As the race towards the November 21, 2015 governorship election in Kogi gathers momentum, observers are of the view that it will be a battle of the titans between the incumbent governor, Captain Idris Ichalla Wada and a former two-term governor of the state, Prince Abubakar Audu.
Although there are couple of other candidates bracing up for the contest on the platforms of other parties, but Wada and Audu are believed to be the major forces to watch out for in the governorship battle.
The battle is going to be fierce, given that Governor Wada, who is the incumbent governor, wants to continue to consolidate on what he has already started, while Prince Audu, who has ruled the state on two occasions, said he wants to restore the ‘lost glory’ of Kogi.
While Governor Wada is flying the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP’s) flag into the contest, Prince Audu will be riding on the platform of All Progressive Congress (APC) into the race.
A number of factors will no doubt play out as to who eventually becomes the governor of the state come November 21. For Wada, the power of incumbency might be one of the factors that could work in his favour. Being the man currently in the saddle, Wada has in his kitty, retinues of commissioners, special advisers and assistants drawn from across the 21 Local Government Areas of to assist him in mobilizing supports from the people. Although, many believe that the ultimate power remains in the hands of the individual electorate to decide, the influence of Wada’s ‘foot soldiers’ on the electorate cannot totally be wished away.
If the recent overwhelming support Governor Wada garnered during the PDP governorship primary is anything to go by, it implies the governor enjoys some level of support and sympathy from the grassroots as well as the party stalwarts in the state. That could pay off for him. Governor Wada has claimed that in the last four years he has been diligent in completing a number of projects he inherited from his predecessor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, and his efforts in embarking on some other new projects remain selling point for him as he gears up for the election. In addition, he has embarked on other projects such as the Lokoja Trailer Park terminal, Kogi Hotels,16 km Ganaja- Otokiti dual carriage bye-pass road project, 500 Housing Units in Ganaja, about 35 water schemes across the state, and 17-storey Kogi House project in Abuja.
One of the odds against Wada is the general believe that he is not much of a grassroots politician unlike his counterpart, Prince Abubakar Audu who is said to be well rooted in grassroots politics. Observers are of the view that Wada needs to do more in terms of grassroots penetration if he must be a force to be reckoned with at the poll, given the fact that most of the votes come from people at the grassroots and not the elites. Another odd is the believe that Wada’s party, the PDP, appears to be more of an ‘orphan party’ since it is not going to enjoy any support or sympathy from the centre as it used to be the case in the past.
The backlog of salary arrears owed to workers in the state, especially teachers and local government workers, remains a great challenge for the return bid of Governor Wada as that could lead to protest vote as witnessed against former Governor Gabriel Suswam in Benue State.
Prince Audu’s foot soldiers could easily use the non-payment of salaries as a strong ground to sway the heart of the electorates if nothing is done to address the situation. But with the approval of N50 billion bailout by the Buhari administration, an amount that is expected to be released before the elections, bookmakers expect a change of attitude by civil servants and could give the governor the kind of support that will enable him give Prince Audu a run for his money.
On the other hand, Prince Abubakar Audu is not a new comer as far as Kogi politics is concerned, having occupied the seat of power in Lugard House for two terms. He knows the state’s political terrain very well.
Prince Audu emerged the flag bearer of the All Progressive (APC) after slugging it out with 27 other aspirants at the party’s governorship primary held on August 29, 2015 at the Confluence Stadium, Lokoja. One of the factors that stands Audu out is his grassroots penetration and supports from the people, although, the elite appears not to like Audu much.
Prince Audu may, no doubt, be leveraging on his past glory in the state to garner supports of the people. Kogi state, unarguably, witnessed a lot of development during the two terms Prince Audu held sway at the Lugard House. Amongst some of the enduring projects Audu bequeathed the state include the Kogi State University, Anyigba, dualization of Lokoja township road, construction Commissioners Quarters and 200 Housing Units, amongst others. Prince Audu, having been in the opposition over the years, has a measure control in the grassroots political structure.
While some believe the Buhari’s factor could work for the APC flag bearer in the forthcoming elections, others argued that the electorate will vote based on the performance of the various candidates. However, the APC, in the last general election in Kogi state, clinched the three senatorial seats, six House of Representatives seats and eleven House of Assembly seats in the state coupled with massive votes recorded for President Muhammadu Buhari on March 28, could be an encouraging signal for Audu.
One of the odds against Audu is his seeming inability to unite all the other aspirants that contested with him during the primaries so the party can go into the contest as one house. As things stand, there are fears that some of the aggrieved aspirants might join forces with Governor Wada to fight against Prince Audu, which would be a minus on his side should that happen.
Besides, the choice of Abiodun Falake as Audu’s running mate remains another big odd against Audu as APC leaders from his senatorial district are said to be against the decision. Falake hails from Ijumu Local Government Area of the state, but he is believed to be more of a ‘Lagos-based politician’ than a grassroots personality who could influence the needed support for Audu, especially within Western axis of the state. Falake was a member of House Representatives representing Lagos state before he was picked Audu’s running mate.
A chieftain of the party, Chief Olu David Akinola, chided the party’s candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu, for making that choice. “We expect Audu to pick his running mate from among the aspirants that lost out to him, especially from the central senatorial zone and not from the west, but to our surprise, Senator Bola Tinubu gave him someone and he accepted him.
“Tinubu should stay out of Kogi politics; we shall resist Falake as deputy governor. We would advise Audu to change him immediately or we will work against him in the general election”.
Reacting to this development, Prince Audu’s media aide, Malam Suleiman Abdulmalik, said the accusations by the party stakeholders were baseless and lacked substance. He argued that the majority of the defeated aspirants were working tirelessly for the success of the party with the exception of few whom he said ‘were blinded by their naked ambition.’
Malam Abdulmalik urged them to leave Prince Audu out of their political predicament, saying “politics is all about dialogue and consultation and Prince Audu’s doors are wide open to all stakeholders in the state in the interest of the party.”
As things stand, both Audu and Wada will share bulk of the votes from Kogi East where they have their strongholds while Kogi West and Central will be uncertain battle ground for both candidates.
With Wada’s running mate, Yomi Awoniyi, coming from the West senatorial district as Audu’s, there is still likelihood that votes from that axis would split equally depending on how the candidates could penetrate the people.
The entrance of former Kogi deputy governor, Philip Salau, from the Central Senatorial District, into the governorship race under the platform of Labour Party is another factor that might alter the political equation of the state. From every indication, the November 21 governorship race in Kogi will no doubt be competitive and titanic.