Commission late last year, announced March and April this year as period for the conduct of party primaries for the off-season election.
Even as the hubbub of the 2023 general election is approaching its crescendo across the country, the Kogi off-season election is gradually taking the centre stage. It is becoming more interesting and suspense packed because the incumbent, Alhaji Yahaya Adoza Bello, won’t be on the ballot. The question on the lips of many therefore, is “who succeeds Bello in the Lugard House”? Even though we are not sure of the next occupant of the Lugard House, what is most certain is that either the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) or the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will produce the next Governor of the State.
The curiosity prompted our team of observers from the Independent Observation Desk (IOD), to x-ray possible gubernatorial candidates on the platform of both political parties from the 3 Senatorial districts of the State.
Although, there hasn’t been visible declaration on both fronts, names are popping up; even if in hushed tones. Who are these likely contenders, and what are their chances? At the Independent Observation Desk, we have compiled the list of possible front line contenders and dark horses based on the body language of some political gladiators across the three senatorial districts of the State. In this edition, our focus is on the possible candidates on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
THE APC CANDIDATES.
The All Progressives Congress is the Party in the eyes of the storm because it produces the current occupant of the Lugard House. Due to incumbency factor, it has a reasonable chance of producing the next Governor. But its success in the election is a function of three factors. The first is intra-party harmony before, during and after the primary election. If there is unanimity of choice, the party will go into the election strong. Anything can happen should there be negative fallout after the primary. The second is the decision of the incumbent in respect of who he throws his weight behind and his success at doing so with the support of the national leadership of the Party.
The third is the criteria for the choice of candidates, primarily on the basis of pedigree, performance, capacity, financial muscle, loyalty and unifying ability at both intra and inter-party levels.
The first question is, will the Party go for continuity and allow power to remain in Kogi Central? This question is pertinent because there was a billboard once sponsored by a faceless group which surfaced in Lokoja calling for Central to retain governorship for unbroken 16 years.
The second is, will the party consider a rotation formula by ceding the ticket to the Western axis on the altar of “equity”? It is worth noting that the western senatorial district has never produced a democratically elected Governor in the State.
Or, third, will the Party look in the direction of the eastern axis this time around?
Consideration of the eastern axis is an interesting case due to the strategic belief that the zone can exercise its numerical strength on another political platform as a protest to depose APC should the ticket be ceded to another zone. All these are burning questions that must be answered by political schemers across the political and ethnic divides in the state ahead of the 2023 gubernatorial election.
Above all, will Governor Yahaya Bello, like former Governor Kashim Shettima did in Borno State in 2019, consider a dark horse? Like Zulum who Shettima anointed, the dark horse can be a candidate from any of the three zones, but should be considered strong and neutral enough, and with the capacity to unite and galvanize the Party into the main election mood and win.
WESTERN SENATORIAL DISTRICT
In the western Senatorial district, our team of investigators gathered that a member of the House of Representatives, James Abiodun Faleke, Kogi State Commissioner for Finance, Asiwaju Idris, the Minister of State for the FCT, Hajia Rahmat Tijani and the Senator representing Kogi West, Senator Smart Adeyemi are the dominant names amongst the gladiators that are scheming to pick the All Progressives Congress ticket from that axis.
James Abiodun Faleke
James Abiodun Faleke is representing Ikeja Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. His image continues to loom large in Kogi State politics since 2015 when he served as running mate to the late Prince Abubakar Audu.
His strength as a candidates lies on that ill-fated ticket, since the political structure is still visible in the State.
Apart from his deep financial muscle is the fact that as a Tinubu presidency is inching closer to reality, and Faleke is a principal driver of the Tinubu project, his candidature will be a hard nut to crack. In fact, if his boss emerges President-elect, he might exercise considerable influence on who gets the APC ticket in Kogi State, even if he chose not to contest. On that strength, Faleke might be the greatest beneficiary of the Tinubu Presidency.
