From Emmanuel Adeyemi, Lokoja
There seems to be no end to the crises rocking Kogi otherwise known as the confluence state. It’s certainty not for nothing that Kogi State is bad news again and the underlying factor for these controversies that sometimes result in crisis is surely the quest for politically concluded 2019.
Apart from the 17 legal fire works that greeted the emergence of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the governor of the state, which bordered on its legitimacy, it has been one crisis or the other and the middle name of the confluence state can aptly be called crisis.
Although, the June 7th 2016 Supreme Court judgment finally gave legal backing to Bello as the right candidate to succeed the then All Progressives Congress governorship candidate, Prince Abubakar Audu, who died shortly before the result of the election was finally announced, the party in the state with this judgment has been further polarized.
The trending controversy is Governor Yahaya Bello’s voter registration scandal.
The National Electoral Commission had accused Bello of illegal double registration in the ongoing Continuous Voters Registration exercise. He was said to have obtained his voter’s card in Abuja sometime in 2011 and yet participated in another round of registration at the Government House, Lokoja which was clearly outside the designated area.
The idea behind the registration of voters across the country was to accommodate those yet to register, those who were below eighteen years old during the last voters registration exercise and people that moved from one state to another on the register.
But the picture of the double registration of the governor which was widely posted on social media by his aides was viewed by INEC as a clear affront against the law since the right thing for him to do was to transfer his voter’s card from Abuja where he initially registered to Agassa in Okene Local Government Area where he hails from and not Government House Lokoja which falls in another senatorial district.
In a press statement, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voters Education Committee, Solomon Soyebi categorically denied authorizing any staff to “re-register him and or to do so outside designated CVR centres”.
Soyebi confirmed that Bello was first registered at Wuse Zone 4, Abuja, on January 30, 2011, but illegally did so again on May 23, during the ongoing continuous voters registration exercise at his Lokoja, Kogi State office.
According to him, the commission was taking disciplinary action against the INEC staff involved.
He said: “Were it not for the governor’s immunity, he would not have escaped prosecution.
“Section 308(1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) precludes INEC from prosecuting him while in office. However, INEC wishes to state that it has cancelled his second and illegal registration forthwith because our electoral law and the commission’s guidelines make no exception for anyone to register more than once and outside the designated areas.”
As expected, the governor’s obvious goof stirred up another round of reactions which was spearheaded by the APC chairman in the state, Haddy Ametuo and
Senator Dino Melaye representing Kogi West Senatorial District who called for the governor’s resignation on the basis that he has embarrassed the party and the state, respectively.
In Melaiye’s words “It’s unfortunate that we have a fraudulent governor who has exhibited criminal tendencies. Yahaya Bello should resign immediately. We are not only going to start civil mass action but we are going to mobilize Kogi State House of Assembly for his impeachment. He should resign. It’s a fraud.”
Also reacting, the main opposition party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) condemned the act and described it as “a drama of the absurd.”
The Kogi State PDP Publicity Secretary, Prince Bode Ogunmola, in a press statement, noted “While we see the development as a vindication of our party’s earlier stance on the voter’s registration status of Yahaya Bello, we wish to make it clear that the present APC-led government in Kogi was foisted on the people of the state. “It’s not untrue that Yahaya Bello was not legally qualified and had no moral standing to run for election in Kogi State, in the first place, since he has never been a registered voter in the state.
“It was not for nothing that some of his party members were not happy and openly disagreed with the way the national body of the APC imposed his gubernatorial candidature on them. The state is presently groaning under a leadership that has no place in moral justice.
“Our party is taken aback by the revelation that Bello registered as a voter for the second time on Tuesday, May 23, 2017 in the Government House, Lokoja. This, to us, smacks of double standard on the part of the electoral body.
“The questions INEC needs to ask itself are: Did the officer(s) of the commission that registered Bello for the second time not know that he had claimed to be a registered voter? Does it mean that INEC has no record of voters in its data bank, thus allowing double registration? No doubt, somebody is not ready to stand by the truth somewhere.”
“It is, therefore, not enough to cancel the second registration without ensuring that the necessary penalty is meted out. Bello did not only register twice, but also had the audacity to carry the electoral officers and their equipment to Government House, Lokoja, which is not one of the designated centres for the exercise. “The people of Kogi have, with this development, seen the hollowness in the agenda of the APC-led government. Therefore, our party will continue to be on the side of the people as we pursue the restoration of their dignity through the ballot box in 2019.”
Rising to the defence of his boss , the Director-General, Media and Strategy to Governor Bello, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo said, Bello never lied about his INEC registration status.
