Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: The Battle for Lugard House

opinion

A couple of months ago, Governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi State declared formally his speculated intention to re-contest the 2003 governorship election. The event which was well organised and attended by a huge crowd of spectators, took place at Anyigba in Dekina local government of the state. It marked, officially, the third time Alhaji Abubakar Audu has come out to seek the mandate of the people to rule Kogi State. It is not my interest here to argue whether his decision to re-contest for the third time is in conformity or not with the provision of Nigeria's 1999 constitution. I believe that at an appropriate time the issue will be put to rest.

However I wish to point out that on the two previous occasions he had contested the governorship election. Alhaji Abubakar Audu won not because he was the choice of the majority of the indigenes of the state but because he profited from the acrimonious rift in the camp of his political opponents. Indeed the governor usually belongs to a minority party anticipating to win his election from the ruins of acrimony and bitter feelings among his opposition contestants.

Prince Audu with his incumbent deputy Dr. Patrick Adabay has already been endorsed by the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) as flag bearer of the party in the state.

Having been beaten twice to naivety, the governor's political opponents in the state appear to have learnt their lessons and have resolved to avoid a repeat occurrence of such situation. The political class in the state seems to have realised the serious implication of Governor Audu's determination to re-contest and remain in power even beyond the 2003 election. Consequently, they have mobilised the Igala people who constitute over 52 per cent of the entire population of Kogi State (who made it possible for the incumbent to win on two previous occasions) not to give him a third chance. The army of governorship aspirants from Governor Audu's Igala constituency is a clear message of the people's resolve and determination to produce an alternative governor to Abubakar Audu come 2003. They want to disabuse the minds of outsiders who believe that Audu is too powerful and therefore unavoidable.

It is interesting to note that when Governor Audu decided to launch his re-election campaign at Anyigba in September last year, he wanted to drive home an important point. The point is that, even though Anyingba is neither a local government headquarters nor the governor's birth place, it has become the most important political centre in his administration as a result of the citing of the state-owned University, which he named after himself in a controversial circumstance, in the town.

He has chosen the place to remind the Igala people that for the establishment of that university he deserves official gratitude and reward of a third term ticket.

Unfortunately it must be pointed out that the greatest criticism and opposition to Abubakar Audu's administration is not so much his inability to provide basic facilities and amenities to the people but his perceive crude style of leadership and attitude towards governance in Kogi State. Democracy, as everyone knows, is about freedom and right, be it association, speech, movement and what have you.

Almost four years after the return to democratic experiment in Nigeria, majority of Kogi State people have complained not enjoying their God-given freedom under Governor Audu. Indeed the cup of bitter complaints against his administration is over-flowing, ranging from dictatorial behaviour to political intolerance, vindictiveness, victimisation, deceitfulness, arrogance and abuse of power. Majority of the people are groaning under what they described as the maladministration of Abubakar Audu. The governor's style of leadership, inspite of whatever pretensions to the contrary, is to be allowed complete freedom to carry on in the all knowing, self-righteous manner practiced only in a military regime.

In the words of one of the governorship aspirants, "to outsiders Audu has done much for the state, but whatever claims he might lay to the development in the state was achieved at great expense and damage to the people's dignity and resources."

Governor Audu is also alleged to have massively defrauded the resources of Kogi State. Part of the looting is alleged to have been stashed away in foreign banks and used to build expensive mansions abroad. It is also alleged that statutory allocations to local governments in the state are being diverted into private pockets through the operation of joint account. Local government caretaker committee members cannot complain of the irregularities in the monthly release of funds to them for fear of victimisation and dismissal.

Civil servants are being monitored and victimised simply because they were found to be socialising with political opponents. These and many other endless dehumanising grievances have driven even close political allies of the governor into relentless opposition to his administration.

Many people believe strongly that if Governor Audu could treat his people within the past three and half years in such manner even when he anticipated to come back to seek their mandate for another term of office, the situation would be horrible for the people should the governor be given another period of four years. The feeling about this ill-treatment is very intense and painful among the people that the net result is to have a change come 2003. But the question now is, if majority of the people are determined to change Governor Audu during the 2003 election, who will succeed him? What will be the credentials of such person?

In 1999 the PDP which was visibly the dominant party in the state lost the governorship election because of the imposition of unpopular candidate from Abuja. In fact the protest votes of Igala people gave Abubakar Audu his second victory in 1999. But having realised their past mistakes the leadership of PDP in Igaland should narrow down the process of picking a credible and acceptable governorship candidate from among the crowded aspirants.

Chief John Odanwu who is the state chairman of the party is fully aware that for PDP to be relevant in the political arena of the state, an acceptable and winning candidate to the majority of Igala people was very necessary. And only that will make the PDP to form a government in Kogi 2003. The process of picking a credible candidate must not only be transparent but devoid of undue monetary inducement. Already the three ones in Igalaland (i.e. Idah, Ankpa and Dekina) have been directed to go back to their respective zones and present a single candidate preparatory for primary election slated for December 21st 2002. Out of the three candidates that would emerge from the three zones the first would go for the governorship election, the second persons will automatically go for the senate election, while third position candidates would be compensated with an important appointment.

In Ankpa zone Air Vice Marshal Alfa was in the race along with Engineer D.U. Muhammad, Alhaji Isa Abdullahi, Engineer Bob Alfa, Captain Joe Agada (rtd.) and Alhaji Ibrahim Idris (Ibro).

Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, a young businessman has already been declared flag bearer of the party in the state.

From across the Western River Niger, the Igbira and Okun people have been clamouring for power shift to their area.

However this clamour for power shift has not been agreed upon by the Igala people who believe that the harassment of the minority tribes forced them to vote for Governor Audu in 1999. This is seen as an attempt to force the issue again on the Igala people and it could once again deny PDP the opportunity to form government in the state in 2003.

It is therefore imperative and advisable that the Egbira and Okun people should join hands with the Igala to give PDP the support and commitment needed to win the 2003 election in the state. It must be restated that Governor Audu, and indeed ANPP is no more popular in Igalaland. However any attempt to threaten the chances of the PDP candidate of the state could force the electorate to vote an ANPP candidate in order to demonstrate once more that the Igala people are interested in individual credibility and not party solidarity. The challenge is up to the party stalwarts to rally round the mounted aspirant if they want to unseat the incumbent.

Already, Ibro, the PDP aspirant in the state has made a number of promises among which are his bid to restructure the state's civil service and improve the general welfare of the masses in the state. He is believed to enjoy tremendous goodwill and support abroad spectrum of the masses. However, may also have as many odds against aim as the incumbent.

In any case a big plus to Governor Audu's chances is multifacted projects he has put in place. And this explans why many believe that the battle for Lugard House may be tough for both contestants.

Agbonika is an Abuja-based media consultant.

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