However, this is not without some roadblocks. The first hurdle is that his candidature might not sit well with the people in view of his widely perceived Diaspora Status. Secondly, his interest is also negatively seen as an extension of the Lagos political empire and the annexation of Kogi state to that fold.
The third is the disintegration and diminishing influence of the Audu political family on whose platform he joined the Kogi state political space in 2015.
The fourth is whether the incumbent Governor will be comfortable with the James Faleke as his successor considering the bitter rivalry that was a fallout of the 2015 elections. With Governor Bello in charge of the APC structure in the State, the Faleke ambition might be a tall order. In any case, he would have nothing to lose as a likely juicy portfolio awaits him should his boss be inaugurated as President comes May, 2023.
Mukadam Asiwaju Idris.
The second most likely contender from the Kogi West axis is Muqaddam Asiwaju Idris, the current Commissioner for Finance. Idris who holds the traditional title of Turaki of Koton-Karfe looks very much interested in the race as his posters are virtually on all the social media platforms without rebuttal. The case for him is that he was a university mate and long standing friend of the incumbent Governor, and he has been in charge of the critical Ministry of Finance since the inception of the administration. In fact, he was in charge of the State economic team till the third quarters of last year. He therefore has the resources to mount a successful bid.
On the flip side, however, he is discussed in many corners as a political liability as he was reported never to have won his polling unit without stress in any election conducted since his appointment as Commissioner. In addition, he is seen as overtly selfish. A clear point always cited is his decision to impose his younger brother as Chairman of Yagba East Local Government Area. In addition, some section of the State sees his demeanor as overtly sectional, and thus cannot manage and unite the State as one of the sustainable legacies of Governor Yahaya Bello. His popularity does not stretch beyond Kogi West and within the Yahaya Bello government circle. In any case, he would have nothing to lose as he may return to continue his banking job with the Zenith Bank thereafter.
Hajia Rahmat Tijjani.
She is the current Minister of State for the FCT. Her strength mostly lies in the struggle for gender equity in the State. Since no woman has ever made any successful attempt at governing the State, her appeal for gender equity will resonate with voters. In her own right, she is a very articulate woman who has empowered women and youths especially in Lokoja and Koton Karfe axis of the State. In addition to her financial muscle, she has been an active political player at the national level as the former national Women Leader of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) which gave her reasonable edge in northern contact. Her weakness however, is in the fact that she has no visible state-wide contact and structure to help her ambition.
Her popularity seems limited to the Lokoja and Koton-Karfi axis. She is also widely seen as running parallel political mission, thus creating subtle rivalry with the State party structures and the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello. Also, the recent romance between the Minister of FCT, Muhammed Musa Bello, who was seen making case for Senator Smart Adeyemi to be the next Governor of Kogi state at certain quarters at the national level may be further indication of another perceived unhealthy relationship with her Principal. The next few months shall tell on how far she can go in the herculean political journey in the party and the State at large.
Senator Smart Adeyemi.
He is a veteran Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District for the third time. He was a former National President, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ). He is known nationally and one of the vocal voices in the Senate at all times. He has financial muscle with heavy investment in the hospitality business mostly in Ilorin, Kwara state. He commands reasonable level of political influence in the Five Okun speaking Local Government Areas in Kogi West. He was until last year, very close to the incumbent Governor of Kogi State who did everything for his return to the Senate during the 2019 election against Senator Dino Melaye of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
Smart Adeyemi is seen amongst the Kogi West electorates even from his Okun kinsmen as a non-performer. His kinsmen, particularly the youths constantly make reference to him as the fourth Senator from Kwara State because of his heavy investment at Ilorin without commensurable effort in his constituency. In addition, several opinion holders see Smart Adeyemi as champion of ethnic politics who might lack what it takes to manage the ethnic configuration and complexity in Kogi state. If APC is looking for inclusive and popular candidate that is sellable beyond the 2019 imposition and political abracadabra which BVAS has been introduced to tackle, then Smart Adeyemi may not be an option, irrespective of the national marketing by the FCT Minister. Nevertheless, time shall tell.
