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KOGI: THE SCRAMBLE FOR LUGARD HOUSE

By NBF News
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The recent pronouncement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the six states where re-run were held for the 2007 governorship election would not be excluded from the 2011 polls has sparked a wild scramble for the seat of departing Governor Ibrahim Idris of Kogi State.

As at the last count, close to 30 aspirants have signified their intention to occupy the 'Lord Lugard House', seat of the state government. The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has 25; the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has two, while United Nigeria Peoples Party has one.

Power shift agitation
Kogi is a heterogeneous state that is shared between three main ethnic groups who, interestingly, dominate each of the three senatorial districts. The eastern part of the state is mainly populated by Igala/Bassa people, while the Ebiras hold sway in Kogi Central. Yoruba speaking people are in Kogi West district.

However, the race to succeed Governor Idris, popularly called 'Ibro', is heavily laced with issues of power shift from Kogi East to Kogi West and Kogi Central Senatorial Districts.

Since the creation of the state in 1991,politicians from Kogi East had produced the two governors of the state. Prince Abubakar Audu ruled first from 1992 to 1993, and then from 1999 to 2003, while the incumbent had occupied the seat since 2003 till date.

There is therefore a deep clamour that the next governor should move away from Kogi east. The argument that the next occupant of the post must come from the Okun-speaking part of the state has been quite loud. The argument is based on the fact the Okuns have been badly marginalized in the power sharing formula.

hey say that an Ebira man, Alhaji Adamu Attah, once ruled the old Kwara State from 1979 to 1983. It is also argued that the two deputy governors that have been on board since the inception of the present dispensation also hail from Kogi Central. But politicians from Kogi Central will readily argue that Attah ruled the old Kwara State, and that 1983 was a long time ago.

Politicians from Kogi East, however, regard the agitation for power shift as hogwash and seem bent on holding to power. They readily borrow from happenings at the PDP national level where zoning means nothing as no fewer than 12 Igala aspirants have picked PDP nomination forms despite the dominant mood, which had favored zoning.

Dr. Tunde Arowojolu, a political analyst based in Okene, explained that to the Igalas, parting with power is like committing political hara-kiri. He explained that the position is because of their bitter experience when they were in Benue State.

He recalled that back in Benue, the Igalas played second fiddle to the Tivs and they were worsted in terms of infrastructural development. Hence, the Igalas are wary of entrusting their destiny in the hands of anyone, especially not in the hands of politicians from Kogi West or Central who already have social and economic edge over them. Interestingly, there are divergent views on the need for power shift in the Confluence state.

Both Senators Tunde Ogbeha and Smart Adeyemi believe power shift is inevitable for justice and equity. Sen. Ogbeha says he looks forwards to a time the Igalas will voluntarily relinquish power to either the Ebiras or the Yorubas. His words: 'Politics, particularly election, is about numbers, not about how strong you are as an individual. You can make your noise, but at the end of the day, it is the numbers that talk.

I will want to believe that a minority should have the opportunity to lead Kogi State in the next political dispensation. That is how democracy should operate in an ideal situation.'

But Adeyemi believes it is poor governance that is fueling the agitation for power shift. According to him, 'If there was good governance, there won't be need for that agitation for power shift in the first place. Good governance in terms of a government that appreciates the needs and the aspirations of the people of each of the zones that makes up the state. …. Even as a father with four children and you are treating two very well, the two others are likely to ask you if truly they are your children. It is when you discriminate against a people that they start asking questions and they will be saying, do we really belong here?'

The lawmaker contended that it was marginalization that the made the Kogi west to demand for power shift. ' I am the chairman of the Senate committee of Federal Character and inter-governmental affairs, and I know the work force of each state and federal ministry, and I know that more than two-third of Kogi quota at the federal level were taken up by people from Kogi East simply because they have people in office at the state level who push their case.'

But to the chairman senate committee on Power and Steel, Senator Nicolas Ugbane, the agitation is uncalled for. He says the best material from any part of the state should be allowed to be governor. Sen. Ugbane said, 'Kogi State is in dire need of development. We need a focused leader who will continue from where the incumbent governor stops. That is, we need a competent governor who would deliver the dividends of democracy to our people. So, power shift is not yet an issue in Kogi politics'.

But former governor, Prince Abubakar Audu, wants power rotation within the tribes in the three senatorial districts. He was quoted in an interview as saying, 'I don't believe in power shift. Rather, I believe in power rotation. Everybody and all the tribes in Kogi should be given a sense of belonging.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Power rotation is the most ideal thing for the state. But when one group wants to lord it over other groups, it will be a most unfortunate situation. I will not be a party to that'.

