Following the Supreme Court verdict affirming Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the rightful candidate of the APC in the November 2015, Kogi State governorship election, OMONU YAX-NELSON and EMAMEH GABRIEL examine the intrigues that trailed the election
The political intrigues that followed the November 21, 2015, Kogi State governorship election were finally laid to rest yesterday, with the decision of the apex court to affirm the earlier judgement of the Court of Appeal, which ratified the decision of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to replace the late Prince Abubakar Audu with Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
The seven-man panel headed by Justice Sylvester Ngwata affirmed the election after listening to the closing statements of all the counsels.
The court also said it would provide reasons for its decision on September 30.
There had been four appeals against the Court of Appeal rulings, with the Supreme Court expected to decide if Mr. Bello should continue as Kogi governor or vacate office.
One of the appeals was by the immediate past governor of the state and candidate of the opposition PDP, Idris Wada, while another was by Mr. James Faleke who was the deputy governorship candidate to the late Audu.
Mr. James Faleke of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had challenged the decision of the Kogi State governorship election petition tribunal which upheld the election of Yahaya Bello as the validly elected governor.
Mr. Falake was the deputy governorship candidate to late Abubakar Audu who died before the conclusion of the governorship election that was to see him elected as governor.
Yahaya Bello was then presented by the APC as replacement for Audu, a decision Mr. Faleke challenged, arguing that he should have stepped into the position, having together with the late Audu, gone through the election process.
He approached the Supreme Court after being dissatisfied with the judgment of the election tribunal and Appeal Court which both upheld Yahaya’s eligibility.
The implication of the ruling, according to legal minds is that Bello remains the governor, until another election will be due in the last quarter of 2019.
But political watchers are of the opinion that the judgment has thrown up both the good and the bad. The group which believed that the judgment triggered disquiet in the Confluence state based their argument on moral issues.
They believe that while Faleke, who along with the Audu toiled to secure the mandate, is left in the cold, the governor who evidently did not vote for the party in the election that produced him, is enjoying the fruit.
Morally, analysts have said, the judgement would help to calm frayed nerves in the 25 years old state.
According to a political youth activist from Kogi East, Prophet Ekele Abimaje, the judgment will help to lay aside the charge of ethnic domination in the state. He said, it was time for the state to move forward, irrespective of who is in charge.
In his opinion, it is the governor who holds both the yam and the knife. “If he wants a peaceful tenure, it’s time for peace to reign, pacify all aggrieved parties and move the state forward.”
In the light of the current development, a former chairman of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state, Chief Ahmedu Bello, said “politics must be put aside for all the stakeholders to work for the advancement of the state.”
He said “Kogi is well-endowed and must not be allowed to suffer on account of politics.”
‘Kogi’, the Hausa word for river, symbolically became the name of the state, created along the exact geography of the former Kabba Province, under the then Northern Nigeria government, between independence in 1960 and 1967, when the military government of Gen. Yakubu Gowon, further federalized the four region structure into twelve states.
The state was created by the military government of Gen Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (rtd.) on August 27, 1991, in demonstration of his sound sense of history. As he said on the occasion of the 6th anniversary broadcast that heralded the creation of the state alongside eight others.
IBB, as the septuagenarian, gap-toothed, infantry General is fondly called, indicated in a speech on that occasion that, “The former brothers are desirous of coming back to together. The state stands on tripod ethnic configuration, made up of Igalas, Igbiras and Okuns.
Just like any other creation, there was a divine mandate for the state, among which is to serve as springboard for the demonstration of ethnic understanding and unity. Another reason for the creation of the state was for the three ethnic groups and the insignificant minorities in the state, to take advantage of their strategic location, natural endowments and rich and dynamic cultural heritage; for shared prosperity, in the spirit of the philosophy of ‘Stronger Together.’
Naturally, the state, especially Lokoja and its environs, enjoys enviable spotlights in the anal of the Nigerian socio-political and economic development. First, Lokoja was the first administrative headquarter of Nigeria. As a testimony, the building that served as Lord Lugard’s office, the Governor-General that amalgamated the southern and north protectorates into Nigeria, still serves as the governor’s office till date.
