Kogi: How ethnicity may influence voters’ choices

Today’s election in Kogi state, strictly speaking, appears to be a two-horse race according to political pundits.

Created in 1991 with 21 local governments, Kogi, like others has three senatorial districts, with the dominant tribes distributed accordingly.

While the Igala are dominant in Kogi East with nine local governments, the Ebira are in Kogi Central with five local and the Okun in Kogi West with seven local governments.

However, one can still find some Igala in Ajaokuta in Kogi Central; some Ebira in Bassa (Kogi East) and Lokoja/Koton Karfe in Kogi West.

Ethnic tensions

Since the creation of the state, the Igala have held on to power for over 18 years. The first civilian governor, Abubakar Audu, an Igala, was in office from 1992 to 1993 before the military interregnum. Audu returned in 1999 and served for four years until 2003.

Audu sought to again succeed himself in spite of several promises to ensure a power shift to the Central. He was however defeated by his kinsman, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, who served for two terms and an extra one year courtesy of the judiciary.

Despite Idris’ promise to hand over to his very loyal deputy, Dr Philip Salawu from Kogi Central, the outgoing governor jilted him and rather settled for his relative, Idris Wada who was in office from 2012 to 2016.

All the while, the Ebira who boast that the state was created because of them, felt cheated. The Okun also felt cheated. General Ibrahim Babangida who created Kogi state, had his secondary education in Okene, Ebira land and so had many friends among the Ebira. His then Chief of Army Staff, late General Salihu Ibrahim was Ebira from Ajaokuta same as his Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Atta, another Ebira.

Together with several Ebira top fliers and the Okun, these people lobbied for the creation of Kogi. At the time, the Igala, who were in Benue State, fought for the creation of their own Okura state which never materialized.

The Ebira, having been governor and deputy governor in the old Kwara state and having been with the Okun for years in the same state, conceded the governorship to the Igala who were the new entrant into the triad marriage. The Okun were given the deputy governorship, while the Ebira had the Secretary to the State Government as well as chairmanship of the the two parties – the National Republican Party NRC and the Social Democratic Party SDP.

The candidates

Despite its nearly two decades in power and having deputized the incumbent, Yahaya Bello since 2016, the Igala, with 51 percent of the population feel eternally entitled to the Number One job in the state.

Consequently, there are more contestants in the zone (Kogi East) than others. Some of them are Okeme Adejoh, (Labour Party); Omale Samson Agada, (Young Peoples’ Party) and Musa Salihu Mubarak, (New Nigeria Peoples Party).

Others include Ilonah Idoko Kingsley, (All Progressive Grand Alliance); Murtala Yakubu Ajaka (Social Democratic Party) and Usman Onyibe Jibrin, a former Chief of Naval Staff, (Accord Party), Achimugu Augustine Abu, AAC; Elukpo Julius, ADP; Isah Dauda Utenwojo, APM; Onaji Sunday Frank, APP; Abdullahi Bayawo, PRP; and, Omale Samson Agada YPP.

As for the Okun of Kogi West, the candidates are Dino Melaye of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP, Leke Abejide of African Democratic Congress ADC and Olayinka Braimoh of Action Alliance.

In Kogi Central, there is only one candidate, Alhaji Ododo Ahmed Usman (OAU) of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC.

While the major contenders are Ododo, Melaye, Ajaka and Abejide, the race might indeed be more fiercely contested between Ododo and Ajaka. This is because both Melaye and Abejide, a current House of Representatives member, are from the same senatorial district and have some large followings in their area.

Ododo Ahmed Usman

Ododo, a former Auditor General for Local Governments in the state is the candidate of the APC.

While the Yahaya Bello -led APC administration seemed to have outperformed all its predecessors especially in the areas of security, road construction and establishment of hospitals, there are those who feel the governor has not done much.

Among them are some ethnic jingoists who feel perpetually entitied to power, those who were screened out during the workers screening, and opposition politicians. While there are a few workers with legitimate grievances, there are those who for the past ten years of “working” in Kogi state had often drawn their salaries from ATMs around the Federal Secretariat in Abuja. It is very unlikely that a worker in Kogi would at the end of every month travel all the way to Abuja to withdraw his salary from an ATM.

These were ghost workers who were in Abuja doing their businesses and also drawing from the Kogi state coffers. Then, there are those with doctored affidavits who were also shown the exit.

