Aftermath of Kogi APC Primary: Governor Yahaya Bello and The Burden of Loyalty

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It was the irrepressible Governor Nasir Elrufai who during the heady, intrigues-filled days leading to the All Progressives Congress (APC) Special Convention and Presidential Primary last year quipped thus: “unless betrayed, our loyalty and fidelity to friends are permanent and pensionable. Unless reconciled, our opposition and enmity to traitors are permanent and pensionable”.

This must have ran through the minds of close associates and loyalists of Governor Yahaya Bello (GYB) of Kogi state when they informed him of their intents to pick up Expression of Interest and Nomination forms as aspirants in the Kogi APC gubernatorial election Primary. Surely, they must have thought that Governor Bello, known for his unstinting trust in members of his inner political circles and associates, would live up to Governor Elrufai’s maxim and reciprocate their years of services and loyalty to him through his support for their individual but converging ambitions.

It is no longer news that Alhaji Ododo Usman Ahmed, erstwhile Auditor-General, Local Government, emerged winner of the contested Kogi APC Primary held on Friday, 14th April, 2023. Going into the Primary – which was fraught with so much scheming and intrigues that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the APC all but reversed its earlier decision to conduct indirect primaries to a direct one barely 72 hours to the date – analysts were in agreement that whoever, among the seventeen aspirants jostling for the Lugard House top job, was chosen by GYB as his ‘anointed’ had the brightest chance of emerging as the APC candidate for the November 2023 Governorship election.

It was therefore little wonder that virtually all the aspirants, including the 7 or so members of his inner circle had their Primary election campaigns geared towards currying his favour. This was no wishful political strategy on their parts but based on the reality on ground. Governor Yahaya Bello’s hold on political power in the state since 2016 has gone unchallenged and despite an unsuccessful bid for the presidential ticket of the APC, he emerged with his reputation as the undisputed godfather of Kogi politics intact.

Still, the result of the Kogi APC primary and the choice of eventual winner, Alhaji Ododo Usman Ahmed has left many of his co-aspirants, along with informed analysts, scratching their heads as to the reasons or factors that might have informed Governor Bello’s final decision.

For starters and with due respect to the APC Governorship candidate, many analysts did not factor him in their calculations as a strong contender among the aspirants in Governor Bello’s inner circle. Granted, he was by virtue of his position as Auditor-general for local governments, an influential member of the Governor’s inner caucus but nobody, not even the keenest watcher of Kogi politics would have given him significant odds to emerge ahead of more prominent associates like the Deputy Governor, Chief Edward Onoja; Chief of Staff, Pharmacist Muhammed Jamiu Asuku; longstanding friend of the Governor and Accountant-general of the State, Jibril Momoh.

The choice of Alhaji Ododo is testament then to Governor Bello’s political unpredictability – one that has continuously befuddled political friends, foes and analysts alike since he became Kogi’s helmsman.

Take for instance the case of his former Chief of Staff and current Deputy, Chief Edward Onoja who was instrumental in his emergence as Governor in 2015. He played a leading role as campaign strategist to his gubernatorial primary campaign that all but saw him emerged first runners-up and finally, Governor in the wake of late Prince AbubakarAudu’s demise during the collation process in the 2015 governorship election. He would later be appointed as Chief of staff in the first term and Deputy-Governor in the final term. Many analysts, not least Chief Onoja himself would have seen this trajectory as precursor to his emergence as GYB’s successor.

Alhaji Jibril Momoh is another hard done by Alhaji Ododo’s victory. At many public functions, Governor Bello did not hide his love for Alhaji Jibril Momoh – his friend and one of his staunchest loyalists. Many analysts, using this and extrapolating from contemporary political history of successions in the sub-units of the Nigerian Federation, had Jibril Momoh as their ‘Number One Pick’ for the Lugard House draft.

Another aspirant who may feel more than a twinge of disappointment is the Chief of Staff, Pharm. Muhammed Jamiu Asuku who many have penciled down as a major contender to GYB’s throne. He has also been a steadfast loyalist of the Governor.

Mention must be made of others such as Professor Stephen Ocheni, a former Minister of State for Labour and Productivity and another ally who was left hanging at the last moment. Ditto Senator Smart Adeyemi who was personally recruited into the APC by Governor Bello and given the Senatorial ticket of the party for Kogi West in 2019. He is the most vociferous among those crying foul in the aftermath of the April 14th Primary election.

The Commissioner for Finance in the administration, Idris Ashiru is another who’d banked his hopes in becoming GYB’s anointed if the Governor decided to ‘shift’ political power to Kogi West. He is among -along with the deputy National Publicity Secretary of the party in the NWC, Alhaji Murtala Ajaka- ‘the Disappointed’.

Dr. Sanusi Ohiare’s case is even more peculiar. The young technocrat is a son of former Senator Muhammed Ohiare, an influential politician from Kogi Central who had a falling-out with the Governor during his first term. Despite this, the younger Ohiare remained a devoted supporter of the Governor even as he performed his duties at the national level as Executive Director, Rural Electrification Fund (REF). The relationship between the duo goes back even farther as GYB could very well be listed as one of young Dr. Ohiare’s major influences during his formative years. Though not a member of the Governor’s inner circle, he was one of those by virtue of his youth, charisma, competence and close relationship with the incumbent who analysts posited might emerge as the Governor’s anointed.

Many are left asking, along with the crestfallen aspirants, what exactly is the recompense for their years of loyalty to Governor Yahaya Bello? Where do they go from here? Have they paid too great a price for their loyalty? How Governor Yahaya Bello resolved these and other questions, and how effectively he acts to assuage their feelings of hurt in the dying days of his administration will determine his standing – post-Lugard House – as a veritable godfather ala President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu or another in the long lists of former Governors in Nigeria who’d gone into political oblivion because of the huge burden of unrequited loyalty they carry.

– Nurudeen Shehu is Lead Strategist, Line-BorderPoint NG. He writes from Abuja.

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