By Michael Jegede
After his emergence as the flag bearer of All Progressives Congress (APC) from the primary poll conducted on August 29, 2019, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State nominated his Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja, as his running mate for the November 16 gubernatorial election.
Keen watchers of Kogi politics were not surprised that Bello dumped his current Deputy, Simon Achuba, for his CoS, Onoja. Bello and Achuba had fallen out, with no love lost between them presently. Their relationship had gone sour and acrimonious. Many knew Bello would not choose Achuba as his running mate for the coming election.
The news of Onoja’s nomination as Bello’s running mate was greeted with jubilation among APC members and supporters within the state. They believe that the governor made the right choice for the party’s victory. The combination of Bello and Onoja, it is believed, will pave way for further development in the state, if APC emerges victorious.
Announcing Onoja’s nomination, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Onogwu Muhammed, said: “As Director-General of the APC’s Presidential, National and State Assembly Elections Campaign in Kogi State in the 2019 general elections, Mr. Onoja, is considered the lodestone of the APC’s unprecedented clean sweep of nearly all elective positions on offer in the 2019 general elections.
“The APC, it will be recalled, won 25 out of 25 State Assembly seats, seven out of nine House of Representatives, two Senate seats in Kogi earlier in the year, thus cementing Governor Bello’s electoral supremacy and Edward Onoja’s reputation as a strategist and grassroots tactician.
“Edward’s commitment and passion for the realization of the administration’s policies, outcomes and targets are second only to the governor’s. The governor’s choice of Edward has thus been lauded as wise by a cross-section of the state’s citizen who believes his love for his boss and passion to develop the state transcends everything else, making him ideal for the kind of supportive and effective Deputy Governor Bello will need following a win on November 16.”
An APC leader in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, Hon. Fancy Jimoh Tiamiyu, said the choice of Onoja as the APC deputy governorship candidate, was a welcome development, that has further brightened the chances of the party in the coming election.
Tiamiyu, a grassroots mobiliser, remarked: “It is a perfect combination that is going to give us victory at the poll. Onoja is one man I can always vouch for, having related and worked closely with him as an ally for years even before he became the Chief of Staff to our leader in the state in 2016. He has, undoubtedly, been one of the greatest pillars of the New Direction Administration of Governor Yahaya Bello. He has demonstrated a great deal of unmitigated loyalty, steadfastness and dedication to the government of Yahaya Bello, as the Chief of Staff, and therefore, one cannot but say that his nomination as deputy governorship candidate is well-deserved, because he has worked for it.”
The APC chieftain added, “As a matter of fact, it was he (Onoja) who in the last general election led the APC to deliver all the elections held in Kogi East where the PDP has two former governors, sitting senator, House of Reps members, Assembly members and also former national chairman. We thank our amiable governor for this kind gesture. By this decision of GYB, APC’s victory has been further assured in the November 16 gubernatorial election. All the youths and women in Lokoja are solidly in support of the Bello-Onoja project and we are going to work round the clock to make it a reality!”
A member representing Igalamela/Odolu Constituency in the Kogi State House of Assembly, Cosmas Atabor, equally hailed Onoja’s nomination, describing him as “a man of impeccable character, integrity, wisdom, experience, loyalty and total dedication to the success of the New Direction Agenda of Alhaji Yahaya Bello”.
Atabor further stated, “there is nobody currently more suitable, deserving and dependable for the job than Chief Onoja. Chief Onoja, in his capacity as Chief of Staff to His Excellency has proved to be an invaluable asset to the people of the state, especially the youths. He has demonstrated strong leadership qualities and admirable charisma which has drawn a lot of support from the masses and has given our great party a more formidable structure to consolidate on the numerous gains of the current administration.”
The Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Dr. Ramatu Tijani Aliyu, is also convinced that the coming guber election was a done deal for the APC with the duo of Bello and Onoja jointly holding the party’s ticket.
In a statement reportedly signed by her media aide, Mr. Austine Elemue, the Minister, a Kogi indigene, described the CoS as a team player, who has robustly demonstrated his understanding of the political terrain in the state. She expressed optimism that the election will be a walk-over for APC, as according to her, the ruling party is fully ready for the battle with the oppositions itching to dislodge Bello.
Some political analysts have said that Bello’s decision to pick his deputy from Kogi East may simply be a strategy to enable him secure a chunk of votes from that axis of the state.
The PDP, which is the major opposition party fighting hard to unseat Bello, has chosen its governorship candidate from Kogi East, in the person of Engr. Musa Wada. Hence, the governor, in the thinking of some observers, may have felt that the only way he could be sure of reasonable votes from the eastern flank of the state is to have Onoja as his running mate. Onoja is believed to have become so influential among his people, perhaps, because of the prominent position he occupies in the Bello-led APC government of the state. In recognition of his meritorious service to humanity and Igalaland, the Igala Cultural Development Association (ICDA), recently, conferred Onoja with the merit award of Commander of Igala Kingdom.
In Kogi State, there are 21 Local Government Areas. Nine are located in Kogi East. Seven are situated in Kogi West, while Kogi Central where Bello hails from, has only five LGAs. East is dominated by the Igalas. Central is mainly populated by the Ebiras, while West is mostly inhabited by the Okuns. As a result of their population and voting strength, the Igalas by and large decide who governs Kogi State. Since the creation of Kogi in 1991, they have always steer the ship of governance in the state, until Bello an Ebira man divinely emerged in 2016 following the demise of Prince Abubakar Audu.
Some have contended that the perceived woeful performance of the governor is a big minus that may be his undoing in the coming election, against the belief that the electorate will be swayed to vote for APC by the choice of Onoja as the party’s deputy governorship candidate.
The senatorial candidate of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) for Kogi East in the last general election, Paul Mathias Egwu, for instance, wondered how anyone could imagine that Bello would defeat the PDP sponsored Wada, no matter who the governor nominates as his running mate.
His words: “I honestly don’t have anything against Onoja. I like him as a person. He is brilliant. He is a strategist. I give that to him. But then, I don’t understand this over celebration about his nomination by Governor Yahaya Bello as his running mate. For me, I think Onoja is just being overrated. He doesn’t have the kind of influence and weight some people are ascribing to him in Igalaland. Our people cannot vote for APC because Yahaya Bello picked him as his deputy. Musa Wada, a foremost engineer with a track record of excellence is our candidate. Wada is the right man for the task ahead. He has what it takes to reconstruct Kogi and repair all the damages Yahaya Bello’s government has caused our dear state. Yahaya Bello is a disappointment to the youths. A young man who became governor by chance should have done his utmost to offer good governance to Kogites. If he had performed nobody would say he shouldn’t continue.”
Kogi Patriotic Group (KPG) likewise opined that Bello failed to give Kogi people the pragmatic and purposeful leadership required to transform the state. And as such, the group feels he should not be rewarded with another term.
In a statement signed by Mohammed Ahmodu, KPG averred that Wada and Sam Aro form the type of combination Kogites need to foster good governance and incorruptible leadership that will restore the state to the path of progress and development. Aro, an Okun man from Kogi West is the running mate of Wada, the PDP candidate.
As confirmed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), about 59 candidates won the primaries of different political parties to partake in the Kogi governorship polls scheduled to hold in about two months from now. However, the contest is obviously a two-horse race between the ruling APC and PDP, the leading opposition party in the state.
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from FCT, Abuja