The electorate in Kogi and Bayelsa states head to the polls this Saturday, November 16, for gubernatorial elections. They will be voting for a brand new governor in Bayelsa state as incumbent Governor Seriake Dickson’s mandatory two-term tenure comes to an end while Kogi state’s governor, Yahaya Bello, is seeking re-election. Yahaya Bello came to the saddle in a rather interesting (some would say puzzling or lucky) circumstance, not having campaigned for the governorship election proper. He campaigned for the primary (internal) election of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), losing to the popular Prince Abubakar Audu, a rather flamboyant dresser and former governor who thus became the APC flag bearer for that election. Audu was cruising to victory but passed on just before the returning officer could announce the official result and pronounce those definitive words, “… I hereby declare XYZ as duly elected.”. On the day the returning officer was to declare the final results, he announced to a jam packed hall and millions of other viewers watching and listening on television and radio, respectively, that the governorship election was “inconclusive”, therefore, there had to be rerun elections in very few local government areas.
Indeed, the returning officer, then vice chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Benue state, had a hard time convincing APC agents of the need for a rerun in those areas. They wanted Audu to be out rightly declared the winner as they argued that the gap between the two leading candidates was wide enough. But the returning officer stood his ground, quoting copiously from the electoral handbook/rules. And Audu reportedly passed on shortly after. Had the APC candidate been officially declared winner of the election before his death, then his running mate, Hon. James Faleke, would have stepped into his shoes. As it turned out, the APC was in a sort of dilemma as to who should take over from the demised Audu. Should the party conduct fresh primary election for its new candidate to emerge; choose the runner up of the primaries that produced Audu in the first place or should it pick Audu’s running mate as its new standard bearer? After meetings, the party chose option number two – the runner up of its previous primaries was to step up. That was how Yahaya Bello became APC candidate, almost after the election so to speak.
The rerun was a foregone conclusion, the APC won it and all of Audu’s votes before then were given to Bello and he was declared winner by the electoral umpire. Audu’s erstwhile running mate, Hon. Faleke cried ‘blue murder’, headed to the court and followed it up to the Supreme Court. He declined the offer of deputy governor by Bello and thence became one of Bello’s sworn political enemies. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the duo with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the APC national leader, were pictured in the media sometime ago, all smiles. It was reported that Bello visited them in Lagos to seek rapprochement and he was forgiven his ‘sins’. Faleke, once Bello’s arch enemy, is now one of his cheerleaders, campaigning for him. Such is our politicians’ fickleness.
Bello made history by being the first from a minority tribe to govern Kogi state in a democratic setting. There are 21 local government areas in the state – 14 in Igala land, four in Okun land (Yoruba speaking areas) and three in Egbira land. Being a game of numbers, it is not surprising that the Igala have always produced the governor at elections. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, but this can be explained. For example, Ifeanyi Okowa, from a minority tribe in Delta state, won election in 2015 and was re-elected governor in 2019. However, this was due to consensus among the tribes and the fact that Okowa was backed by the political juggernauts, not least of who is former governor James Ibori.
Governor Bello’s tenure, so far, is perhaps, better remembered for his running battle with the maverick politician, Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West)) and the recent impeachment of his immediate past deputy governor, Simon Achuba, which many lawyers describe as “unconstitutional” because, according to them, it did not follow due process and, of course, irregular, percentage payment of salaries with accumulated arrears. Unfortunately, the N10 billion bail out fund being made available by the Presidency for Kogi state to help pay off some of these arrears is yet to be approved by the National Assembly. One doubts if the cash can still get to the governor before Saturday’s polls. While Bello has chosen another Igala man (Edward Onoja) to replace the impeached Achuba as his running mate for this election, the major opposition party, PDP, has picked an Igala person, Idris Wada, as their candidate and an Okun man (Yoruba) as his running mate. Given this permutation, who will the majority Igala tribe go for? Analysts say that if the Igala are united, they should be able to ‘retrieve their coveted trophy’ from Yahaya Bello.
Though a largely riverine area occupying a small land mass with the least number of local government councils – just seven in contrast to Kano state with 44 – Bayelsa state, nonetheless, occupies an important niche in Nigeria. It is among the highest oil producing states (the big four being Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom in that order). Bayelsa state is host to the town where crude oil was first discovered in Nigeria in 1957. The Ijaw, the ethnic tribe in Bayelsa, are ranked as the fourth largest in Nigeria. Also, the state has the historical record of having produced a president of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. To date, he remains the only Nigerian leader to emerge from a minority tribe. Shall we ever see another president from a minority ethnic group? Bayelsa used to be known for its militant, restless youth. All that seem to be calming down with the establishment of an Amnesty Commission, seeing the reintegration of repentant militants. Its representative in the federal cabinet, former governor Timipreye Silva, is also holding what Nigerians consider as a juicy portfolio – Minister of state for Petroleum Resources.
Still Bayelsa, like Kogi, is enmeshed in violence in previous elections and observers fear that there might be pockets of crisis as tension rises over this Saturday’s elections, especially as many of our politicians see elections as a ‘do or die’ affair. This is not helped by the fact that ours is a zero sum game of winner takes all. I had always considered Governor Dickson as a gentleman, given the way he had carried himself with a reconciliatory mien. But I am disappointed with his combative nature in recent times, particularly as he described the APC candidate, Chief David Lyon, as, among other derogatory words, “an illiterate”. The APC accuses him of using foul, slanderous language on its flag bearer.
The police and other security agencies have their work cut out for them in Bayelsa and Kogi states. They should ensure that they secure the states professionally for people to cast their votes without let or hindrance while the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should provide, as promised, a level playing ground for a free, fair and credible polls in both states.
Ikeano writes from Lafia, Nasarawa state