But Bello’s opponents accuse him of paying salaries in percentages and this has been one of the campaign issues. While state workers had largely been paid 100 percent salary, except for some months they were paid 80 percent, Bello’s handlers say he inherited an over-bloated workforce and salary arrears. They also argue that percentage payments started under Governor Ibrahim Idris and that the issue of percentage payments is largely at the council level, asking the people to hold their local government chairmen accountable.

Also, contrary to allegations by his opponents, Ododo has however been able to prove that he is not Bello’s blood relation.

Ododo would certainly be running in Bello’s record

As part of efforts to capture votes of the womenfolk, the Bello Administration had ensured that all Council Vice Chairpersons were women, including substantial number of councillors. The SSG, Head of Service, Bello’s Aide de Camp ADC and several appointees are also women.

One factor that would also play in his favour is the fact that none of the major contenders has his running mate from the Central. So, to the Ebira, their best choice is Ododo as they feel that anything to the contrary would mean that they would lose both the governorship and the deputy governorship, which candidate, it does not have.

However, the recent transition of the Ohinoyi of Ebira land, His Majesty, Dr Ado Ibrahim had forced the APC to suspend its campaigns, especially in Kogi Central. Opposition parties however cashed in on the development to intensify their own campaigns.

Ododo’s electoral headache would be his own sister and Senator representing Kogi Central, Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan who is of the PDP. Her recent victory at the Appeal Court has boosted the morale of the PDP in the state and she has not hidden her disdain for anything Yahaya Bello or Ododo. She has continued to campaign for her party and its candidate, Melaye.

Many analysts indeed believe that Bello did not handle her situation well, as ceding the senatorial ticket to her and retaining her in the APC in the lead up to the 2019 general election would have been in the governor’s favour. There are also no indications that the Bello/Ododo camp has reached out to her.

Whether Bello’s appointees and council chairmen from Kogi East would be able to muster enough support for Ododo in today’s election remained to be seen. This is because, the Igala, desirous of getting power back have largely aligned with their kinsman, Ajaka.

Daniel ‘Dino’ Melaye

With an Abejide in his backyard, the fight seem to have started from home.

The visibility of the PDP has been abysmal except for a few late campaigns here and there.

While he may be able to swing some support using his political showmanship, there are Kogites who have accused him of trying to fight God. While coordinating proceedings during Bello’s inauguration in 2016, Dino had famously declared; “Kogi people voted for Audu but God voted for Bello”.

Those who were still mourning the late Audu and who had voted for him before he died on his way to victory, felt offended. Many of them now wonder why the same Dino is fighting a man he said was voted in by God.

Like Ododo, Dino’s running mate is from Kogi East but since the zone wants to take the driver’s seat, it is not certain to what extent she could pull her weight. What is certain is that with the influence of Natasha in Kogi Central, Dino could make an appreciable outing in some areas outside his zone.

Yakubu Murtala Ajaka

The SDP candidate leads the pack in his native Kogi East, which boasts of a higher voting population but the number of candidates from the zone, including a former naval chief could be his albatross as there would be a likely splitting of votes.

“Muri” had long acted as an aide to Gov. Mai Mala Buni of Yobe state when the latter was a party official and even after he became governor. But again, they could be one of Muri’s Achilles heel. Not a few people see him as a stooge of the Yobe governor. There are politicians across the state who also have an axe to grind with him. When Buni acted as caretaker chairman of the APC, he was constantly busy with state activities and so Muri became the unofficial power broker in the party. In fact, he was the de facto chairman. Many made a lot of political enemies – and indeed friends – due to the role some chieftains felt he played during the Congresses and primaries conducted within that period. In fact, his opponents have continually queried his source for wealthy, having not worked in any known organization until he became the deputy spokesman of the APC before he defected to the SDP to clinch its Governorship ticket.

Leke Abejide

The federal lawmaker is no doubt very much on ground in his federal constituency.

He had initially toyed with the idea of picking his running mate from Central but later settled for another from Kogi East. Some of those who were initially happy with the idea of picking his running mate from the Central are still heartbroken.

Abejide has for some years paid examination fees of students in his constituency, a development which made him the darling of many parents and youths.

At home, he has Dino to contend with. Outside, some partisans have alleged that he had a pact with the SDP candidate, Ajaka.

With a total registered voters of 1,932,654, the battle in Kogi may end up a two-horse race: Ododo vs. Ajaka.


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