Expectations as Bello, Onoja take oath of office for a new beginning

There are expectations in Kogi State as Alhaji Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is inaugurated for a second term in office  today as the fifth elected governor of the state, FELIX NWANERI and MOHAMMED BASHIR report

Today’s inauguration of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as governor of Kogi State crowns activities to herald the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government in the “Confluence State” after the incumbent was re-elected in the keenly contested November 16, 2019 governorship election.

Bello is returning to power for a second term, following his defeat the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Engr. Musa Wada in the election that served as a test of might for the ruling APC and main opposition PDP after the 2019 general election. Bello polled a total of 406,222 votes against Wada’s 189,704 votes. Natasha Akpoti of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) came a distant third with a score of 9,482 votes.

The APC candidate won in 12 of the 21 local governments of Kogi State – Lokoja, Ibaji, Adavi, Okehi, Okene, Kabba Bunu, Ogori Magongo, Koton Karfi, Mopa Muro, Ajaokuta and Olamaboro, while his PDP counterpart won in Omala , Igalamela, Yagba East, Yagba West, Idah, Dekina, Bassa, Ofu and Ankpa local governments.

Bello had earlier secured his party’s ticket after polling 3,091 votes from 3,596 delegates, who participated in APC’s indirect primary election on August 29, 2019.  Those he routed to clinch the party’s ticket are Hadiza Ibrahim (zero), Yahaya Audu (10), Sani Abdullahi (seven), Abubakar Bashir (three), Danlami Mohammed (zero), Yakubu Mohammed (zero), Ikele Aisha (zero), Hassan Abdullahi (44) and Babatunde Irukera (109).

However, the election that returned Bello and APC to power in Kogi State was largely marred by violence and ballot box snatching, which prompted election observers to call for the cancellation of the exercise as according to them, the outcome did not reflect the wishes of the people.

Journey to Lugard House

Popularly called Fair Plus, Bello’s journey to the Kogi State government house was by fate. He made history on January 27, 2015 as the first person from a minority ethnic group of the state to occupy the historic Lugard House. He is Ebira of Kogi Central Senatorial District.

Before then, the Igala people of Kogi East Senatorial Zone have had enough of power, having ruled the state since it was created in 1991. Kogi State comprises the people of Kabba province of Okun and Ebira; Igala and Bassa speaking parts of old Benue State. The Igala and Bassa formed the Eastern Senatorial District; Ebira and Ogori-Magongo formed the Central Senatorial District, while the Okuns, Kotos and Hausa-speaking part of Lokoja formed the Western Senatorial District.

There is a claim of an agreement reached by elders and political stakeholders in the state in 1991 on a power sharing formula that will see the governorship rotating among the three senatorial zones, but the Igala, who constitute about 45 per cent of the total population of the state held on to power for more than two decades.

However, Bello’s emergence as governor for the first term would not have been possible if not for the demise of his party’s (APC) candidate in the November 21, 2015 governorship election in the state – Prince Abubakar Audu.

The former two-time governor of the state (1992-1993 and 1999-2003) was coasting to victory when he passed on. This unfortunate incident almost triggered a constitutional crisis as the 1999 Constitution (as amended) did not envisage such situation.

The impasse over the incident was however resolved, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) directed the APC to nominate another candidate as Audu’s substitution for the December 5, 2015 supplementary poll in the 91 polling units, where elections were cancelled.

The electoral body had declared the election inconclusive midway during collation and announcement of results, following the cancellation of results in the affected polling units due to incidences of violence, ballot boxes snatching, over voting, among others.

Late Audu was at the time leading his closest rival and then incumbent governor, Capt. Idris Wada by 41,000 votes, whereas the total number of registered voters in the 91 polling units was 49,953, a figure, the commission explained was higher than the margin between the top contenders.

The window to substitute Audu, rather than serve as a relief to the APC, sparked off another round of crisis as the deputy governorship candidate, Hon. James Faleke wrote to INEC that he should be declared winner on the ground that the supplementary poll was needless as the number of eligible voters in the affected areas stood at 25, 000 and so will not make any impact in the overall result.

The PDP, on its part, urged the electoral body to declare its candidate –Wada, winner of the election as the votes garnered by Audu were not transferable. The party further argued that Audu’s votes died with him.

INEC, however, insisted on going ahead with the supplementary poll and the APC was left with no other option than to nominate the first runner up in its governorship primary election (Bello) as Audu’s substitution.

