Dr. Tom Ohikere is the National Coordinator of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Broom platform, and Secretary, Media, and Publicity Committee of APC Campaign Council for Saturday governorship election in Kogi State. The former state Commissioner for Information bares his mind on pertinent issues about the election.
You used to be a strong PDP member, and now you are in APC, leading the fight against your former party. What brought about this transformation?
I was a faithful PDP member in Kogi State about eight years ago. I was the commissioner for Information to former Governor Ibrahim Idris and was the chairman of the Protocol Committee for the PDP Campaign Council in the election of Idris Wada. I was frustrated out of PDP, after working for Captain Wada’s victory. Without due recognition or compensation, I was pushed aside by the incoming administration. But in politics, there is recognition or benefit for your work. I was sidelined as if I had no relevance. So, I left the party because of the perceived anomalies.
I joined the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) because I had a role to play. I left the PDP when the ovation was loudest, for ACN, which later metamorphosed into APC. I joined Prince Abubakar Audu and we formed the APC. I was in charge of the membership drive in Kogi Central. That was when I met Governor Yahaya Bello, and I thought I had found a brother. When he wanted to be the party’s candidate, I worked for him and when Abubakar Audu emerged the party standard-bearer, I decided to work for the party.
After Audu’s demise, I was uncomfortable with the arrangement that brought Governor Bello, and later with his relationship with stakeholders, which was the intangible factor. The tangible factors are the projects Governor Bello has delivered and which can be seen across the state.
With this and the intervention of elders and party leadership, it would be foolish not to agree, especially since the Governor is my brother. PDP was once my party, but I must show that what it did was wrong by contributing maximum effort to ensure that APC wins the forthcoming election.
Do you think Bello can defeat Musa Wada, who is from Kogi East, which has the largest population in the state?
I believe this time around, the game will be different. Governor Yahaya Bello and his bosom friend, Chief Edward Onoja, are generally acceptable to the people around the state. Their new direction and governance style are acceptable to the three senatorial districts. And this is because the incumbent government has recorded an unprecedented scorecard.
Edward Onoja is well-loved and admired by the people of Kogi East enough to counter any challenge coming from that part. The people of Kogi East, just like Kogi State in general, are tired of the same old people. They are hungry for fresh ideas, hence the duo of Yahaya Bello and Edward Onoja have captivated them, especially with their style of governance.
This was evidenced by the coronation and endorsements by the Attah of Igala and other chiefs in the area. They are testaments to the current government’s popularity. We have seen a deluge of defections from PDP to APC, especially in Kogi East. We know Kogi Central is fully supporting the governor’s re-election bid and in Kogi West, there is also overwhelming support, as Kogi West is hopeful that after Bello, power will shift to that axis. Likewise In Kogi East, there is a good balance. So, at the end of the day, it will be 70-30, predictably in APC’s favour.
The Governor has been accused of mismanaging the state; that despite the huge bailout fund, he owes workers 33 months salary…
We know about the issues of non-payment of salaries. We know the antecedents and the foul cries about partial or non-payment of salaries. It all started from the tenure of the erstwhile governor, Idris Wada, the brother to the PDP candidate, Engr. Musa Wada.
This burden was passed on to the incumbent governor, together with the over-bloated state bureaucracy and humongous sum of recurrent expenditure, leaving very small for the pursuit of programmes and execution of projects, all on the assumption that Kogi is a civil service state. And that is exactly the impression the new direction government is trying to correct, by evolving a new paradigm for development, focusing on the private sector, re-invigoration and rationalising the civil service, uprooting deep-rooted inconsistencies, hence the staff audit exercise.
Since the creation of Kogi State, no governor had taken a comprehensive staff screening exercise, until now. Former Governor Ibrahim Idris attempted through the Sally Tibbot Consultancy, but the Idris Wada government failed to build on it. The delay in payments of workers’ salaries and gratuities is due to the conscientious job the government wants to do. Even in the middle of the process, there was still sabotage and resistance here and there.
We know the furore that usually greets such exercises because of the ghost worker phenomenon in Nigeria. We saw it in Kaduna, Ogun and several others. But the exercise has been concluded and the state has gone beyond that. The Governor is now paying salaries and other allowances promptly. Those talking of 33 months are those that failed the exercise; those that have been screened out as ghost workers for fraudulent certificates and other similar offences. Even the state’s labour union attested to the success of the exercise. The state government has been given a clean bill of health.
The so-called N50bn bailout was judiciously expended on ameliorating the masses’ welfare. The state NLC recently rated appropriation of the bailout funds as credible and judicious.
So, all the noises are nothing but the well-crafted disseminations of PDP propaganda machinery, still furious at its abrupt defeat in 2015.
Do you think the gubernatorial election will be peaceful? Already, there is violence here and there…
I have no doubt that the November 16 election will be peaceful, with the vigilance of state institutions, especially the security and intelligence agencies. We know there has been an outbreak of violence in Kogi East. Some PDP members in the state have been arrested for stockpiling and planning to wreak mayhem and foster an ambience of fear and tumult. We know all this is to set the stage for their rigging plans. So, we are calling on the security agencies to act seriously and pro-actively to forestall it.
We in the APC are committed to a peaceful poll. Our governor has instructed us to this effect, and that is how we intend to keep it. So, we are urging the other side to do the same. This is an election, not a war, and we must act as such in the spirit of sportsmanship. If they succeed in calling their supporters to order, then I believe this election will be peaceful.
Do you think the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can conduct a credible poll in November, especially with allegations that APC has bought the Commission to condone violence and rigging?
I believe INEC has the will; capacity and capability to conduct a free and fair election in Kogi State come November 16. I was there at the roundtable, and I heard the chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu give his word. He is a man of integrity; he has done it before. We know INEC cannot be 100 percent perfect, but it can try and deliver a generally acceptable outcome.
So, I am optimistic and believe in INEC’s ability to deliver a free and fair election, synergising with other agencies and state institutions. That APC has pocketed INEC is a blatant lie. The state governor has elicited our commitment to a peaceful campaign, which we intend to uphold. We are not desperate, we know that elections are not won by violence, but by the candidate’s popularity, and the Governor is popular enough to be re-elected in a free and fair election.