Interestingly, Governor Idris, the man who is at the centre of the issue, is probably in a dilemma. During his campaign for the 2003 elections, he had pledged to ensure that power shifts from his people to either the western or the central zone. He was handsomely rewarded for that declaration as politicians from the West joyfully queued up behind him against the late Sen. Ahmed Ahmed, an Ebiraman, who desperately needed assistance.

The governor restated the promise during the 2007 campaign. Although he had severally expressed his desire to ensure the emergence of a politician from either West or Central as his successor, it was gathered that intense pressure from his Igala kinsmen seems to be making him to have a rethink.

Festering old wound
With the Igalas not willing to part with power as shown by the number of aspirants on the field, political pundits hold that the only option to make the clamour for power shift a reality is for politicians in Central and West districts to close ranks and come up with a single candidate.

Dr. Arowojolu believes this is the only way they could hope to wrest power, using their collective numerical strength. He explained, 'Kogi East has a homogenous ethnic majority population over each of the two other senatorial districts, but not over the West and Central put together'. Collectively, the west and central districts have 12 local councils against nine of the East, thus posting superior numerical delegates strength over the east.

The snag, however, is that in the past, the two districts had never been able to unite to fight a common cause. CNPP chairman, Barr. Abubakar Aliyu, however doubts the workability of such arrangement. Aliyu, an Ebiraman, traced the inability of politicians from the two districts to work together to what he called 'the tactless' politics that politicians from the West played at the primaries of the PDP in 2003. He explained that at that event, Idris and the late Senator Ahmed Tijani Ahmed had tied at the first ballot and were to go for a second ballot.

Aliyu revealed that A.T Ahmed, who was highly regarded in Kogi central, begged their brothers from the West, asking for support with a promise that central will support them too to produce a governor after Ahmed's tenure. The CNPP boss regretted that 'politicians from the west refused and rather backed Idris from east district which had produced a governor before; I think that politics is what is still haunting the relationship now because politicians from central are yet to forget that as they consider it a stab in the back. The wound is yet to heal. A.T Ahmed and not Idris would have been rounding up his eight years now and the West would have been in a very good position to lay a good claim on the governorship but for that tactless politics.'

Okuns disunity
Perhaps to compound the problem for politicians from the west is the obvious disunity and lack of cohesion that has made it impossible for them to settle for a single candidate from their zone. An attempt by some leaders of the zone to zero in on Bayo Ojo, SAN, as a consensus candidate ended in a fiasco. The result is that 12 aspirants from PDP are all jostling for the governorship seat with none ready to release the seat for another.

Sen. Adeyemi believes that the attempt to pick a consensus candidate failed because such move was still premature. He was however confident: 'The leaders of the people of Kogi West are meeting and they will come out with those that will represent us. Having a governor from the West is not the main issue but having someone who will deliver, not someone who will go there and disgrace us. We will want someone who will get to office and perform.'

Igalas' political cohesion
The reverse, however, seems to be the case with the Igalas of Kogi East. A political analyst said, 'Although close to a dozen aspirants are on the field canvassing for support, they will all surrender their aspiration immediately their traditional ruler, the Attah of Igala wades into the matter. The Attah will call all of them to a meeting and tell them what to do and no one will question him. The Attah is the rallying figure and they obey him without question.'

The analyst said that the Attah of Igala has around him astute politicians who can read the political pendulum in the state and predict correctly. He added that it is this 'Attah factor' that eastern politicians had over and above their brothers from either central or the west.

Close watchers says that should politicians from west and central manage to fashion out an alliance, they might give their brothers in the east a good run for their money at the PDP primaries, especially if the departing Governor Idris decides to stand by his promise to support power shift to them to compensate for the favour they did him at the 2003 primaries. They are however quick to warn that winning the PDP primaries might not be the end of the story as the Igalas might play a fast one on anyone.

Pundits hinted that the PDP primaries might actually spell doom for the party in the state. They pointed at the caliber of aspirants on the gubernatorial track and warn that the primaries could turn acrimonious to the extent that some political heavyweights might exit the party for the rival ACN. They posited that should such happen, Kogi might have the real power shift from PDP to new party.

The gladiators
Philip Salawu is the incumbent deputy governor and is from Kogi Central. Salawu has spent eight years as deputy and must have built political network in the East and West. Salawu's soft underbelly, however, is his home front. His people are said to be particularly unhappy with him because, as they claimed, he got the position through the late Senator A.T Ahmed but no sooner after securing the office did he turn his back on the Ahmed political family.

