After many months of preparations characterised by political intrigues, the major contenders and pretenders will today line up before the electorate to test their popularity in the gubernatorial election that has become more tensed and difficult to predict than previous polls in the state. But in spite of the large number of contestants, indications point to the fact that the contest is basically a four-way fight among those who have shown more seriousness and determination to move into the Lord Lugard House, Lokoja. But who takes the day? SONI DANIEL and HAMZAT BABA report.
When voters in Kogi State go to their respective units to cast their votes today, they will be doing so with one option on their minds: to vote for an ‘incumbent’ governor who is being represented by his proxy or choose a new person to occupy the Government House popularly known as Lugard House. But making that critical decision may not be as straightforward as it should be due to several factors that have come into play in the contest. Ordinarily, the contest should be a straight fight between the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP and others, given the fact that the party has been in power in the state in the last nine years or so. The party should have a smooth walkover in any election, if the results of previous elections are anything to go by. In the April election for instance, the PDP cleared all the three Senatorial seats and went ahead to win 22 out of the 25 seats in the state House of Assembly. It also won seven out of the nine House of Representatives seats in the state. It is also in control of many of the local government areas in the state. Similarly, in selecting its deputy governorship candidate, the party went for the son of the late Sunday Awoniyi, who was one of the founding fathers of the party and a BOT member. The choice of Mr. Yomi Awoniyi as Idris Wada’s running mate has excited the Yorubas in Kogi State who see the move as an indication of their greater recognition and influence in the state where tribal sentiments run deep.
However, many in the state are opposed to the move by the governor to handpick and foist Wada on them, having led them for nine successive years. According to them, it is selfish for the governor to seek to continue to rule them using a front in the person of Wada, whom many had earlier claimed to be Idris’s son-in-law.
As a result, the power of incumbency being ‘conferred’ on Captain Idris Wada in disguise by Governor Abubakar Idris has become both a blessing and a minus to the candidate. Many see the attempt by the governor to hand over to Wada as an attempt to install a stooge to avoid being probed after leaving office. But the PDP had in the course of the preparation for the election, shot itself on the foot when it later disowned Jibrin Isah Echocho, who initially won the PDP governorship primary in January before the election was shifted by the Independent National Electoral Commission in Kogi and four other states in compliance with a court ruling, which elongated their tenure beyond May 29, 2011.
But in a twist of fate, the gods of Kogi politics in the ruling party distanced themselves from Echocho, when the INEC released a new timetable for the same election. Rather pitch its tent him, the party opted for a fresh primary that produced Captain Idris Wada, as its standard flagbearer, leaving Echocho in the political lurch. Wada’s emergence as the party’s candidate last September has polarised the once united party rather than bring about the needed cohesion to enable it to approach the looming political war with a sense of unity. Apart from calling him names and describing him as unfit to rule the state, a member of the party, Umar Lawal, has challenged his nomination as the candidate of the party, with Echocho joined as a plaintiff.
They are asking the court to declare that the January primary won by Echocho is still valid and should be presented as the party’s candidate. They are arguing that it is only in case of death or voluntary withdrawal that a candidate can be replaced. Besides, the plaintiffs are insisting that Wada was not a card-carrying member of the PDP by the time he was nominated.
But Wada has dismissed all the allegations against him and said that he has never had any case of mental disorder. He contended that as a well known pilot he has never been found wanting in the discharge of his critical assignment.
Many things are working in his favour. It was for his own sake that President Goodluck Jonathan, left other state duties the other day and went to Lokoja to campaign and raise his hand as the party’s choice, irrespective of the many scandals being bandied about him. In the words of the President, it is an Idris who will also succeed a performing Idris in Kogi, an indication that the party has already tipped him to move into the Government House. Funding his campaign has not been problematic going by the quantity and quality of campaign materials on display at strategic locations in the state and the number of radio and television jingles that now rent the airwaves extolling his virtues.
Thus, armed with the endorsement of the Presidency and already anointed as the heir apparent of Governor Abubarkar Idris, Captain Wada can hold his head high and his ego boosted as one of the most likely persons to move into the Lugard House at the end of the polls.
But that can only happen if the controversies that have been trailing him and the intra-party fracas that has been lingering since the dumping of Echocho do not have any significant role to play in today’s vote. Again, the low rating of Governor Idris, who is seen as the chief backer of the younger Idris by natives of Kogi, may also work against him. Besides, the unceasing media campaign by Wada’s opponents that he is mentally deranged may also work against him.
But the real challenge to Wada’s election lies in the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Prince Abubakar Audu, who is also banking on his subsisting political influence as a former governor of the state, who is credited with many of the development strides in the state. For Audu, the political terrain is well known to him and is armed with the political magic wand that gave him victory twice as a governor of the ‘Confluence State’. He is highly rated by the political class in the state having delivered democratic dividends to them in myriad of ways when he was on the saddle as a governor. His supporters believe his deep knowledge of the problems of the state and the way he handled issues during his previous tenures are indications that he can do more for the people, if given another four years.
