Ethnicity has always played a major role in the outcome of elections in Kogi State. Of the three major ethnic groups in the state, the Ebiras and the Igalas are more likely to play the ethnic card. Aside the 1991 election that produced the late Prince Abubakar Audu as the first executive governor of the then young state, subsequent elections have been coloured by ethnic considerations.
In 1991, the contest between Audu from Kogi East and the late Architect Stephen Olorunfemi from Kogi West was largely based on ethnic interests. Audu had contested on the platform of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC), while Olorunfemi ran on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
While people from the Eastern flank voted massively for Audu, Olorunfemi controlled votes from the West, leaving the Kogi Central as the battleground.
This scenario was repeated in 2007, when the central voted overwhelmingly for their own, in the person of Senator Salami Ohiare of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), against Alhaji Ibrahim Idris of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from the East, who received massive votes from his senatorial district, controlled majorly by the Igalas. Then, Kogi West became the free zone.
Those elections also witnessed high-scale violence, leading to loss of lives and destruction of property across the state. And now, as the state votes this Saturday in the governorship election, trends of ethnicity and violence have reared their ugly heads, leading to apprehension. If not properly managed, the coming election could get out of control.
The stage is already set. Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who is the incumbent governor and one of the major contenders, is from Kogi central, while Engr. Musa Wada of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is from Kogi East. This trend has thrown up another challenge
In preparation, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has presented register of voters to the 23 participating political parties. Alhaji Mohammed Haruna, the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Kogi, Kwara and Nasarawa States, presented the register to the parties at a brief ceremony in Lokoja.
The record showed that 1, 646,350 voters registered in the state as of Aug. 31, 2019. However, only 1, 485, 828, voters collected their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs), while 160,522 PVCs were still uncollected.
The breakdown showed that Kogi East Senatorial district has the highest number of voters with 804, 715. Kogi West is second with 432, 515 voters, while Kogi Central is third with 409,120 voters.
Meanwhile, PDP has cautioned APC to desist from playing the ethnic card and get ready to face the electoral consequences of poor governance it foisted on the state since 2016. The party also warned against recourse to violence by Bello, APC, and its supporters.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, at a campaign inauguration in Lokoja, the state capital, told Bello to prepare for defeat as he has performed poorly, despite the over N700bn he collected from the federation account, internally generated revenue, bailout funds, ecological funds and infrastructural development funds, among others.
But reacting, the Chairman of publicity, APC campaign organisation, Kingsley Fanwo, said there was no need to join issues with Ologbondiyan.
He said Bello has united the state more than any of his predecessors.
He said: “Our votes will spread across the state because the Ebira-Igala-Okun agenda has come to say. The Igalas, Ebiras, and Okuns are one and we shall never be set against one another again. So, between Bello and Wada, who is playing ethnic politics?”
Also rallying support for Bello, the Ebira People’s Association (EPA), the umbrella body of Ebira Nation, has appealed to the conscience and reasoning of Ebiras’ on the political divide to support Yahaya Bello’s second term bid and by extension, that of Kogi Central Senatorial district.
This was part of the resolution at a general Congress of stakeholders of the senatorial district held on September 14 in Okene.
Only recently, the Igala Cultural Development Association (ICDA) was also said to have thrown its weight behind Musa Wada from the Eastern senatorial district. This, observers said, could be exploited to cause trouble.
Fanwo, however, told The Guardian recently that it is only those who are strangers to Kogi State’s affairs in the last 45 months that could concoct such laughable falsehood.
Listing some of Bello’s attempts at uniting all the various segments of the state, Fanwo said: “The biggest achievement of the present administration has been the success at uniting the ethnic nationalities and resetting the people’s mind to believe in one destiny.
“Matching action with his promise to unite the state in his inaugural speech, the Governor displayed a magical and practical wand hours after his inauguration by announcing three key appointments in his administration.
“He appointed his Chief Of Staff from Kogi East. That was the first time in history that a Chief of Staff to the Governor would emerge from a different zone. All the previous governors had always appointed their tribesmen as Chiefs Of Staff. He appointed his then Special Adviser on Media and Strategy from Kogi Central and his then Chief Press Secretary from Kogi West…”
Governor Bello has also called on the people of Igala, Kogi East not to allow themselves to be deceived by those promoting ethnic agenda.
