Ahead of the November 16 governorship election in Kogi State, more contenders have continued to declare their interests in the race to the ‘Lugard House’.
Governor Yahaya Bello who is seeking a second term in office under the platform of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is walking a tight rope as he would be facing a tough political contest within his party and from the opposition parties, particularly the PDP.
In the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), over 30 aspirants have already indicated their interests for the contest while more are expected to join the race in the weeks ahead. Amongst those jostling to slug it out with the governor under the platform the PDP includes immediate past governor, Capt. Idris Wada; his brother and staff of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Engr. Musa Wada; Senator Dino Melaye; security expert, Dr. Joseph Erico Ameh; businessman and son of a former governor Ibrahim Idris, Abubakar Idris; former Deputy Speaker of Kogi Assembly , Emma Omebije; former Commissioner for Health and erstwhile President, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Idris Omede; another former Deputy Speaker, Hon. Aliyu Aku; a former Ankpa Council chairman, Hassan Yakubu Enape; a former bank executive, Dr Victor Alewo Adoji; a retired regional manager with Nigerian Brewery, Muhammed Shaibu Tetes and a retired Army General, Patrick Akpa.
In the ruling APC, prominent amongst those jostling to wrestle the party’s ticket from Bello include a former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Jibrin Usman (rtd); a brother to the late Prince Abubakar Audu, Alhaji Yahaya Audu; a sports administrator, Sani Lulu; Director General of Consumer Protection Council (CPC), Babatunde Irukera and a former commissioner for Agriculture, Dr Tim Nda Diche and host of others. Perhaps, the recent declaration by Senator Melaye (PDP, Kogi West) to contest the number one seat of Kogi State would have further increased the tally of contenders governor Bello would have to face. The entrance of Dino Melaye into the governorship race is generating reactions and conversations amongst the political class in the state. While some are of the view that Dino should have focused his attention on his job at the Senate having won his re-election bid in the last election, others however said that he should be allowed to “test the waters.”
Deep rooted rivalry between Dino, Bello
A contest between Governor Bello and Senator Dino would be akin to a battle of titanic proportion. Dino, according to observers, has remained “a thorn in the flesh” of Governor Bello especially on the account of his constant criticisms and attacks over alleged bad governance in Kogi. Both Bello and Dino were good friends before “things fell between. them” To many watchers of the unfolding political scenario in Kogi State, the feud between Bello and Melaye may have come as a surprise. Dino was believed to be among the strong forces that supported Bello when the APC national leadership nominated him (Bello) as the replacement for its late flag-bearer, Prince Abubakar Audu, who died on the verge of victory in the November 21, 2015 governorship election. Senator Dino served as chairman of the transition committee that worked out the modalities for a hitch-free handover of power to Bello and his eventual inauguration on January 27, 2016. Given the close affinity that existed between them, Dino also served as the master of ceremony for the inauguration of Governor Bello at the main bowl of the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja. But a few months after the inauguration, the “political honeymoon” was replaced by sour relationship amid discordant tunes and cacophonic beating of war drums from the two camps. The two camps have over the past three years thrown a lot of tantrums at each other, either directly or indirectly. Dino has over the past three years faced several arrests by the police with ongoing prosecutions in courts both in Abuja and Kogi. He has consistently blamed his ordeals on his political enemies both in the state and at the national level. The embattled senator had escaped alleged assassination attempts on some occasions and equally survived an ‘orchestrated’ move to recall him from the Senate.
Dino’s chances for PDP’s ticket
Notwithstanding his declaration, Dino would be walking a tight rope to secure PDP governorship ticket for the November election. One argument is that Dino hails from the minority Kogi West senatorial district and his chances of getting the ticket appeared slim. Besides, it was learnt that the leadership of the PDP has favoured the majority Kogi East (Igalaland) senatorial district to produce the governorship flag bearer as part of its strategic move to wrestle power from the incumbent governor. Political pundits have described Dino’s declaration as being “over ambitious,” given that he got the PDP’s senatorial ticket in the last election more on a platter and at the detriment of other gladiators, having returned from the APC to the PDP few months before the last general election. For them, Dino should have rather shown some gratitude to the party by being contented with the Kogi West Senate seat which he had already won and due to be inaugurated soon. But the Media Aide to Senator Dino, Gideon Ayodele, is optimistic his principal would secure the party’s ticket. He said Dino was not in the race for personal aggrandizement but rather out of his passion to rescue the people of Kogi State from the “current hardship and suffering inflicted on them by the present government.” “I believe one thing; the time for Kogi citizens to smile is now and the man that is coming with the laughter is Senator Dino Melaye. The issue of the governor contending is not even sure. He is not even sure if he is going to win the primary of his party. “So, we are not seeing him as a threat. Even within his (Dino’s) own party, the PDP, our people are more enlightened now than before. Our people know and want quality representations. If you check the history of those that have governed the state so far, there is no one that has gathered the political knowledge and experience before assuming office as governor. “All of the life of Senator Dino Melaye has been in politics. Despite the fact that he read Geography, he has never worked anywhere with his certificate as a Geographer. All he has ever done has been politics. “Right from school, he was a unionist and for over 12 years, he has been in the National Assembly where he has held key positions as committee chairman in charge of information as well as FCT. He will use his experience to bring Kogi back on track,” he said. Can Bello get the APC ticket? One issue dominating political discourse in the Confluence State ahead of the crucial November governorship election is that of how Governor Bello would secure the ticket of his party, the APC. There has been growing concerns over alleged plot to deny Bello the party’s governorship ticket on alleged account of poor performance and his leadership style. Bello will be walking a tight rope between the power of incumbency and the ‘enemy’ within the APC family in his desire to win his party’s ticket and subsequently the election in November. Going by the APC’s performance in the February and March polls under his watch, ordinarily, Bello shouldn’t entertain fears retaining his seat. He was able to deliver the state to President Buhari; ensure the APC won two out of the three senatorial seats of the state; seven out of the nine House of Reps seats and cleared all the 25 state assembly seats for the APC. However, his major challenges are likely to come from the decision makers in the party’s top echelon, who are said to be inundated with petitions from groups and individuals complaining about his leadership style. Some stakeholders within the APC in the state led by Senator Alex Kadiri recently wrote to the national leadership of the party not to give the party’s ticket to Bello on account of alleged non-performance. There are also concerns that some key leaders of the party at the national level appeared not to be comfortable with the choice of Bello. The governor is however not leaving things to chances as he was said to have met and is still consulting with important political stakeholders both within and outside the state to boost his support base ahead of the election. Back home, the governor’s re-election bid has received endorsements from traditional rulers, women groups, youth groups, student bodies, some key political figures and permanent secretaries, amongst others. Among those that have openly endorsed Bello for a second term are two senators-elect, Jibril Isah Echocho (Kogi East) and Yakubu Oseni (Kogi Central), seven House of Reps members-elect and 25 elected members of the state Assembly. Meanwhile, spokesman of the governor, Kingsley Fanwo, said the entrance of Senator Dino into the governorship race poses no threat to his boss. Fanwo said: “Not at all. We believe the Governor has done enough to win re-election. Sen. Dino Melaye is contesting in a party that was roundly defeated in the last general elections. “Though he won the Senatorial election which is being contested at the tribunal right now, his party could only manage one more Federal House of Representatives seat while they lost all the House of Assembly seats to the All Progressives Congress. “Governor Yahaya Bello is poised to defeat anyone who eventually picks the ticket of any of the other opposition parties, including the PDP.” No doubt, a political contest between Bello and his estranged friend, Melaye would indeed be one event to behold.