Kogi West: Those eyeing NASS seats in 2019

Dino Melaye

It is a fact. Among the three senatorial districts in Kogi State, electoral contest in the senate seat of Kogi West has remained the most pronounced and keenly contested. Challenged by their numerical strength, third in population behind the Igala in Kogi East and the Ebira in Kogi Central, Kogi West zone, populated by the Yoruba, Lokoja and Kotonkarfe, has struggled to produce the governor of Kogi State since creation in 1991.

Consequently, boasting of prominent Nigerians who have made names for themselves in the public and private sectors, as well as the military and the academia, the area has settled for the National Assembly, which is the highest political office available to them.

It is for this reason that dinosaurs like late Arewa Consultative Forum  (ACF) Chairman, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, former minister of National Planning, late Chief Silas Daniyan, Military Governor of old Western State and former Minister of Police Affairs, General David Jemibewon, one time military governor of old Bendel and Akwa Ibom States, General Tunde Ogbeha, and others have at one time or the other registered their names in the senate race of Kogi West.

Since 1999, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has dominated Kogi West until the 2015 polls, when Dino Melaye, who was the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) defeated the incumbent Senator Smart Adeyemi, who at the time was serving a second term. In what proved to be the closest race in the history of Kogi West Senatorial elections, Adeyemi lost to Melaiye by 3,020 votes difference.  The protracted litigation that followed and the fact that the Appeal Court at a point had to order a retrial of the petition at the lower court spoke volume of the keenness of the race.

However, PDP confirmed its dominance in the zone by winning two out of the three Federal Constituencies (Yagba and BIK), while APC took one (Lokoja / Kotonkarfe).  PDP also took Yagba West, Yagba East, Ijumu, Kabbabunu,  Lokoja II and Kotonkarfe state Assembly Constituencies, while APC won in Lokoja I and Mopamuro constituencies.

The 2019 election is not expected to be less keen, in terms of the personality clashes and issues. Unfortunately, in the past, issues of monumental values such as how constituency projects have been executed, capacity building institutions, experience, antecedents and qualitative knowledge often took the back seat because of failure of the electorate to ask questions that would help identify the candidates with the disposition to serve. It is commonplace to hear constituents criticise the political leadership for the absence of development in the district.

Ahead of 2019, there are feelers that considerations for critical values would most likely affect the elections, more than just allegiance to a political party.

Meanwhile, one issue that is not likely to vanish in the determination of the 2019 senate contest in Kogi West is rotation.  After two terms of eight years in the Red Chamber, Senator Tunde Ogbeha who hailed from Lokoja/Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency had taken a bow in 2007. The baton was passed to Bunu /Ijumu / Kabba (BIK) Federal Constituency and was received by Smart Adeyemi, who failed to quit after two-terms. But the baton did not move from BIK to Yagba, as expected. Adeyemi sought a third term.  The former President of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Dino Melaye (both from BIK) succeeded in picking PDP’s and APC’s ticket.  Aggrieved aspirants from Yagba, Toyin Akanle (PDP) and Samuel Aro (APC) jumped parties to Accord Party (AP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), respectively. Eventually, Melaye won and the baton remained in BIK for 12 years running.

Meanwhile, following the setback suffered by zoning in 2015, it was suggested in some quarters that zoning might have become outdated. However, recent events show that the principle of rotation has resurrected.

The “Strategic Committee on Election into Party Offices and General Election,” set up by the zonal PDP Executives to look into causes of the defeat suffered by the party in the last election and provide the roadmap for future polls has recommended that the next senate candidate of the party in Kogi West zone should come from Yagba Federal Constituency.

The 23-man committee, chaired by Alhaji Muhammed Abdulrahman, in its 14-page report submitted to the PDP zonal Chairmen, Taiwo Kola-Ojo, stated in part: “Kogi West Senatorial District must ensure the rotation of the senate seat at the National Assembly between her constituents (the federal constituencies of
Lokoja/Kotonkarfe, Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu and Yagba). National and State offices zoned to Kogi West must be rotated within the zone.  The same principles must apply to appointments. The candidate for the election into the senate for 2019 should come from Yagba Federal Constituency, after which it goes back to Lokoja/Kotonkarfe and Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu.”

Two second term serving members of the House of Representatives, Sunday Karimi (Yagba Federal Constituency) and Tajudeen Yusuf (BIK, Federal
Constituency) and Chief TJ Faniyi, a former commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs are the aspirants believed to have thrown their hats in the ring on the PDP platform. Karimi and Faniyi hail from Yagba axis while Yusuf hailed from BIK.

