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Kogi: Twists and turns of APC guber primary

Before the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Kogi State held the governorship primary to elect its party’s flag bearer for the November 11 gubernatorial election, there were indications that the exercise might lead to an internal crisis following disagreements and intrigues among members on the mode of primary that should be adopted. Some members of the party had accused Governor Yayaha Bello of favour- ing an indirect mode of primary, so that his preferred candidate would gain the upper hand. This generated a lot of controversies that forced the leadership of the APC to deny that the governor wanted to adopt an indirect mode of primary to enable him to impose a candidate on the party. The state chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Bello, who dismissed the allegation that the governor had a plan to impose a candidate on the party, said every member would be given an equal opportunity and a level playing field. He also stated that Governor Bello and indeed the leadership of the party will support which- ever mode of primary the APC National Working Committee (NWC) approves. It was against this backdrop that most members of the party commended the NWC, when it directed that a direct pri- mary should be used in electing the APC candidate for the state governorship elec- tion. About 17 aspirants across the three sena- torial districts of the state signified interest in succeeding Bello. Nine out of them are part of the governor’s adminis- tration. They include the deputy governor, Edward Onoja, a strong ally of the governor, who is from the Kogi East Senatorial District. He was Chief of Staff to the governor until 2019, when he replaced Simon Achu- ba, who fell out with the governor and was eventually impeached. Also from the eastern senato- rial district is a member of the APC NWC, Alhaji Muritala Ajaka; a for- mer Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Prof. Stephen Ochen and Alhaji Shuaib Audu, who is the son of the late Abubakar Audu re- garded as the pillar of Kogi politics as well as the state Auditor General, Alhaji Yakubu Okala, is also a strong ally of the governor. Aspirants from Kogi West are Asiru Id- ris, a former Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Planning; three-term senator representing Kogi West, Smart Adeyemi, and a Lagos-based businessman, David Jimoh. The Executive Director of the Rural Electrification Agency in the presidency, Dr Sanusi Ohiare, was also in the race. He is from Kogi Central and the son of former Senator Mohammed Ohiare, a political bigwig in Okene.

Another aspirant, Alhaji Ahmed Ododo, who is also from the Central Senatorial district as the governor, was until the party’s primary, the Auditor General of Local Governments in Bello’s administration. Before the primary, the governor did not tell anybody his choice among the aspirants. He was reported to have told all of them to contest and that the party mem- bers will pick one of them. But on April 13, eight aspirants voluntarily withdrew from the race at a meeting held at the party’s secretariat that was presided over by the governor. Those who stepped down were those who served in Bello’s cabinet but Ododo who was reported to have been anointed by the governor did not step down. Despite the agitation for power shift to Kogi West, Ododo was even- tually elected and subsequently rat- ified at a special congress held on April 15 at the Muhammadu Buhari Civic Centre, Lokoja. According to the secretary of the primary elec- tion committee, Patrick Obahiag- bon, Ododo scored 78,704 votes to beat his rivals. Shaibu Abubakar Audu got 763 votes, Stephen Ikani Ocheni scored 532 votes, Sanusi Ohaire polled 424 votes and Senator Smart Adeyemi got 311 votes. According to the breakdown, 83,419 party members were accredited for the election. Nevertheless, the outcome of the primary which produced Ododo did not go down well with some of the contes- tants and stakeholders from Kogi West and Kogi East senatorial districts. For in- stance, Senator Adeyemi, who was a lead- ing voice in the agitation for power shift to the Kogi West, vehemently disagreed with the conduct of the primary, which he referred to as a “kangaroo exercise.” He said no election ever took place any- where in the entire 239 wards of the state. Adeyemi queried the rationale behind the choice of Ododo, who apart from be- ing a cousin to the governor, is also from the same community as Bello. He said: “Refusing power shift to the western senatorial district will reduce the people to slaves in their own land. We are not slaves. We have equal rights and stakes in Kogi. We supported Bello in 2019 on the premise that he would support power shift to the West in 2023. Let me say that there was no election at all conducted. In the whole state, there was no elec- tion. What they did was a selection, a sham, a manipulation of people, and a deceitful act.

“This is a rape of democracy. It is a treasonable offence. It is manipulation in the highest order. It is deceitful and an ungodly act, unconstitutional, and undemocratic. What they did was to hand over the electoral materials to all the local government chairmen who in turn went to their comfort zones and handpicked about 200 people to line up in their offices or nearby schools and they counted them and took photo- graphs to create an impression that there was an election.

“I can assure you that if APC should go ahead with their plan, the next governorship election will not be as easy as they think because we are going to educate our people… An election is not going to be ‘It’s our party’, the election is going to ‘Who is the candidate? Where is he coming from? What are his antecedents?” Adeyemi challenged the APC leader- ship and the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Kogi to explain to Nigerians if a primary election was ever held in the state. “The primary election was not con- ducted. All of us mobilised our mem- bers. Behold none of the officials of the Independent National Electoral Com- mission (INEC) and even the panel that was to conduct the election was there.

