Battle for Kogi West: Adeyemi, Karimi, TJ Yusuf, Olafemi, nine others for Melaye’s job
Even if he is yet to officially notify the Senate, everyone is saying the same thing: Senator Dino Melaye has defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).The news went viral after the embattled Kogi West Senator requested to move from the APC wing to that of the PDP during Senate plenary last Wednesday.Back home in Kogi, ahead of the 2019 polls, not less than13 aspirants across party lines have indicated intent to take over from Melaye, who is aspiring for another term on APC platform. But a crossover to the PDP certainly will alter calculations.Senate election in the western flank of the Confluence State is ever keen and has excited political watchers nationally. This time, the melodramatic tenure of incumbent Senator Melaye, capped by his failed recall attempt, arrest, detention and release are expected to even heighten the attention. This is more so, when his challengers, are equally men of timber and calibre, who have played prominent roles in the state’s politics since advent of the present political dispensation in 1999. But the stakes have been raised by Melaye’s body language, especially if he declares his second term ambition on PDP platform.

In the PDP, those in the race include two current serving two-term members of House of Representatives, Hon. Sunday Karimi and Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf, former Speaker, Kogi State Assembly and one-time Acting Governor, Chief Clarence Olafemi, former member House of Reps, Hon. Joseph Faniyi, a former member of Kogi State Assembly and Alhaji Ganiyu Salaudeen and Executive Director, Africa Media Roundtable Initiative (AMRI), Omoluabi Olabode Adeyemi.

The APC has two-time Senator Smart Adeyemi, former Director, State Security Services, Dr. Toyin Akanle, business tycoon, philanthropist and woman activist, Mrs. Doyin Ibikunle, oil magnate, Tajudeen Bisimillahi and Director General, Consumers Protection Council (CPC). Mr. Babatunde Irukera.President, African Centre for Development Research (ACDR) and political activist, Jibril Olu Yusuf, is of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), while renowned international agricultural consultant, Otunba Wale Osho belongs to Action Democratic Party (ADP).

Granted that Kogi State APC is split between the faction loyal to Governor Yahaya Bello and the Audu/Faleke faction, led by Hon James Faleke, running mate to the late governorship candidate in the 2015 poll, Prince Abubakar Audu; barring resolutions of the controversies rocking its recently concluded congresses, the party will go into primary elections in August/September this year with two parallel lists of executives at ward, local government and state levels. It is also left to be seen whether some aspirants would still remain in the party, should the list of one faction be favoured over the other.

Melaye was one of such aspirants expected to change parties, should the governor’s list of exco get the ruling party’s national leadership’s nod. Alas, by his “movement” from the APC wing last week, the embattled Melaye vindicated predictors’ projection.At the plenary last Wednesday, Melaye said he was no longer comfortable sitting at the APC wing, and that he would cross over to the PDP wing. He specially thanked PDP members for standing by him during his travails and Kogi West constituents for defending his mandate.He said: “They stood up for me when I could not stand up, they fought for me and protected my mandate during the failed recall exercise, orchestrated by Kogi State governor.”

Dino Melaye needs no introduction. His profile rose in the first quarter of 2018, following the recall process that caught the nation’s eye. The massively boycotted exercise, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was only able to verify about five percent of the signatures earlier gathered across the seven local government areas in Kogi West Senatorial District is seen as a triumph of sort for the Senator in the two- year-old battle of wits between him and his main political rival, Governor Yahaya Bello.

The 2019 election will, however, show if the constituents’ attitude was as a result of his popularity or the unpopularity of the governor, who he alleged to have sponsored his recall.In the coming elections, Melaye is on course for an encore with 2015 foe, Senator Adeyemi. Ironically, this term, Adeyemi, who was PDP’s candidate in 2015, is prosecuting his senate ambition on APC platform. And a perfect swap it will be in 2019 for the duo, if Melaye completes his switch and runs under PDP umbrella, except that he did not participate in the last PDP congresses. Unless a special window is open to politicians like him who now appear stranded in the APC, the PDP may not be Melaye’s last bus stop. He might shop for a different platform.

Adeyemi, two time Senator between 2007 and 2015, former President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), lost his bid for a third term to Melaye in the 2015 poll. He is a close ally of Governor Bello and Chairman, APC Elders Advisory Council. If the parallel congresses are resolved in favour of the governor’s camp, Adeyemi may have the head start, as a good number of his loyalists are said to have made the APC exco lists. He narrowly lost to Dino in 2015, with a difference of 3,000 votes.

