Jostle for Ocholi’s replacement stirs old ethnic rivalry in Kogi

James Ocholi

James Ocholi

Onoja may replace him as minister

The death of political figures in Kogi state that has hallmarked political maneuverings and tussle for relevance and supremacy among the constituents may be rearing up again in the confluence state.

The state was enmeshed in controversies when the people pitched tents with different political leanings following the death of Prince Abubakar Audu, the then governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in the bid to produce the governor of the state.

Five months after the death of the then minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. James Ocholi (SAN), the people are back in the trenches and as usual are divided not only on political lines but also on ethnic ranks. There are indications that Mr. Onoja Edward David may replace the late minister who passed on in a tragic accident along the Abuja- Kaduna expressway recently in March.

It was reliably gathered that Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi state has submitted Onoja’s name to President Muhammadu Buhari who is compelled to replace Ocholi in accordance with the provisions of the country’s Constitution which stipulates that each of the 36 States of the federation must be represented in the federal executive cabinet (FEC).

Onoja who is regarded as a seasoned administrator is presently the Chief Of Staff to Governor Bello. He hails from Ogugu in Olamaboro Local Government Area (LGA) of Kogi State.

However Onoja’s nomination is creating ripples especially within the state indigenes of the Yagba/Okun extraction as well as a section of the Igala speaking elites. They feel that there are better alternatives than Onoja whom is considered “too young and inexperience” to be elevated to such exalted position.

It was gathered that Governor Bello who was credited to have contributed immensely to the burial expenditure of late Ocholi actually cashed in on the in-fighting among Igala elites to propose Onoja, one of his staunch loyalists.

Observers noted that scores of Igala elites have been jostling for the ministerial slot soon after Ocholi’s demise was made public, with some of them going as far as to elicit the support of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar 111 as well as the backing of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

“Why do you have to blame the Governor for proposing his Chief of Staff for the job?  Can you believe that one of those desperate lobbyists went as far as Sokoto and Otta farm to beg for the job? There were some who attended the same church with Ocholi who felt they deserved the job while others felt the right person to talk to was the Secretary to the government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal.  In fact some of these intrigues and scheming were happening when Ocholi’s body was still in the morgue here in Abuja,” a source volunteered.

Though the late Minister was a key supporter of President Buhari from the days of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the expected rallying from Abuja for the burial ceremonies allegedly did not come. Unknown to many, this was what Bello cashed in on, collaborating with the relatives and well-wishers to foot the burial bills.

The delay in replacing Ocholi at the federal cabinet has also rekindled old rivalry between the three major tribes that constitute the Confluence State.The citizens from Kogi West especially the Okun speaking axis believe the vacancy created by Ocholi’s death was an opportunity for them to fill the slot since none of their own presently occupy any position of relevance at both the state and federal level.

Even within Kogi West there seemed to be a serious contention between the Lokoja people and the main Okun speaking people with those from Lokoja/Koto angling to have someone from their zone to be made the minister.

The Igalas would not want to contemplate the demand by the other tribes to take what they claimed rightfully belonged to them because they claimed that the man that died was their own and they are the ones bearing and feeling the pain of the lost.Besides, they see the rivalry as ill motivated considering that they lost Prince Abubakar Audu who was coasting to victory in the last December governorship poll in Kogi state.

As for the Kogi Central the agitation for the slot remained at the individual levels since providence propped up one of their own, Governor Bello to occupy Lugard House in Lokoja.However, a chieftain of the APC, Mr. Mahmood Muhammed Abubakar argued that the ministerial slot of late James Ocholi should be given to Kogi West preferably Kogi/KotonKarfe federal Constituency because they have never had the opportunity to produce a minister before now from the axis.

Asserting that the Igalas already occupy positions as the deputy Governor and the Chief of Staff to Governor Bello, he said it would be just and fair to cede the position to the Kogi West axis of the state that boasts of array of experienced personalities. “We have people like Suleiman Baba Ali, we have our national women leader who sponsored APC in Lokoja Local Government from the formation of the party up to Presidential election and even governorship election.

Another APC stalwart from Ijumu, Alhaji Lamidi Saliu who expressed concern over the issue argued: “I strongly align my position with the group that believes that the position should come to the West Senatorial district. My reason; in Obasanjo regime the West dominated the ministerial slots for Kogi but after Obasanjo it went to the East in which Gabriel Aduku and Hebrew Abah became ministers in successions.

“It left there and went to the Central in which the Attorney General held the position for more than four years. That is why the West is now saying that in this manner of rotation there is no rigid rule that says that it must be one region or the other but in the spirit of Federal character and fairness it should come from the West now.”

Continuing he said, “But some school of thoughts are saying it should be given back to the East to pacify the people over the death of Audu; but already the deputy Governor is from the East, the Chief of Staff to the Governor is from the East.”

But Tanko Odoma from the Kogi East axis of the state observed that the issue of taking away the slot from the Igalas should not even be contemplated adding: “I don’t know what the other tribes are looking for in this matter, they have the Governor, they have the Speaker, Chief Judge; these alone are lopsided so for the Central they should not border. Since this dispensation 17 years ago five Okuns have been ministers, six ambassadors, all political appointments; the only opportunities for the East were Humphrey Abah and Gabriel Aduku whose tenures were short-lived.”

During the celebration to mark the third year anniversary of his ascension to the throne, his Royal Majesty, Dr. Idakwo Micheal Ameh Oboni 11 the Atta Igala while x-raying the situation canvassed for fair play and equity for his subjects.

Former senator and governorship aspirant on the platform of the APC, Alex Kadiri who lent his voice to the issue noted that the ugly situation has put the Igalas in the tight corner at the moment.  “We are not in the scheme of things in our State, we are not in the scheme of things at the federal level and yet we claim to be the 9th largest ethnic group in the country, ”

A Lokoja based constitutional lawyer, Mr. Joel Usman warned that in the event the matter is taken up legally most of the decisions of Governments at the federal level since the death of Ocholi may be called to question.

Insisting that it was improper that after five months the federal Government was foot dragging on the need to appoint a minister from Kogi State, he noted: “The late Ocholi died more than five months ago and since then there has been no replacement meaning that in the past five months the Federal executive council has been sitting without a minister from Kogi State which to my mind contravenes section 147 sub section 3 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”

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