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Why a free and fair election in Kogi on Saturday is impossible

Why a free and fair election in Kogi on Saturday is impossible
November 14
09:28 2019
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I have bad news! It is evident there will be no election in Kogi on Saturday. I don’t foresee Arthur-Nzeribe type Association for Better Nigeria securing a midnight injunction to prevent the democratic process from taking place; that process would go ahead.

Already, INEC officials and materials are on location. So are so-called security officials. These are the recipes for a semblance of an election-taking place across the state. This process, as anyone with a keen sense of observance would agree is prone to incredible violence. Nigerians should prepare themselves for the next level of electoral violence, unconscionable lawlessness, vote grabbing, ballot stuffing – the whole nine yards or thuggery and state induced mayhem.

It is shameful witnessing the palpable tension that has already enveloped the state and its neighbours. This, obviously was not the dream of those who struggled to see the state created. As a citizen of the state, I was a little privy to the dreams of the people when the state was created in 1991. I covered the state for The Herald as a freelance reporter and was its first chief of bureau. To understand the dynamics of Saturday’s polls is to dig deep into the contending issues and forces at play in Saturday’s polls.

State creation occurs to bring governance closer to more people. There was euphoric celebrations mixed with fear of the unknown as people thronged the streets to announce their freedom from whatever they felt shackled them in Benue and Kwara. Although the state satisfies Evi Edna Ogoli’s another kilometre means another language theory, there are three major ethnic nationalities in Kogi.

The Igala dominates the eastern flank. They were a minority in Benue with no hope of ever displacing the Tiv or the Idoma for governorship. With Kogi, the roles were reversed in their favour as they are believed to have 60% population and perhaps land mass. They are followed by the Okun people (my coinage is Wokun-je Nation). The Okun claim second numerical strength, followed by the Anebira. Of course, the Okun have their cousins, the Oworo and the Bassa, in the central part of the state with other nationalities including the Gbagyi. The Anebira have their neighbours, the Ogori and the Magongo and the Ososo people.

Like the Igala in Benue, the Okun complained that they were unfairly treated in Kwara and that when there was an opportunity to produce a governor outside the old Ilorin Emirate, the powerful Saraki family chose the Anebira. These issues are hardly discussed except in beer parlours and at dinner tables. They are potent electoral deciders.

With their numerical strength and a unifying monarchy. This is why the dash of a Rolls Royce to the Attah Igala by Governor Bello is politically symbolic. The Igala could forever run the state as if nobody else matters. Some would argue that indeed, they have so run the state playing the numbers’ card.

The Igala produced the first civilian governor in Abubakar Audu (January-November, 1992; 1999-2003). But for cruel fate, he would be stepping down after Saturday’s polls or should have months back. Ibrahim Idris another Igala ‘won’ the polls bagging two terms (2003-2008; 2008-2011). Idris Wada, another Igala man completed his six years (2012-2018).

There was a lacuna, filled by Clarence Olafemi (Old Kabba Province) between February and March 2008. Then, we have the conundrum that produced Yahaya Adoza Bello as governor, a judicial mandate that should be an obiter in political jurisprudence – (January 2016-date). Bello is Anebira.

Forget the plethora of 23 candidates in Saturday’s guber polls. The bet is between the incumbent Bello, his kinswoman, and the indomitable amazon, Natasha Apoti from his flank. The bookmaker’s third force is Musa Atayi Wada, a ticket that is introducing a curious saga into the governorship tussle in the state. Wada is a cousin to his namesake, Ibrahim Wada. Bookies say he is the new bride to give Bello a run for both his money and his popularity.

An outsider would say that the equation is almost balanced, except that it is not so. Kogi is a microcosm of Nigeria and reflects the battle between hegemony and ideas. In the Nigerian situation, hegemony always wins and ideas die. If democracy is a game of numbers, the Igala have no reason to be ashamed of its dominance. Equity on the other hand does not believe in the dominance principle. Equity says that each component part of the political jigsaw should be granted its own opportunity.

In the political calculus in Kogi State, the Igala nation has the numbers to keep winning.

Yahaya Bello whose political kernel was cracked for him by the gods of political justice  (apology to Achebe) has basically squandered both the goodwill of the people. Bello’s inability to pay salaries for most of his first four-year term is now the stuff of legends. Initially, Bello told the world that he was carrying out a staff audit. It is now an audit in perpetuity in which both the ghost and the flesh are victims.

Bello is an astute political player. He has sowed in the First Family and could count on reaping their support. Only last year , he was an embarrassment to his party in its struggle to meet the minimum requirement for a second term – shambolic elections. That is water under the bridge now and the party and the presidency have come out in full force in support of Bello. Only Wednesday, the National Assembly granted a N10 billion payout to the governor, money that would definitely be used to finance his second term. In its Next Level, the Buhari administration doesn’t have to hide its chicanery at any level.

