As the clock winds down on Yahaya Bello’s reign as the chief executive officer of Kogi, it is with bated breath and apprehension that residents and many outside the state await the governorship election that will usher in the successor of the youngest serving governor.
Bello was in 2015 named as the replacement of the late Abubakar Audu who died before he could be sworn in as governor. The All Progressives Congress (APC) chose Bello over James Faleke, Audu’s running mate, because he came second in the primary election.
The Igalas – of which the late Audu belonged – have mostly governed Kogi since the state was created in August 1991 from parts of Kwara and Benue. Bello is the first Ebira (Kogi central) to become governor of the state and has now been in charge for eight years.
Kogi west has only produced an acting governor in the person of Clarence Olafemi who was in office for just about a month in 2008 after the election of Ibrahim Idris was annulled. Obafemi was speaker of the state house of assembly at the time.
Ahead of Saturday’s governorship election, Dino Melaye of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Usman Ododo of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Murtala Ajaka of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) are the leading contenders in the race for Kogi’s top job.
Here is a dossier on the frontrunners.
FROM N’ASSEMBLY TO GOVERNMENT HOUSE?
A former house of representatives member and senator representing Kogi west, Dino Melaye, 49, is known for his outspokenness as a politician and vigour on the campaign trail.
Melaye was appointed to chair the committee on the federal capital territory (FCT) in the eighth senate led by Bukola Saraki.
Kogi west, believed to be Melaye’s stronghold, has eight LGAs – Ijumu, Kabba/Bunu, Kogi, Lokoja, Mopa Muro, Yagba east, and Yagba west.
Although the PDP candidate had previously won in Kogi west to become a senator in 2015, he would require strong numbers from Kogi east and Kogi central to have a chance of becoming governor.
Given that Kogi west has not produced a civilian governor of the state, there is some sympathy for Melaye among the electorate beyond the senatorial district. However, party loyalty has been known to outweigh sentiments on election day.
The former lawmaker has in the past been enmeshed in a scandal over his academic records and he once survived a recall from the senate in 2017. His opponents are banking on this and his track record of controversies to work against him in the election.
If elected governor, Melaye has promised to ensure that LGAs in Kogi state have financial autonomy, adding that developing the state “is his topmost priority”.
YAHAYA BELLO’S ‘ANOINTED’ CANDIDATE
Alhaji Ahmed Usman Ododo, an accountant by discipline, is the former auditor-general for LGs in Kogi state.
Little was known about the APC governorship candidate in the national political arena until he won his party’s contentious primary election in April 2023 with Yahaya Bello’s backing.
The controversial nature of the primary forced out Ajaka from the APC. Smart Adeyemi, a former ally of Bello, had also contested the primary. He challenged the candidacy of the APC candidate up till the supreme court — but lost.
Ododo and Bello are from the Kogi central senatorial district which has only five LGAs; Adavi, Ajaokuta, Okehi, Okene, and Ogori-Mangogo.
Although he enjoys the advantage of the backing of the incumbent governor — which appears to be his main pathway to victory — the APC candidate must perform well in the LGs in Kogi east and Kogi west to win the election.
Many believe Ododo, 41, may be a stooge of Bello if he is elected, a factor that his fellow contenders have continued to use to discredit his candidacy.
The APC candidate has promised to deliver on water, agricultural, and rail projects if elected governor.
APC ACOLYTE TURNED OPPONENT
Up until April 2023
The SDP governorship candidate, Murtala Yakubu Ajakaa was an active member of the APC, but he left after being prevented from participating in the primary poll that saw Ododo become the governorship candidate of the ruling party.
Ajaka, 45, was a one-time deputy spokesperson of the APC.
The politician, who is Igala (Kogi east), began his career in the Action Congress (AC), a party formed through the merger of a faction of the Alliance for Democracy, the Justice Party, the Advance Congress of Democrats, and several other minority political parties in 2006.
Many in the state believe Ajaka may still enjoy the support of some APC bigwigs after previously working closely with the likes of Mai Mala Buni, governor of Yobe and former chair of the national caretaker committee of the APC.
Ajaka is from Kogi east which has nine LGAs — Idah, Ibaji, Igalamela/Odolu, Ofu, Dekina, Ankpa, Olamaboro, Bassa and Omala.
Despite having a reported 51 percent of the total voter population in the state, winning Kogi east alone is not enough for Ajaka to become governor. The SDP candidate must have a good outing in the LGs in Kogi west and Kogi central to have a shot at the governorship.
Although he is vying on the platform of a minority political party in the state, it is expected that given his “street credibility” and appeal, Ajaka could have a good outing at the polls.
Ajaka had recently boasted that he would win the election “by a landslide”.
If elected, the SDP candidate said education and infrastructure would be a priority for his administration.
WHERE’S EDWARD ONOJA?
Chief Edward David Onoja, the deputy governor of Kogi, who is from Kogi east like Ajaka, appears to be missing in action in the lead-up to the governorship election.
Onoja had joined the race to clinch the APC ticket but withdrew after Bello unveiled Ododo as his preferred candidate.
Since then, little has been heard of Onoja; he has kept his cards close to his chest and has not been seen actively campaigning for Ododo, his fellow party member.
WILL VIOLENCE MAR THE KOGI ELECTION?
The governorship poll is expected to be keenly contested and there are fears of potential violence, going by the trend of recent elections in the state.
In recent weeks, Bello and Ajaka have had their convoys waylaid. The alleged attack on the governor came days after gunmen attacked the SDP candidate.
While Kingsley Femi Fanwo, Kogi information commissioner, said men in military uniforms attacked the governor, Bello dismissed the incident as a “disagreement” between his aides and another security outfit.
Stakeholders in the opposition believe that an Abuja federal high court order disbanding a fireams task force — accused of impunity and high handedness — may be a right step towards potentially reducing election violence.
But only time — specifically 24 hours — will tell.