CENTRAL SENATORIAL DISTRICT.
Three likely candidates are so far visible in this axis based on the estimation of the Independent Observation Desk. They are the current Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kogi State, Pharm. Abdulkarim Jamiu Asuku, the Accountant General of the State, Alhaji Jibril Momoh and the Auditor-General of the Local Government, Alhaji Ahmed Usman Ododo.
Pharm. Abdulkarim Jamiu Asuku.
Whenever the issue of governorship contest comes into mind, the current Chief of Staff, Pharm. Abdulkarim Jamiu Asuku, readily comes into mind. He has been visibly involved in political organisation in the State. He has the money, he has name recognition, and there are visible political structures openly rooting for him across the State. Although he recently distanced himself from campaigns in his name, it has been a case of hand of Esau, voice of Jacob. His close relationship with the Governor is his greatest asset. Apart from that, his humble disposition, relationship across divides and accessibility to all are also his major political assets. However, he has some obstacles to surmount on his way to realizing his ambition.
The first is the rumbling in his closest political family that led to the removal of the Chairman of Okene Local Government. Even with the reinstatement of the Chairman, the scars of the healing wounds are still visible as political hiccup against him.
The group loyal to the deposed Chairman are waiting for an opportunity for political payback. The second is the polarisation in the appointment of substantive Chief Imam of Okene which has pitted the political class against some powerful religious and traditional institutions in the area.
The Chief of Staff is alleged to be indirectly involved in the Imamship controversy. This might have a spillover effect which can threaten his ambition. There is also the hurdle of the no-love-lost relationship between him and the Deputy Governor, Chief Edward David Onoja. Due to their considerable strength in terms of resources and youth mobilisation, should both of them indicate interest, it might lead to the explosion within the party and in the Government, and with both sides as losers.
Also, there are reported instances of cold war between him and the State Accountant General which is not healthy for political cohesion in the Governor’s inner caucus. In all, the months ahead shall tell.
Alhaji Momoh Jibril.
The current Accountant General of the State, Alhaji Momoh Jibril is another strong likely contender from Kogi Central. He is not very visible when it comes to political organanisation and grassroot movement like the Chief of Staff.
But you could only write him off at your own risk. He is very methodical and can strike decisively when it matters most. He has the required resources in addition to having the ears of the incumbent Governor at all times. Our findings revealed that he is a childhood friend and classmate of the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello from their days at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
However, further findings revealed that, his greatest drawback is that the charisma to pull people together is practically absent in him. In addition, the internal squabbles and lack of political influence beyond the occupational influence may be a drawback for his ambition. If Governor Yahaya Bello wants to project him, he has a lot of expensive work to do which time may not permit in realistic terms.
Alhaji Ahmed Usman Ododo.
Alhaji Ahmed Usman Ododo is the current Auditor General for Local Government. He has the money and the finesse to execute a Governorship project. He is said to be very generous, and that is considered his biggest strength. He is also seen as one of the close confidants of the incumbent Governor.
His major drawbacks, however, are the Local Government workers that are waiting to vent their angers should he get the APC ticket. Perceived clannish cold war from his origin in the Kogi central axis may also be a likely set back.
By and large, the three possible aspirants from the central axis have both moral and practical burden to offload because the public opinion is practically against the APC fielding any candidate, no matter how popular, from that axis. The argument is that such candidate might not withstand the PDP or any other party from another zone in the State.
EASTERN SENATORIAL DISTRICT.
The Eastern Senatorial District has an array of formidable party members who are likely to throw their hats into the ring. They include the current Deputy-Governor, Chief Edward David Onoja, the Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Party, Alhaji Murtala Yakubu Ajaka, Senator Jibrin Isah Echocho, the Auditor-General of the State, Alhaji Yusuf Yakub Okala, and former Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Professor Stephen Ikani Ocheni.
His Excellency, Chief Edward David Onoja.
