With the conclusion of governorship primaries by the political parties in Kogi State, the stage is now set for the battle for the soul of the state. Hamzat Baba in Lokoja observes that the forthcoming poll will not be a tea party as all the parties are working very hard to make impressive outing. There are indications that the opposition parties may re-align against the crisis-ridden Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

All the political parties that want to have a shot at the governorship position in Kogi State have presented their best candidates for the December 3, election. They were produced in the parties’ primaries supervised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

So far, 23 candidates have emerged. The candidates are Elder Lanre Esan of African Democratic Party (ADP); Mrs. Aisha Eleojo Audu of Justice Party (JP); Hon. Grace Elijah of Action Alliance (AA); Hon. Muhammad Ali of New Democrats (ND); Chief James Ocholi of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Hon. Fred Odia of Accord Party of Nigeria (APN). Others are Hon. Mohammed Dangana of National Democratic Party (NDP); Hon. Aboh Samuel of Progressive Action Congress (PAC); Mallam Momoh Jimoh Alabi of Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and Chief Okpanachi Nicholas of Kowa Party; Mrs. Toyin Elijah of Citizen Popular Party (CPP); Deacon Joseph Adigbo of Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA); Alhaji Ibrahim Usman of Labour Party (LP); Barrister Abubakar Aliu of United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) and Hon. Godwin Atawodi of Fresh Democratic Party (FDP).

Other standard bearers are Mr. Victor King of African Political System (APS); Hon. Nuhu Umar of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA); Elder Ubolo Okpanachi of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) ; Mr. Gideon Ojata of Peoples Party of Nigeria (PPN); Captain Idris Wada of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Chief Joseph Adeiza of The Republican Party (TRP); Prince Abubakar Audu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Mr. Lawal Lamidi of Social Democratic Mega Party (SDM).

However, most of the candidates jostling to succeed incumbent governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris are mere pretenders who have no political structures on ground as far as the forthcoming election is concerned. In fact, majority of the parties that fielded candidates only exist in the state by name. Only few of them have offices in Lokoja. When one considers the strengths of candidates and structures on ground, it is easy to conclude that only four of them can be regarded as contenders, who are likely to have a good outing in the governorship. The candidates are Elder Ubolo Okpanachi, Chief James Ocholi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prince Abubakar Audu and Captain Idris Wada (Rtd).

Okpanachi was accountant general in the state. He served under the present administration for five years. He was an aspirant in PDP. He defected to ACN after failing to nick the PDP ticket and later to his current party after failing to pick ACN’s. He no doubt has the resources to take his campaigns to all nook and cranny of the entire state, more so that he has built friendship across the three geo-political zones of the state while serving as accountant general.

If not for Okpanachi, ANPP was almost dead in the state, after the sole financier of the party and former governor of the state, Prince Abubakar Audu, left the party and coalesce his entire structure into ACN. The ANPP candidate who hails from Ofu, the same local government with Prince Audu in the eastern flank of the state, must work very hard to receive the nod of the electorates, ahead of the coming governorship election.

Ocholi has the support of virtually all the members of CPC to lead the party to victory in the December governorship election. Since he joined the party last year, he has been reaching out to the electorates, particularly at the grassroots. It is therefore not surprising that some people are already seeing the legal practitioner as an alternative candidate, owing to the internal wranglings in PDP. Ocholi was an aspirant in the PDP before defecting to CPC. He hails from Dekina, the same local government with Jibrin Isah,who won the primaries of PDP in January, and Captain Wada, the current candidate of PDP. Dekina, among the Igalas is favoured to produce the next governor because it is the only local government out of the three old local governments (Ida,Ankpa, Dekina) that is yet to produce governor. Recall that Audu and the current governor, Idris hail from Ida and Ankpa old divisions respectively.? Although CPC is not very strong in the state, Ocholi’s manifesto on how he intends to pull the state out of the woods has made the electorates to start looking towards his direction. Many are convinced that he has all it takes to successfully pilot the affairs of the state. His chances are getting brighter by the day with the consensus being built among the masses that money politics would no longer count in Kogi politics. If the people sustain this position then he may be a force to reckon with. If money politics becomes the order of the day then he may be in trouble since observers believe that he has slim wallet that can hardly stand the rampaging money bags like Audu and Wada who is fronted by the current governor.