But the Audu/Faleke Campaign Organisation, which rejected his candidature, insisted on taking over the party’s candidacy. It argued that Bello did not participate in the campaign processes and therefore, Faleke will pull out of the race, leaving it vulnerable to be challenged in a court of law by the opposition parties. Faleke also vowed to challenge the party’s decision in court.

On its part, the Kogi State PDP said the result of the election was unacceptable to it and cannot stand the test of time. The party insisted that the death of Audu on November 22, while collation was ongoing, made it inevitable for the electoral commission to declare its candidate (Wada) winner of the poll.

Both camps later filed suits to stop Bello from participating in the supplementary poll before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. While Faleke prayed the court to compel INEC to declare him the winner of the inconclusive poll, Wada of the PDP urged it to compel INEC to declare him winner of the election on the ground that he is the only surviving candidate in the election who scored the second highest votes after the deceased candidate of the APC.

Three other additional suits were also filed on the matter. Emanuel Daiko, who claimed that he contested the election as a candidate of the People for Democratic Change (PDC), urged the court to among others declare the supplementary election as illegal, prevent APC from substituting Audu and to prevent the party from participating in the election on the ground that it no longer has a candidate.

In the fourth suit filed by a member of the House of Representatives then, Raphael Igbokwe (Imo State) and Stephen Wada Omaye, the plaintiffs joined INEC and APC as defendants. They asked the court to annul the November 21 election and conduct a fresh one.

The fifth suit was filed by one Johnson Jacob Usman, an indigene of Kogi State and a registered voter as well as a lawyer. Usman joined the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and INEC as defendants in the suit. He asked the court to compel INEC to suspend all actions in relation to the election, pending the determination of the suit and a declaration that the election ought to be cancelled.

But the court, presided by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, after listening to the arguments of the various parties, struck out all the cases instituted before it. In his judgement on the consolidated four cases, Justice Kolawole said the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain all the reliefs sought by the various parties.

According to him, passing judgement on the reliefs would amount to usurping the powers of the governorship election tribunal that would be constituted by the President of the Court of Appeal after the supplementary election has been held.

As expected, Bello was declared winner of the governorship election after the supplementary poll. His party (APC) garnered 6,885 votes to bring its total votes to 247,752, having polled 240,857 in the first round of voting. The PDP candidate (Wada) scored 5,363 to take his total votes to 204, 877 votes. He had earlier garnered 199, 514 votes.

Despite INEC’s declaration of Bello as Governor-elect, the Audu/Faleke campaign organization described the supplementary election that produced him as “unnecessary and a complete waste of tax payers’ money’’ and headed for the tribunal to challenge it.

Faleke, in a petition he filed before the Kogi State Election Petitions Tribunal, insisted that the election had already been won and lost before the supplementary poll, praying the tribunal to declare him winner.

Wada also challenged the outcome of the election and return of Bello, joining APC and INEC as respondents. Wada, who also prayed the court to declare him winner of the election, also urged the tribunal to stop Bello’s inauguration.

But ruling on the suits, the tribunal’s chairman, Justice Halima Mohammed, said that though the tribunal had jurisdiction to hear the case contrary to insinuations, the prayers were not contained in the original petitions as it was merely a motion on notice. She explained that if the tribunal grants the motions, it will definitely affect the life of the original case before tribunal.

With the court clearing the coast, Bello mounted the stage, perhaps, as the youngest elected governor in Nigeria’s political history. He was 40 years old then.

First term promises and catalogue of crisis

It was message of hope in 2015, when Bello first mounted the saddle as governor of Kogi State. He then promised the people of taking the state to the next level. “By the grace of God I would have no reason not to perform excellently. After four years, Kogi State will never be the same again. Expectations are high, and we know there are challenges out there, but we are going to move in aggressively to ensure we do well,” he said.

Among his strategies was reorganization of the state civil service to make it more efficient and productive. He has also promised to ensure massive industrialization to create employment for the teeming populace in the state as well to harness the mineral potentials across Kogi to significantly improve the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the state and its economy.

The accountant-turned-politician had then identified solid minerals, agriculture and tourism as key economic drivers that can take the state to the next level, and pledged to liaise with the Federal Government to realize the potentials of the Ajaokuta Steel Company and the Itakpe Iron Ore Company.

But, the belief of most indigenes of state, who have suffered the impact of poor governance for years, was that it was unfulfilled dream after Bello’s first term in office. Many even went to extreme by saying that Kogi State, under Bello became a study in leadership failure given the catalogue of crisis the marred the era.

The crisis started barely a month after Bello’s administration was inaugurated, when five out of the 20 members of the state House of Assembly impeached the then speaker, Hon. Jimoh Momoh-Lawal.

