Kogi: Bello returns for second term

 

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

 

 

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oday’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 e