It stands as Kogi’s credit that the name Nigeria was coined by a British journalist on colonial affairs, with the Times Newspaper of London, Miss Flora Shaw at Lokoja. She suggested in an article that the territories around the River Niger be named ‘Nigeria.’ An event that took place at the Lord Lugard’s Guest House, still stands on Mount Party, 1,500 feet above sea level in Lokoja.
The history of agriculture and other economic activities in Nigeria, by 80% revolves around the two rivers (Niger & Benue) that converge at Ganaja village Lokoja.
Geographically, the state is the hinge that links the South and the Northern parts of Nigeria.
The state plays host to two giant steel companies, one of which is the multi-billion dollar complex (Nigeria’s wasted destiny) located at Ajaokuta. The State has other deposits of solid minerals, including limestone being exploited by the Dangote group.
There is also, large deposit of coal at Okaba, in Ankpa Local Government Area of the state, and the controversial crude oil deposit that is causing brouhaha at Odeke in Ibaji local government of the state.
However, despite nature’s generous endowments, the state remains one of the least developed. When other states in Nigeria are cast down and are unable to pay salaries, Kogi was supposed to be saying, ‘There is a lifting up!’
Regrettably, Kogi is among the states that are owing salaries and are overburdened by debt. Public affairs analysts have identified ineptitude, which engendered corruption, misapplication, misallocation and misappropriation of public funds, as the cause.
Other reasons opinion leaders identified as the possible causes of the quagmire in the state are ethnic squabble and mistrust because of what some describe as complicated and delicate ethnic, economic and political imbalance.
The 1963 national population census gave the demographic distribution of Kabba Province, now Kogi State, as follows; the Igalas on the east of river Niger, 54%; the Igbiras in the Central, 30%; the Okuns on the west, 15% and the insignificant minorities, 1%.
Since that era, population census results from the same area have become so absurd and unreliable for any meaningful scientific assumptions.
This disproportional population distribution of the state has constituted constant sources of tension among the ethnic groups in the state. This sad turn of events has in no small measure, impeded the realization of the ‘Kogi Divine Mandate (KDM).’
The journey to Kogi State dates back to independence in 1960, when the current geography of Kogi State was known as Kabba Province, an equivalent of today’s state system. The Province had three Native Authorities (NA) which are equivalents of today’s local government system, and distributed as follows: the East (Igala) has Idah, Ankpa and Dekina NA, while the Central and the West had one NA each.
Following the abortion of the First Republic on 15th January, 1966, and the subsequent creation of 12 states out of the existing four regions, Kabba Province was ceded to the newly created Kwara State.
However, just when the components were about settling down to pursue the mandate, the February 1976, state creation exercise by Gen Murtala Muhammed, truncated their journey to the ‘Divine Mandate.’ While the Igabirras and the Okuns remained in Kwara State, their counterpart from the east of the Niger, the Igalas, were merged with the Tivs and Idomas, who had just been excised out of the old Benue Plateau State.
To confirm that Kabba Province was a divine mandate after all, on the August 27, 1991, Gen IBB brought the trio together, once more, to pursue their divine agenda.
One significant thing to note about these two groups; the Kwara and Benue returnees; is that, they were both oppressed and underdeveloped from where they were coming from.
By the time, they got back to their fold, this time, no longer Kabba Province, but Kogi State, they had learnt bitter lessons. Commentators say, the hangover of such bitter lessons, reflected in the political, economic and social altercations that resulted between them.
The Igalas had learnt political domination from the Tivs, who relegated them to the role of Deputy Governor, despite the flimsy population difference between the two ethnics. But the Tivs were more politically sophisticated, because of the political legacies of Senator Joseph Sanwa Tarkaa.
Though, Alhaji Adamu Attah from Igbirra, became governor of old Kwara State between 1979 and 1983, on the whole, they were marginalized like their Igala counterpart from Benue State. The effect of this hangover was that, the three tribes were ready for confrontation by the time they arrived Kogi State.
