Recently, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello picked his Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja as his running mate ahead of the November 16 governorship election.
Bello emerged as the governorship flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the party’s primary election held in Lokoja on August 29 after polling 2,091 votes to defeat his closest rival, Babatunde Irukera who polled 109 votes.
A statement issued in Lokoja by the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Bello, Onogwu Muhammed, said the national leadership of the APC had submitted the names of Bello and Onoja to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the party’s flag bearer and running mate respectively, in line with the commission’s guidelines.
He said the nomination of Onoja as Bello’s running mate was done after due consultations with political stakeholders in the state.
The choice of Onoja as running mate to Bello in the forthcoming election perhaps, did not come as a surprise to many political watchers in the Confluence State.
Onoja has been a long time strong ally of Governor Bello and an influential figure to reckon with as far as the present administration in Kogi State is concerned. He is believed to have played a significant role in the development of policies and programmes of the present government, political appointments, as well as day to day running of the ‘New Direction Government’ of Yahaya Bello.
While expressing the kind of affinity that exists between him and Onoja, Bello had, on many occasions, openly referred to him as his “Siamese twin’’ brother.
Governor Bello, an Ebira man from Okene in the Kogi Central senatorial district, appointed Onoja, an Igala from Olamaboro in Kogi East senatorial district as his Chief of Staff on assumption of office in January 2016, a move described as unprecedented in the annals of the state.
In the build-up to the 2015 governorship election, Edward Onoja served as chief strategist and director-general of the campaign organisation of Alhaji Yahaya Bello. He was said to have led young men who were considered ‘political new kids on the block’ round the three senatorial districts, canvassing for support for Alhaji Yahaya Bello.
Their efforts paid off to great extent as the delegates produced the votes which put Alhaji Yahaya Bello far ahead of other seasoned politicians with long experience in politics and made him the runner up in the primaries.
Bello polled over 700 votes at the primary in 2015 to emerge second position after the late Prince Abubakar Audu who won the primary election with over 1,000 votes.
As the director-general of APC’s presidential, national and state assembly elections campaigns in Kogi State in the 2019 general elections, Onoja was able to work for the victory of the ruling party.
The outcome of the election showed that the APC won all the 25 state assembly seats; seven out of nine House of Representatives seats and two out of the three Senate seats for the state.
Onoja’s commitment and passion for the realisation of the Yahaya Bello-led administration’s policies has been described by his associates as second only to that of the governor.
Onoja and his foray into politics
Born to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Amodu Onoja in August 9, 1974, Edward Onoja hails from Odidoko-Emonyoku in Ogugu district of Olamaboro Local Government Area of Kogi State. He started his academic voyage in Army Children School 3 in Ikeja Military Cantonment, Lagos and completed his primary education in Wasimi Community Primary School, Ikeja, Lagos. He attended Federal Government College, Kwali in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and finished in 1991 with exceptional results and proceeded to the University of Jos to read Geology and Mining and graduated with a Second Class, upper division in 1999.
Onoja’s penchant for politics was said to have started right from his days in the university, where he was the president of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.
In 2011, he resigned from Access Bank to vie for the State House of Assembly to represent Olamaboro constituency on the platform of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
From July to December 2011, he was the state director and was fully in charge of Project 3R – Rescue, Restore, Rebuild-Kogi on behalf of the late political icon, Prince Abubakar Audu of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
In 2015, he was the state director of the Kogi Youth Arise Group for Buhari/Osinbajo, the group that worked for the victory of the APC in the 2015 presidential election.
Thereafter, he became the chief strategist and director-general of the Alhaji Yahaya Bello Campaign Organisation in preparation for the 2015 gubernatorial election.
Alhaji Yahaya Bello became the governor of Kogi State after the passing away of Prince Abubakar Audu and thereafter made Onoja his chief of staff.
Onoja’s choice and its political implication for Kogi governorship
Onoja’s choice as running mate to Governor Yahaya Bello has far reaching implications as far as the November 16 governorship election in Kogi is concerned.
His choice is considered as a strategic political move, given the fact that Bello’s major opponent, Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), comes from Kogi East (Igala land), where Onoja hails from.
The choice of Onoja implies that Bello’s chances of getting more votes in Igala land are brighter since he is expected to work harder for victory as a running mate.
While Bello would be sure of having overwhelming votes from his Ebira kinsmen in Kogi Central senatorial district, being one of their own, the case might be different in Kogi East as Onoja and Wada would unarguably share the votes.
However, the fact that Natasha Akpoti, a female governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) emerged from the same zone as Bello, also implies that the governor would, to some extent, have divided votes in the zone.
Interestingly too, the governorship candidate of the PDP has also chosen his running mate from the Kogi West senatorial district. He is Sam Bamidele Aro. That would also go a long way in brightening his chances in that district.
Through the influence of Onoja, Bello has been able to make inroads into Igala land, particularly within the ranks of the traditional institution and other stakeholders in the zone, who are now drumming support for his second term bid.
As it stands, the victory of the candidates of the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP would most likely be determined by how far their running mates would be able to harvest votes for them from their different zones.