Saturday’s electoral tussle would be critical one. There is a senatorial election to be grabbed. Having failed to make impact with the two most powerful contending political forces in Nigeria – the APC and the PDP, the Okun would have to slug it out for their chance to elect a senator.

The Okun are republican in nature. Having a large number of elites who only dance to their own whims and until lately, the dictates of conscience. Okunland has no powerful King to mediate or dictate where his ‘people’ should vote on Saturday. That’s as it should be, for true democracy thrives only where every vote is cast based on the conviction of the voter. Anything different from that does not qualify to be called democracy.

As is the case in the Nigerian political sphere, in Ebiraland, there are bigwigs whose political shoes Bello would never qualify to stoop down and untie. But political power is in the hand of this man who is the youngest among his peers and whose stupidity is rivaled only by the Biblical Rehoboam. With popularity not worth much even at home, Bello is afraid of the political shadow of his kinsister, Natasha Apoti, to whom he has devoted incredible use of violence.

With the police, soldiers and other security in Lokoja, Apoti’s SDP Secretariat in the state capital was totally burnt down. The dogged lady, moved to tears recorded how her calls to the heads of security agencies met with stonewall of helplessness. It is not the first time Apoti has suffered violent reprisals from obvious APC thugs. At her last outing, months ago, her father’s house was torched and at least one loyal follower of hers was brutally murdered. For a woman, it is incredible where that lady gets the doggedness to keep fighting.

Not a single word of condemnation has come from those who give the command for life or death in Kogi on that attack. It’s as if mindless violence is tolerable as long as their candidate is not affected. There are the usual threats to those who would disrupt Saturday’s polls – no news of arrest or the lacklustre promise of an investigation.

What chances for a violent free poll in Kogi on Saturday? The morning shows the day. The subtle charge seems clear – only those who may attempt to shift the gear from crowning the anointed candidate need fear the law.

There is a twist to Saturday’s elections. A court-induced vacancy in the Kogi West Senatorial district has thrown several contenders into the race. At the last count, there are 24 on the electoral track but only two have ‘national focus’. They are Dino Melaye and Smart Adeyemi.

Dino, a one-time member of the House of Representatives and now a sacked senator is battling Adeyemi, his predecessor. Both men are Okun sons. On a good day where Okun people gather to pick a political aspirant, none of these two would have made it. But, as they say – times, they are changing. Adeyemi gained national prominence after winning the NUJ presidency with federal support. He threw his hat in the political ring and earned a senatorial seat. But as many of his enemies would tell you, all that he got from that venture, he squandered on himself.

Dino’s pre-political antecedents are shrouded in mystery. He dropped out of university, resurfaced as a millionaire and won his previous elections. He is not ashamed to fight dirty or drop into the mud and the mire. Indeed, in a recent campaign video, he was seen cavorting lecherously with the electorate. His tomfoolery seems to wow them. One analyst on a televised programme vowed that given the way he has touched lives, Dino would beat Adeyemi any day or night. Adeyemi is a maverick at the game, he has pitched his tent with Bello – that means state support including command of the instruments of coercion. Both are needed on Saturday. Both would be used on Saturday and to both contestants, the end would justify the means. As the late Pius Adesanmi would have put it, Saturday’s electoral process in Okunland would be a vote between Lucifer and Satan.

In its 28 years as a state, how far has Kogi fared? The jury is out. The state capital, once the pride of an entire nation is less than a glorified village. No governor has committed to developing it. For a state that should be the bridge and gateway between the core north and a substantial chunk of the southern part of the country, Kogi roads are the worst. When it rains, both drivers and passengers groan. When it’s dry, both driver and passenger are covered in dust. Journeys that used to take a few minutes now take hours with attendant security challenges. Until late, Kogi roads used to be the kidnap and armed robbery capital of the nation. It would appear even the brigands don’t want to operate there because they can’t move their captives anywhere before they are caught.

People have argued that the Igala have been avaricious. Not only have they totally cornered the highest political position in the state with their numerical strength, development appears to be skewed in their favour. The few state and federal presence are more pronounced on their side.

Kogi has become unviable as a state because of greed and lack of the operation of the principle of equity. But Kogi state is NOT poor. It has the best array of technocrats in the north. It is mineral-rich, its land is fertile and its people are incredibly resilient and very resourceful. Given a leadership with vision, the state could wow the few that are labeled viable. But it is kept under its knees by brigandage of all sorts and the lack of vision of those it either elects or is forced on it.

Until the component members of this state come together, create a blueprint for its emancipation and agree a power-sharing formula based on vision, mission, direction and a drive for the pursuit of dogged development – it would continue to clutch at the straws and be the butt of jokes and the centre of political thuggery and mayhem. It is very sad to think that that is not just our lot as they say; it looks like our self-determined destiny.

[email protected]

Twitter: @asajutunde 

Asaju, a Kogi-born journalist, writes from his base in Ottawa, Canada.

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