This explains the ethnic quarrels that ensued in the state, shortly after Prince Audu was elected the first executive governor in November 1991. The then Social Democratic Party (SDP) through the influence of Gen Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua’s People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), the SDP hierarchy tried unsuccessfully, to impose late chief Silas Daniyan as the party’s candidate.
Due to the desperation to impose Chief Silas Daniyan, the 1991 governorship primaries between late chief Steven Makoji Achema were canceled four times. By the time the SDP hierarchy acknowledged the futility of their intention at the fourth round, and two weeks to the main election, severe damages had already been done to the SDP chances. This paved the way for Prince Audu of the National Republican Convention (NRC) whose emergence was unopposed, to finish campaigning before the SDP settled its internal contradictions.
Though, Dr. Achema was immensely loved because of his patriotism, courage and charisma, Prince Audu, a seasoned banker and former commissioner for Finance, Budget and Planning, under Gov Fidelis Makka of Benue State, had warmed his way into the heart of the people with the construction of the Anyigba-junction-Ejule-Idah road. This and the internal contradiction of the SDP produced gave Prince Audu a leeway in the 1991 governorship election.
Alas, the self-style democracy of IBB could not survive its own antics. The entire democratic structure; from Local Government to the senate was swept away by Gen Abacha’s palace coup on November 18, 1993. But not without Prince Audu making his mark.
Among his landmark projects was the state Polytechnic at Lokoja. He also opened the road that links Lokoja-Ganaja-Ajaokuta. This conferred on him the automatic impression of an achiever. Recall that, before Prince became governor in 1991, the Igala people had to embark on Israelite journey, when traveling from Lokoja to their area. He was also wetting the ground for a state University before the rude intervention by the military class.
Though opinions were sharply divided about the personality and conduct of the Ogbonicha born Prince; Adoja, as he is fondly called by his chieftaincy title had records of achievement to campaign with at the return to democracy in 1999, as the unopposed candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (APP, later, ANPP).
By 2003, when Prince Audu was seeking re-election, the relationship between the Igalas, Prince Audu and the elites of other ethnics had degenerated irredeemably. Prince was practically bundled out of power by the combination of Federal might, local discontent, especially, those who believe he is a performer but at the same time, too pompous to be spared.
He was accused of favouring his Igala ethnic, especially, the location of the State University at Anyigba. However, his exit brought mixed fortune for the state. Opinions are still deeply divided about the place of his successors in the history of the state.
The continuous dominance of the governorship seat by the Igalas became a subject of constant tension in the state. This is further complicated by the reliance of political elites on primordial sentiments, like religion and ethnicity for political gains.
Prophet Ekele Abimaje attributed the ability of the political class in the state to play one ethnic group against the other to the lack of adequate political socialization and education. He said, that is why our voting pattern has remained biased in favour of ethnic and other primordial sentiments.
For instance, he said, an Igalaman will prefer to vote an Igalaman, even if there are more credible alternatives from other ethnics in the state. In the same vein, an Okun or Igbirra man will prefer to their kinsmen/women, even if they are mediocre.
He cautioned that except we do away with such tendencies, our political development will yet remain in limbo.
The cry of marginalization got to its peak and the promise of ceding power to the Igbirras or Okuns became a potent campaign tools for the political contenders in Igala land.
For the first time in the history of his political carrier, someone (Alh Yahaya Bello) stood up to Prince Audu for the APC’s governorship ticket for the November 21, 2015 election. But the Prince prevailed. However, Alhaji Bello’s effort altered the political narratives in the state.
To further counterbalance the political calculation in the state, the cold hands of death, snatched Prince Audu in the midst of an election he was already condemned to win. To solve the political logjam, the stakeholders had to resort to what can be best described as invocation of the doctrine of necessity.
The APC, INEC and courts, except, the Supreme Court has ratified the choice of Bello to inherit Prince Audu’s votes.
Though, the media maneuver and bazar and, the barrage of ceaseless legal fireworks that has characterized this decision is yet to abate, but the stinking cry of political marginalization has subsided
The journey to Kogi at 25 has been full of mountains and valley experiences. Analysts are of the opinion that, the political stakeholders in the state must do away with the ‘Divided We Stand’ of the last 25 years, if they desire the development of the state.