By Omonu Nelson
Since Kogi State was created 29 years ago, in what many described as ‘Kogi Divine Mandate,’ the journey to the realization of that divine mandate has been plagued by push and pull. SUMMIT POST examines Kogi long walk to fulfilling its divine mandate.
The creation of Kogi State, a symbolic name, derived from Hausa word for body of water, can be constructed from a ‘Divine’ prism. Standing on a tripod of three ethnic groups, never a time, since 1967, have the three major tribes separated (politically), except between 1976, when the East of the Niger, the Igalas, were ceded to Benue, following the creation of Benue State out of Benue-Plateau State. This left the Ebirras in the Central and Okun in the West in Kwara State.
However, in 1991, the maverick and enigmatic Gen Babangida despised all odds to grant the yearning and aspiration of the Igalas, to rejoin their brothers on the other side of the River Niger. These historical antecedents and yearning have proven that the ethnics in Kogi are inseparable.
Just like any other creation, there was a divine mandate for the state, among which is to serve as a springboard for the demonstration of ethnic understanding and unity. Another reason for the creation of Kogi State was for the three ethnic groups and other minorities in the state, to take advantage of its strategic location, natural endowments and rich and dynamic cultural heritage; for shared prosperity, in the spirit of the philosophy of “Stronger Together.’
Naturally, Kogi State, especially, Lokoja and environs, enjoys enviable spotlights in the anal of the Nigerian socio-political and economic development. First, Lokoja, was the first administrative headquarter of Nigeria. As a testimony, the building that served as Lord Lugard’s Office, the Governor-General that amalgamated the southern and northern protectorates into Nigeria, still serves as Kogi Governor’s office till date.
It stands to Kogi’s credit that, the name Nigeria was coined by a British journalist with the Times Newspaper of London on colonial affairs, Miss Flora Shaw, at Lokoja. She suggested in an article that the territories around the River Niger be named ‘Nigeria.’ An event that took place at the Lord Lugard’s Guest House, still standing on “Mount Party,” 1,500 feet above sea level in Lokoja. These historical relics can be leveraged on to boost tourism and enhance government revenue.
The history of Agriculture and other economic activities in Nigeria, by 80% revolves around the two major rivers (Niger & Benue) that converge at Ganaja village, in Lokoja. Again, taking advantage of confluence nature of the Kogi State capital, Lokoja, huge revenue can be earned from creation of beaches and hotels for picnics, accommodation, conferences and other leisure. The old Beach Hotel built by the late Abubakar Audu can serve as a veritable starting point.
Geographically, Kogi State is the hinge that hold or links the Southern and the Northern parts of Nigeria together because it is bordered by nine states. Also, host to two giant steel companies, one of which is the multi-billion dollar complex (Nigeria’s wasted destiny) located at Ajaokuta. By the time the two Steel plants are powered to full efficiency, Kogites and Nigerians will have no business with unemployment and poverty. That is why the call for more action by the Federal Government, whose jurisdiction it is to complete the project, is more loudly today than ever.
The State has other deposit of solid minerals, including Limestone being exploited by the Dangote Group at Obajana. There is also a large deposit of coal at Okaba, in Ankpa Local Government area. And the controversial crude oil deposit, that is causing brouhaha at Odeke and Echeno in Ibaji local government of the state.
It is regrettable that despite nature’s generous endowments, Kogi State has remained at the crossroad of development and one of the least developed in Nigeria. When other states in Nigeria are cast down and are unable to pay salaries, Kogi was supposed to be saying, ‘There is a lifting up’.
Another reason opinion leaders identified as the possible cause of the state in quagmire is ethnic squabble and mistrust because of what some describes as complicated and delicate ethnic, economic and political balance.
The 1962/3 national population census gave the demographic distribution of Kabba Province, now Kogi State, as follows: the Igalas, on the east of River Niger 54%; the Igbirras, in the Central 30%; the Okuns, on the West 15% and the other minorities 1%. Since that era, population census results from the same area has become so absurd and unreliable for any meaningful scientific assumptions.
This disproportional population distribution of the state has constituted constant sources of tension among the ethnic groups in the state. This sad turn of events has, in no small measure impeded the realization of the ‘Kogi Divine Mandate” (KDM).
The journey to Kogi State dates back to independence in 1960, when the current geography of Kogi State was known as Kabba Province, an equivalent of today’s state system. The Province had three Native Authority (NA), equivalent of today’s local government system; Igala Native Authority, Ebirra Native Authority and Okun Native Authority. Following the abortion of the First Republic on the January 15, 1966, and the subsequent creation of 12 states out of the existing four regions. Kabba Province was ceded to the newly created Kwara State.
However, just when the components were about settling down to pursue the divine mandate, the February 1976, state creation exercise by Gen Murtala Muhammed, truncated their journey to the ‘Divine Mandate.’ While the Igabirras and the Okuns remained in Kwara State, their counterpart from the east of the Niger, the Igalas, were merged with the Tivs and Idomas, who were excised out of the old Benue Plateau State.
To confirm that Kabba Province was a divine mandate after all, on the 27th August, 1991, Gen Ibrahim Babangida brought the trio together, once more, to pursue their divine agenda. One significant thing to note about these two groups; the Kwara and Benue returnees; is that, they were both oppressed and underdeveloped from where they were coming from.
