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By NBF News
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AHEAD of the January 9, 2011 governorship primary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kogi State, 31 aspirants have lined up, seeking to grab the chance to succeed Governor Ibrahim Idris.

One issue in this election is the domination of power by the East since the creation of the state. There is a subtle urgency to put the East under pressure to let go in 2011.

Outside the PDP, the other political parties have a total of six aspirants, thereby bringing the total number of governorship aspirants to 37. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has four; the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has one aspirant and the Labour Party (LP) has one too. The ACN aspirants are former Managing Director, Ajaokuta Steel Company, Dr. Tom Miachi, former chaplain of Aso Rock Villa, Yusuf Obaje, Mr. George Olumoroti and Zakeri Jiya. The CPC aspirant is Lawal Itopa Lamidi.

The PDP aspirants are: the deputy governor, Philip Salawu, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo, Prince Olusola Akanmode, Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Chief Clarence Olafemi, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isa Kutepa, Mr. Deinde Abolarin, Air Vice Marshal Saliu Atawodi, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, Alhaji Jibrin Isah, Mr James Ocholi, Alhaji Sani Teidi Shaibu, Mr Ubolo Okpanachi and Jacob Abdullahi, a medical practitioner.

Others are the Commissioner for Agriculture, Chief Abiodun Ojo, Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Musa Ahmadu, Senator Alex Kadiri, Alhaji Yakubu Muhammed, Chief Simeon Maha, Nigeria's Ambassador to South Korea, Gen. Amuda Yusuf, Alhaji Sule Ogrima, Dr Yakubu Akaba, retired Colonel Gabriel Musa, retired Colonel Bello Fadile, and Mrs Comfort Aiyepeku.

The crowd of aspirants has thrown the party into a difficult situation of defining the criteria to guide the selection of the candidate. Sources said that aspirants will be rated based on their popularity, public opinion, track record, experience, resources, acceptability and effective campaign network.

Incidentally, about 10 aspirants have been identified as leading the pack. Olafemi was Minority Leader during his first tenure between 2003 and 2007 and has been Speaker of the House of Assembly for the fourth year.

His was acting governor for two months following the annulment of the election of Idris by the Appeal Court in February 2008. The chairman, Okun Traditional Council, named him Asiwaju of Okunland and, though a Yoruba, he is a member of the Igala traditional council. He can count on the support of the state legislators and council chairmen. His stronghold is Yagba Federal Constituency, consisting three councils and Okene in the central.

Salawu has been deputy governor for eight years. Salawu could coast to victory in style should the number of aspirants in the west and central count against the two zones. He is one of three aspirants in Kogi Central, while East and West have 12 and 11 aspirants respectively. And recently a group endorsed him as the zone's consensus candidate, notwithstanding that other aspirants from the zone have rejected the arrangement.

Atawodi came into reckoning following his endorsement by the Forum of Traditional Rulers and Eminent Persons of Igala/Bassa Nation, as the consensus candidate of Kogi East zone. The Forum noted that it was following in the footsteps of Northern Peoples Leaders Forum (NPLF), which endorsed former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as North's consensus presidential candidate. While other aspirants from the East have rejected Atawodi's endorsement, some groups have vowed to stand by him. He is expected to get block votes from delegates from his council, Igalamela and could attract votes from other parts of the East based on the endorsement.

One of the aspirants believed to have reached out and won confidence of the party followership within and outside his base is 49-year-old Kutepa. His programme, which touched various sectors of the state economy, has won him many admirers. Though born in Lokoja, Kogi West, he is from Bassa, Kogi East. He is a close confidant of the governor and this is fueling speculations that Idris might have endorsed him. He has a deep war chest to run a successful campaign and he proved that in a philanthropic gesture when one of his companies donated science equipment worth $1 million (about N150 million) to his alma mater, Dekina Secondary School. And for that, his aspiration received the endorsement of the influential Dekina Old Boys Association (DOBA).

He told an interviewer: 'Those who can take Nigeria to the tops by 2020 are people who know how things are done and how the complex world economic and financial system work. That is my area of expertise and that is why I am the most qualified to be the Governor of Kogi at this point.'

Ojo is widely adjudged as one of the most experienced and qualified candidates for the top job in the state.

He is called the 'official candidate' given the backing of his former boss and former president Olusegun Obasanjo and the fact that he was named in the team of Jonathan/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation. As part of his blueprint to transform the state economy, Ojo plans to generate $400 million annually from palm produce, generate 100,000 jobs within six months, which he said translates to over N20 billion, which is more than Kogi's annual income from the federation account.

Akanmode has behind him 30 years of public and civil service experience. He rose to the pinnacle of his career as Deputy Chief of Staff in the Presidency. He was in the team that put Kogi on the ground when the state was created in 1991. He is the only aspirant to have gone round the 283 electoral wards in Kogi selling his programmes to the electorate. Although, he left for the ACN during the intra-PDP crisis of 2007 involving Obasanjo and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, he was granted waiver after he returned to PDP earlier in the year.

Ugbane, a former Commissioner for Finance and two-time senator is one of the politicians from the East believed to have tentacles across the state. Despite his non-selection by the Igala/Bassa panel and the distraction to his campaign created by the probe of his involvement in the handling of N5 billion energy funds, he has trudged on.

Muhammed, a renowned journalist is showing a lot of promise in his political move to be governor. According to him, 'we are putting forward to the people well researched and comprehensive programmes, which took so much hard work to put together. The experience I gathered in the course of my job as a journalist in the past 25 years and my interaction with the mighty and low in the society would be brought to bear in the governance of Kogi just like Olusegun Osoba did in Ogun State.'

Isah Jibrin and Sani Shuaibu Teidi are from the East, while Abiodun Ojo is from West. The trio, aside spending big, are also said to have pockets of supporters that could be significant. Teidi is said to have control of the secretaries at the council levels while Jibrin is has worked on the youth leaders. Ojo is counting on his closeness to Idris during his six years as finance commissioner.

It is believed that based on the number of aspirants and the fact that they spread across the 21 councils, only the aspirants with the capacity to reach out effectively and win the confidence of the people from outside their base have the chance of clinching the ticket.

A PDP leader in the state summarised the situation thus: 'In the West, Olafemi and Kutepa are optimistic. They could count on the stronghold support they have in their respective federal constituencies. Olafemi is comfortable in Yagba Federal Constituency, which consists of three councils and some support in the East and Central, especially Okene.

'Kutepa is credited with votes from Lokoja/Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency and Bassa, Kogi East, which is his area. He has friends are scattered all over Kogi. Akanmode, Bayo Ojo and Abiodun Ojo, Toba and Fadile hail from Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency and will likely share the votes. But both Bayo Ojo and Akanmode could look beyond the federal constituency. In the East, four aspirants, Muhammed, Ocholi, Isah and Ugbane, are from Dekina Council. Opanachi is expected to win more delegates votes from his home council, Ofu while Atawodi should lead in Igalamela. The Central remains uncoordinated since the death of its political leader, Senator Ahmed Tijani Ahmed. Ogorimagongo and Ajaokuta have a history of going in contrary direction from the three others; Okene, Adavi and Okehi, which could be any body's take.'