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Kogi West 2019: Choice of party, experience and work done will determine the votes

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Smart Adeyemi

The scenario playing out in Kogi West Senatorial District ahead of February 2019 is the perfect example of the fluid nature of the party system in this clime. In 2015, Senator Smart Adeyemi was of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) while Senator Dino Melaye was of the All Progressives Congress (APC). They have swapped parties, going into the 2019 polls. In the 2015 episode, Melaye won on the platform of the APC. However, in 2019, he would contest to retain his seat as candidate of the PDP. Similarly, his opponent in the last election, Adeyemi, who was of PDP, will fly the flag of the APC in February, all things being equal.

The two emerged flag bearers of their parties through turbulent primaries. Melaye benefitted from a special window opened to him by the controversial agreement between the rAPC and the national leadership of the PDP. The agreement allegedly included automatic tickets for sitting members of the rAPC who defected to PDP.

The decision rattled party faithful and the dust raised by the disqualification of other aspirants for the PDP ticket to pave the way for Melaye’s automatic ticket, is yet to settle. The leading and aggrieved aspirant, Hon Sunday Karimi, a two-time member of House of Representatives, Yagba Federal Constituency is presently in court, challenging the process that produced Melaye as PDP’s flag bearer.

Adeyemi’s path to clinching the APC ticket was initially characterized by speculations that he was long anointed by Governor Yahaya Bello. That the primary slated for October 3, was going to serve as mere academic exercise. At the end of the exercise, Adeyemi was declared winner of the primaries. He polled 1,659 votes to beat three other contestants, Toyin Akanle, Doyin Ibikunle and Tajudeen Yusuf, who polled 104, 98 and 19 votes respectively.

The trio has since gone protesting the outcome of the exercise. At the time of filing this report, the matter is said to be pending with the APC National Assembly Appeal Committee.

One of the aggrieved, former Director, Department of Security Services (DSS), Akanle crying blue murder, alleged votes were manufactured, as election did not hold. He described the process as “a sham and disgrace to democracy.”

If their candidatures stand beyond the final day scheduled for substitution of names of candidates by INEC, Melaye and Adeyemi, it is assumed, stand to benefit from protest votes on either sides, but that alone is not expected to determine the outcome of the poll. In 2015, the election in which the winner emerged with 2,972 votes difference in the election was very close. Melaye polled 41,120 of the total 118, 987 votes cast, to Adeyemi’s 38,148 votes and Accord Party’s candidate, Aro Bamidele’s 26,198 votes.

It will be recalled that Melaye, who initially trailed Adeyemi when the results trickled in from five out of the seven local governments, eventually overtook and edged out Adeyemi; thanks to votes he garnered in the non-Yoruba speaking Lokoja/Kotonkarfe axis, a strong base of the APC and Buhari. The bulk of Adeyemi’s votes came from the majority Yoruba speaking Okunland.

But the factors that determined the last election are no longer feasible. To start with, the enthusiasm with which the electorate voted APC, influenced largely by the “Sai Baba” mantra (the Buhari factor) and from which other APC candidates immensely benefitted, Melaye inclusive, has gradually waned amongst a massively disappointed electors. It came with great expectations unfulfilled and untold hardship brought to their homes, especially as Kogi is a civil service state. The civil servants, in the last three years, groan under several months of unpaid salaries and pensions, hunger, unending screening of workers and pensioners, mass sack and forced retirement, resulting to premature and avoidable loss of lives. The current reality makes them feel they were actually in Paradise at the time of rejection of the preceding government, but did not know it!

And yet, the civil servants and their loved ones are estimated to account for 40 percent of the total votes cast in the 2015 polls.

This may not be to the advantage of Adeyemi, who is seen as an associate and his candidature a product of Governor Yahaya Bello, even if on occasions he has openly sided with the workers in their plight by urging government to prioritize prompt salary payment.

Obviously, while the popularity of APC in the run up to the 2015 poll cannot be compared to now, the party is still in power in the state and manages the 21 local governments through appointed administrators, who are loyalists of the governor and members of APC. The ruling party is capable of making things work for its candidates using incumbency factor.

This manifested during the by-election in Lokoja/Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency declared in APC’s favour. That unexpected ‘victory’ in which about 19,000 votes were invalidated, higher than the 4,000 margin between the votes cast for the APC and PDP candidates, shocked pre-election analysts who did not give the ruling party a chance. The unprecedented violence witnessed during the process left two persons dead. How the APC could replicate that feat in 2019 is a matter of conjecture? The government of Alhaji Yahaya Bello, it is learnt, is also making efforts to clear the backlog of salaries and pensions, before the election.
OTHER factors are the political weights and credibility of the two gladiators. No doubt, both boast of varying degrees of credentials, judging from present and past performance, depending on the perception of the electorate. Between them, they showed their presence on the floors of the National Assembly in terms of contribution to debates. The other attribute common to the duo is advocacy for justice for the masses. In this dispensation, the downcast civil servants in the entire state appear to have found in Melaye their voice following his consistent face-off with the state government officials over issues pertaining to workers’ welfare.