Some years back, Karimi cuts the figure of an unlikely front-runner in the politics of Kogi West. But all that has changed, in his sixth year running in the green chamber. After three failed attempts in 1999, 2003 and 2007, he won back to back in 2011 and 2015, becoming the first Yagba person to achieve that feat. Eulogizing the lawmaker during one of his constituency briefings and empowerment programmes, the Agbana of Isanlu and Chairman, Yagba East Traditional Council, Oba Ikuborije told an open gathering that the people of Yagba had not had it so good in the history of the Federal Constituency. Karimi is seen as the leading aspirant from Yagba and a major contender for the senate seat.

Yusuf’s political profile had risen following his second term victory in the BIK federal constituency election in 2015 and a performance that has endeared him to his people. Yusuf told The Guardian that aside his belief that he was able and capable based on performance during his six years in the lower chamber, the thinking in his camp was that politicians from Yagba have occupied top positions such as the deputy governor, Speaker and State PDP party chairman since the inception of the current democratic dispensation. He also argued that Kabbabunu, his home council is distinct from BIK and therefore it was in the league of local government councils yet to produce a senator in the present dispensation.  He disclosed that meetings were ongoing to arrive at a common table to see that no section will feel marginalized. He however conceded that the decision of the elders of the party would be binding on everyone and promised to respect the party’s decision on the zoning arrangement.

Spokesperson of ‘Apapo Omo Yagba,’ a non-partisan socio-political group of Yagba people, Prince Philip Olusesan Orebiyi, confided in The Guardian via telephone that a high-powered delegation of members of the group recently interfaced with opinion leaders in Lokoja/Kotonkarfe and BIK and agreed that the prognosis of the senate seat rotating to Yagba axis in 2019 was near perfect. It was further gathered that, to ensure that PDP achieved success in its plot to return to power in the Confluence State in 2019, one of Kabbabunu and Lokoja/ Kotonkarfe would produce the running mate to the governorship candidate of the PDP, “certain to be an Igala candidate from Kogi East Senatorial District.”

The thinking is that the APC in Kogi State has been too fragmented to organise itself ahead of the 2019 polls. The party is torn between two factions, one led by Governor Yahaya Bello, which controls power in the state and the other by Melaye and Hon James Faleke, running mate to the late APC governorship candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu, which has a firm grip on the state and local government party executives. Although, Bello, an Ebira is from Kogi Central, he is said to be interested in who emerges as the next senator of Kogi West.

The aspirants who are warming up to contest for the senate ticket of the APC include Melaye, Adeyemi, Samuel Aro, Tunde Irukera and Toyin Akanle. In a twist to the politics of the zone and the rivalry between him and the governor, Melaye, who is seeking another term, has fingered Bello as the unseen hand behind his ongoing recall process.

This past week, INEC released timetable for Melaye’s recall process, following an Abuja High Court ruling to that effect. He did not mince words that Bello was behind his travails. Bello denied sponsoring Melaye’s recall.

In the absence of recall, it is believed that the governor would back another candidate for the Kogi West APC senate ticket to give his adversary a bloodied nose.

Bello is said to be considering either of Smart Adeyemi and Samuel Aro. A former member of House of Representatives, Aro was disqualified from the APC senatorial primary, albeit under convoluted circumstances that he was under EFCC investigations. He subsequently picked the senate ticket of Accord Party and saw to the rebirth of AP in Kogi State, a structure he later collapsed under the APC faction of Governor Bello.  A thorough grassroots politician, Aro is responsible for virtually all the political appointees made by the governor from his local government and beyond.

Adeyemi, who defected from PDP to the APC following his loss at the 2015 senate election has pitched tent with Governor Bello. The two-time senator lost his bid for a third term, which had drawn flaks from advocates of zoning. But Adeyemi insisted the zoning issue has been over-flogged since he had opponents from Yagba, even when the senate seat supposedly was zoned to BIK.

A source in the APC who confided in The Guardian hinted that the atmosphere in the party is foggy. He disclosed that some of the newly registered political parties are prospective beneficiaries of the likely fall out from the APC crisis.  “Nothing is certain yet because at the moment, the governor is not in control of the party. Things will only become clearer after the first quarter of 2018 when the congress might have held. The chances of the governor’s men taking over the party after the congress are very high.  That is why some of the aspirants do not put party logos on their posters and billboards. A lot of them you see today in APC are waiting for the auspicious time to cross over to some of the new
parties.”