Even his opponents in the PDP are aware of his formidable threat to them and are not leaving anything to chance as far as today’s election is concerned. As a pointer of their fear of Audu, his name was the only opposition figure the party campaigners led by Mr. President kept mentioning throughout the PDP rally in aid of Wada early in the week. They have every reason to see him as a threat. He has been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling party since 2003 and has continued to challenge them at every election without blinking like others.
But Audu’s main problem may be finance. While his major contender is being financed directly by his backers, Audu may need to fund his campaigns by himself. And, given the fact that he has been fighting many political battles lately, the pocket might be very shallow by the time the election opens today. That may not be too good for him, considering the fact that money plays a critical role in Nigeria’s elections.
But his accusers believe that he has been around the political arena of the state for too long while age is also no longer on his side. They would want him to step aside and leave the arena for younger ones as some of his former colleagues like the former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, who quit the scene after a short stint and is now playing the role of a godfather.
But with his assumed soaring influence and popularity when juxtaposed with the incumbent administration, it may be very difficult to convince Audu to leave the political scene at a time he believes he is just about to return to the coveted pinnacle of power that he once strolled in style and affluence. His true standing on the political radar of the state may come to light shortly after the votes are counted and announced.
Then comes the man considered the most cerebral of all the contestants- Chief James Ocholi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, who is flying the flag of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. Although his financial base is lean and not being backed by many political godfathers in the state, he is however perceived by the people of the state as one of the most morally sound and transparent persons in the race who could spring a surprise. That school of thought stems from the fact that the CPC made a lot of inroads into some parts of the North in the last election despite its late entry into the contest. The party is seen more as one that represents the interest of the ‘North’ and should therefore be given a chance to rule the state. What may work for Ocholi is that the people of the state believe strongly that it is the turn of the Dekina to rule the state. But again, both Ocholi and Idris Wada are from the same place, a development that may work for and against one of them today. His major setback however, is that he has no known political heavy weight lining behind him as the race to the government house opens today. And, with his lean pocket, the electorate may dump him and put their votes to where their stomachs would be better catered for.
The All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, is putting forward a former Accountant-General of the state, Elder Elder Ubolo Okpanachi, as its candidate for the election. Okpanachi, has decided to sink and swim with the ANPP despite its dwindling political fortunes of late in the state promising to change the tide at the end of today’s vote. But he can hardly change the situation with the way his party is standing in the state with the exit of Audu to the ACN. The fortune of the ANPP seems to have fled with Audu, who was able to win election on that ticket between 1999 and 2003. Since his exit, the party has been battling to reclaim its political relevance. It is left to be seen how Okpanachi will perform the magic of wining in today’s election with a depleted support base and weak war chest. That is why many see him as a mere pretender being planted by some forces in the state to enhance their political interests.
But observers have argued that as the former AG of the state, whose influence still lingers, many workers may line up behind him, thus helping him to spring a surprise by the time the votes are counted.
There are others in the race that are just there to make history as having contested the 2011 gubernatorial race in the state and not necessarily to win even marginally. One of them is Aisha Emeje Audu, a native of Ayingba in Dekina local government area of the state. She is seen by many as going into the race ostensibly to confront the man she once lived with in the government house as husband and wife. But it is not likely that she can upset Audu in the race that has no serious provision for women, at least for now. As the political clock ticks away, the major contenders are also engrossed in a war of words all in an attempt to take the day with ease. The director general of Wada/Yomi campaign organization, Prince Olusola Akanmode believes the ACN has no structure to win the state. Akanmode is convinced that with the strong showing of the PDP in previous elections in the state, it was poised to take the day without sweat.
But Prince Audu’s Media Aide, Sani Onogu, said in a statement that the PDP was sensing defeat by claiming that the ACN has no structures on the ground to win the election. He pointed out that it was the fear of defeat that forced the PDP to resort to cheap methods to edge out Audu from the race so as to coast him to victory.
One thing is however very clear: the battle which is being fought on many fronts, promises to deliver either a PDP or ACN governor at the end of the day. But those who have been following the unique campaign style of Chief Ocholi are quick to submit that he may spring a surprise when the chips are down. The CPC candidate had chosen to reach out to the electorate that matter in the respective political constituencies across the state.
In fact, Ocholi it is said that he covered the entire state three times in the last two months, canvassing for support from the electorate. With all these, it is not difficult to predict that the election will not only be tough and tense, but will also produce a result that may rattle bookmakers who have predicted a seamless win for the man being backed by the ‘gods’ of Kogi politics, despite the internal crisis that bedeviled many and jostled others in the run-up to the main event. Who wins and who loses? The answer will come when the INEC boss, Prof. Attahiru Jega and his men reel out the figures under the watchful eyes of anxious party officials, security and media men any time from today.