Following the impeachment, crisis erupted in the House thereby compelling Hon. Sunday Steve Karimi to sponsor a motion on the floor of the House of Representatives on February 23, 2016. The motion was unanimously adopted with a 10-man committee headed by then deputy chief whip, Hon. Pally Iriase, to investigate the matter.

The committee subsequently visited Lokoja, the Kogi State capital and met with the governor, members of the state Assembly and heads of the relevant security agencies in the state. After the meeting, the committee found out that the House of Assembly had not performed its legislative functions since the suspension of plenary on February 15, 2016, as none of the factions held any sitting in the hallowed chambers of the State House of Assembly.

It also found out that there was an understanding to change the leadership of the Assembly in order to comply with Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to avoid lopsidedness in the distribution of power between the major tribes in the state since Bello and Lawal are coincidentally from the same local government area.

While Bello maintained then that he had no hand in the Assembly crisis as he never tried to influence the decision of the House given that he was then new in office and does not have any prior relationship with the legislators other than to work for the good of the entire state in line with his oath of office, Jimoh-Lawal’s group accused him of a subtle plot to install his choice candidate, Hon. Umar Imam as speaker.

The suspicion was later confirmed, when Imam emerged as speaker of the Assembly on July 26, 2016, following Jimoh-Lawal’s resignation. Many had thought that the crisis would be over given that the governor had his way, but that was not to be as Imam equally bowed out like his predecessor on August 3, 2017 after another round of crisis. In his stead, Mathew Kolawole, the member representing Kaba/Bunu state constituency was elected as speaker.

Besides the state Assembly crisis, Bello also had a long running battle with the then lawmaker representing Kogi West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Dino Melaye. Interestingly, both were allies before they suddenly fell apart.

Melaye had stood behind Bello from the period of the supplementary election that brought him to power to his inauguration. But trouble started when the senator, alongside some stakeholders in Kogi State APC gathered in Abuja to pass a vote of no confidence on Bello on his administration’s one year anniversary.

Expectedly, the governor fired back and accused the lawmaker of hurling unbridled attacks at him. He also accused Melaye of waging a “selfish and egocentric” war. From then, it was an unending ego battle between the duo, with both actors deploying conventional and unconventional tactics to outwit each other.

There was also a running battle between Bello and the state’s civil servants as well as the various labour unions, following a workers’ verification exercise embarked upon by the state government. While the exercise revealed thousands of ghost workers on the state’s payroll, it equally caused untold hardships and pains to many workers, with some being owed backlog of salaries running into months.

In all these, Bello persistently admonished those he described as detractors to allow his government to focus on its goal of a better Kogi for its citizens, but analysts kept reminding him that the deterioration of any administration begins with the decay of the principle on which it was founded, and that he should be mindful of his actions as power belongs to the people.

Echoes of that counsel reverberated, when Bello declared his intention to seek reelection for a second term. The governor said his declaration came after consultations with the leadership of his party both at the national and state levels and pressure from the people of the state on him to seek re-election.

Bello said of his ambition: “I would like to inform the good people of the state, the APC family and supporters from the state, the local government areas down to the wards and polling units, as well as various stakeholders, opinion molders, families and friends of my interest to run for a second term in office as the executive governor of the state. “I have sought the blessing of the Almighty God and our good people; I will have to contest for the second term, so that we can build on our modest achievements so far in the state by taking it to the next level.” The impeachment of Bello’s deputy, Simon Achuba, on October 18, 2019, capped the catalogue of crisis.

Achuba’s impeachment followed the submission of a report of the committee set up by the State Chief Judge, Justice Nasir Ajana, to investigate an allegation of gross misconduct against him.

The then deputy governor had raised the alarm of an alleged threat to his life and accused his principal of intolerance of contrary views. He also criticized the administration for non-performance, claiming that it was the reason for the rift between him and Bello. With Achuba out of the way, Bello nominated his then Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja, who was consequently screened and cleared by the state Assembly as deputy governor.

Onoja later became running mate to Bello for the November 16, 2019 governorship and both would be inaugurated today as deputy governor and governor, respectively. Second term triumph despite stiff opposition No doubt, it was Bello’s constitutional right to aspire for a second term as governor of Kogi State, but the belief in some quarters then that it was unfulfilled dreams during his first four years in power, boosted PDP’s bid to return to power in the Confluence State.

This, perhaps, explained the tension that trailed the November 16, 2019 poll.