The current Deputy Governor, His Excellency, Chief Edward David Onoja is no doubt a colossus in the current political dispensation in Kogi State. Under normal circumstance, he should have the right of first refusal in the upcoming contest within the APC. He was the Chief of Staff to the Governor at the onset of the administration. In fact, he was popularly dubbed the Governor’s twin brother, and was practically in charge of the New Direction administration in the first term. As Chief of Staff, he was the second most powerful person in the State. He overshadowed the then Deputy Governor until he was eventually impeached in a scenario akin to a palace coup. To his credit, youths from different parts of the State were brought into governance arena over the past 7 years. So why shouldn’t he be the natural choice of the party?.
Many unfortunately attribute the Governor’s lackluster performance in the first term largely to him because he was considered the de facto Governor. In addition, most of his core loyalists, including those he brought into government, seem to have deserted him because of perceived self-centeredness. To worsen the matter, as it stands, there seems to be pockets of iceberg standing between him and his erstwhile twin brother an allegation he has tried to denounce as untrue in many opportunity he has had. Remember, it was iceberg that doomed the maiden voyage of The Titanic.
Another hindrance is the intensity of the rivalry between him and the current Chief of Staff, Pharm Asuku. Each carries enough weight to sink the other, and that cannot be in the best interest of the Party. In addition, those who alledged that he pushed them out of the Government when he held sway as the de facto Governor and those he blocked from having close contact with his Principal, particularly kinsmen from the eastern plank, are eagerly waiting to pay back. Mr. Edward for no just cause seems to have more enemies spread across every part of the state, majorly from amongst his kinsmen which his recent philanthropic endeavours is trying to assuage. In any case, Mr. Edward would have lost nothing, given the enormous wealth he may have amassed, even if he eventually fails to get the nod of his principal to contest. But for a man who is good at springing surprises, very good a political tactician, he still stands better place amongst his rivals going by his political wisdom and sagacity.
Alhaji Murtala Yakubu Ajaka.
The second is the current APC Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Murtala Yakubu Ajaka.
He was the invisible puller of lever in the Buni-led APC Extra-Ordinary National Committee. He has the resources and has been dolling out millions in humanitarian commitments. His name is relatively popular in the eastern flank of the State. But then, in party primaries, what matters most is the control you have over party structure.
Will the incumbent Governor trust him that much to facilitate his emergence as party standard bearer? There should be some doubt, a serious one at that one. In addition, there is that sense of entitlement he seems to portray when making passive remarks about individual roles in the formation and development of APC.
The comments have made their way into the blogosphere. Remember, the internet never forgets.
Alhaji Yakubu Yusuf Okala.
Next is Alhaji Yakubu Yusuf Okala, the current Auditor General of the State. Feelers have it that he is working quietly behind the scene to get the Governor’s nod to pick the ticket. Like many others in Yahaya Bello’s cabinet, Okala has had a long standing relationship with the Governor. But Okala as Governor? That looks to be a hard sell, considering the role he played in the much discredited civil service audit in the State. Many still believe he was the architect of the arbitrariness that cut people off their means of livelihood. How then will APC campaign with his name on top of the ticket? Again, only time shall tell.
Professor Stephen Ikani Ocheni.
He was the immediate past Minister of State, Labour and Employment.
Not much has been heard from him since he exited the Federal Executive Council. He used to be very close to the current Governor, a relationship that led to his appointment as Minister then. Financially, he is handicapped. Secondly, his performance as Minister back home was considered by many as not too superlative; it can be excused away with the fact he spent few months in office and served under a substantive Minister well-grounded within and out of the Ministry before he came on board. Some see him as an Abuja politician. He also has Alhaji Murtala Ajaka from the same Local Government to contend with in terms of political strength. The next few months shall be a defining moment for this man who was recently called out to contest by a certain group without rebuttal from him, suggesting that he has his eyes on the number one seat in Kogi state.
THE LIKELY DARK HORSES?
Senator Jibrin Isah Echocho.
