As voters get ready for the November 11 governorship election, the political battle between Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) candidate, Alhaji Muritala Yakubu Ajaka, is taking a new turn.
Tension is already rising ahead of the election, which is less than 150 days away.
Ajaka and Governor Bello reportedly had political ties in the past, according to Naijacrawl.
Senator Dino Melaye, a candidate for governor in the People's Democratic Party (PDP), is one of Governor Bello's most vocal detractors.
Since Senator Melaye lost interest in Governor Bello during his first term, he has taken advantage of every chance to criticize his administration.
You may recall that the former Kogi lawmaker 'prophesied' in one of his comments that after the governorship of Bello, he would be seen wearing a prison uniform.
Many rival political figures had previously kept quiet about Bello's administration, with the exception of Melaye.
But since the outcome of the 2023 APC governorship primary, it appears the pendulum has shifted from Melaye of the PDP to the governorship candidate of the SDP, Ajaka, who happens to be a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
How things fell apart between Bello and Ajaka
Prior to the 2023 Presidential election, there had been a beautiful romance between Bello and Ajaka. Both politicians worked for Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu to emerge as former President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor.
Some insiders in the ruling APC had claimed that before Tinubu emerged as the APC candidate during the party primary, which was held in June 2022, Ajaka never supported Governor Bello’s presidential bid but pitched his tent with Tinubu. In the said APC presidential primary, Governor Bello polled 47 votes.
Political analysts, after the primary, opined that the Kogi governor’s electoral outcome failed to mirror his public appeal and media spending in the weeks leading up to the ruling party primary.
Governor Bello did not win Kogi’s 63 delegates at the presidential primary. Instead, he had only 47 votes, despite receiving strong backing from the daughter of the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993, election, Hafsat Abiola, and other youth grassroots organizers.
Battle for Kogi: APC primary ticket
The fallout from the APC primary election is the major factor that has ignited the battle between Governor Bello and Ajaka.
Prior to the primary, an aide to the former APC chieftain, Adams Yusuf, claimed that friends and associates paid for and picked the party’s expression of intent and nomination forms worth N50 million for Ajaka in Abuja.
The aide, however, said Ajaka’s decision to run for the exalted office of Governor of Kogi State is not about himself alone but about the welfare and wellbeing of all Kogites.
Other aspirants within the APC family, including Bello’s Commissioners, the Auditor General for Local Government, and other prominent aides, all picked forms to take over Lugard House.
In what appears to be an ambush, Ajaka was allegedly suspended by the APC ward executive in Igalamela/Odolu Local Government Area via a letter to the state executive of the party dated March 20, 2023.
As if that were not enough, a High Court sitting in Lokoja, Kogi State, restrained the former deputy national publicity secretary from participating in the APC governorship primary election.
In an order granted by Justice A.S. Ibrahim, the applicants, Imaji Danladi and Amoka Suberu, had prayed the court to restrain the governorship aspirant, Alhaji Muritala Yakubu Ajaka, who is also the first defendant in the matter, from participating in the April 14, 2023, APC primary election in the state.
But in a counterorder, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, under the Abuja Judicial Division, granted an interim injunction in April 2023 restraining the APC from acting on the purported suspension of Ajaka.
The order also directed that the claimant, Ajaka, should not be excluded or refused from participating in the Defendant/Respondent’s Kogi State Primary election, which was held on April 10, 2023, or such other date as may be fixed by the Defendant/Respondent pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice filed in this Suit.
However, the primary election was eventually won by Bello’s preferred candidate, the State Auditor General for Local Government, Ahmed Ododo.
How Ajaka picked SDP ticket
In May 2023, the Social Democratic Party (SDP, declared Ajaka its candidate for the November 11 election.
In a statement, SDP State Secretary in Kogi, Dr. Arome Okeme, said the party completed the process of substitution of its candidate in a primary election held on May 20, 2023, to fulfill the requirements of the Electoral Act to that effect.
He added that the rerun primary of May 20, 2023, had invalidated the candidature of Alhaji Sheik Ibrahim Jibril.
He said Ajaka secured over 95% of the votes cast by the 600 delegates present at the rerun primary.
Gov Bello and Ajaka deepen rivalry
Ajaka’s emergence as the SDP candidate has now opened up a rivalry between him and Bello.
On June 3, 2023, the Kogi State Government alleged that suspected thugs loyal to the SDP candidate attacked Bello’s convoy while on his way from Abuja to Lokoja, the state capital.
Bello and Ajaka traded blame over the incident, accusing each other of being responsible for the attack.