Feeling robbed in the controversial contest eventually won and lost in court after protracted litigation, Adeyemi has vowed to reclaim “his mandate.” He was widely adjudged a performer scorer, based on his contributions to the law making process in the seventh Senate, projects and a host of empowerment he attracted to constituents.His third term ambition, however, faced vehement opposition, especially from Yagba axis, who felt it was a misnomer based on the rotation principle that limited a senator to two terms per a federal constituency, a proposition he dismissed, based on the counter argument that candidates from Yagba contested against him in the former elections he won, even when it was meant to be a Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu affair. He also discouraged prioritizing zoning over competence, saying the area will only fair better with “super ranking” legislators in the National Assembly guaranteed by long, effective tenures.

He also discouraged prioritising zoning over competence, saying the area will only fare better with “super ranking” legislators in the National assembly, guaranteed by long, effective tenures.Adeyemi will contend for the APC ticket with Williams Toyin Akanle, who joined politics after a distinctive career in the Department of State Security (DSS), where he rose to the position of director. He has not looked back since the 2015 Senate poll, when he contested on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP). He has traversed the nooks and crannies of the seven councils in Kogi West.

His structure is strong at the grassroots, and he is unaligned between the two factions in Kogi APC. Authoritative Lokoja-based newspaper, Nigeria Post, recently rated Akanle as the candidate to beat in APC.“At the general election, he will equally be a candidate to beat, because of the trend of most voters talking about personality, capability and pedigree, as against political parties,” the newspaper posited.

From the point of view of rotation, it is the turn of Yagba East to produce Kogi West senator. Akanle who hails from Isanlu, Headquarters of Yagba East Council, exudes confidence that he is the most eminently qualified, because of “experience, qualifications, integrity, pedigree, exposure, philanthropies and one carrying no negative baggage.”Many of his supporters believe he will make a difference in representation. A bridge builder, who has warmed himself to the youths, Akanle has widespread followership and support in the three federal constituencies.He founded the William James Foundation, which is engaged in educational development, scholarships, skill acquisition in various institutions and a Christ-based Ministry taking care of the wellbeing of about 250 widows and orphans.

Mrs. Doyin Ibikunle, the lone female in the race for the APC senate ticket, will hope that gender plays a role in turning the contest in her favour.Also from Yagba East, she advocates that the people of the zone give a woman a trial, since according to her; all past male representatives have not done well. She is said to have the endorsement of youth and women groups across the three federal constituencies and the governor’s sympathy. In April, her humanitarian service-based project, dating back to 15 years, Doyin and Suzan Foundation, brought medical experts from the United States to the doorstep of Kogi West people.  The experts carried out on-the-spot tests and treatment administered to people living with various ailments free. The foundation is also reputed for offering assistance to farmers, widows and the less privileged.

Governorship aspirant in 2015, now Director General, Consumers Protection Council (CPC), Mr. Babatunde Irukera is one to watch out for in the race for Kogi West APC ticket. Although he is yet to declare intent, various groups in the APC across the three federal constituencies have rooted for him. A lawyer and close associate of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Irukera will come into the race with the weight and backing of the presidency, as well as that of Governor Bello, if he decides to run. He is also not in the bad books of any of the factions, as he has remained neutrality, while the controversies raged.

Speaking to The Guardian on speculations about his senatorial ambition, Irukera, who did not rule out contesting election in future, said: “As it were, being the DG of CPC leaves no room for much of anything else. There is a job to be done, and my mandate from the presidency is ambitious. I think succeeding on this mandate is, and should be my current pre-occupation.  As a matter of fact, my sense of how things should work is that; what one makes of an assignment must form a critical part of the credential or qualification for further or greater service, or else, what will be the basis of entrusting someone with another responsibility, if the record of the opportunity he has been given is not remarkable? This is more so, when the current assignment is about protecting people, and the future assignment is for a similar purpose.”

The atmosphere in PDP is relatively calm, since the party lost Kogi State and the Kogi West Senate seat in 2015. It was the first time since the beginning of the present democratic dispensation that another party is in control of Kogi West. However, the party would hope to capitalise on the crisis in the APC and retake the Senate seat. Already, PDP stakeholders in the zone have zoned the Senate to Yagba Federal Constituency, although some aspirants not within Yagba axis have vowed to test their popularity at the primary election despite the zoning.