He told party supporters during a campaign rally in Ankpa that the state had moved beyond the promotion of ethnic agenda to focus on development without ethnic consideration.
He said: “This administration’s focus is the continuation of infrastructure provision, youth and women empowerment, improved health, educational facilities. We will not allow anyone to deceive us with the promotion of ethnic agenda…”
Owing to the tension already generated, the coalition of umbrella development associations in the state has appealed to the people to work in synergy for a peaceful election and the overall development of the state.
The associations comprising Ebira People’s Association (EPA), Igala Cultural Development Association (ICDA) and Okun Development Association (ODA), represent the three senatorial districts.
At a press conference in Lokoja, the presidents of the three socio-cultural organisations said the objective was to build bridge of unity among the various ethnic groups in the state, as development can only thrive in a conducive and peaceful atmosphere.
Recently in Lokoja, while addressing a Peace Walk, organised by ActionAid Nigeria in partnership with Participation Initiative for Behavioural Change In Development (PIBCID) in commemoration of the Global Peace Day, Governor Bello enjoined Kogi people to live in peace and harmony, irrespective of religious, ethnic and class biases. He urged them to eschew violence for the advancement and development of the country.
The non-governmental organisations in Kogi are also not relenting in their efforts to caution relevant agencies charged with the responsibility of ensuring a peaceful election.
The Centre for Advocacy of Justice and Rights, in partnership with the International Foundation Electoral System, has educated Kogites on how to mitigate election-related violence.
Mr. Kingsley Obida, the center’s Project Officer, said this at a stakeholders’ meeting, held in Ogori, Ogorimagongo Local Government Area of Kogi.
Obida said the meeting was to discuss issues related to electoral violence and how to mitigate such.
In his reaction to the latest outbreak of violence in Ankpa, the Secretary of the Media and Publicity Committee of APC 2019 Governorship Campaign Council, Dr. Tom Ohikere, described the occurrence as a clear show of PDP’s intimidation tactics of PDP. This was as PDP claimed that its members have come under APC’s attack.
The alleged attack on the APC campaign train came barely one week after Ohikere raised the alarm that PDP was importing and arming thugs for the election.
Ohikere said the importation of thugs was intended to cause mayhem and harm leading figures in the APC Campaign team.
He called on the Nigeria Police and other law enforcement agencies to be on top of their game to pre-empt and arrest the hoodlums to forestall the breakdown of law and order.
The PDP, however, described the allegations as baseless. The PDP campaign spokesperson, Adejoh said: “Presently, we have a mass movement that is blind to party, tribe, status, religion and every conceivable dichotomy in Kogi State. The goal is ‘Bello must go’. We don’t need thugs. This is a disingenuous wolf cry to get the excuse to attack us as they have always done…
“Ten persons were killed in the last elections. All of them were PDP members. Even now our people are being attacked daily particularly in Kogi East…”
Perhaps, most shocking was INEC’s recent revelation that thugs have been mobilised to disrupt the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States.
INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu said this while speaking at the quarterly meeting of the inter-agency consultative committee on election security (ICCES) in Abuja.
He said the commission had discovered that politicians were sponsoring thugs to disrupt and influence the November elections.
“This calls for a robust response before the elections, on election day and during the process of collation and declaration of results,” he said.
He told the security agencies that Nigerians expect that lessons must have been learned from previous elections to ensure swift security response to the “increasing desperation by political actors to disrupt elections and subvert the will of the electorate.
“If that happens, many Nigerians will blame the electoral umpire and the security agencies. We must continue to rise to this challenge.”
A Non-governmental organisation, Search for Common Ground (SFCG), has also lamented the rate of political killings in some parts of the state, as the election approaches.
The Early Warning Coordinator for the group, Mrs. Omolola Mamedu, who disclosed this in Lokoja during the monthly Stakeholders’ Conflict Scan Analysis on Electoral Violence in Kogi State, said 21 observers would be deployed to all the 21 local government councils of the state. She said the early warning signs indicators showed that the election would be violent, and called on security agencies to brace up to the occasion.
She explained that the observers had been selected and trained to observe and report to an existing database platform on early warning signs and conflict indicators.
She noted that search early warning observers have reported cases of violence and physical attacks between APC and PDP members.