The chairman of that panel, the Governor of Zamfara, Bello Matawalle, by the constitution of the APC, was expected to announce the result. He came and we saw him. announce the result. There is a guideline, but the secretary went ahead and announced the result. The primary election in Kogi was just allocation of votes.” Apart from Adeyemi, Ajaka from Kogi East, who also participated in the primary, rejected the outcome of the election and instead claimed to be the winner of the primary conducted. As a result, his people under the umbrella of Igala Mandate Group, in a statement signed by its director general, Yakubu Ugwolawo, rejected the announcement of Ododo as the winner of the APC governorship primary election.

The statement read in part: “After an emergency meeting of the leadership of this organisation held early this morning in Igala House Anyigba, the following statements are hereby issued: the announcement made by Mr Patrick Obayagbon purportedly declaring Mr Ahmed Ododo as the winner of the governorship primary election of the APC in Kogi State is unacceptable and it is hereby rejected in its entirety. “The victory of Alhaji Murtala Ajaka (Muri) on April 14, 2023, remains unassail- able as he received the overwhelming man- date of the eligible electorate of the party across all the 239 wards in the state as the governorship of the APC in Kogi State. We consider the not announcing Muri’s result by Governor Bello Matawalle and his team as reckless, illogical and an anti-party stance. Matawalle and his team cannot unilaterally exclude Muri from the contest since no law gives them that power. “It is an indiscretion and impunity car- ried too far in order to satisfy Governor Ya- haya Bello’s political appetite to perpetuate himself in power by handing over office to his stooge.

The Matawalle team and the de- stabilising agents from Government House Lokoja must not plunge the APC into un- necessary crisis and confusion. They should perish their plans against the APC and Kogi people.” But Governor Bello in his speech at the party’s congress on April 15 in Lokoja, said: “Today’s event shows that there is no oppo- sition in Kogi State and that we are one big family. We have won everything winnable in the state. We won the presidential election. We won three available senatorial seats, six out of nine House of Representatives seats and 23 out of 25 state Assembly seats. This is a pass mark by any standard.” Also, the state Commissioner for Informa- tion and Communications and a chieftain of the APC, Kingsley Fanwo, described the emergence of Ododo as governorship candi- date of the APC as a “winning joker.”

Fanwo in his congratulatory message to Ododo, said the people of Kogi State would vote massive- ly for the APC candidate to “continue with the lofty strides of Governor Yahaya Bello.” Fanwo commended the spirit of sports- manship displayed by the aspirants, who vol- untarily stepped down for Ododo to emerge, noting that “their sacrifices made his victory seamless and reassuring.

The patriots, who willingly stepped down to support Ododo are the real heroes of the contest. Their selfless action is very reassuring and signposts that the party will face November 11 with one mind and an indomitable force of a united party. They have shown that their individual interests could be sacrificed for the strength and safety of the party. “The task ahead is onerous and we must remain focused and avoid complacency. The last general election have boosted our confi- dence as a party and we are reassured that APC remains overwhelmingly the party of choice in our dear state.” Despite the celebration by Governor Bello and his camp, two members of the party in the state have pleaded with the Abuja High Court to void the party’s governorship primary.

Realwan Akpanachi and Yahaya Seidu- Nuhu sued six contestants in an originating summons filed by their counsel, Promise Ogbodu. The APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are the seventh and eighth defendants, respectively. The plaintiffs alleged the violation of the Electoral Act 2022 and the Nigerian Constitution during the primary.

The six contestants were Abdulkareem Jamiu (chief of staff), Jibril Momoh (accountant-general), Yakubu Okala (auditor-general), Asiwaju Idris (fi- nance commissioner), Salami Ozigi (com- missioner for local government and chief- taincy affairs) and Ahmed Usman-Ododo (auditor-general for local government areas).

They prayed the court to disqualify the first to sixth defendants, claiming that the six defendants were political appointees or public servants when they contested the governorship primary election on April 11.

They asked the court to determine whether the first to sixth defendants, being political appointees or public officers currently in the service of the Kogi government, “can validly” participate in the convention or congress of the APC to vie for the nomination as the governorship candidate for the November 11 governorship election and whether having regard to section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act (2022) the seventh respondent (APC) “can validly nominate” any of the first to sixth respondents as a candidate for the Kogi governorship election “in the face of their failure as political appointees/ public servants, to resign from service of the state government at the time of the primary election.”

The APC members also prayed the court to declare that “being political appointees/ public officers currently in the service of the Kogi government, the first to sixth respondents cannot validly vie for the APC’s nomination as its governorship candidate” for the November 11 poll.

The plaintiffs further sought a declaration that the seventh respondent “cannot validly nominate any of the first to sixth respondents” as its candidate for the Kogi election “in the face of their failure as political appointees/public servants, to resign from service of the Kogi government at the time of the primary election,” and therefore requested “an order disqualifying any of the first to sixth respondents from seeking for the nomination of, and being nominated by the seventh respondent as its governorship candidate for the Kogi governorship elec- tion, scheduled for November 11.”

While the court has reportedly directed that a notice of hearing be served on all the respondents to appear before it on April 27 for hearing of the plaintiff’s originating summons, all eyes are on Governor Bello to see if he would resolve the internal issues resulting from the primary election and con- vince them to accept his anointed candidate, Ododo.

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