Game of Thrones: 2023 Presidential Election and Implications for #KogiDecides2023 by Nurudeen Shehu

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2023: The Game of Thrones

There is arguably no state in the Nigerian Federation whose political fate is as intrinsically tied to the outcome of the 2023 Presidential election as Kogi state. Some would argue that Kogi State is the microcosm of Nigeria. The choice of who becomes the next Governor of Kogi State after Governor YahayaAdoza Bello is a matter that will occupy the attention of her citizens, political stakeholders, and analysts long after the whistle is blown; race is run and President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor sworn in on May 29, 2023.

A lot of factors make Kogi State one of special interest in the countdown to the 2023 election. First, the incumbent Governor has seemingly thrown his hat into the ring and is betting all his political fortune on becoming Nigeria’s next president. Also, the governorship election in the state is off-season, holding six months after the next Nigerian president has been sworn in. In fact, Kogi State gubernatorial election will be the first, along with that of Bayelsa, which will be supervised by President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor. Added to these is the possibility that Nigeria may be set to witness for the first time ever, a State Governor leaving office before the end of his tenure to assume the position of democratically elected president – adding further subplots to the intriguing political game of thrones that #NigeriaDecide2023 is gearing up to be.  

The 2023 presidential election in Nigeria is promising to be one of the most hotly contested in Nigeria’s democratic annals judging from the strong field of aspirants and likely contestants already being mooted. For the two major political parties in Nigeria; the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the contest represents a final battle for survival. While the APC will be looking to consolidate its hold on political power in the centre and the 36 states post-President Muhammadu Buhari, the PDP knows failure to wrest the Presidency from the APC will signal her demise as an alternative political rallying point after 16 years as a ruling party and 8 years in opposition.

For this reason, the two parties are warming up their best players to take the field once the electoral Umpire -INEC- signals the commencement of campaigns. For the APC, mooted aspirants for the 2023 Presidency have included such notable names as the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice president Professor YemiOsibanjo, Ekiti State Governor, KayodeFayemi, Minister of Works and Housing, and two-term Lagos state Governor; Mr. BabatundeRajiFashola and of course, Kogi State Governor, AlhajiYahayaAdoza Bello. 

For the PDP, 4-time contestant; former Vice President and Wazirin Adamawa, AlhajiAtikuAbubakar lead the field alongside Rivers State Governor, Barrister NyesomWike although most political observers believe he is a front for Sokoto state Governor, AlhajiAminu Waziri Tambuwwal –a former speaker of the House of Representatives. The popular opinion is that Governor Wike is only playing the role of disruptor against the formidable, well-oiled political machinery of the Wazirin Adamawa by jostling with him for the Presidency, in order to pave way for his friend and ally, Governor Tambuwwal to emerge as PDP’s flag bearer. 

How does the emergence of any of these men (and others who are yet to enter the fray) as Nigeria’s President in 2023 have a direct effect on the choice of Kogi’s next Governor?  This is the question that Line-BorderPoint NG, a public policy analytics & PR consultancy start-up seeks to answer through informed analyses of the extant political situations in this article.  

KOGI STATE: AS IT STANDS

Kogi State was carved out of old Kwara and Benue States on August 27, 1991, by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Located in North Central Nigeria, Kogi State occupies 29,833 square kilometers. Kogi State is the most centrally located of all the states in the Federation. Politically, the State is delineated into 3 senatorial zones; Kogi East, Kogi West, and Kogi Central. Since 1992, executive political power has been held by Kogi East Senatorial Zone; late prince AbubakarAudu (1992-1993 and 1999-2003), Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (2003-2011), and Captain Idris Wada (2011-2015)  until the incidental emergence of Governor Yahaya Bello as Executive Governor of the State from Kogi Central. In fact, the first and second executive Governor of the State, late Prince AbubakarAudu would have become the 5th Executive Governor but for his tragic death whilst leading the vote count during collation in the November 21, 2015 governorship election. 