In what seemed a replay of the 2015 contest, Bello’s main opponent – Wada, from the majority Igala ethnic stock of the state – has close links to two former governors of the state.

He is ex-Governor Wada’s sibling and an in-law to former Governor Ibrahim Idris. Interestingly, the younger Wada trounced his brother – ex-Governor Wada and his brother in-law – Abubakar Ibrahim – in the PDP primary election, but he failed to turn the table against Bello in the main election. Bello, who dedicated his second term victory to his mother, Hajia Hawawu Bello and the people of Kogi State, averred in his victory speech that his re-election election has broken ethnic jinx as well as class and age differences in the state.

His words: “I appreciate my mother, Hajia Hawawu Bello. As a matter of fact, I dedicate this victory to her. I sincerely appreciate the good people of Kogi State from all the length and breadth of the state, starting from Kogi East to Kogi West and Kogi Central. You are the winners of this particular election. “We are making this feat and we have decided to break the jinx; the jinx of ethnicity, class differences and age differences. In diversity lies our strength. With the renewal of our mandate to serve for another four years, I reiterate the promise of our first time, which is to make all citizens of Kogi State benefit from the entirety of our resources. May the Almighty God protect, guide and direct us toward the part of righteousness, good governance and development.”

Not yet Uhuru for Bello The battle in Kogi over the governorship is however not yet over even as Bello takes oath office for a second term today. Wada, who alleged foul play and headed to the tribunal after the poll, is challenging the election’s outcome on the ground that INEC and the police worked in favour of the APC. To the PDP candidate, the election was a coup against the people of the state.

“It is clear to all that there was no election on Saturday, November 16, 2019, but a declaration and execution of war against the people. What happened in Kogi was an organised war against democracy; coup against the people and seizure of power through brigandage and the barrel of the gun with members of the police and other security agencies coordinating the stealing of people’s votes,” he said. Wada accused the police of aiding armed APC thugs to invade polling units with impunity, shoot and kill voters and carted away ballot boxes to government facilities, where results were allegedly written in favour of APC and handed over to INEC to announce against the will of the people.

His words: “Police helicopters were used to attack polling units, fire tear gas on voters and provided cover to APC hoodlums and policemen who brutalised the people of Kogi State and stole their mandate.

The APC turned our state into a theatre of war. No fewer than nine innocent Nigerians were killed. Many more were maimed and injured by the APC in their desperation to seize power at all cost. It is therefore distressing that INEC went ahead with a shameful collation and declaration of fabricated results despite the glaring disruptions that characterised the shambolic exercise.”

The PDP candidate further accused INEC of cancelling votes cast for him in his party’s strongholds and subtracting from PDP votes in many other areas, while padding the votes of the APC to give a semblance of victory to Bello. “We therefore stand with the people of Kogi State without equivocation that this brigandage and stealing of our mandate cannot stand.

We will never despair but remain strong in our determination to retrieve the mandate freely given to us by the people in their desire for a change. We will pursue this course to its logical conclusion within the confines of the law of this country,” he added. The allegations, notwithstanding, Bello, who seems unperturbed over the suit challenging his election, said he is ready to meet any of his opponents in court. He said: “I told you sometimes back that the issue of winning the election was not in question, but the margin with which I will defeat my opponent, and that he will have no reason whatsoever to go to the tribunal.

However, going to the tribunal is their right and if they so wish, we will meet in court. “But I want to use this opportunity to call on all those that contested the election with me starting from the primaries of our party to the main election, all other political parties to please join me in this next level, so that we can together do more for Kogi State.

“We have a lot of task ahead of us, the journey has just begun; I need the cooperation and understanding of every citizen and resident of Kogi State to join hands with me, so that we can do more for the state.”

Second term expectations Political analysts are of the view that Bello would have learnt some lessons from his first term and therefore suggested that he should this time around involve technocrats in government for them to proffer policies that will impact positively on the people of Kogi State. It also the opinion of many that although the issue of state workers’ salaries is been addressed, there is the need to the state government to also accord priority to the plight of pensioners, teachers and local government workers. Equally expected by Bello in his second term, is the issue of local government elections.

Council elections were not held in the state all through the governor’s first term, but it is the hope of many that will dissolve the present unelected administrations at the 21 local government areas in the state to pave the way for elections. The governor is also expected to look into his pattern of appointments by carrying along leaders across political divides. More importantly, it is hoped that the governor, upon taking the oath of office, will hit the ground running in order to basic infrastructure, create job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the state as well strengthen the security architecture of the state to ensure safety of lives and property.