Confluence State: Divided Between Change And Retention
5TRAVELLING through the weather-beaten roads of Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, the noise even from the street corners shows that all things are no longer together. Debates and discussions, including the shouting matches in pubs and motor parks, as well as those in hushed tones around kitchen hearths, revolve around the impending showdown of November 21, 2015. The governorship election scheduled for that date has become clearly a two-horse race. The two candidates running on two big platforms are seeking a second term in office as Governor of Kogi State. Prince Abubakar Audu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) comes as the ancient and modern of democratic governance in the state. He became governor in 1999 and served for four years.
The incumbent Captain Idris Wada stands on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) like a morning flower with incumbency powers. Before Wada came on the scene, PDP aborted Audu’s attempt to claim a second term in 2003. Governor Abubakar Idris, the beneficiary of the 2003 election, snatched a second term and sought an extension after much ado about a Supreme Court decision on the tenure of governors that survived a bye-election. Given this trajectory, it becomes obvious that Audu and Wada have come a long way. It is also without doubt that the choice before voters in the confluence state would be very tough. In making their voting preferences on November 21 therefore, Kogi electorates would be torn between the choice of change, which the APC candidate predicates or retention of the PDP mandate represented in Wada. There are however salient issues that would likely influence the November 21 governorship poll in the Confluence State.
Performance/ Developmental Initiatives
ONE major criterion for judging the front runners is their record of performance and developmental initiatives in their first four years. Governor Wada and PDP want Kogi people to gauge the level of peace and security prevailing in the state, stressing that the administration of Capt. Wada has stabilized the socio-political climate of the state without violence or intimidation. PDP supporters insist that Wada has also distinguished his tenure in the area of agro-allied transformation of Kogi State. Though opposition bemoan the level of infrastructure in the state capital, Wada claims that his administration embarked on construction of new earth roads, pointing out that work is ongoing to ensure the clearing of drainages.
Other initiatives of the PDP administration include, the vocational centre, which cost the state government more than N400million as counterpart funding. The hi-tech vocational centre is expected to provide jobs for young people and help the revenue generation in the state. But Wada is accused of paying fractional wages to workers and owing a backlog of arrears of salary to civil servants and local government council staff. The government insists that it is one of the few states in Nigeria that pay real minimum wage to its workforce.
On the other hand, Prince Audu, who has enjoyed a popular mandate as governor on two previous occasions, is credited with establishing the Kogi State University, initiating mass housing scheme and founding the Confluence Hotel. Most people in the state say Audu helped to open Kogi from a rural state to one with modern outlook. The APC candidate’s supporters say that he was nicknamed ‘Sarkin Power’ (Action Governor) on account of his bold efforts to develop Kogi State. If the voters would depend on record of achievements alone to cast their votes on November 21, it would be seen who between Wada and Audu actually touched the lives of the people in a memorable way.
Calls for Power shift have been strident in the state. While Audu insists that he is the only one that could guarantee power shift to the West, Wada and PDP say the issue could only be tackled on a round table discussion. Recently Wada told stakeholders that he believes in power shift noting that that power is not the monopoly of any particular tribe. He lamented that issue of rotation of power comes up for discussion only during elections. The APC candidate has been saying that he was ready to put pen on paper to endorse the programme of power shift. Audu told defectors from PDP that he has an open mind concerning governance in the state remarking that the PDP has been practicing politics of exclusion in the state. There are indicators that the choice of his running mate, Hon. James Faleke by Prince Audu was informed by the need to set the stage for eventual power shift to Kogi West. The matter has become so heated leading to a recent fracas between supporters of the two frontline parties.
Condemning the attacks, APC governorship candidate regretted that the electioneering campaigns were being pushed to violent exchanges even as he blamed suspected political thugs sympathetic to PDP for the attack. He said politics should not be allowed to degenerate into thuggery and vendetta. Audu, who urged the security agencies in the state to ensure adequate security mechanism to contain violence, visited the 12 victims receiving treatment and made donations to their families.
The role of elites in the forthcoming election could slightly affect the outcome. So far, the momentum seems to be evenly divided in the two camps. However, while most notable heavyweights identify with the PDP candidate, APC claims that Wada has been engaged in politics of procuring support at the expense of the wealth of Kogi State, adding that apart from pacifying delegates with financial gifts, the national leadership of PDP wanted to penalize him with N1billion for poor performance, a reason the Audu campaign organisation said the primary election that produced Wada was very controversial.
Eminent political actors like Senator Tunde Ogbeha have been mobilizing support for the PDP candidate.
IN both camps of incumbent and opposition, the common refrain is ‘no money’. The issue of campaign funding is negatively impacting on the Kogi governorship electioneering campaigns. It would be seen therefore how far the paucity of funds would affect the outcome of the election on November 21, 2015. Based on the cash crunch affecting the politicking, APC supporters believe that Governor Wada was working hard to access the bailout fund so as to reflate his war chest. On its part the APC candidates, without government structures like local government councils to augment its funding needs have been depending on self-financing and the goodwill of friends and party chieftains from outside the state.
Next to the challenge of funding, an area that holds great potentials of affecting voter preferences is the contents of the candidates’ campaign messages. The incumbent PDP candidate believes that the election is like a referendum on his four-year tenure, he focuses on his record of achievements in office. The APC candidate has been developing citizen compacts to garner broad-based support. For instance, the APC flag bearers, Abubakar Audu and his running mate, Mr. James Faleke; were among the governorship candidates that signed a social contract with women in the state during a gender dialogue conference in the state. Organised by Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), the compact was aimed at ensuring the growth and development of women by the signatories when elected.
Convener of the Gender Dialogue, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, in her remarks explained that the import of the gender dialogue was “to ensure enhanced accountability in governance by promoting issue-based campaigns that would support gender equality, pro-poor and accountable governance, social justice and development.” Issues covered by the 12-point gender pact include Primary Healthcare, Education, Economic Empowerment and Poverty Alleviation, Inclusive Decision-Making, Vulnerable groups, Environment, Agriculture, Road Infrastructure, Water Supply, Child Abuse, Violence Against Women and Security.
Other governorship candidates that endorsed the gender document are Mr. Emmanuel Ozigi, (Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA); Mr. Ezekiel Philips Koleola, (Democratic Peoples Congress, DPC); and Alhaji Abubakar Ibrahim, (Democratic Peoples’ Party, DPP)
Power-Pull From Centre
THE governorship running mate of Abubakar Audu, Hon. James Faleke, told journalists that Kogi State could not afford to be in opposition, stressing that the change of baton that happened at the centre from PDP to APC would be replicated in Kogi on November 21, 2015. How true could this assertion be? Some PDP stalwart in the state dismissed such permutations saying that using the result of the last presidential and national elections to judge the voting pattern in the governorship election could be misguided. They contend that since PDP holds majority members in the State House of Assembly, that that could be a better pointer. But frightened by the likelihood of a pull towards the central government, PDP had gone to town with the claim that President Buhari was not supporting Audu only for the Vice President to grace the public rally of the APC governorship flag bearers.
On November 21, a new thinking in the evaluation of voter preferences would doubtlessly emerge. Should Wada retain his seat, it would mean that the power of incumbency still holds much promise. But if however Audu carries the day, it would not be much for power pull of the centre, as much as sophistication of the electorate. The outcome of the governorship election in Kogi State on November 21, being the first after the general election; would open the eyes of Nigerians to new ways of looking at democratic elections.