By the time, they got back to their fold, this time, no longer Kabba Province, but Kogi State, they had learnt bitter lessons. Commentators say, the hangover of such bitter lessons, reflected in the political, economic and social altercations that resulted between them.
The Igalas had learnt political domination from the Tivs, who relegated them to the role of Deputy Governor, despite the flimsy population difference between the two ethnic groups. But the Tivs were more politically sophisticated because of the political legacies of Senator Joseph Sanwa Tarkaa.
Though, Alhaji Adamu Attah from Igbirra, became governor of old Kwara State between 1979 and 1983, on the whole, they were marginalized like their Igala counterpart from Benue State. The effect of this hangover was that, the three tribes were ready for confrontation by the time they arrived Kogi State.
This explains the ethnic quarrels that ensued in the state, shortly after Prince Abubakar Audu was elected the first executive governor in November 1991. The then Social Democratic Party (SDP) through the influence of Gen Shehu Musa Yar’ Adua’s People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) tried unsuccessfully, to impose late chief Silas Daniyan as the SDP candidate.
Due to the desperation to impose Chief Silas Daniyan, the 1991 governorship primaries between Dr Silas Daniyan and Dr Steven Makoji Achema were canceled four times. By the time the SDP hierarchy acknowledged the futility of trying to impose Chief Daniyan at the fourth round, it was already two weeks to the main election, severe damages had already been done to SDP’s chances. This paved the way for Prince Audu of the National Republican Convention (NRC) whose emergence as a candidate was unopposed, had finished campaigning.
Though, Dr Achema was immensely loved because of his patriotism, courage and charisma, Prince Audu, a seasoned banker and former commissioner for Finance, Budget and Planning, under Gov Fidelis Makka of Benue State, had warmed his way into the heart of the people with the construction of the Anyigba-junction-Ejule-Idah road. This and the internal contradictions of the SDP gave Prince Audu a leeway in the 1991 governorship election.
Alas, the self-style democracy of Gen Ibrahim Babangida could not survive its own antics. The entire democratic structure; from Local Government to the senate was swept away by Gen Abacha’s palace coup on November 18, 1993. But not without Prince Audu making his mark.
Among his landmark projects was the state Polytechnic at Lokoja. He also opened the road that links Lokoja-Ganaja-Ajaokuta. Kogi Radio/TV was also established. This conferred on him the automatic impression of an achiever. Recall that, before Prince Abubakar Audu became governor in 1991, the Igalas had to embark on Israelite journey, when traveling from Lokoja to their area by first passing through Okene. He was also wetting the ground for a state University before the rude intervention by the military class.
Though opinions were sharply divided about the personality and conduct of the Ogbonicha born Prince; Adoja, as he is fondly called by his chieftaincy title, he had basket-full records of achievement to campaign with at the return to democracy in 1999, as the unopposed candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (APP, later, ANPP).
By 2003, when Prince Audu was seeking re-election, the relationship between the Igalas, Prince Audu and the elites of other ethnics had irredeemably deteriorated. Prince was practically bundled out of power by the combination of ‘Federal Might’, local discontent, especially, those who believe he is a performer but at the same time, too pompous to be spared.
He was accused of favouring his Igala ethnic, especially, the location of the State University at Anyigba. However, his exit brought mixed fortune for the state. Opinions are still deeply divided about the place of his successors in the history of the state.
The continuous dominance of the governorship seat by the Igalas became a source of constant tension in the state. This was further complicated by the reliance of political elites on primordial sentiments, like religion and ethnicity for political gains.
Analysts had attributed the ability of the political class in the state to play one ethnic group against the other to the lack of adequate political socialization and education. That explains why our voting pattern has remained biased in favour of ethnic and other primordial considerations.
For instance, an Igalaman will prefer to vote an Igalaman, even if there are more credible alternatives from other ethnics in the state. In the same vein, an Okun or Igbirra man will prefer to vote their kinsmen/women, even if they are mediocres.
The cry of marginalization got to its peak and the promise of ceding power to the Igbirras or Okuns became a potent campaign tools for the political contenders in Igala land. For the first time in Kogi’s political history, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, stood up to Prince Audu for the APC’s governorship ticket for the November 21, 2015 election. But the Prince prevailed. However, Alhaji Bello’s effort altered the political narratives in the state.
To further counterbalance the political calculation in the state, the cold hands of death snatched Prince Audu in the midst of an election he was already condemned to win. To solve the political logjam, the stakeholders had to resort to what can be best described as invocation of the doctrine of necessity.
The APC, INEC and the Supreme Court ratified the choice of Bello to inherit Prince Audu’s votes. This decision has to a greater degree diluted the cry of political marginalization by other parts of Kogi state.
The journey to Kogi at 29 has been full of mountains and valley experiences. Analysts are of the opinion that, the political stakeholders in the state must do away with the ‘Divided We Stand’ of the last 29 years, if they desire a sustainable development of the state.
If this position is true, what Kogites need to do, is design a constructive way of managing their diversities, instead of allowing politician to play on their collective ignorance.