Bello and contending forces for Kogi APC governorship ticket

Kogi State governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, has been in the news in recent times over his bid to secure the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for another term in office. YINKA OLADOYINBO looks at the issues surrounding the governor’s ambition.

THE governorship election in Kogi State is fast approaching and gladiators are already warming up to ensure their victory after the November 2 date slated for the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The major political parties in the state, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have been making moves to strategically place themselves in vantage positions that can aid their victory during the election.

One of the major stakeholders in the politics of the Confluence State that has been in the eye of the storm in the last few months is the state governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.

There has been claims and counter-claims over his effortlessly clinching the ticket of his party to contest the poll. Immediately after the 2019 general election, it was obvious that the APC was the party to beat in the coming governorship poll, going by the feat it recorded in the election. The party won two out of the three senatorial seats, seven out of the nine House of Representatives seats and all the 25 House of Assembly seats in the state.

Armed with these impressive results, it should have been a foregone conclusion that Bello, who led the onslaught against other political parties, would have an unhindered access to the ticket of the ruling party in the state. But unfolding events are pointing to the contrary as the governor seems to be facing the toughest political battle of his life.

The political space of the state was first inundated with the news that Bello would be given the ‘Ambode treatment’ when it comes to picking the ticket of the party. The propagators of the idea believed that giving Bello the ticket would spell doom for the party, going by many factors and crises surrounding his tenure. To them, the Ebira-born governor would be a hard sell among party members and the electorate who they felt had been battered in over three years of the present administration in the state.

The first salvo was fired by a youth group within the APC, which recently protested at the Abuja national secretariat of the party against Bello as flag bearer in the forthcoming poll. The protesters, under the aegis of Network of Kogi Youth Group, asked the leadership of the party to ensure that Bello does not emerge as its candidate at the primaries to be conducted in August. The group, drawn from the three senatorial districts of the state, submitted a protest speech to the APC national chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomole and listed some of the ‘sins’ of the governor that the group considered grievous enough to deny him the ticket of the party.

According to the chairman of the group, Enejoh Enemali, a major offence of the governor was the non-payment of salaries and pensions of workers and pensioners in the state running to several months. This, the group argued, had painted the party black before the public.

“Kogi State wants continuity of the APC, but not with Alhaji Yahaya Bello” Enemali said, asserting that the governor has failed to prove his mettle in the last three years. He further explained that the party must not use the last elections to judge the chances of the party, if Bello was given a ticket, saying that the party’s albatross lies with Bello flying the flag.

As if that was not enough, the aspirants on the platform of the party in the last general election have also joined the fray and queued behind the school of thought that is of the opinion that Bello does not deserve the ticket of the party. They gathered in Abuja and lent their voices to the “No ticket for Bello” agitation, accusing him of not being a good party man.

The aspirants, under the aegis of the APC Aspirants’ Forum, Kogi chapter, said they rejected the candidature of Bello for a second term in office over alleged bad leadership and non-performance. A communiqué issued by the forum at the end of its meeting and signed by its chairman, Mr Ben Adaji, appealed to Oshiomole and the APC National Working Committee (NWC) not to give the governorship ticket to Bello.

The development has led to the emergence of many aspirants trying to capitalise on the situation to snatch the ticket from the governor. But the entrance of one of the aspirants into the race is said to be causing ripples among the stakeholders.

The coming of a former Chief of Naval Staff, Jubrin Usman from Igalaland, into the contest is seen as a possible last straw that could break the camel’s back. The former military officer is said to be enjoying the support of the powers-that-be in the party as a possible replacement for Bello.

The belief of those backing the arrangement is that since the main opposition party in the state has settled for Kogi East for its candidate, and with the volume of votes from the zone, it may be suicidal for the APC to pick its candidate outside the zone. So the party hierarchy may be at home with Usman picking the ticket and face any Igala man that the PDP might put forward as its candidate.

However Governor Bello is not taking chances in his bid to ensure that the ticket does not slip away from him. It was gathered that he has been making subtle moves to pacify perceived enemies and seeking their support for his troubled ambition. One of the moves he was said to have taken was his visit the national leader of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu, where he pledged his support for the anointed candidate of the party for the post of the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

The visit to Tinubu was shocking and surprising to many watchers of politics, considering the cold war between the Tinubu political dynasty and Bello after the death of the former governor of the state, Alhaji Abubakar Audu. The belief was that after the death of Audu and the declaration of the governorship election inconclusive by the INEC, Bello colluded with some powers-that-be in the country to thwart the effort of Tinubu at ensuring that Audu’s deputy governorship candidate, James Faleke, who is a political son of the former Lagos State governor, step into the shoe and become the party’s governorship candidate.

Although it was not clear if the visit achieved its goals but sources said the lord of Bourdillion was not committal in his response to the epistle presented by Bello. It was learnt that Tinubu, who thanked Bello for the visit, said he was not responsible for giving out tickets to aspirants and that the only thing that could guarantee the ticket was the performance of the governor and the perception of the majority of the people of the state.

However, and in spite of the oppositions to the ambition of the governor, some people still believed Bello holds the ace for the electoral victory of the party in the coming election. Among such people is the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Matthew Kolawole, who said Bello remained the best option for the state. He described the governor as a “selfless leader that is bold to confront issues that have been the bane of development in the state”.

Expectedly, various political and non-political groups have been rolling over themselves to pass a vote of confidence on the governor and endorse him for another term in office. Top on the list of those involved in the endorsement are traditional rulers, local government administrators, permanent secretaries and student bodies, among others. To these groups, Bello was the best thing that has happened to the 28-year-old state, which has had three executive governors from the eastern flank of the state.

The race to Lugard House is becoming interesting as the November 2 date draws near. For Governor Bello, it is a battle of survival. How he is able to weather the storm would be measured by his ability to secure the ticket and go ahead to win the election.