The battle for control of Kogi in the 2011 elections will be a litmus test for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to show the world its ability to enthrone fairness and equity among its followership, as politicians from all the zones jostle to replace the incumbent, Ibrahim Idris, who has served his legally permitted two terms.
The majority Igala has dominated the political scene since its creation and the other minority groups, especially the Yoruba-speaking Okun, now want power to shift to their axis next year, despite resistance by the Igala. Although the Igala cannot match the numbers of the other zones, they have been able to hold on to power because the others have not been able to take advantage of their own numbers. The minority groups have been polarized and even the highly educated Okun have not been able to close ranks either within themselves or with the Ebira, to promote their interests.
The issues of marginalization and power rotation have been on since the creation of Kogi State from old Benue and Kwara States about 19 years ago. The state is a veritable miniature of Nigeria, with several ethnic groups. There are the Igala/Bassa from the eastern flank, the Ebira at the central and Okun from the western flank, along with the Nupe, Egbura-Koto and Kakanda. This and other factors will definitely come to play when it is time to determine where the political pendulum swings before and during the general elections in the Confluence State, come 2011.
Mr Idris has always stressed the need for power to shift to other zones of the state so that, as he says, everybody will have a sense of belonging. “The state is for all of us and so everybody from the state should be able to aspire to the highest position in the state regardless of where they come from,” he said recently.
In the spirit of fairness
Some political pundits argue that, in the spirit of fairness, the governorship slot should go to the western senatorial axis which has never produced a governor since the state’s creation in 1991.
However, some Igala are not ready to let go of power, especially those from the Dekina axis who believe they should have their own turn before any shift arrangement can kick in.
The Idah axis has had their slot through Abubakar Audu; the Ankpa axis produced incumbent governor, Ibrahim Idris and now their kinsmen at Dekina want to occupy the Lugard House before power can ‘shift’ to any of the other two senatorial districts.
Thus, no fewer than 10 governorship aspirants have already emerged from Dekina axis and they are said to have the support of other Igala zones, although some contenders have emerged from Idah axis, arguing that there was no zoning arrangement anywhere and that it is unconstitutional.
There is apathy in the central senatorial district because of the political upheavals that ravaged the zone when they sought to wrest power from the Igala under the platform of the Action Congress, with Salami Ohiare as the governorship candidate in 2007. The campaign led to carnage and wanton destruction of lives and property in the area.
Bring in rotation
Isa Ozi Salami, a Peoples Democratic Party leader from the Central district, called on the national central working committee of the party to entrench the principle of power rotation in the state, as it is working very well at the federal level.
“The issue of power rotation in the state has to be addressed once and for all,” he said. “The issue of marginalization will be out of the way if every component part of the state is entitled to become governor of the state.” Speaking at a forum in Ebiraland recently, Olusola Akanmode, the former Chief of Staff to former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, stressed the need to have a clear working relationship between the west and central, because both came from the old Kwara State.
Mr Akanmode, who is a candidate for the governorship seat, said it was regrettable that he and the late Ebira politician, A.T Ahmed, understood each other too late.
In all, there are about 25 governorship aspirants jostling to battle for the soul of the state within the PDP, with the highest number coming from Kogi East with 12. This is followed by the west, with 10 aspirants, and the central, with only three aspirants.
Candidates from the eastern senatorial district include: the Executive Director of Newswatch magazine, Yakubu Mohammed; Alex Kadiri; Jubrin Isah; Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane; Sanni Teidi; Gabriel Musa Oduma; Suleiman Abutu; Dangana Ocheja and the past Accountant -General of the state, Ubolo Okpanachi.
From the western senatorial flank are the state commissioner of agriculture, Abiodun Ojo; Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, Clarence Olafemi; Mr Akanmode; a former Minister of Justice, Bayo Ojo; Sola Olumoroti; Bello Fadile and Rotimi Obadofin The Deputy Governor of the state, Philip Salawu leads the list of aspirants from the central zone. Others are: Abubakar Amuda and Yakubu Akaba, who is a Kastina-based medical doctor.
The list might swell up to 50 before the party primaries, as other aspirants are said to be consulting with various interest groups in the state.
Despite the anxiety surrounding the expectation of the Supreme Court pronouncement on the tenure of the incumbent governor, the aspirants have begun the usual nocturnal political meetings and campaigns.
Much has not been heard from the opposition parties in the state, as only a few political neophytes have been dissipating energy campaigning on the pages of newspapers and some fancy posters dotting certain parts of the state.
The leading contestants are:
The incumbent deputy governor of the state, Mr Salawu was voted into office along with Ibrahim Idris in 2003. Considered a loyalist of Mr Idris, he is determined to occupy Lugard House after his boss’ tenure.
The Speaker of the State House of Assembly was an acting governor of the state for some months, following the annulment of Mr Idris’s election by the Kogi State Election Petition Tribunal. A former ally of the governor, their relationship was said to be strained after Mr Olafemi’s tenure as acting governor, owing to accusations of financial mismanagement.
The State commissioner of agriculture is known as the strong man of Ijumu politics. A former member of the House of Representatives, his grassroots credentials are widely acknowledged in the state. He is one of the commissioners invited by the EFCC for questioning over some financial dealings recently.
The former Deputy Chief of Staff to Atiku Abubakar and former Secretary to Kogi State Government defected to the Action Congress along with Mr Abubakar in 2006 but has since returned to the fold. He is credited with the victory of Mr Idris in 2003 and his supporters expect the governor to back him in return.
NICHOLAS YAHAYA UGBANE
The senator representing Kogi East is already campaigning for the gubernatorial seat. However, his lingering problems with the EFCC might be a great impediment if he is not cleared before the primaries.
Jibrin E. Isah, popularly known as CHO-CHO, a former Afribank Executive Director, is also a formidable candidate.
This former senator is not a newcomer in politics. He was one of the few aspirants who slugged it out with Mr Idris during the PDP primaries in 2003.
One of the founding editors of Newswatch, he has finally declared his intention to become the state’s number one citizen, come 2011. He said he wants to put into practice what he has been preaching in the last 35 years as a journalist.
He is a former member of the House of Representatives and present Secretary to the State Government.
ABDULRAZAK ISAH KUTEPA
There are reports the incumbent governor is grooming this Lagos-based businessman to succeed him, although Mr Idris has down-played this. Mr Kutepa is, however, like the governor’s Siamese twin, as they embark on local and foreign trips together frequently, the most recent being the Umra trip to Saudi Arabia.