One of those we considered the dark horses is Senator Jibrin Isah Echocho. He is not considered a grade “A” contender for the governorship right now because he is currently involved in a fierce tussle as he seeks a return to the Red Chamber comes 2023. As it stands, he seems content with his re-election. But in politics, you never say never. He was once a formidable governorship candidate that was very much known and loved. Due to his pedigree, name recognition and faithfulness, he is considered as a dark horse that may spring surprises, if he wins re-election to the Red Chamber. However, he has his own to contend with should the choice narrow down to him.
One, he is widely seen as religiously sectional when it comes to affecting lives and livelihood. Two, he is derisively referred to as “Dekina Senator” in some quotas because of the lopsidedness in the distribution of political largesse. These people fear that the lopsidedness might continue when he becomes Governor.
Dr. Salisu Ogbo Usman.
Salisu Ogbo Usman, the young, cerebral political scientist and Rector of Kogi State Polytechnic who just turned 50, is next. He is an unusual academic with astute ability to combine intellectual prowess with practical politics. Even at that, his political interest seems far away from the murky waters of elective politics. He was the incumbent Governor’s critic turned staunched loyalist even before his appointment as Rector. Like the incumbent Governor, Dr. Ogbo is audacious, fearless and innovative by effortlessly harnessing both men and material resources leading to quality infrastructures required for teaching, research and learning environment. Popular opinion indicates that he is the face of development in the current administration delivering grade “A” academic values, restoring moral ethos, improving security and uniting the various ethnic components in an institution hitherto notorious for cultism, extortion, ethnic clairvoyance, certificate racketeering, etc. His popularity amongst the youths across Kogi State and grassroots mobilization is topnotch. Therefore, the wish by some average electorates for the incumbent Governor to look in the direction of the ‘Kogi Poly Rector’ as a sellable candidate across party and ethnic divides is a verdict of satisfaction of performance in the management of human and material resources.
However, his probable candidature has mountain to climb. The first is he does not have the financial resources to mount a governorship bid, except if bankrolled to the last penny by sponsors on goodwill. Secondly, though the Rector through his current assignment has been able to assuage with satisfactory performance, the anger of some Igala political elites whose toes he stepped on in his passionate bid for the re-election of Governor Governor Yahaya Bello in 2019, hasn’t died down completely. They saw him as a betrayer of his kinsmen. In spite of that, will the party decision makers look in his direction? Again, only time will tell.
Dr. Sanusi Mohammed Ohiare.
He is one of the Executive Directors in the Rural Electrification Agency who was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2017 and reappointed in 2022. He is from Adavi LGA in Kogi Central and holds the traditional title of Alewo Ejeh Olamaboro. He is very young, innovative and industrious by all standard. Dr. Sanusi clearly fits into the definition of youth in governance with soaring credibility. His father once represented the Kogi central in the Senate. Dr. Sanusi is a staunch member of the APC at the national level. His father’s political structure is clearly an edge for him.
He has financial resources directly or indirectly to execute governorship project. Anytime Kogi central political elites are mulling the idea of a young and dynamic possible successor to the incumbent Governor, the name of Dr. Sanusi resonates loudly. However, he is seen as a Diaspora politicians who only connects with home during election. He also has clannish issues and his father’s political foes as big huddles to cross. The question of whether the other two senatorial districts will support the APC to produce another Kogi State Governor from the Kogi central in quick succession is another major hurdle to cross.
Alhaji Friday Idachaba.
He is known as the government contractor and a business merchant who handles all government business. He is from the eastern axis of the State. He wields enormous influence as he was able to decide who flies the APC flags in some of the primaries conducted in the eastern axis in 2022. The decision to favour some candidates at the expense of others might be his major albatross if he throws his heart into the rigs. Another hurdle is the cold relationship he has with the current Deputy Governor. Giving the ticket might create division within the party.
GOVERNOR YAHAYA BELLO’S DILEMMA OF A SUCCESSOR AND THE SHETTIMA OF BORNO’S EXAMPLE.
