The Kogi state governorship election has finally come and gone, with Yahaya Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) returned to the Lugard House for a second term. Of a truth, Bello’s victory did not come as a surprise to many who followed events leading to the poll and to those who monitored the exercise closely.
Ibrahim Garba, the returning officer, declared Bello winner after he polled a total of 406,222 votes. Musa Wada, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), came a distant second with 189,704 votes, with 21 other candidates trailing far behind.
Bello’s incumbency as current governor of the state played a key role in the poll as was evident in various areas, from the operation of security operatives deployed for the exercise to events at the polling unit.
Below are four major factors that contributed to his victory:
Across the state, there were reports of violence; ballot boxes were being snatched in the presence of policemen while voters and electoral staff were intimidated as well. The situation got so bad that Situation Room, the local election monitor, called for the cancellation of the exercise.
At a particular polling unit in Kabba/Bunu LGA, votes were being counted when the youth present let loose and started destroying the ballot papers. One of the presiding officers counting the ballot papers had barely gone half way when a youth threw a satchet water at her while others poured more into the ballot box.
Not long before the incident happened, a voter had died in an outbreak of violence in Ayetoro ward in Ijumu LGA. Suspected thugs had invaded the unit and began to shoot sporadically before carting away the ballot boxes.
Like Ijumu, voters were chased away in Lokoja as suspected thugs made away with ballot boxes. At a particular polling unit in the state capital, policemen were said to have connived with thugs who arrived in a convoy and carted away the ballot boxes while firing gunshots to scare residents away. Some of those ballot might have found their way into the final votes counted during collation.
While those involved in the violence cut across the political parties, particularly the PDP and APC, there is no doubt that this contributed heavily to the final outcome of the exercise. It was in fact a case of who outplayed each other between the two leading political parties.
Bello’s membership of the party which controls the centre played a key role in his reemergence. Days to the election, the police deployed Usman Shugaba, the governor’s former security chief, as the security coordinator for the registration areas popularly referred to as RACs. But there are reports that the police were forced to cancel the posting after the news leaked.
While the motive for the posting is not clear, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth especially considering that a similar incident played out in Kwara state in the buildup of the 2019 general election; Kwara which was then a stronghold of the PDP and was being eyed by the APC had Kayode Egbetokun, one-time chief security officer of Bola Tinubu, national leader of the ruling party, as the state commissioner of police.
Just two days to the election, the senate had also approved a refund of N10 billion to Kogi for federal government projects carried out by the state government! Even if there was no ulterior motive for such, it only adds fuel to fire amid speculation that the ruling party was poised to buy votes.
Like most elections in the country, vote-buying was very evident in the Kogi poll both before and during the elections. Days to the exercise, YIAGA Africa, a youth advocacy group, had raised the alarm that voters were giving out details of their permanent voter cards (PVCs) in exchange for as little as N500. The group had said politicians were moving from door to door, buying off people’s votes.
But all of that was nothing compared to what played out across the various polling units; many cast their ballot not because they feel the candidates were worth voting for but because they had been promised cash in return; some even got egg-rolls in addition in places like Aiyewa ward in Kabba/Bunu LGA, or bean cake in areas like Aiyetoro in Ijumu LGA.
Some of the voters who spoke to TheCable said they were not interested in the election but only decided to vote because of the cash “reward.” “Not like your vote will count, it is because of the money that you see my in the queue trying to vote.” a woman said at a polling unit in Ijumu LGA.
Can there ever be an election in Kogi without ethnicity playing a role in the exercise? Since 1999, ethnicity has been a deciding factor in how elections play out, and that of Saturday was not different. Out of the three senatorial districts in the state, Kogi east has the largest base, with 804,715 registered voters out of the total 1, 646,350. Kogi west and Kogi central come second and third with 432,515 and 409,120 registered voters respectively.
Even though Bello is from Kogi central, the least among the three, the electorate in the district made sure they all rooted for him because largely sentiment. For instance, governor got 99 percent of the votes in Okene, his local government area, totalling about 110,000 votes.
According to some some persoms, the fact that Bello is the first person outside Igala, the biggest ethnic group in the state, to become governor, his people — the Ebira — were committed to seeing they do not lose the governorship seat so easily.
The governor also split the votes of Igala land, giving that Edward Onoja, Bello’s running mate, hails from Kogi east which has the highest voting strength in the state.