The commencement at weekend of screening of 18 aspirants jostling to fly the flag of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, at the November 1, 2023 governorship election in Kogi State, climaxed what analysts termed “the mother of all elections”.
The reason for this is not far-fetched. Apart from the 18 aspirants who are squaring up for the party’s primaries in April, the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, can boost of nine (9) high profile figures, who have picked the party’s nomination forms for the November 1election, including the party’s flag bearer in the November 2019 governorship election in the Confluence State, Engr Musa Wada.
While the opposition PDP has vowed to reclaim power in the November 1 election, the APC is throwing everything to work to ensure it retains power. Analysts believe that for APC to retain control of the State, then it must shop for a credible and sellable candidate
The people of the Confluence State, as Kogi is fondly called because of its natural features will on November 1 this year head to the poll to elect Alhaji Yahaya Bello’s successor, whose tenure is expected to elapsed by January 27, 2024.
Elections in Kogi, especially, for the office of governor does not always come with straight jacket explanation, principally because of the delicate ethnic balance and the somewhat disproportionate population distribution of the State. This has been one constant source of tension in the state each time election seasons approaches.
The three components that makes up Kogi State are not new to each other politically. The Igalas on the East of the Niger, Ebiras in the Central and Okuns in the West, all of whom share historical antecedents politically. Though the journey to becoming Kogi State is characterised by mixed bag of separations and reunification, the three major tribes that makes up Kogi State have never settled at round table on the power dynamics.
While the Ebira’s and the Okuns in Central and West respectively, feels cheated by the Igalas, who catching in on their numerical superiority has dominated the governance of the state since the state was created in 1991, especially, since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. It would be recalled that the trio journyed from Kabba Province as part of northern region between 1960 and 1967, when Kwara, Benue-Plateau and later Benue were created. By the time Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida created Kogi State on 27 August, 1991, the three had learnt bitter political lessons.
Upon the creation of Kogi State, an Igala man, Prince Abubakar Audu became governor between 1991 and 1993, when the Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s wifed transition to civil rule programme was truncated by Gen Sani Abacha. Upon the return to democracy in Fourth republic in 1999, again, Prince Abubakar Audu returned as governor. Though he lost his reelection bid in 2003, he didn’t lose it to other tribes but another Igala man, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, who spent two terms and handed over to another Igala man, Capt Idris Wada. He lost his re-election bid and was to handover to another Igala man, Prince Audu, before the cold hands of death snatched him in the middle of the November 2015 governorship election and power inevitably shifted to other zone.
Against the backdrop of the continuos dominance of Kogi governorship by the Igalas, other parts are beginning to agitate for equal treatment. The crux of their argument is that, in the Fourth republic alone, the Igalas have spent 16 years as governor. This is not counting the aborted Third republic, where Prince Audu, an Igala man, was governor between 1991 and 1993. The Ebiras have just spent eight years with Alhaji Yahaya Bello in the saddle. There are calls from some quarters in the state that equity demands that the Ebiras be allowed to exhaust their 16 years before power moves to the West of the State.
A frontline politician in the State bemoaned the fact that Igalas are dangling zoning and ethnic cards to lay claims to a return of power to the East. Is there not a time-tested saying that”What’s good for goose is good for the gander? Should other senatorial zones not equally enjoy the same privilege the Igalas have enjoyed? The angry man queried.
So far, 18 candidates have indicated Interest and have backed desires up with actions by purchasing expression of interest forms. The 18 aspirants have been screened and cleared to contest for the ticket of the party. A section of the analysts believe that the contest for APC governorship ticket is mostly fierce because winning the APC ticket is as good as winning the election because the opposition in the State seems to be at a across road.
Push and pull, Nigeria is operating a democracy and the contest has been thrown opened. Those who have indicated interest, picked forms and screened are the incumbent Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello, Pharm Abdulkareem Mohammed Jamiu, the incumbent Deputy Governor of the State, Chief Edward David Onoja; the Deputy Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Murtala Yakubu Ajaka; Member representing Ikeja federal constituency at the House of Representatives, Hon Abiodun James Faleke; a serving senator, Yakubu Oseni; son the late former governor of Kogi State, Shuaibu Abubakar Audu.