Save for a 3-month interregnum in 2007 when Chief Clarence Olafemi, then Speaker, Kogi State House of Assembly from Kogi West, briefly acted as State Governor, political power has resided with Kogi East who makes up 54 percent of the state’s population. Naturally, this has caused a lot of dissatisfaction with the two other Senatorial zones who viewed the power structure in the State as heavily tilted towards the more populous Kogi East. It was against this background that Governor YahayaBello emerged in quite fortuitous circumstances as the Governor of the State under the flag of the APC and the first democratically elected governor who was not from Kogi East.

In the past 5 odd years, encompassing 2-terms, Governor Yahaya Bello has consolidated his political grip on the State in a manner hitherto unknown. Governor Yahaya Bello, though hailing from the smallest senatorial zone in the State, has through a dexterous combination of political sagacity and sheer willpower brought the other two senatorial zones under his control.

 A perfect illustration of this was the recently-held ward congress of the APC. Whereas in other APC-controlled states there were pockets of dissent and disagreements over the manner of conduct of the congresses, with many a parallel ward executives emerging across Nigeria; in Kogi State, the Governor simply directed that all the dissolved ward executives across the 21 Local Government Areas of the state be reinstated – and that was that. 

With Governor Yahaya Bello hedging his political future and survival on a bid to become Nigeria’s next president, it is believed that the choice of his successor depends directly on the success of his presidential bid project. Though some stakeholders, even in the APC have dismissed his presidential ambition as a mere smokescreen to bargain for a significantly lower but influential political position post-2023, some believe,  judging from his antecedents and inflexible political will; typified by the way and manner he emerged the flag bearer of the APC in the 2019  Kogi governorship election in the face of opposition from some key stakeholders in the Party’s national leadership, that underestimating him politically, at any rate, could be at one’s peril.  

ANALYSING THE IMPLICATIONS OF 2023 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OUTCOME ON KOGI POLITICS

The two leading political parties in Nigeria are facing myriad issues as the countdown to the 2023 presidential election begins in earnest. While the APC is dealing with the contentious issue of zoning and the legality of the Mai Mala Buni-led interim National Working Committee (NWC) as it searches for a credible candidate capable of inheriting and sustaining President Muhammadu Buhari’s legacy, not to mention his much-vaunted 12-million votes; PDP is entangled in a bitter battle for the soul of the party between Governor Wike and AlhajiAtikuAbubakar over who becomes/remains the National Chairman of the party. Analysts posit all these are linked to the 2023 presidential election and who emerge flag bearer for both parties. 

Kogi state being an APC-controlled state and one in which the executive Governor is primed to become a candidate in the 2023 presidential poll opens up a vista of the political scenarios, depending on the outcome of the presidential election.

SCENARIO I: GOVERNOR YAHAYA BELLO EMERGES PRESIDENT

Judging from the absolute hold Governor Yahaya Bello has overall instruments of Power in the state today, his emerging Nigeria’s President in 2023 means whoever he picks automatically becomes his successor as Governor of Kogi State. The choice though among a pool of aspirants (likely and unlikely) will be analyzed in another section of this article.

VERDICT: Governor Yahaya Bello picks and installs his anointed successor as Governor.

SCENARIO II: PDP WINS 2023 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 

From the present state of shambles in the national secretariat of the PDP with courts issuing injunction and counter-injunctions, restraining order and counter restraining orders on who occupies the national Chairmanship seat; this may seem like a tall order but if there is anything PDP has proved time and again since its founding in 1998 is the ability to bounce back from looming defeats. This it did in 2007 during the very public face-off between ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and his then Vice, AtikuAbubakar. Another illustration was in 2010 when the party against the wishes of northern members jettisoned its zoning principle to back the election of President Goodluck Jonathan, who had replaced deceased President Umar Musa Yar’adua in May 2010. 

Similarly, the Party bounced back from its defeat in the 2015 General Elections to put up an admirable fight against the APC in the 2019 general elections, winning 14 out of 29 states and all but losing the presidential election by 3 million votes, despite the incumbency advantages enjoyed by the APC.