Having considered the possible contenders for this year’s primary in the APC, the next question is who flies the flag of Party? Whatever will be the outcome, the current Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, has a major role to play.
Will he borrow the Shettima blueprint or will he follow the bandwagon by choosing convenience over political necessity as demonstrated by other ex-governors? For ease of reference, in 2019, Alhaji Kashim Shettima was an accomplished banker who had spent eight years as Governor of the war wearied Borno State. Shettima wasn’t the first choice of the power deciders in the State as the clock ticked down on Modu Sheriff’s strange hold on the State in 2011.
The heir apparent had been announced, and Shettima, was already contented with his position as Commissioner for Finance, and perhaps thinking of the next phase of his life once a new administration stepped in.
However, fate had a different plan. The murderous Boko Haram snuffed life out of the then ANPP guber candidate, and the rest is history. Shettima became the candidate, and eventually, the Governor. By a further twist of fate, Shettima, appointed a certain University teacher called Babagana Umara Zulum as Rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri.
By an extended twist of fate, Zulum surpassed expectations and was handed the delicate assignment of superintending the Ministry of Resettlement and Rehabilitation, the multi-billion naira Ministry as a fallout of the Boko Haram disaster. As Shettima’s time was winding down in 2019, political gladiators in the State were at each other’s throats in a bid to succeed the banker turned politician.
But Shettima had a different idea; he wanted a successor who can combine selflessness with resourcefulness. In Zulum, he found one. The rest too, is history. Zulum is not only an extension of Shettima’s legacy, he stands out as one of the best performing Governors in the country today.
The astonishing aspect of their relationship is the mutual love and respect between the duo that is hard to find anywhere as far as former Governors and their anointed successors are concerned. Zulum continues performing without taking the shine off Shettima’s legacy, and without diminishing his own identity as a person and Governor. No wonder Kashim Shettima is poised to be a heartbeat away from the presidency of our country. Lesson: it takes selflessness to establish an untainted legacy.
We all know that, like Shettima, Yahaya Bello was not his Party’s first choice for Kogi Governorship election in 2015. The only difference is that Bello was on the Primary Ballot, which he lost narrowly to the late Prince Abubakar Audu. He resigned himself to fate, and fate did beckon in a dramatic fashion. Audu was called home while coasting home to victory. So, will Bello tow the historic line of Shettima and present a Zulum of his own making to Kogi State? Only time will tell.
Many sitting Governors rounding off their terms are always careful with their choice of successor because they are sacred of betrayal and erasure of their legacy. We are sure Governor Bello is contending with the same dilemma right now. Amongst the possible candidates x-rayed, we have those endowed with incurable loyalty, strong performance credentials and ineffable gratitude, unifying ability and not tainted by ethnic bigotry. It is up to the governor to make his choice.
Any attempt to pick candidate out of personal convenience without gauging the larger political pendulum of the electorates in a heterogeneous State like Kogi will amount to political suicide by the APC, and the Governor will become the loser. Therefore, the flag bearer of the APC in the next election is about what Governor Yahaya Bello and power brokers want as they brace up for a titanic battle against the People’s Democratic Party next year. The truth is, without a widely acceptable candidate, it will bta-ta” that stepped in.
By the way, we enjoyed the sarcasm of that ta-ta-ta lyric that emerged as a consequence. However, the twist introduced into our electoral system by BVAS will make Okene and ta-ta-ta formule very difficult for APC to retain Lugard House post-2023. Check the 2019 election in Kogi State for instance, the toxic partisan and ethnic dimension it took would have consumed the incumbent, save for the “Okene magic” and “Ta-a inconsequential in 2023. Real number will decide this time.
The question is; are we going to see a replication of Shettima-Zulum phenomenon in Kogi State? Only Governor Yahaya Bello holds the ace. We just hope the Governor dutifully keeps a date with an endearing legacy and bring the joker and out of the pack.