Others in the lots are the Accountant General of Kogi State, Alhaji Jubril Momoh; the Auditor General of Kogi State Government, Mallam Yakubu Yusuf Okala; the State Commissioner for Finance, Asiwaju Asiru Idris; Lawmaker representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Smart Adeyemi; the former minister of State for Labour and Employment in Buhari’s first term, Prof Stephen Ocheni; Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftiancy Affairs, Barr. Salami Momodu Ozigi; Frontline lawyer and politician, Barr Halima Alfa; Kogi State Auditor-General for Local Government, Alhaji Ahmed Usman Ododo; GM, Business Development (FCT/North) at eTranzact; Jimoh Adebanjo; Chairman/CEO of Hamif Real Estate Nigeria Ltd, Chief Friday Idachaba.
The incumbent governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who assumed the saddle following the demise of Prince Abubakar Audu in the middle of the November 2015 governorship election still hold the aces. Judging from the results of series of elections since Bello became governor, he still holds the card. Needless to add that with results of the presidential, legislative elections in the State, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC is still a party to beat.
Leading the pack of those who have picked the expression of interest forms is Hon Abiodun James Faleke, Member representing Ikeja federal constituency of Lagos State and running mate to Prince Abubakar Audu, the APC governorship candidate, who succumbed to the cold hands of death when the election was almost won and lost in November 2015 governorship election.
Without an iota of a doubt, Abiodun James Faleke is a formidable aspirant amongst the lot, haven’t tested the waters along with the late veteran politician Abubakar Audu, who had also served as the first and second executive governor of the State between 1991-1993 and 1999-2023. The icing on the cake for Faleke is the fact that he is a member of the inner circle and trusted political godson of the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It would be recalled that Tinubu facilitated Faleke’s emergence as Audu’s running mate in 2015, in appreciation of Tinubu’s political and financial supports. Hon Faleke has just secured his fourth term as a member of the green chambers of the national assembly.
A section of pundits are of the opinion that, with Tinubu his godfather, who had hitherto recommended him as running mate as Nigeria’s president-elect, can Abiodun James Faleke ambition be seen as a daydream? Besides, he is a man of immense experience in blue chip companies.
On the flip side, some are of the opinion that since Faleke is eternally tied to the apron strings of a Lagos godfather, if elected governor of Kogi State, his first loyalty will certainly be to Tinubu, who they say pays the Piper. Moreso, he has just been reelected for another term at the national assembly. His greatest baggage is the disquiet amongst Kogi political stakeholders, especially Kogi West where Faleke hails from. Some have argued that it’s practically impossible for Faleke, who’s a Lagos man to be 100 percent committed to Kogi’s cause. But some have also said that if Faleke becomes governor with Tinubu as president, Kogi State stands to benefit more. However, there’s the indelible doubt about where Faleke’s loyalty lays.
It has proven that the true test of any leader is his/her track records, hence its erroneous to use the Lagos parameter to judge Faleke’s leadership capacity, given that Kogi and Lagos are at different stages of development.
Edward David Onoja
The current Deputy Governor of the State, His Excellency Edward David Onoja is a man of many parts. He was the Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello during first term. Working in synergy with his boss, Onoja has his greatest strength in identifying and recruiting young people into governance. Together, they changed power dynamics of Kogi for good. As the brain box of the governmemt, he unleashed the power creativity.
However, most Kogites are of the opinion that Onoja can’t be trusted with power. Their reason is predicated on the accountability questions surrounding most of his handling of sensitive government assignments. Besides, he is considered immature and highanded and arrogant in his approach to issues. If given the party’s ticket, the opposition party will feast on his weakness to the defeat of APC.
Some said the APC cannot afford to gamble with a candidate who credibility is in doubt.
As the then Chief of Staff to Governor Bello, Onoja made more enemies than friends for himself and the governor between 2015 and 2019. Up till today, the toes he stepped on may be somewhere waiting to pay him back in his own coin, if given the APC ticket. His flagrant disregard for the traditional institution is said to have angered some people, who have vowed never to forgive him.
Senator Yakubu Useni
A serving senator, who is also the race for Lugard House, Yakubu Oseni while speaking with journalists in Abuja last week, took a swipe proponents of zoning. He said Kogi East ruled for 16 years without regard to the zoning, insisting that the development has laid to rest zoning rhetoric, hence, anybody can contest governorship.
He said: “There is no zoning arrangement in Kogi State governorship race. The electorate are the ones to determine their leaders through election.
“The wrong impression by the people that the governorship of Kogi is zoning is not correct. There was nothing like that before or now.
