For Smart Adeyemi, who was declared winner of the rerun election in Kogi West Senatorial District, making it to the red chamber for the third time was a tough journey.
He has served two terms of eight years between 2007 and 2015. His initial bid for a third term was halted in the 2015 election. He had lost to Dino Melaye, then of the All Progressives Congress (APC) through a number of factors, including a PDP that was divided over his third-term ambition, as well as the Buhari factor, which worked in favour of his opponent.
He never stopped the pursuit of his ambition.
Four years after, in the February 23, 2019 election, again, Adeyemi lost to his old time foe, Melaye, the duo having swapped parties. The dynamics of politics had transferred Adeyemi to the APC, while moving Melaye to the PDP, both of them belonging to Bunu/Ijumu/Kaba axis and Ijumu Local Government Area of Kogi West.
This seemed an affront to agitators for rotation and inclusivity. They believed this to be a deliberate creation of the two dominant parties in disregard for the rotation arrangement in the zone.
Melaye is in court. Pending the determination of the court cases, Adeyemi has resumed, having been inaugurated by the leadership of the National Assembly.
Before the election, Adeyemi interfaced with Kogi West elders to reconsider their position on rotation and their dislike for Yahaya Bello’s style of politics. Several parleys he midwifed did not yield positive results. Twice, the elders led by Gen David Jemibewon turned down Adeyemi’s appeals for a rethink and when eventually the meeting held with elders of Okunland, the much-expected endorsement of Bello was denied.
The issue of whether or not the rotation arrangement in Kogi West will survive after the setbacks is likely to be determined by factors beyond Kogi West. Paramount of which is the 2023 governorship.
There have been permutations about which of Kogi West and East should produce Bello’s successor at the expiration of his second term. Kogi West is the only senatorial district yet to produce an elected governor since the creation of the state in 1991. Prior to the last election, Adeyemi spearheaded the campaign that Kogi West stood a chance to produce the successor to Bello in the spirit of fairness and equity. In fact, the 2023 governorship formed the basis of his appeal to his kinsmen in Kogi West to support Bello in the 2019 election. Yet, it is widely speculated that there existed a long-standing agreement between Bello and his deputy, Edward Onoja for the former to handover to the latter, based on their long-term political affiliation and friendship. Added to this is Onoja’s unflinching loyalty to his boss, the synergistic working relationship between him and Bello; and his influence while he was the Chief of Staff, which earned him the accolades of the de facto governor. The Deputy Governor is also seen as the backbone of the governor in the majority Igala in Kogi East.
Recently, the issue of the 2023 governorship once again came to fore. Governor Bello, while reacting to clamour for power rotation made by the Kogi West Elders Forum, which him paid him a congratulatory visit at the Government House, Lokoja, reportedly told the elders he was not in the position to decide where his successor would come from, saying only God and the Kogi electorate can decide that.
It is believed in Kogi West circus that if the next governor emerges from there, the next senator from the zone would not come from the same federal constituency.
Will rotation still matter, going forward in Kogi West?
With the seat of Kogi West in the Senate certain to be occupied by the Bunu/Ijumu/Kaba axis for the next four years, totaling 16, the question will be whether or not the rotation arrangement has died an unnatural death.
Flashback to the 2015 election; despite that party elders in the zone were favourably disposed to rotation to Yagba Federal Constituency based on the extant zoning arrangement, Adeyemi and Melaye, emerging as candidates of the PDP and the APC, frustrated that bid.
To start with, the history of rotation arrangement of the Senate seat of Kogi West zone was a product of the desire to collectively work towards the zone producing the governor of the state. PDP elders and stakeholders in the majority Okun axis, like the Late Chief Sunday Awoniyi, General David Jemibewon (rtd) and former Deputy Chief of Staff in the Presidency, Prince Olusola Akanmode, in their wisdom, had devised the zoning formula as a give and take with co-party elders in the Lokoja/Kotonkarfe axis to ensure that Kogi West people share a bond to improve the zone’s chances in the governorship election in 1999. The arrangement, with Awoniyi, a founding father and influential national leader of the PDP pulling strings at the national secretariat of the PDP threw up the late Arc Stephen Olorunfemi from the Okun axis as the PDP governorship candidate while Brigadier-General (retired) Tunde Ogbeha from Lokoja/Kotonkarfe axis emerged as PDP”s Kogi West Senatorial District candidate.
While Ogbeha succeeded in his election, Olorunfemi, however, lost the governorship election to late Prince Abubakar Audu, an Igala, from Kogi East Senatorial District, who was the flag bearer of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP).
The inability of the Okun people to produce the governor did not hinder the chances of Senator Ogbeha of getting a deserved second term. Ogbeha, however bowed out after two terms of eight years.
Back in June 2014, Ogbeha in an interview confirmed that indeed there existed the gentleman agreement that the Senate should be rotated among the Okun people and their brothers in the Lokoja/Kotonkarfe axis. According to him, it was the late elder statesman, Chief Sunday Awoniyi who midwifed the zoning arrangement in order to insulate the three federal constituencies from politics of bitterness. He emphasised the imperatives for political gladiators to keep the rotation arrangement sacrosanct and inviolable in the interest of peaceful co-existence of the good people of the senatorial district.
“I can categorically confirm that such gentleman’s agreement exists because I was a direct beneficiary of the arrangement that made me not to seek re-election for third term in the senate,’’ he declared.
The outcomes of the 2019 elections in Kogi State, Kogi West in particular have left the bewildered bookmakers wondering if it was a worthy exercise to venture into pre-election forecasts. The entire process defied predictions. Hence, focus has now shifted to the tribunals.
With regards to rotation, some are of the view that it was high time rotation was totally done away with. This school of thought is of the opinion that the fluidity of Nigeria’s modern day politics has increasingly developed immunity to morality, let alone respect for political agreements. Some have reasoned that rotation, and zoning arrangement should not be prioritized over competence and integrity. They suggested that politics remains a game of numbers, performance, acceptability and the electorate ultimately determining the votes.
“Kogi West will only fare better when it sends ranking legislators to the National Assembly. Rotation is good in the spirit of fairness and equity but there is no way the factor of integrity, acceptability, performance and the votes of the electorate can be pushed aside.