The recent defection of Prince Abubakar Audu, former Governor of Kogi State and his army of supporters to Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), has no doubt strengthened the party in the state. The development has now made the December governorship poll, a straight fight between the ACN and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Correspondent, HAMZAT BABA in Lokoja, observes that unlike in PDP, the battle for the ticket of ACN is more or less an internal affair, among brothers in the east of the Niger.
Following the sudden release of time table for the governorship election in Kogi State by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) those aspiring to take over from the incumbent, Governor Ibrahim Idris have sent their foot soldiers to the field, strategizing on how to realize their ambition. Unlike the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the leading opposition party in the state - Action Congress of Nigeria has only five gubernatorial hopefuls at the moment. Leading the pack is the former chaplain of Aso Rock during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof. Yusufu Obaje. He is of Igala stock, the largest ethnic group in the state. Igala ethnic group occupies the entire Kogi East. Sound and well connected, Obaje won the primary of the party, for the aborted April governorship poll. He signified interest to govern the state since early 2006. His supporters believe he is well prepared to pilot the affairs of the state if given the mandate. Among his blue print for the development of the state, is the establishment of modern farm centres in virtually all the local government areas of the state, to take care of the teeming youths, who have been roaming about without jobs.
Although Obaje has all it takes to pull the state out of the woods, and move her to enviable heights, the stumbling block to his ambition however, is the fact that majority of the people of the state do not see him as a politician. That has made it extremely difficult for him to penetrate the grass roots. While some politicians even feel he is too religious for their liking, others are of the opinion that the former chaplain of Aso Rock has no resources to match the money bags, who are dictating the game of politics.
It remains to be seen however, how Obaje would weather the storm, like he did in January, to pick the ticket of his party.
Chief Rotimi Obadofin is another aspirant jostling to govern the state in the next political dispensation. He is no doubt an intelligent personality, who strongly believes that the state can be transformed for the benefit of the people, particularly those from the rural areas, who form the bulk of the population. He posited that with him in the saddle, the state would witness accelerated development. The aspirant who hails from the western geo-political zone of the state, said education, youth empowerment and industrialization would be accorded top priority if he secures the ticket of the party, and go ahead to win the December 3 poll. The gubernatorial hopeful, just like his brethren, believes it is high time the other zones of the state are given the opportunity to pilot the affairs of the state, since the Igala race have been at the helm of affairs since the state was created twenty years ago. However, he has no enough resources to match his other opponents, who are financially buoyant enough to prosecute their ambition. Aside that he has no political structure to give his other opponents a good fight, it remains doubtful how Obadofin intends to meander past other leading aspirants to pick the ticket of the party.
Mr. Zakariyau Aliyu Jiya is another illustrious son of the state from the eastern flank. He is a chieftain of the party, who gave Obaje a good run during the January primaries. He was on ground before the former chaplain joined the party. He lost the ticket of the party, owing to the fact that the loyalists and supporters of the party felt Obaje was more popular, since he has not been active politically before now. Jiya no doubt, feels he can take the state to higher heights, using his experience and exposure in administering the state. The major obstacle to his ambition however, is the fact that like Obadofin; he has no structure politically to upstage other contenders. Equally, he has no deep wallet to prosecute his ambition, and as such, cannot pose a serious threat to his other opponents. It remains to be seen how he intends to dazzle those popular aspirants, who are looking beyond the primaries, as far as the governorship election is concerned.
Prince Abubakar Audu, former governor of the state is not only a contender for the ticket of the party, but a serious threat for the ruling party in the December election. He has been battling the PDP since 2003 when governor Idris dislodged him from Lugard House. The ruling party no doubt, knows his capabilities. He is at home with the people of the state, due to the tremendous achievements recorded by his administration when he was in charge, between January, 1992 and November, 1993, and 1999 to 2003. Some of the numerous achievements he recorded while in office are visible across the state, which have endeared him to the people. No doubt he remains a crowd puller any day. That he can do the job if given the mandate is not in doubt. That has placed him high above other contenders.