“Kogi East ruled for 16 years until God decided to change it, so where is the zoning arrangement?”
Senator Oseni may not be the ideal man for the job at this time, source say the man Kogi needs now is the man who posses the leadership capacity to unite the ethnics that makes up the State.
Senator Smart Adeyemi
A very experienced politician and lawmaker who has contributed largely to the political developments of the state and has several bills credited to his name on the Red Chamber of the National Assembly.
Adeyemi is an outspoken politician who speaks truth to power when necessary. He is currently represents Kogi West and it is believe that he is very qualified to be Kogi governor in the first place but he is perceived as one less should be expected from going by his constituency records.
Adeyemi who announced his intention to run for the governorship election in the state recently, described himself as not only the candidate to beat but one with the requisite experience to govern the state.
The senator said he is willing to fight for the survival of the less privileged in society.
“I am going to contest for governor of Kogi state. I have enough experience of what governance should be and have challenges of governance. I have been lucky to represent my state in the senate three times,” Adeyemi said.
“It is to my credit that I am one of the lawmakers that have sponsored the highest number of bills passed into law. I have the courage to lead and fight for the survival of the less privileged.
“I am exposed enough to give the best to our people. In politics, people contest for varied interests.
“Some of our contests are to see what value we can add to the lives of others and improve on what has been achieved.
“Some other aspirants have also collected the form but I am the aspirant to beat as far as required support and goodwill across the state are concerned.”
He was elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the first two terms and the third on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The legislator was a two-term president of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) before going into politics
However, some of the arguments put up against him is that he is not truly a grassroots man and is often seen more Kwaran than Kogite. Kogi West voters are not happy with him because all the personal investments he has gotten are all domicile in Kwara State. Their grouse is that despite his poor performance as a senator, at least, investing his money in the zone will help to create jobs for teeming youths.
Abdulkareem Jamiu Asuku
The name Abdulkareem Jamiu Asuku did not ring bell till he was appointed Chief of Staff to Governor Bello in 2019 after serving as DG Protocol in Bello’s first tenure, though he had before now combined unionism with his academy activities to gain street credibility.
Some said he lacked the experience to run a more complex society like Kogi State, but he believes that his achievements in the current administration, especially in Bello’s second term in office, did not only why he is more qualified but also serve as a testament.
Asuku, 39- year old pharmacist who picked his expression of interest form in February to contest the APC governorship ticket with other experienced politicians of the party, has promised to consolidate the achievements of Governor Bello.
He has been one of the strategists saddled with the task of shouldering the huge burden of steering the engine room of the Bello’s administration and has successfully conquered many grounds. As a young man, and still on the battlefield, blazing the trail, he has also been described as Kogi State best and finest Chief of Staff in history with verifiable achievements under the current administration.
Of the lots that are aspiring for this position the governor’s Chief of Staff appears to be more trusted character. First, because of his leadership mien, he is loved by many. Some said with Abdulkareem Mohammed Jamiu Asuku as the APC flag bearer for Kogi guber election, the party may not need to dissipate energy to campaign much, as he has already proved his mettles. It is said that good wine need no bush or good product advertise itself.
Unlike others before him who built fence around Bello, Pharm Asuku proved a man of wisdom by building bridges around the governor. Unlike in Bello’s first term when attempt by to isolate the governor created many enemies for him and governance became very chaotic and undefined, Asuku was the director protocol in the government house It was against the backdrop of his excellent organisational skills in DG Protocol that the governor drafted him in as the Chief of Staff in his second term. Evident is said, is the end of arguments.
Needless to change a winning team. Kogi needs an excellent administrator, who will unite the people of the State and bring dividend of democracy to the people. At this delicate juncture of the State, it is unreasonable to start brandishing the mundane issues of zoning and ethnicity or religion. What is required at this time is a man of character, dexterity and candour, who’s patient enough to listen, wise enough to balance interests and discrete enough to define boundaries. Given the qualities needed for the next governor, the cap best fits Pharm Asuku, stakeholders believes.
Asuku defeats his opponents without dishonouring them. That’s one of the hallmarks of credible leadership. He’s never a praise-monger. Successes doesn’t get into his head. That’s what Kogi needs now to balance all variables.
As a time-tested saying goes “the reward for work is more works.” Given the tenacity and brilliance exude by Asuku so far, it’s only wise that he be trusted with more responsibilities.