One of them is Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf, House of Representatives member (Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu Federal Constituency). TeeJay, as supporters fondly call him, is all out to step up to the red chambers and is leaving no stone unturned. Recently, he embarked on consultative visits to the party executives in the seven councils, providing funds for power generators and other office equipment for the smooth running of local government party secretariats.

Aside many projects and empowerment programmes to his name, his back-to-school project in his constituency, where pupils are offered free holiday lectures, is first of its kind in the state. Constituency briefing and youth and women empowerment held every six months have made him one of the most visible representatives of the people in the state.One of the factors upon which he is basing his senatorial ambition is self-belief that he is eminently qualified, having represented his people effectively in the green chambers for the seventh year running. But he has the zoning issue to contend with, and he rightly remarked during his visit to Yagba West Local Government exco meeting that PDP could not afford to be divided.

He said what should be paramount to every party men and women is that APC must not return to power.But the race for the PDP ticket looks a straight battle between Yusuf and his colleague in the House of Reps, Sunday Karimi, who made history in the 2015 polls, when he became the first Yagba man to be elected twice into the green chamber. Karimi is reputed for his service to his constituents in the areas of direct empowerment and handcraft, revolving loan scheme for small and medium businesses, rural water and electrification projects, education facilities, including blocks of classrooms and employment opportunities.

He has made useful contributions to debates on national issues on the floor of the House, as well as moved and sponsored several and effective motions and bills.Karimi is, however, expected to benefit from the zoning principles adopted by Kogi West PDP in favour of Yagba Federal Constituency. Beyond that, he is said to have initiated alliances with major stakeholders in the other two federal constituencies: Lokoja/Kotonkarfe and Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu, which climaxed in the zoning agreement.

Stakeholders from six of the seven councils voted in favour of rotation of the Senate seat to Yagba, with the exception of those from Kabbabunnu, who also claimed the council was yet to produce a Senator.Karimi singlehandedly picked the bill for the nomination forms of the local government exco members during the congresses, and has assisted in the payment of rent for some party offices.

Although he is the only PDP aspirant from Yagba West, he has opponents to contend with in Kabba/Bunu, Yagba East and Mopamuro, which have TJ Yusuf, TJ Faniyi, Ganiyu Salaudeen and Clarence Olafemi.Olafemi, former Assembly Speaker, who briefly held office of governor in acting capacity, was among prominent politicians that left PDP for APC in the run up to 2015 polls. The mass defection contributed to APC’s victory in that election. But APC would later become disorganised, following the death of its governorship candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu.

The emergence of Bello as substitute candidate and inauguration as governor, divided the ruling party, forcing Olafemi alongside hundreds of his supporters to stage a return to PDP last December, alleging emasculation by the Yahaya Bello’s administration. Olafemi, who hails from Mopamuro in Yagba Federal Constituency, has since declared his senatorial ambition on PDP’s platform.Tolorunjuwon Joseph Faniyi, who was in the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007 representing Yagba, has contested the last three senatorial elections held in the zone. He lost to Senator Adeyemi in the 2007, 2011 and 2015 PDP primaries.

He has declared his intention to pursue his ambition to represent Kogi West at the Senate in the 2019 elections, with his billboards adorning strategic places on major highways. He hails from Yagba East Council.

Ganiyu Salaudeen, also called Erukutu, has been around for a while. He is an active player in the PDP on whose platform he had won election, first as vice chairman and later chairman, Yagba East Council before being elected as member of Kogi State Assembly (Yagba East State Constituency). He was Accord Party’s candidate in the 2015 House of Reps election in Yagba Federal Constituency.

Prospectively, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) will have to wait and pray that the crisis in APC does not abate for inflow of aggrieved politicians and aspirants, as the 2019 polls draws near. Already, underneath the irreconcilable controversies dogging the ruling party, plans are afloat by some political bigwigs making SDP the plan “B” option. But, for now, the SDP is still at its formative stage in Kogi State.For now, the SDP has scholar, academician, political activist and author, Jibril Olu Yusuf as the latest addition to the roll call of aspirants for the Senate seat of Kogi West zone.

A close ally of one-time Inspector General of Police and principled politician, the late MD Yusufu, J. O. Yusuf, President, African Centre for Development Research (ACDR), has worked with notable Nigerians toward nation building. A political fighter, J.O. Yusuf’s intellectual pre-occupation in the last 40 years has been the liberation of Nigeria from the shackles of socio-economic backwardness. He has been very concerned about the plight of minorities across the country, with special attention to the minorities in the middlebelt.

Guardian
News Reporter

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