When Prince Abubakar Audu, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) died on November 22, while awaiting the results of the Kogi State governorship elections, it triggered arguments not only in the political history of the state, but in Nigeria at large.
Though the polls were inconclusive in some wards and a supplementary election was scheduled, it left a void as to what the Constitution ought to have done in such circumstance. It also threw the state into an ethnic political confusion.
Now, the APC’s replacement in the supplementary election, Yahaya Bello, has been declared winner of the polls with a total of 247,742 votes against the 204,877 votes by incumbent Governor Idris Wada.
Bello: A modest beginning
Indeed, the governor-elect, Alhaji Bello, had a humble beginning but rose rapidly later in life. Born on June 18, 1975 in Agassa, Okene Local Government Area of Kogi State into the family of Alhaji Bello Ipemida Ochi and Hajiya Hawa Bello Oziohu, he is an astute business man and the Managing Director of FairPlus International Ltd. He was also the Director, Kogi Youth Arise Forum. He is the last of six siblings.
He started his early education in 1984 in LGEA Primary School, Agassa and enrolled for College in Agassa Community Secondary School, Anyava, Agassa-Okene in 1989. However, he sat for his Junior Secondary School Certificate Examination (JSSCE) at Government Secondary School, Suleja, Niger State; where completed his secondary school education in 1994.
Alhaji Bello enrolled for ‘A’ levels in Kaduna State Polytechnic, Zaria in 1995 and proceeded to Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria in 1996 where graduated in 1999 with a degree in Accounting and later a Master of Business Administration degree from the same institution.
At the same time, he enrolled for professional certification with the Association of National Accountant of Nigeria (ANAN) at Jos in 2002 and became a chartered fellow of ANAN in 2004.
He served his NYSC in 2001 at the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) where he was offered an appointment as a Revenue Officer II. Within a short time, he was promoted as an Accountant and later transferred to head the Makurdi Zonal office’s Accounts Department.
Alhaji Bello is said to have had his financial breakthrough by trading in stocks. His stock portfolio investments cut across the oil and gas, finance, transportation, and agro-related sectors. He has real estate investments in a number of states in the country.
An Accountant ventures into politics
Perhaps, taking risk in the stock market helped Bello in the murky water of Kogi politics which he ventured into as a first timer just this year and was able to put up an outstanding outing.
Truly, he would have been lost in the motley crowd of 28 aspirants that had picked the All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship forms to seek for the number one seat of Kogi State.
Initially, not many believed Bello could go far with his governorship ambition, especially given that he was a new entrant contesting against big names in Kogi politics.
In the build up to the APC governorship primary, which held at the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja on August 29, 2015, Bello had some tough challenges, especially from his Central Senatorial District where the political elite worked against his candidature. For the older politicians, he was considered to be too young and arrogant, as he appeared not to be willing to dance to their tune.
However, Bello had planted seeds early in his venturing into politics which had manifested quite fast. Ahead of the general elections, he was said to have donated an undisclosed sum of money to each of the 25 APC House of Assembly candidates in the state, to support their campaigns.
Also, he was said to have given a certain sum of money to each of the 21 local government coordinators of his support group, in addition to a 15-seater bus for the party secretariat.
Wisely too, he gave the financial assistance where the candidates, coordinators and other party stakeholders converged at the instance of the Chairman to brainstorm on challenges during the March 28 elections and how to chart a new course forward.
At that forum, the party chairman was quoted as cautioning party supporters not to be carried away by what he described as the “Buhari Tsunami” which swept the March 28 Presidential and National Assembly elections but replicate the feat or “even record 99 per cent success in the April 11 elections.”
In his submission at that forum, Bello said that in order to have all the programmes of change, the party must not fail to take over the state House of Assembly.
Surprise show in governorship primaries
But having seen the rising popularity of Bello in the build up to the primaries, some of the stakeholders from Central Senatorial District reportedly worked against him by sponsoring other aspirants from the zone to contest against him in order to split the votes.
But dramatic enough, it was the same set of political stakeholders from the district who never believed in Bello that have now made a U-turn to drum support for him when destiny eventually smiled at him.
After the keenly contested primary, Bello polled 703 votes to emerge second to the late Prince Abubakar Audu who got 1,109 votes.