He said: “While some were positively worried, some others see it as another window of opportunity to get at the governor. We thank both groups. “From the first day, the governor didn’t say he registered in Kogi State. It even came up at the tribunals. He registered in Abuja. He never voted in Kogi State. Nothing in the law makes it mandatory for you to vote for yourself before you can win a political position. We have had people who won elections from detention in the past. They wouldn’t have voted for themselves from detention.
“As a star witness during the tribunals, the Chief of Staff to the governor, Hon. Edward David Onoja told the panel of judges that the governor was a registered voter, but not in Kogi State. The governor’s efforts to transfer the card from Abuja to Kogi State has not been successful, hence the need to seize this golden opportunity to get registered in Kogi State. There was nothing wrong with registering in the governor’s office because it belongs to all Kogites. Government House is People’s House,” Fanwo argued.
But in what could have been regarded as a negation to Fanwo’s line of defense, the governor while answering reporters’ questions last week Friday at Aso Rock Villa said he was actually in Dubai on the said date that INEC accused him of double registration saying it might have been his ghost who did the double registration at the government house, Lokoja.
Findings by Sunday Sun however revealed that the governor actually did the double registration on May 16th and traveled abroad the following day, but the INEC data base recorded May 23rd being the date the data was uploaded from the system.
It was also gathered that the INEC official who actually conducted the double registration was brought from the Okene local government office of the commission along with few others to do the hatchet job.
This, it was gathered, might be responsible for the strange disappearance of the governor’s name from the database owing to the commission’s threat to bring the erring officers to book. According to a media report, the commission which was shocked over this development had set up a committee to unravel those behind the illegality and bring them to book.
But as this issue was raging, the government was doing all it could to extricate itself from all these controversies and perhaps throw back some jibes to its perceived enemies. And Dino Melaiye seems to be the arrowhead of the foes of the administration. Of recent, the social media platform has been awash with a purported lie of Melaiye “who earlier accused key members of the Bello administration of planning to assassinate him”.
Series of protests have also been staged against the senator with the latest coming from members of his constituency agitating for his recall from the National Assembly.
More interesting is the alleged telephone voice conversation where Melaiye was said to have discussed some monetary issues with a member of the election tribunal that tried his case when his predecessor, Smart Adeyemi dragged him before the tribunal.
Melaiye however consistently denied the allegations saying his voice was cloned.
As the battle of wits continued between Adeyemi and Melaiye, Governor Bello, it was learnt, quickly leveraged on that and wooed Adeyemi, known as a strong political force in the state and especially in Melaiye’s senatorial district to his side.
Adeyemi who later came along with hundreds of his supporters with great funfair not long ago to pay a courtesy call on the governor at the government house, Lokoja, said he decided to visit the state to prove to Melaiye that he was more popular than him.
He said the senator had said he had absconded from the state for fear of being stoned by the people and used the visit to enumerate his various achievements while in the Senate for eight years even as he called for the support of kogites in the reelection bid of the governor saying he has performed well.
The governor who was highly elated with his cabinet members also showcased the achievements he had recorded sector by sector to the visitor and openly canvassed for the recall of Melaiye to substitute him with “a matured and thoroughbred Adeyemi”.
The governor also used the occasion to hit back on critics over the non-payment of workers’ salaries and said all the workers have been paid up to April except those regarded as ghost workers. He later held a closed door meeting with the visiting senator.
Meanwhile lately, there was another attempt on Senator Dino Melaye’s life in Lokoja during which suspected gunmen shot sporadically as the senator was addressing supporters on the controversy surrounding his re-election bid. The attack took place on June 12 at the gate of Kogi State Polytechnic and lasted 30 minutes resulting in heavy traffic jam along Lokoja-Abuja highway. Three people were reported killed in the attack. In a series of tweets, Melaye confirmed the incident and said his vehicle was shot at. It would be recalled that earlier in April, an attempt was made on the senator’s life and seven people were arrested in connection with the incident.
But political watchers are wondering if Bello’s record in the state and his hobnobbing with Adeyemi will suffice for him to scale through the governorship election and come out victorious in 2019 and also if the new alliance with Adeyemi give the governor a breathing space from the ever-ravenous Dino Melaiye and other APC leaders in the state.
How far can the governor and Adeyemi go in bringing back Senator Melaiye from the National Assembly and what is the prospect of Adeyemi or even Melaiye winning the senatorial seat again in 2019 as the ruling party’s popularity is seriously in the reverse gear in the state? These are indeed questions begging for answers.