Kogi West: Mulling options for 2019
So far, from Okunland and Lokoja/Kotonkarfe, the two areas making up Kogi West, not a single governorship aspirant has indicated intention to aspire for Lugard House.
This is a departure from past elections, when Kogi West produced some of the biggest names in the race to the state house, like the late industrialist, Chief Silas Daniyan, erstwhile Ambassador of Nigeria to Austria, Chief Olayinka Simoyan, former Deputy Chief of Staff (Presidency), Prince Olusola Akanmode, renown architect, Dr. Stephen Olorunfemi, former Minister of Justice and Attorney
General, Chief Bayo Ojo and oil magnate, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isa Kutepa, to name a few.
Since creation of Kogi in 1991, aspirants from the west senatorial district have shone brightly on newspaper pages in their repeated efforts to emerge governor of the state that never was.
For people of Kogi West, third behind Kogi East and Kogi Central, population has been a barrier. This means that the Igala, the dominant tribe in Kogi East produced all past governors, until the unexpected happened in 2015 election. But the 2015 “divine intervention” did not end in Kogi West’s favour, as their neighbours, the Ebira, had it.
Since the primaries of January 2011, the number of aspirants from Kogi West has gradually declined. The situation did not change in 2015, when the ticket of then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was a straight battle between two Igala sons— then incumbent governor, Idris Wada and Alhaji Jubril Isah Echocho.
In the All Progressives Congress (APC), the lone aspirant from Kogi West, Mr. Babatunde Irukera, a lawyer, later withdrew from the party’s governorship primary election that produced Audu.It was understood that PDP leaders in Kogi West had resolved not to field any candidate. Rather, they endorsed Wada with an understanding that power would shift to West or Central Senatorial District in 2019. And power truly shifted, though earlier than expected. The beneficiary, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, from Kogi Central, riding on the death of Prince Abubakar Audu of APC, emerged the fourth Chief Executive of the state.
However, ahead of 2019 elections, the decline in the number of gubernatorial hopefuls from the entire West of the Niger is so noticeable, with no single aspirant coming out to challenge the incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello. While the dearth of aspirants from the central can be explained, based on the reason that Bello hails from there, the same cannot be said of the west.
Then came the questions: What is responsible for the lack of interest in governorship position among people of Kogi West? Is Kogi West now comfortable to play second fiddle during the 2019 polls and indeed future elections? Is this development out of despair, following years of unfulfilled ambitions? Do the Yoruba in Kogi State and in the North Central have any hope? How did they find themselves in this quandary?
Some leading political figures from the West tried to provide answers.Chief Tunde Olusunle, spokesman for Okun People’s Forum (OPF), led by one-time military governor of old western region, General David Jemibewon, said the apparent apathy and lukewarmness in the west is not for lack of high quality human resource, will power or aggregate capacity.
He said: “I suppose the political elites in Kogi West have taken a few steps back, like the proverbial ram, to strategise better before launching out again.
“You will recall the sheer number and quality of aspirants from Kogi West, who dominated the gubernatorial race on the platform of the then ruling PDP. That contest tested bureaucrats like Prince Olusola Akanmode, revered legal luminaries like Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN; accomplished business moguls like Abdulrasaq Isa Kutepa; established political figures like Chiefs Abiodun Ojo and Clarence Olafemi and other respected names like Col. Bello Fadile and Hon. Deinde Abolarin, among others.
“While some of these bigwigs would have been able to genuinely impact the socio-politics and economy of Kogi State beyond many previous chief executives, a lack of consensus ensured we lost that opportunity.”Indeed, in his many meetings with leadership of local government areas in Kogi West, especially before the rerun primaries, former governor Ibrahim Idris pleaded that the ‘third leg of the political tripod of Kogi East be allowed to take its turn at the level of state governorship, so that Kogi East will in turn support Kogi West for the position in 2019.’
The political tripod in Kogi East is interpreted as the Ankpa zone, which produced the late Abubakar Audu as governor in 1992 and 1999; Idah zone that produced Ibrahim Idris between 2003 and 2011 and Dekina zone, which produced Idris Wada between January 2012 and January 2016. Olusunle, a Special Adviser on Special Duties to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, continued: “In investing its votes, resources and emotions in the Idris Wada candidature for PDP and Abubakar Audu of APC in the November 2015 governorship election, the rationalisation in Kogi West was that both men were only constitutionally entitled to a second and final term under the 1999 Constitution. They were expected to complete this in 2019 and make way for a succeeding governor from Kogi West. Coincidentally, both governorship candidates had running mates from Kogi West: Arc. Yomi Awoniyi for PDP and Hon. Abiodun Faleke for APC. The unfortunate demise of Abubakar Audu, midway through the election, however, altered this original permutation, such that Kogi Central produced the incumbent regime.”
In his view, Kogi West political elites are believers in integrity of agreements and consensus.“For Kogi West, therefore, the 2015 template subsists. They would rather Dekina zone in Kogi East completes its two terms in office, than jump in the fray, crowd the political space and be collectively trounced, just like in 2011. They are ready to be the patient dog in the folktale, which will eat its own garnished broth, once Kogi East completes its cycle in 2023. That is the strategic calculation of Kogi West.
“Rotation has been perfected in states across the country from one senatorial zone to the other. Kogi State remains something of an exception, because of the hitherto domicile of the gubernatorial position in Kogi East.“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria recognises parity and equality of senatorial zones. As team players and a very cosmopolitan political elite, Kogi West will remain faithful to the 2015 arrangement.”
But running mate to the late APC governorship candidate in the 2015 poll, Hon. James Abiodun Faleke saw things differently.Faleke, a House of Representatives member, who transmuted his voter card from Lagos to Kogi, his original state ahead of the 2015 election, is optimistic that Okun and indeed Kogi West could still field a candidate that will earn support of the other two senatorial districts.
Speaking with The Guardian, Faleke said: “The governorship election in Kogi is not in February 2019. It will be in November 2019. So, there is time to weigh all the options. One thing is clear, that we in Kogi West will not be used as deputy. Certainly, without Kogi West’s support, no zone can win elections. Kogi West will present a formidable candidate and Kogi East and Central will support him by God’s Grace.”
Faleke, who lost his bid to become governor of the state to Bello after Audu’s death, to political power play within the APC national hierarchy, spoke from the background of his loyalty to the late Audu. It could also be said he inherited Audu’s structure across the state, including the East.He has worked closely with Muhammed, Audu’s son, as well as APC state executives. He is thus seen as the best-positioned candidate from the West to challenge Bello.
However, if he intends running for governorship in 2019, he has not come out clear. There are conflicting signals to Faleke’s destination in the 2019 polls. At the commissioning of the lockup stores built by Faleke and donated to Ayede-Bunu community penultimate weekend, among the speakers urging the parliamentarian to run for 2019 governorship was APC Kogi East senatorial chairman, Daniel Isa, who was also the campaign coordinator for Audu/Faleke Campaign Organisation.
Isa, an Igala said: “if there is any governor that will make Kogi become the state of our dream, it is going to be Abiodun Faleke. He is more of Igala than an Okun man.But when confronted by reporters, Duro Meseko, spokesman for Faleke, said his principal would be running for another term of four years in the House of Representatives, this time to represent Kabba-Bunu-Ijumu Federal Constituency in Kogi State.
“There will always be speculations, but the truth that I know and I am telling you is that Hon. Faleke will be running for the House of Representatives,” he said.