Toyin Akanle, seasoned security professional who retired as Director of State Security Service (DSS), was SDP flag bearer in the 2015 episode, but has since joined APC. He told The Guardian he is currently in the APC but his consultations are not limited to APC. He is the arrowhead of Yagba Mega Group, also spearheading rotation of the senate seat to Yagba in 2019. Interestingly, YMG cuts across party lines, an indication he might change parties. He went down memory lane to explain that in 1998, Kotonkarfe Local Council produced Senator-elect, Alhaji Ado Shuaibu (even if he did not serve his term following the death of General Sani Abacha). He noted that Kotonkarfe was followed by Lokoja Local Government (Senator Ogbeha) and Ijumu Local Government (Adeyemi and Melaiye). He also listed second and third republic Senators Justus Bode Olu, Funsho Obasaju and Sunday Awoniyi to have represented Yagba West, Kabba/Bunu and Mopamuro Local Governments, respectively, in time past.

“So, when we talk about rotation, yes, in principle, it is the turn of Yagba, but where does it go in Yagba? From the above local government by local government analysis, in the spirit of justice and equity, it is Yagba East Local government. Only Yagba East has not produced a senator in the history of that zone. I am not contesting because I am from Yagba East, but on the basis of the type of representation that our people need, which has eluded them since after Senator Ogbeha’s tenure.”

Irukera, Executive-Secretary, Consumer Protection Council (CPC) is a new face and, until his withdrawal from the APC primary, was a leading governorship aspirant in the run up to the 2015 elections in Kogi State. He confided in The Guardian that people are mounting pressure on him to run for the 2019 senate ticket of the APC, with a caveat that he would only run “if there is a consensus.” Irukera, who was a co-partner with Vice-President Yemi Osibajo in Simmons Cooper Partners, a law firm, said he would not be taking sides in the factionalized APC in Kogi State. “I am willing to be at the service of my people but I don’t wish to run in an atmosphere of struggle between opposing camps.”

Former speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly and one-time Acting Governor, Chief Clarence Olafemi is one example of APC chieftains who have indicated intent, but without party identity. Hon Buba Jubril (APC, Lokoja/Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency) had gone a step further to announce publicly that he would be seeking a fourth term in 2019, but on the platform of APDA. Hon James Faleke, running mate to the late governorship candidate of the APC, Prince Abubakar Audu in the 2015 election is also said to be eyeing the seat of BIK for another term of four years in the Lower House, “but it may not be on APC platform.” Faleke, currently representing Ikeja Federal Constituency of Lagos State, swapped constituencies from Lagos to Kogi, his home state, in the run up to the 2015 gubernatorial poll. He has been linked with APDA. In the same vein, Oluwafemi Iselaiye, Principal Parrtner, F&F trees, based in the United States, recently declared his intention to contest for Yagba Federal Constituency seat. Iselaiye, who was a known APC supporter in 2015, was however silent on the party platform he wished to run. His campaign billboards also did not have party identity. Kayode Adegbayo, also a leading aspirant in APC, is said to have put his supporters on standby. Oil and Gas merchant, Mr. olasunkanmi Aina is another senatorial aspirant yet to decide on party platform.

Olafemi, who was a member of the dissolved APC board of trustees and very active in the 2015 presidential campaign, in a recent interview with a national daily expressed fears that Kogi State chapter of APC, under the leadership of Governor Bello, might be heading for “total collapse,” for alleged marginalization of original members of the party.  He disclosed that aggrieved stakeholders from across the state met recently, where they weighed the three options available to them.  According to him, one is to wait for the outcome of the reconciliation committee set up by the national leadership of APC. Another option is to move to a new party as they did when they abandoned PDP for APC in 2015. Alternatively, they could return to the PDP.

“The third opinion was that since in the last governorship election, PDP and APC were neck-to-neck, and the difference was not up to five per cent, if we can take only 10 per cent from what constitutes APC and join PDP, we will have a smooth ride over APC.”

But those fears have been dismissed by the governor as baseless.  Contrary to the allusion that the party was in crisis, Bello insisted that the APC was intact in Kogi. “APC Kogi State is intact and solid behind me.”  On allegations he was running a government that excludes original party members, he said: “Yes, it can only be so for those who want the little resources of the state to be shared, and if I am not including those who want the little resources to be shared; if they term that to be non-inclusive, then I don’t have apology because the resources of the state is meant for everybody in the state and that is exactly how I am applying it.”



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