Adeyemi will count on the projects facilitated during his eight years in the Upper Chamber, such as cottage hospitals, building of markets, construction of roads, donation of ambulances to hospitals, purchase and distribution of hundreds of taxicabs to commuters and private vehicles, scholarships to indigent students and the building of Kabba mini-stadium, among others.

Though from Bunu/Ijumu/Kabba federal constituency, he was seen to be fair to all sections of the senatorial district. At a point he was accused of doing more for Yagba federal constituency in terms of projects and appointments he facilitated. But rightly or wrongly, he came under criticism for citing his hotels and other private businesses in neighbouring Kwara, home state of his late wife.

The demise of his wife, Yemisi, in September this year, added an outpouring of sympathy for him from across party lines and served as a soothing reconciliatory balm with old political foes, with potential electoral fortune.

Although it took Adeyemi two terms of eight years to account for his performance, Melaye, who is doing his first term also has people-oriented projects to his name. They include construction and renovation of schools, bridges. According to him, in a recent interview, Melaye claimed to be one of the senators with the highest number of bills and motions, including the bill for the upgrade of College of Agriculture, Kabba to a degree awarding institution, which he said has passed first and second reading. He initiated annual scholarships for 300 students, empowerment schemes, and 30 projects spread across the seven councils. He also pointed to 56 projects listed in the present budget, including the Kabba-Ilorin road.

He is however believed to be controversial and sometimes, applying un-parliamentary tendencies in goal getting, but this also will be down to perception. Rather than castigate him, his fans appear to be less concerned about his way of life, but are more interested in the results.

Finally, the emergence of Atiku Abubakar as PDP presidential candidate may be an added advantage going by the rave generated after Atiku’s emergence in Lokoja and environ.

All said, the dynamics of the 2019 polls in Kogi West have shown lately it is not all down to Melaye and Adeyemi, PDP and APC.

The issue of rotation and the emergence of new-breed candidates have been identified as some of the factors that are capable of altering the calculations in APC and PDP camps.

The APC/PDP candidates hail from same Bunu/Ijumu/Kabba (BIK) Federal Constituency and same Ijumu Local Government and have shared the last 12 years on the senate seat of Kogi West between themselves. Adeyemi had two terms of eight years between 2007 and 2011, while Melaye took over in 2015 till date. This development has not gone down well with the remaining two federal constituencies, Lokoja/Kotonkarfe and Yagba. While Senator Tunde Ogbeha took the first shot between 1999 and 2007, he bowed out after two terms in the spirit of rotational arrangements created by the elders of the zone, some of who are now late. It was expected to shift to Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu and although aspirants from Yagba came out for it, the majority voted BIK and Adeyemi, who like Ogbeha also did two terms. It was then expected to move to Yagba in 2015, which did not happen. The two dominant parties had their candidates from BIK. To agitators for rotation, if it was forgivable that the senate seat did not shift to Yagba in 2015, the primaries of October 2018 that produced the same candidates of APC/PDP from same BIK and Ijumu local government were believed to be a deliberate creation of the two dominant parties in disdain for the people of Yagba axis, which they must dearly pay for at the general poll.

Still, there are those who feel it was high time rotation is totally done with and should not be prioritized over competence.  This school of thought is of the opinion that the area will only fare better when it sends ranking legislators to the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, due to the unpredictability of the 2019 polls, the factor of rotation, the likely effects of protest votes, the prolonged dominance of the two leading parties that have got many electorate yearning for a change, the new faces who have sprung from new political parties cannot not be underrated.

Mr. Olasunkanmi Aina (Yagba West), Omoluabi Bode Adeyemi (Kabba/Bunu) and Dele Onile (Yagba East) are some new faces to fly the senatorial flags of Change Advocacy Party (CAP), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Independent Democrats Party (ID) respectively.

Aina holds Master’s of Business Administration, Banking and Finance, with over 20 years in the oil and gas. He is from Egbe, Yagba West council. Before his desire to run for elective office, he had brought succour and smiles to people in the grassroots, through his philanthropies.

ADC candidate, Omoluabi Adeyemi was the Executive Director of Africa Media Roundtable Initiative (AMRI) a media entrepreneurial and consultancy organization.

He was Senior Special Assistant to the immediate past Governor of Kogi State on Public Communications. He was appointed into the service of the National Assembly Service Commission as a non-pensionable Legislative Officer in the Office of the Chairman, Committee on Information and National Orientation, House of Representatives.
 He later became a Director at the UNESCO Centre, Abuja.

Bamidele Onile is the standard bearer of Independent Democrats Party (ID). He hails from Isanlu Makutu in Yagba East Local Government area.

He was at the United States Air Force School, Kessler, Mississippi, U.S.A, where he was the best graduating student of his set.

He also Studied Finance and Accounting Management, at the Northeastern University, Boston, USA. He later worked with the United States Air Force, Pfizer, among others.

These three and others will meet Adeyemi and Melaye in the field come February 2019. If the campaigns are vigorous and the playing filed is level for all, it may not be a two horse race in Kogi West as many predict.


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