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EMMANUEL ADEYEMI takes a look at the major governorship contenders in Kogi State dwelling on their perceived strengths and weaknesses. He concludes that of the 19 governorship aspirants that have so far signified intentions to contest the December 3, 2011 governorship election, it may after all be between Okpananachi Ubolo of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Abubakar Audu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

As political activities heat up in Kogi State, no fewer than 19 governorship candidates have so far been cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) to run.

Be that as it may, only three of these standard-bearers seem to easily pass as formidable candidates that are likely to emerge victorious at the poll. They are Prince Abubakar Audu who emerged as the standard-bearer of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Ubolo Okpanachi of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Captain Idris Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)

Interestingly, the trio are from the eastern flank of the state aside from contestants like James Ocholi of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Professor Yusuf Obaje, and Gowon Egbunu of the NTC, among others.

The power tussle in Kogi revolves round agitation for power-shift from the Eastern flank which has had a dominant hold of it to the Western and central flank of the state that are yet to produce a governor of the state. The vociferous Okuns and the claimant Ebiras have all been shouting hoarse to demean the essence of reserving the governorship of the state for the Igala people. Rather than help their cause, the agitation, probably owing to the manner they go about it, or the political shrewdness powered by the unchallengeable numerical strength of the Igala, has in a way widened the scope for Igala dominance of the state's prime leadership position. This invariably has brought about the virtually Igala dominated December 3, 2011 governorship contest.

Beside the three candidates with the best chance of winning the contest, James Ocholi, is a youthful contender trusted with only the chance of picking the crumbs that fall off the gamble table. The party platform on which he seeks to achieve his ambition (CPC) may not give his cause any help in Kogi State for sentiments bordering on prejudice and the stigma of violence. Many consider him to be a neophyte and hardly give him a chance in this governorship race.

Professor Obaje has a steaming record of migration from party to party. He has told all about the prophetic message that drew him into the governorship contest, but has always found it difficult to get a party platform to confirm his prophecy. The very moment he joins a party, he is shot at and off he goes to another. He won the governorship ticket for ACN in the January primaries but in September, he was pushed off by the bull-dozing political power machinery of Prince Abubakar Audu.

Audu is a resilient governorship contestant. In fact, contesting for the governorship of Kogi State has become his pastime since he lost the race to Governor Idris of PDP in 2003. He is smarting from the defeat he suffered as an incumbent governor in that contest and has vowed to reclaim it. Having served the state as the governor between 1991-1993 and 1999-2003, he has a lot going for him to prosecute his project.

He has enormous wealth which he uses to mobilize massive support from his ever willing supporters. He is the figure of every party he adopts for his governorship ambition. In 1999 he joined the defunct APP that metamorphosed into ANPP and used the party to win the governorship election. In 2003, he could not regain his seat and this was premised on the factor of PDP might.

While he administered the state, Audu made remarkable efforts at giving structural definition to Kogi State. He was a stickler of quality service delivery. He established some landmark institutions He is always ready to throw himself into contest for the governorship seat any time the opportunity comes knocking. But in some of these adventures, he had always failed to realise his ambition.

As some pundits have argued, he has really never won any election on his merit. In 1991, he picked the governorship by default. Kogi State was a Social Democratic Party (SDP) state but the party was locked in bitter squabble over governorship ticket that was resolved barely 24 hours to the election. The electorate had no choice but to give their votes to the visible party that canvassed for their support; and that was National Republicn Convention (NRC).

In 1999, the PDP, which had every chance of taking the state governorship, gambled with power-shift project. Audu capitalised on this and won a convincing victory over PDP's Dr. Stephen Olorunfemi (now late) from Kabba in the western flank. When in 2003 he faced real contest from his kinsman, it was argued that he was flattened and has not been able to regain that seat.

It is not likely that Kogians generally, will forget this onslaught so soon, and rally support for him no matter the amount of money he and ACN may deploy to win votes as is being speculated. Already, his migration to ACN with some of his ANPP supporters is bursting on his face. Virtually all the ward executives of ANPP throughout the state that decamped with him to ACN have returned to ANPP. The notable politicians, who were on hand to deliver for him previously, have deserted him. If this scenario continues, it is not likely that the contest will turn in his favour.

Ubolo Okpanachi was the immediate past Accountant-General of Kogi State. Pundits believe he rose through on that seat to become a very forceful wealthy man. But he told reporters recently that he was already in bucks and was living comfortably before his appointment as accountant general.

His enormous wealth gave him the nerve to run for the governorship of the state. He tried it in PDP, but failed. He dashed to ACN but was shoved off by Audu. He therefore, detoured to ANPP. and fanned the party back to life . But with the enormous deployment of money, Ubolo has been able to wake the party up and it now engages in frenzy of activities to capture the governorship seat. One strong factor going in his favour, though. is the Christian populace in the state who are nursing bitter angst against the idea of perpetually having the state governed by Muslims. The Christian Association of Nigeria (ACN) and The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) have allegedly thrown their support behind his candidacy obviously to change the tide.

There is therefore serious grassroots mobilization among Christians throughout the state and the sentiment is being sold with fervor. Various gender organisations in churches across the state are being sensitized and the widow associations are heavily assisted with monetary favour to wrestle their support for this cause. It is also being speculated that some aggrieved politicians from the ruling PDP in the state are aligning with his cause. If this calculation works, the contest may be a keen fight between him and the PDP candidate, Captain Idris Wada. Wada picked the PDP governorship ticket in a tumultuous pre-governorship primary election power game. The fresh governorship primary election conducted by the PDP caused a lot of sensation as it naturally invalidated the January 9 primaries, which produced Jibrin Isah Echocho.

The conduct displayed the power of incumbency and the doggedness of party loyalty. The PDP government in Kogi State has leveled the ground for sustained grassroots support. It worked on triple force of justice, equity and accountability. This has been prosecuted logically to the admiration of the people of Kogi State. It is believed that Ibrahim Idris, has used his two terms to unite the state with his projects and programmes so much that there is a likely instant response to his call for any form of support. Virtually every community in the state , it is believed, has got, at least, one strategic project that has changed the history of their existence.

Thus, the contest, pundits say, may not necessarily be between Captain Wada and the rest but between the rest and the PDP, which is fielding Wada to sustain the development-oriented Idris administration. Those who are close to him say Wada has all it takes to take the state to a higher level. They say he has solid intellectual capacity, a strong managerial ability, sound mind, creative turn of mind and an honest heart.

The odds against the government, though there may be, may not ultimately count against the chances of the PDP winning the governorship on December 3. Of course, there is obvious contemptuous feeling in the land against the action of the governor that switched support from Echocho to Wada but the crisis resolution mechanism of the PDP it is believed is strong enough to calm frayed nerves.

Already this may have started manifesting as many supporters of Echocho are linking up with Wada to keep the family of PDP going.

However, only time will tell on who finally becomes the governor of the state.