From these, informed analysts are of the view that the PDP might be the greatest beneficiary of the dithering of the APC national leadership, President Muhammadu Buhari inclusive, over the issue of zoning presently causing considerable furore amongst members from the northern and southern parts of Nigeria; by giving its presidential ticket to a northern candidate and winning against the APC if it eventually zones its presidential ticket to the South.

 Expect all carefully held plans of succession by Governor Yahaya Bello to go up in smokes then as political stakeholders in Kogi State, especially the established political caucuses in the 3 senatorial zones align themselves with the centre now controlled by the PDP. The greatest beneficiary in this scenario would be Kogi East who could quickly seize upon the opportunity to catapult themselves back into the political leadership of the state after 8 years in the doldrums.

VERDICT: Governor Yahaya Bello and his anointed successor to lose out of the power equation. The likely beneficiary could be Kogi East senatorial zone.

SCENARIO III: APC WINS THE 2023 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Now, this is where it gets dicey. If the ruling APC wins re-election in the 2023 Presidential election, it could have immense ramifications on the choice of the next Governor of Kogi state depending on the APC bloc that emerges as winner of the presidential election.

If as being mooted in some quarters the APC Governors Forum led by Acting National Chairman and Yobe State Governor, Mallam Mai Mala Buni succeeds in getting one of their members picked as flag bearer for the party in the 2023 polls, then it is expected that Governor Yahaya Bello could be a major beneficiary of this arrangement as the candidate of the APC. In the event that another Governor is chosen, Governor Yahaya Bello retains enough clout within the APC Governors Forum to negotiate a favourable political bargain for himself, one of which is the absolute freedom to handpick his successor.

However, if as widely expected power is zoned to South-west APC; the three major contenders could be as follows: Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Professor YemiOsibanjo and Mr. BabatundeRajiFashola.

Among this trio, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is most primed to clinch the Presidency. This is because of his wide political network across Nigeria and ability to form a broad national coalition among competing political interests. Also, another major factor in his favour is the support of the incumbent Governors of the 3 “K” states of Kaduna, Kano, Katsina; and Borno State. These are the states with the highest percentage of registered voters in Nigeria so this is no mean factor when you include Lagos (his traditional base) with a projected 6 million registered voters.  

VERDICT: Governor Yahaya Bello to lose out completely out of the political game even in Kogi State. Expect Honourable James AbiodunFaleke; Kogi-born Lagos House of Representative member and one-time deputy governorship candidate to make a strong play for the plum seat. This time around, expect him to be backed to the hilt by the very formidable Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu political machinery now in control of the Centre. Alternatively, the Tinubu caucus may decide to field a candidate from the senatorial zone of the Governor to counteract him right from his base.  Expect Mohammed Ohiare from Kogi Central; ex-Senator, ex-Governorship aspirant and long-time Tinubu political ally from the ACN days, to be a direct beneficiary of a Tinubu presidency as he automatically becomes the “recognized’ leader of the APC in Kogi state with all the leverage that entails in determining the next Governor of the State.

THE LEADING ASPIRANTS FOR #KOGIDECIDES2023 

Who are the men and women most likely, as things stand today, to succeed Governor Yahaya Bello as the 6th executive Governor of Kogi state?

Chief Edward Onoja (APC): The Deputy Governor of Kogi state needs no introduction to informed watchers of Kogi politics. CEEDO as he is popularly known has consistently shown his mettle first by masterminding the 2015 APC primary campaign of then upstart Yahaya Bello which enabled him to come second behind eventual flag bearer, late Prince AbubakarAudu – a strong factor in his emergence as replacement candidate following the late Ad’oja tragic demise, and as chief of staff in Governor Bello’s first term. The two enjoy a close friendship, and he has been described as a veritable foil to Governor Bello. Although there are rumours (unsubstantiated) of a thaw in their relationship since he became deputy Governor, the spectre of the powerful former Chief of Staff looms large behind other aspirants. Chief Onoja who hails from Ogugu Local Government Area in Kogi East has since 2015, forged veritable political alliances with grassroots politicians across the state, as well as winning the hearts of Kogi youths with generous political patronage and appointments. He is well placed to get the nod of Governor Yahaya Bello in the eventuality of scenarios I or II above.  