The remaining results of the primary showed that the third and fourth runners up to Bello during the primary were his kinsmen from the Central district, which implied that if they had earlier queued behind Bello, he would have, perhaps, won the primary election outrightly.
The third runner up was Senator Nurudeen Abetemi who polled 400 votes while the fourth was Sanusi Abubakar Gamji was polled 309.
After the primary election results were declared, Bello showed great sportsmanship by waiting behind to congratulate the winner, the late Prince Abubakar Audu, even when the other contestants left the venue. Audu was amazed by the rare show of the youthful Bello. Bello’s emergence could better be described as “divinely arranged” as it was beyond the usual politics of godfatherism which is common in our clime.
Divine emergence as governor
Alhaji Bello’s election could be described by many observers as destiny coming to fulfilment. For Bello, his becoming the governor of the state is more of “Manna” falling from heaven as the circumstances that cascaded him to the exalted position were beyond human comprehension. It was like a political crown obtained on the platter of gold.
It all started with the sudden exit of the political juggernaut, late Prince Audu who was already heading towards returning to the Lugard House when he died.
Audu who was the APC governorship candidate in the November 21 election in the state had polled 240,867 votes to lead his opponent, incumbent governor Idris Wada who was trailing with 199,514 votes.
But while the APC supporters were preparing to roll out their drums in celebration, the news filtered out that the election was declared inconclusive by INEC.
INEC’s State Returning Officer, Emmanuel Kucha had declined to make returns after collation of results on issues bordering on the margin of win between Audu and Wada.
He said the margin of votes between Audu and Wada was 41,353, hence the election was inconclusive because the total number of registered voters in 91 polling units in 18 local government areas, where election was cancelled was 49,953, a figure which he explained is higher than the 41,353 votes with which Audu is ahead of Governor Wada.
The returning officer further said by INEC guidelines, no return could be made for the election until a supplementary election was held in areas where the election was cancelled.
While Audu’s supporters were trying to cope with the devastating news of the inconclusive declaration of the election, news filtered the “Iroko” has fallen in his Ogbonicha country home.
The sudden demise of Audu created a vacuum with attendant rounds of political crises following the ensuing battle for his replacement.
After much consultations and horse-trading, the APC finally settled for Alhaji Bello who happened to be the second runner up to the late Audu during the earlier governorship primary held in the state, but not without confusion. First, the Igala people wanted their kinsman as a replacement while Audu’s running mate, James Faleke also wanted to be the replacement. Besides, supporters of Prince Audu wanted the APC to have his son as a replacement.
More conflicts and confusion
Pundits and associates of the Kogi governor-elect strongly believed that he has all it takes to move the state to another level in terms of infrastructural and human capital development.
It is believed that his years of experience as a public service administrator and his subsequent achievements in the private sector have given him the requisite administrative acumen to govern the affairs of the state.
Chief Strategist of Alhaji Yahaya Bello Campaign Organisation, Edward Onoja expressed firm confidence and optimism in his capacity to handle the responsibility destiny has thrust upon him.
According to him, Bello is a highly detribalized person with a character and ability to deliver on every assignment given.
However, Bello’s emergence has unarguably brought him face to face with myriads of hurdles which he must wade through to stay afloat. For instance, the unity of the state is at stake. The Igalas that have been ruling since the state was created in 1991 felt cheated not to have their own as a replacement for Audu. Also, the other ethnic groups in the state had all these years felt marginalised by the Igalas and their turn for “vengeance”.
Bringing about unity in this circumstance would be a tough nut for Bello to crack. Also, there were threats of litigations that are already coming from the camp of the outgoing governor, Idris Wada and also from James Faleke, the running mate to late Prince Abubakar Audu. Faleke has refused to be Bello’s running mate.
While Wada, the PDP governorship flag bearer is challenging the legality or otherwise of transferring a dead man’s votes to another person to inherit the mandate, Faleke, on his part, is seeking judicial verdict on why he was not declared winner of the election after Audu’s death since it was on a joint ticket.
Also, APC’s stakeholders and supporters in Kogi East are protesting that the national leadership brought in a “stranger” whom they said never worked for victory of the party. In fact, they could not hide their rage when the supporters went on the rampage in Ankpa, Idah, Ochadamu and Itobe to register their grievances.
