By Ayorinde Oluokun
Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State by Friday night regained the calmness it is known for as politicians with their rough driving convoys and their hirelings dispersed into the nooks and crannies of the 21 local government areas of the state for an election in which many have tagged do-or-die for the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello.
There are over 20 candidates on the ballot papers voters will be given when they go to their polling units this morning. However, the two main candidates are Governor Bello who is contesting on the platform of All Progressives Congress, APC and Engineer Musa Wada, the candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Lawyer and activist, Natasha Akpoti the flag bearer for the Social Democratic Party, SDP is also popular, especially among women voters in the central senatorial district of the state where the incumbent governor also hails from.
Some have described Bello as one of the ‘luckiest’ Nigerians due to the manner of his emergence as a governor.
This was because he ‘inherited’ votes to become governor as a result of the sudden death of Abubakar Audu, the APC candidate in the state’s 2015 gubernatorial poll. Audu died just before the announcement of full results of the election. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC declared Bello the right person to inherit the votes based on the fact that he participated in the primary of APC to select a candidate for the election in which he came second.
The decision of INEC was upheld up to the Supreme Court level in the suits filed by James Abiodun Faleke, the deceased candidate’s running mate who argued that naturally, he should have been allowed to step into the shoes of the late Audu.
Bello born on 18th June, 1975 in Agassa, Okene Local Government Area has had the opportunity of governing Kogi State for nearly four years now.
How well has he done?
The Governor believes he has performed excellently within the limits of resources available to him, hence, the slogan adopted for his campaign as can been seen in the large numbers of vehicles emblazoned with his picture, that of his deputy, Edward Onoja doing ’ 4+4’ sign is ‘Let’s Do More.’
Not many people in Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State are impressed with his performance as random sampling of opinions revealed.
Indeed, when the Governor held the grand finale of his rally last Thursday, many insinuated that it will be the last of such grand occasions for Bello.
The allegations against the Governor include failure to pay salaries, allowances and pensions to deserving personnel on the payroll of the State. The fact that he has tried to offset the significant portion of the salary arrears in the past few months has not endeared him to most people in the state.
However, the labour unions in Kogi endorsed the candidature of Bello about three days to the election.
The chairman of APC Campaign Council for Kogi governorship election, Malam Nasir El-Rufai who is also the Governor of Kaduna State at the Thursday rally appealed to people of the state to forgive the Governor over his failure to meet their expectations in terms of payment of salaries.
It remains to be seen how the appeal and labour’s endorsement will work to the Governor’s advantage in the poll.
Bello has also been accused of failure to deploy his youthful age and energy to tackle the infrastructural and other multiple challenges confronting the state.
“If the election is free and fair, I don’t see how he will win,” Haruna Samuel a tricycle operator said .
The general belief is that the governor can only return to office if federal might is deployed to help him or through deployment of violence.
But the odds against the return of Bello also include the fact that he hails from an area considered to be a ‘minority’ in Kogi, a crucial factor when the influence of ethnicity in Nigerian politics is considered. The Governor is expected to win overwhelmingly in his Kogi Central Senatorial District, though Akpoti, the SDP senatorial candidate is expected to take some of the votes in the area.
The voting strength in Kogi belongs to the Igala of Kogi East Senatorial District of the state.
They have used that strength to produce all past elected governors, until death forced a power shift to the Ebira of Kogi Central with the death of Audu in 2015.
With its five local governments; -Ajaokuta, Adavi, Okene, Okehi and Ogori-Magongo, Kogi Central has 409,120 registered voters representing 25% of the registered voters in the state.
In contrast, the nine local governments in Kogi East -Ankpa, Bassa, Dekina, Ibaji, Idah, Igalamela/Odolu, Ofu, Olamaboro and Omalahave 804,715 registered voters representing 49% of the total registered voters in the state. Wada, the PDP flagbearer is from Kogi East and also from Dekina Local Government Area which has the largest voting population among the local government areas of the state.
This is expected to play to the advantage of the PDP candidate, who has also chosen his deputy from the Kogi West Senatorial District, another factor that may enhance the chances of PDP in the Okun Yoruba speaking areas.
The people of the zone had complained about marginalization under Bello. Just recently, the Igala socio-cultural group, Igala Cultural and Development Association urged the people of Igalaland to vote for Wada in the election, while accusing Bello of “deliberately sidelining the Igala speaking people in all schemes of things,” in a statement signed by Shuaibu Mohammed, the acting president and Saba Alex Amuda, the secretary of the association.
But Bello’s deputy, Edward Onoja is also from the Igala speaking area and it will be interesting to see if he can help his boss outperform Wada in Kogi East.
Bello had been able to secure the support of a former acting governor of the state and former chieftain of the PDP, Clarence Olafemi, James Faleke, the running mate to the late Prince AbubakarAudu, and business mogul, Jide Omokore, as his foot soldiers in Kogi West which has seven local government areas with 432,515 registered voters.
The gubernatorial election is also holding alongside National Assembly re-run election for Kogi West senatorial district with Senators Smart Adeyemi and Dino Melaye as the candidates of the APC and PDP respectively.
Will Bello return or be kicked out, like the other Wada was kicked out in 2015?
That’s the question the Kogi people will answer with their votes as they go to their different polling units today.