While Bello alleged that his convoy was attacked by the SDP’s team, Ajaka claimed that it was an assassination attempt on his life by Bello and his men.
In a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, the state government alleged that the governor’s convoy was blocked and attacked by people believed to be supporters of Ajaka.
“The attack took place near the Naval Base, a few kilometers from Lokoja, where the convoy of Muritala Yakubu Ajaka, having sighted that of the governor, blocked the road, and some of his armed thugs started shooting sporadically at the convoy of the governor.
“The governor left the scene unscathed, and there is no cause for panic as the Governor is in high spirits”, Fanwo said.
The state government alleged further that “some security aides and other aides attached to the governor sustained injuries and had been rushed to medical facilities for medical attention”.
Governor Yahaya Bello, while speaking on the incident at the Government House, vowed that his administration would deal with anyone or group of people threatening the peace and progress of the state.
“In the game of politics, I don’t take anything for granted. In this particular game, I will leave no stone unturned. We are sure of an overwhelming, clean victory in the coming governorship election.
“On Lion’s Day, an antelope blocked my way. Let this be the first and last. We are looking forward to the law enforcement agents taking action,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ajaka, in a statement by his campaign’s spokesman, Faruk Adejoh, alleged that gun-wielding men in the governor’s convoy attacked him.
The statement read: “Ajaka and some vehicles accompanying him were approaching Lokoja in the vicinity of the Ram Market at about 3 p.m. when two power bikes and a Toyota Hilux overtook his car and forced it to a stop.
“The men jumped down and began shooting at Ajaka’s car and all other cars in the motorcade. They shot for over 5 minutes at Ajaka’s bullet-proof car unprovoked.
“All these while, Bello’s car was parked a few meters in front and was used to barricade the road while the gunmen had a field day.”
Both camps are also in verbal exchange over the killing of a notorious thug, Kabir Bala, alias Ukwo.
The incident has escalated the cold war between the Kogi State Government and the SDP candidate. While the Government warned those tagging the killing of Bala as extrajudicial, the SDP, on the other hand, is insisting that the deceased thug allegedly worked for the Government in the 2019 and 2023 general elections.
Police issue last warning
The Police say they are not resting on their oars in sounding a stern warning to political actors to check their actions capable of igniting a political crisis before, during, and after the polls.
The Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, in charge of Zone 8, Babatunde Ishola, gave the warning at a stakeholders’ meeting in Lokoja while speaking on the theme “Strengthening Community Engagement towards a Violence-Free November 2023 Governorship Election in Kogi State.”
The AIG warned political parties and their actors against self-help during the forthcoming election, just as he described election security as everybody’s business
He said security agencies would adopt a zero-tolerance approach to snatching ballot boxes, adding that campaigns should be issue-based.
The AIG promised that security agencies would display the highest level of professionalism during the election.
While admonishing politicians to follow the rule of law in their campaigns, the AIG assured that everyone’s vote must count.
The AIG, who also assured of a credible and peaceful Governorship election, promised that more police personnel would be deployed to the State for adequate security during the election, stressing that security agencies were working tirelessly to stem violence during the exercise.
“Although security is everybody’s business, the security operatives will be ruthless against troublemakers,” he warned.
Activists call for calm, issue-based campaign
A human rights activist in Kogi, Comrade Hamza Aliu, has called for calm, urging politicians to focus on issue-based campaigns rather than bitter politics.
Speaking to the Daily Post, Aliu, who is the Executive Director of the Initiative For Grassroots Advancement (INGRA), said what Kogites need is what will move the state forward without overheating the polity.
Aliu said the 2023 governorship election is not a do-or-die affair but rather a period in which candidates should openly publicize their manifesto.
He said many politicians have failed to table what they intend to do for the people but were busy engaging in pull-him-down syndrome, which is not healthy for any democratic setting.
He argued that “political actors and their followers in the state need to reflect deeply on the basic philosophy that informed the creation of the state over 30 years ago by playing politics in consonance with the rules of the game to ensure absolute peace and realistic social and economic development of the confluence state.
“This they can do by shunning inter- and intra-party squabbles and wranglings. They should imbibe the culture of internal democracy to ensure the attainment of the desired sanity in the body politics of the state.
“The candidates of the 18 political parties warming up for election owe the people the duty to campaign on the basis of what they intend to offer them if they are given the mandate.
“The trend whereby accusations and counter-accusations dominate the mode of communication among members of the political class in the state does not augur well for the image of the state and the corporate existence of its citizens.
“It, therefore, becomes incumbent on the political class to see this yearning desire of Kogites to move the state to a higher level for the overall development of the state and its citizens by eschewing ethnic politics.”