Before joining the ACN, he was the sole financier of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). So it wasn’t difficult for the entire structure of the party to go along with him to his new party when he defected recently.
The erstwhile governor of Kogi State said he was coming on salvation mission; to restore the lost glory of the state. That if elected, his administration would place more emphasis on industrial revolution, where the socio-economic lives of the people would be boosted, through massive employment. He promised to accord welfare of civil servants top priority. Although critics of the former governor believe it is high time he nurture somebody else to take over from him. But it will be a huge surprise if Audu fails to clinch the ticket of the ACN, owing to his popularity. However, in politics nothing seems to be impossible.
Elder Ubolo Okpanachi is the last among the aspirants, but not the least. The former accountant general of the state was a governorship aspirant under the platform of the ruling PDP before his recent defection to the ACN. He hails from the same local government of Ofu with Prince Audu, in the eastern part of the state. He posited that he has articulated programme of action that would take the state to the next level if he picks the ticket of the party and wins the December governorship election. He said employment generation, youth and women empowerment would be given attention if he secures the mandate of the people, even as he promised to transform the rural areas, through provision of water and electricity.
To actualize his dream of governing the state, the first hurdle for Okpanachi is how to gain the trust of the members of his new party. There are those that are ready to swear to high heavens, that the former accountant general under the present administration in the state is in the ACN to spy for PDP Okpanachi’s promise to continue from where Idris’s government has further lent credence tothis rumour. He stated this while declaring to stand for the election. In fact, Okpanachi seemed to be working hard to dispel the hatchet job rumour leveled against him. While declaring formally for the seat in Ofu, he pleaded with ACN faithful to accept him as one of their own, insisting that he was joining ACN with all sincerity. He said he joined the party after wide consultations with his teeming supporters across the three geo-political zones of the state. But the many members of the party refused to be convinced. One thing is however certain: the former accountant general is no push over in this race, more so that he has the needed resources to prosecute his ambition.
Although, members of the largest opposition party in the state at the moment seemed to be happy over the sudden turn of event, which saw them welcoming heavyweights into their fold, the development is all the same, generating heat, with some older members feeling that the new entrants are out for their selfish interest. The former chaplain of Aso Rock, Obaje who won the primaries conducted by the party in January, was of the view that if the new defectors are coming to hijack the governorship position of the party, they are wasting their time, because the position is not vacant. He opined that if the entrants want to strengthen the opposition, they will be tolerated but if otherwise, they would be disappointed. Obaje, who spoke to journalists recently, insisted that the ticket of the party is not for the highest bidder. According to him, those that were elected by the party, particularly in the South West zone of the country, never used money to influence their victory, stressing that it was the leadership qualities discovered in them, that gave them the overwhelming support during the April 2011 polls. He maintained that the ACN is a winning party in the state, and God used somebody to take the party to that level. Obaje therefore enjoined those thinking of wresting the ticket from him to forget the tall dream, as there cannot be any primary again, other than the one held, where he emerged as flag bearer. The former chaplain of Aso Rock insisted that except he is convinced that the election was null and void, but insisted that there is no provision in the party constitution that primary election expires.
But the Kogi State Secretary of ACN, Comrade Umar Akwu Goodman told LEADERSHIP in a telephone interview that the ACN is not like PDP, saying they have little or no problem, as far as the coming governorship poll is concerned. He pointed out that the ticket of the party is available to everybody. He added that even those that joined the party today can contest the primaries, since the party was out to present a popular candidate. According to him, events have already overtaken the primaries held in January, where Obaje emerged as candidate. He expressed confidence that the ACN would coast home to victory in the coming governorship poll, considering the current strength of the party in the state. He further described ACN in the state, as a mega party, due to its size and shape, adding that they have made serious impact, which would assist them to dislodge the ruling party. The state secretary stressed that the coalesced of one or two parties into ACN recently has changed the entire party, disclosing that they would soon lunch ‘Operation Sweep’, ahead of the December election, where the PDP would kiss the dust. Goodman’s clarification has changed permutation in the confluence state as many pundits have predicted that Audu would emerge the ACN flag bearer to slug it out with the PDP standard bearer at the polls.