VERDICT: Undoubtedly, the aspirant to beat. For now.

Engineer Musa Atai Wada (PDP): The PDP flag bearer in November 16, 2019, Kogi Governorship election, Engineer Wada is a younger sibling to the immediate past Governor of the State, Captain Idris Wada whose stint in office was terminated by the APC in December,2015. Mr. Musa Wada is also son-in-law to former Governor Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, underscoring his connections with political royalty in the state.

Mr. Wada is from Dekina Local Government Area, one of the largest local government areas in Nigeria and one which boasts the highest number of registered voters in the state. He is also rumoured to have a deep financial war-chest and will undoubtedly spare no expenses in a second bid to wrestle political power back to Kogi East. The fact that his senatorial zone is the most populous in Kogi State is further boon to his electoral fortune come 2023. If Scenario II becomes reality and the PDP finds her way to the Presidency in 2023, expect the politically-savvy Igalas to queue behind Engineer Wada as the man to put them back in the reckoning of Kogi politics once again. 

VERDICT: a shoo-in for Kogi next Governor IF the PDP wins the 2023 presidential election.

Natasha Akpoti (SDP): Barrister Natasha Akpoti is no stranger to hotly contested elections. As the flag-bearer of the SDP in the February 23, 2019 senatorial election in Kogi State, she ran a strong campaign against the APC candidate and eventual winner, Senator OseniYakubu. Her campaigns during that Senatorial election was marked by her dogged determination, charm and mass appeal; factors no doubt that propelled her to seek and eventually claim the gubernatorial ticket of the SDP as its candidate in the 2019  Kogi governorship election. Initially, her candidature was disqualified by INEC before an Abuja Federal High Court ordered her reinstatement. She has projected herself as a savvy politician with grassroot appeal and mysteriously deep financial pocket. Although her party is a lesser light, there is no discountenancing the possibility of her decamping to any of the two leading political parties just before the 2023 presidential election in order to reap the fruit of their victory. She is one to watch indeed. 

VERDICT: Keep an eye on her.

Honourable James Abiodun Faleke(APC): Nothing more needs be said about Honourable Faleke except that his continuous mention in discussions about Kogi politics even as a serving House of Representatives member from Lagos State is further proof of the wide tentacles of the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu political family and the masterful way it has infiltrated its stalwarts in almost every part of Nigeria since the days of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in Osun State. Honourable Faleke has since 2015 been building subterranean but highly effective political networks across Kogi State, no doubt in preparation for a solo run at the Governorship position in 2023. 

VERDICT: A strong aspirant. If the South west caucus of the APC wins the presidency in 2023, he will likely fly the APC flag.

Dr. Sanusi Ohiare (APC): one of the youngest appointees in the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, Dr. Sanusi is the Executive Director, Rural Electrification Fund, the main funding unit of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). The youthful technocrat, who has carved a niche for himself in the power sector, has a reputation of being an exceptionally astute and consummate administrator. Born to a highly cerebral political family in Kogi State, Dr Sanusi’s meek and humble disposition has continued to endear him to many political observers. Besides, his father’s adroit grassroot mobilization network puts him in good stead to be a potential strong contender for the coveted Governorship position. While there is no indication at all that the young technocrat has any interest in any political position, the dynamic nature of Nigeria’s politics marks him out as one to watch in permutations for the 2023 Kogi gubernatorial election.

VERDICT: He could be the proverbial eleventh hour entrant to upset all permutations and calculations for #KogiDecide2023. For now, he is a dark horse but well worth your bet.  

Shehu Nurudeen is Lead Strategist at Line-BorderPoint NG Ltd, a public policy analytics and PR consultancy firm based in Abuja. Email: lineborderpointng@gmail.com


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