Similar protests also took place in some parts of Kogi West, just as some supporters of Faleke and those of Bello clashed at the APC national secretariat in Abuja over the ensuing political impasse.
The Kogi East and West APC stakeholders had earlier presented their position to the national secretariat to consider the option of Faleke, which was disregarded.
The APC State Secretary in Kogi, Mr Tom Salam Adejoh, said the decision of the national leadership not to recognize the Audu/Faleke ticket has been generating a lot of bad blood that portend doom for the future of APC in the state.
He maintained that Kogi East was instrumental to the victory of the party and wondered why that zone was being undermined and meted with a lot of injustice by the national leadership of the party.
He said: “Our position was clear, if someone who is on a joint ticket is now demised, the other person who is surviving should naturally be the person to replace him. You don’t bring a total stranger to come and inherit what somebody has worked for.”
According to him, Bello’s body language showed that he had left the party soon after the primaries, only to make a U-turn on upon hearing that the major benefactor of the election was now deceased.
“You cannot reap where you did not sow. He didn’t spend one naira on our election. He didn’t go on any electioneering tour with us. He didn’t follow us anywhere. And then, how does he know the feelings, the pulse of the people he is coming to govern?” Adejoh said.
Furthermore, the secretary said “If John Oyegun who is the national chairman of APC wants to the party in the state, let him go ahead. Maybe in future elections, the Kogi East may be in another party and work against the APC and that is our general feeling.”
Nonetheless, Faleke warned the leadership of the party against setting it on a path of destruction through impunity and injustice, adding that they should learn from what happened to the Peoples Democratic Party.
He said the present struggle was a complex one and beyond him, adding that it was about emancipation of the people and the future of the state.
While asking the people not to fight or castigate anybody over the development, Faleke said those who are fighting in 2015 for positions in 2019 were trying God.
He said: “People are fighting for 2019 in 2015. Are they God? What is happening is beyond human imagination.”
Faleke warned members and supporters of the party against fighting or castigating anybody, saying that those behind the plot were only working to actualise God’s plan and the ultimate liberation of the state from the jaws of poverty and under-development.
He said: “I am a marathoner. No matter how bumpy and rough the road is, we shall get there.”
According to Faleke, the constitutional crisis created by the sudden death of Audu, when finally resolved, will enrich the country’s democracy.
But an APC chieftain from Kogi West and former House of Representative candidate for Yagba Federal Constituency, Kayode Adegbayo has faulted the stand of Faleke.
“If anybody has benefitted from APC magnificently more than he contributed, it was Faleke. He has never been with us. He was not here when we did membership registration. Many of us spent our personal resources, where was Faleke then?
“He was not here during the party primaries. He was imposed on us possibly because of his relationship with the leader of the party. There was no consultation with political stakeholders from the West before his emergence. Yet, we supported him and moved round with him.
“What Faleke contested for was the deputy governorship position so why suddenly now the agitations of becoming the governor? Faleke should be grateful to God and respect party supremacy,” he added.
He said the emergence of Bello was a dream come true for the minority groups in the state who have suffered for long and have been agitating for power shift from the east senatorial district.
Kayode maintained that the late Audu, while alive, had pledged his commitment to ensure power shift to either central or west senatorial district, adding there was no point for people to vent sentiments as all that happened was divinely orchestrated.
“For those of us that were close to the late Audu, all the meetings we had with him, all that was paramount to him was his decision and determination to ensure that power shifts in the nearest future and he continuously said that by God’s grace, he will be the one that will shift power to other minority groups in the state.
“As we are mourning him, I have mixed feelings. We are happy on the hand that that power has shifted to other minority parts of the state because no matter how much a particular tribe is trying in terms of development of the state, if power persistently remain in one section for too long, you know that the other parts will not be happy.
“It is good to give other people opportunity to also see what they can contribute to the development of the state. As it is now, we are very happy that power has finally shifted. Somebody who has suffered and known how much we have pushed for this power shift, whether it is shifted to central or west, we are comfortable with it and give God the glory,” Kayode added.
He urged the people from across the entire divide in the state to drop their differences and join hands with Alhaji Bello to develop the state, adding that the progress of Kogi should be the paramount concern for all.