The handsome deputy governor is also alleged to be the brain behind the controversial attempt by the state government to create new 'Ohinoyi' stools' in Ebiraland. The move has brought the deputy governor in collision course with the Ebira traditional institution. They argued that Salawu mooted the idea for the creation of the new stools in an attempt to whittle the influence of the Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, HRM Dr. Ado Ibrahim, with whom he has frosty relationship.

Rt. Hon. Clarence Olafemi, the speaker of the state House of Assembly is from Kogi west. He had a brief stint as the Acting Governor following the annulment of the election of Gov Idris by the Court of Appeal between February and April 2008. Olafemi, known by his admirers as 'Obintin'(accept it even if it is small) was said to have used the three months he stayed in the seat as governor to initiate projects across the three senatorial districts to the delight of many.

Although the action was said to have drawn the ire of Governor Idris when he reclaimed office, Olafemi nevertheless had sent a message as to what he can do if given executive power. The speaker, a former member of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) has a large following in Kogi west where he is highly revered. Rotimi Obadofin, an Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)aspirant, hails from Ayegunle-Gbedde in Ijumu local government in Kogi west. He contested the 2007 gubernatorial polls and made good showings to the surprise of many who never gave him a chance.

Sen. Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane is a PDP aspirant. The chairman, senate committee on Power and Steel hails from Dekina and represents Kogi East at the upper chamber of the National Assembly.

He is an ANPP decampee and a two-term senator who rode on the back of Prince Audu to the senate in 2003.

As the chairman of the senate committee on power and steel, he used his influence to get the Federal Government to install solar power in many towns and villages across the three senatorial districts. That singular action endeared him to many people as he is seen as completely detribalized politician.

Chief Bayo Ojo, SAN is a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). He also served ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation. He is from Kogi west.

He is presently Nigeria's Representative, International Law Reforms Commission at the United Nations. He is seen as a big fish in the race and was about to be crowned as the consensus candidate of Kogi west until some aspirants kicked against the move. The easy-going former NBA boss, is believed to have been persuaded by some people, who believe he remains the best person from his senatorial district that can pilot the affairs of the state.

Although he joined the race late, those close to the politics of the state said that Ojo has made a lot of inroads within the time he joined and has imported science into the art of politics with the manner he goes around marketing his aspiration. Ojo is also reported to have commissioned a group of experts who conducted extensive research into the problems confronting the state and proffered practical solutions to them.

The former AGF's posturing is said to traverse the three senatorial districts, a condition that was said to have made elders of the west district to settle for him as their consensus candidate for the PDP ticket.

Prince Olusola Akanmode is an administrator and bureaucrat who has been in politics for over 15 years.

He was the influential Deputy Chief of Staff in the Presidency operating more with ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar during the Obasanjo administration.

A one-time secretary to Kogi State Government, he was one of the linchpins of the move that sacked the ANPP government of Prince Audu from office in 2003. A founding member of the PDP in Kogi State, he had decamped to the Action Congress in 2007 along with former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, who was his immediate boss at the presidency, only to return early this year.

But for that exit, Akanmode would have been a potent force to reckon with and the obvious choice for the job but his exit created gaps that was exploited by some other aspirants to position themselves.

Those close to Kogi politics claim he has been struggling to make the needed impact since he came back, as the space he vacated, had been covered by other politicians in the zone. George Olumoroti is perhaps the youngest of all the aspirants. He hails from Kabba and is an engineer with an oil company. He is contesting on the platform of the ACN.

The Lagos based aspirant has brought a lot of finesse into the gubernatorial race, as he had been involved in several community development projects that have endeared him to his people. He is also said to be making appreciable inroad into the central district, meeting several key leaders and trying to work out an alliance with them.

Abdulrazaq Isa Kutepa hails from Bassa local government but has lived most of his life in Lokoja. The Lagos based oil-magnate was said to have played key roles in the re-election of Governor Idris and sees 2011 as the time for Idris to repay him for his effort. The endorsement by Senator Ogbeha, a chieftain of the PDP in Lokoja/Kotonkarfe axis and his personal popularity, makes him an aspirant to watch.

Because he is Bassa, an ethnic nationality that has a geographical spread across the East and West senatorial districts, he could be a person that politicians in the East can trust.

Yakubu Mohammed is a renowned journalist and the deputy Chief Executive Officer of NewsWatch magazine. He hails from Dekina axis of Kogi East. He was one of those that fought for the exit of the military.

A fine gentleman but many believe he might not have the financial clout to face the gubernatorial battle.