Audu, a former governor of the state and candidate of ACN is another contender as far as the coming election is concerned. He is a house hold name in the state having ruled the state on two occasions. He is a threat to all the candidates considering the large number of followers he commands in virtually all parts of the state. With his enormous resources, he has been engaging the ruling party in the last eight years, without showing sign of abandoning the boxing ring yet. It was on the basis of his commitment that his supporters see him as a symbol of opposition. It is believed that he is the only one that can give PDP a good fight and run for their money. His presence in the arena obviously has continued to put the ruling party on its toes. Audu will this time around put all his arsenals into the ring as this battle promises to be his last in the battle for Lugard House. It is against this background that many analysts see the poll as a straight fight between him and PDP’s Wada. Audu’s critics describe him as a recycled old wine attempting to force itself into a new bottle. Critics believe it was high time he groomed a successor at the state level to take over from him and concentrate on national politics. Those who think in this light ask Audu to borrow a leaf from a former governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba who turned down the temptation of standing governorship election in 2011 after he had ruled the state in the 1990s and between 1999 and 2003 the period in which Audu too held sway in Kogi State. Audu has charges of corruption hanging on his neck. This may be used against him.

The last but not the least among the contenders, is the 61 year- old pilot, Wada who is leading the ruling party to the coming governorship war. He is supported and financed by the governor who is believed to be his in-law. But the mere fact that he is contesting under the platform of the party which has been in power in the state for the past eight years, means that he is the candidate to win. He has the political structure of the incumbent to fall on.? He confessed recently that he is not an active player in PDP before now. With the ruling party firmly in control of the state, it will be a miracle if Wada fails to make it to Lugard House in December.

However, three issues will influence the fortunes of PDP in the coming election aside the mindset of the electorates.

The first is the on-going battle of supremacy among the chieftains and supporters of the ruling party.? Jibrin Isah, the man that won the January primary of PDP and his supporters are bitter that the governor abandoned Isa for a new candidate. Isa was allegedly dropped by Idris because his child is married to Audu. Although it is too early to predict where Isah and his teeming supporters are likely to pitch their tent, if they fail to reverse the process that brought Wada as candidate, it remains doubtful if they will forget all that had happened and support their arch-rival. Those know Kogi politics well believe, Isah would prefer Audu to Wada. Indeed, the support of Isah in Dekina and other parts of Igalaland is very tremendous due to the way and manner he assisted people while in the services of then Afribank International.
There is no gainsaying that the votes of Isah and his large followers within and outside Igala land will influence the outcome of the December 3 election.

Second, the raging agitation that has refused to go away is the agitation for powershift or rotation among the minority ethnic groups in the state. The people of western and eastern parts of the state are unhappy that the largest ethnic group, Igala have been governing the state since its creation in August, 1991.With the ambition of Abdulrazaq Isa Kutepa, a minority being dashed in the September 22 primary, the people of Western and Central Senatorial Districts seem to be returning to the trenches to prepare for the next fight. Leaders in the western axis however, are seriously considering? Audu who is constitutionally entitled to a single term of four years having ruled the state on two previous occasions. The thinking of the people in the west is that it is better to back the candidature of Audu, another Igala man, hoping to try their luck again in four years time, when there will be vacancy in Lugard House, than supporting somebody that is entitled to two terms. If this permutation stands,Wada and Ocholi who are entitled to two terms may have problems garnering votes from west.
Joseph Abiodun, a loyalist of PDP in Kabba told LEADERSHIP that although the Igala have marginalised them for too long, it will be far better for his people to choose ‘four-year imprisonment than eight-year imprisonment’, saying nobody can prevent Wada from going for two terms if he wins.

The last issue that may influence the election in December is the direction of the people of the central axis of the state. Predominantly they are PDP. But the problem here is that with the emergence of Hon. Abdullahi Bello as Speaker, the political arrangement has been altered.

The people of the central are next to Igala, in terms of numerical strenght. They have been occupying the position of deputy governor since 1999 when the nation returned to civil rule. In fact, the only period an Okun man was deputy governor was between 1992 and 1993, during the aborted third republic. At the moment, PDP zoned the number two position to the west while Prince Audu chose his running mate from Ebiraland .The question is: will the people of central forgo the position of deputy governor for speaker?

On paper, Wada remains a formidable candidate to take over from the incumbent. That is, if the leaders and the teeming supporters of the PDP rooted in all parts of the state decide to forgive, forget and forge ahead to work for the party.

Aside the four candidates mentioned above whom the people of the state described as contenders, the remaining 19 are seen as pretenders. While some of the pretenders may likely to compromise their parties’ flags, the CPC, ACN and ANPP may likely go into alliance with other willing pretenders to wrest power from the PDP. But the fear of analysts is that the opposition parties have always found it difficult to put their acts together to fight the ruling party! Will December 3 prove pundits wrong?