EMMA ALOZIE takes a look at how the Kogi political impasse may have unwittingly aggravated the already tensed political relationship among the three major ethnic groups in the state
The death of Prince Abubakar Audu may end up adjusting the political equation of Kogi State. Kogi is located in the North Central of Nigeria. It is made up of three competing ethno-political groups; the Igala ethnic stock who occupy the Kogi East, the Ebira who occupy the Kogi Central and Okun/Yoruba ethnic stock who occupy the Kogi West.
Since the creation of the state in 1991, all its governors have come from Kogi East or the Igala tribe, which claims it is the largest group and the biggest voting bloc. From Abubakar Audu in 1992 to same Audu in 1999 then to Ibrahim Idris then to the current Captain Idris Wada, it has been all Igalas.
This explains why there was a heightened clamour by the Okun and Ebira stakeholders in the state for power shift prior to the ongoing governorship election. Unfortunately for those clamoring for power shift, the two dominant parties; the APC and the PDP gave their tickets to all Igala candidates and the candidates in turn picked their running mates from the Okun/Yoruba axis, leaving the Central/Ebira people empty handed.
Then, the unthinkable happened. While the election was ongoing, Prince Abubakar, an Igala and the APC’s candidate who was almost winning the election died. This not only left a vacuum that both the electoral act and the constitution never envisaged, it also left more confusion.
While the Audu camp/the Igala axis are favorably disposed to James Faleke, Audu’s running mate continuing the race where Audu stopped, the national leadership of the APC settled for Yahaya Bello, from the Central/Ebira axis who came second during the primary election Audu won.
This has expectedly elicited reactions from the Igala people who think they are being shortchanged. Igala youths protested this decision and were said to have barricaded the Itobe bridge in protest. The idea of the national leadership of the APC is to have Bello replace Audu while Faleke continues as the deputy.
But Faleke has flatly rejected this vowing to trudge on in defence of Audu’s mandate. “The party handed over to us the INEC Nomination Forms as its flag bearers. The party primaries therefore, remained an ad-hoc tool mainly for the purpose of producing a candidate for the party,” Faleke told his supporters.
He said that since the demise of late Audu, all shades of opinions had been expressed by Nigerians who offered him “various baits but I wish to make it abundantly clear that this struggle is not only for me.
“As matter of fact, it is beyond me and it has become a moral burden on my shoulders to defend on behalf of political family of late Prince Abubakar Audu, the interest, views and vision of our late leader.
“The people of Kogi have the right to choose who they want. Abuja cannot impose a candidate on us. APC must give effect to the decision of our people. APC National Working Committee must give effect to the anti-corruption stand of President Buhari”, he said.
Even after a marathon meeting with the national leadership of the party last Monday, Faleke was still very defiant insisting that despite the party’s decision to strip him of the ticket, he remained the governor-elect.
“We were invited by our party leaders via an SMS message, the issue of Kogi state was paramount in the issues of the national leaders of our party, and they wanted a solution to it. However we started meeting from about three as you have observed, of course we discovered that the meeting we were invited for was just a mere briefing rather than being a meeting where we should have deliberated and find a solution to the quagmire we have found ourselves in Kogi State.
“We were only briefed about the position of the party. The party told us that they have nominated Alhaji Yahaya Bello. And off course we made it very clear as a political family of Alhaji Abubakar Audu that that was not acceptable to us. We told them it was not acceptable and we are not going agree with it. I personally noted that my name has been submitted to INEC as the deputy governorship candidate to pair with Yahaya Bello, and I told the national chairman that I have submitted a letter to both INEC and the APC leadership that on no ground will I want to be associated with the decision of the party because I am already governor-elect. I also told the national chairman that for us as the Kogi state political family, we are not going to take part on the supplementary election because I was not even consulted in taking that the decision.
“We are saying it very clearly that Alhaji Yahaya Bello did not take part in all the processes leading to the election. We are talking of only 91 polling units out of over 2500 polling units. We have made it very clear that if they go ahead to conduct the election because I have pulled out, that election will be challenged in the court of law. We would not have taken such decision if the party had taken the part of honour to go to court and challenge INEC. But the chairman told us directly that he would not go to court. Since the party will not go to court, we have taken it upon ourselves to challenge the INEC decision. It is our right. I have already submitted a letter to INEC distancing myself from the planned supplementary election.
“It is my right because first of all I am a Nigerian before been a member of the party,” he told journalists.
The idea of pairing Bello and Faleke has left the Igala who are used to power with the shortest end of the stick. And they are not accepting what they describe as the marginalization of the majority. Therefore, instead of being left out completely in the Kogi power equation, they are buying into the idea of Mohammed Audu, the late Prince Audu’s son becoming a running mate to Faleke.
But the Ebira people who see this as the perfect opportunity to actualise a lifelong dream of power shift are not taking any of that. They feel that this is the time to square up with the Igala who have dominated the power space for too long. This is why at the APC national secretariat in Abuja on Monday, when both Bello and Faleke came face to face, clashes ensued between Faleke’s supporters who are mostly of Igala origin and Bello’s supporters who are mostly of Ebira origin.
Followers of Kogi politics project that this confusion will certainly leave behind bruises and political wounds that may be very hard to heal. Igala people believe they have the numerical advantage to continue to hold on to power, Ebira people believe that with Okun political alliance, it is possible to halt Igala’s dominance.
This scenario is bound to strain the relationship between the Ebira and their Igala neigbours. But will the Okun be brave enough to reap from it? With little tactical prowess, the Okun/Yoruba axis may continue to remain the beautiful bride, reaping from the strained relationship between the Igalas and the Ebiras. As it is now, no matter who ends up being the governor of Kogi, the Okun man will be the deputy. With the massive support Faleke, an Okun man is receiving from the Igala, it may end up cementing long term political marriage between the Igala and the Okun, which may relegate the Ebira from political relevance.
Indeed, Abubakar Audu was controversial in life, but has caused more controversies even in death.