The Director General, Research and Development to the Kogi State Government, Mr Moses Okezie Okafor, has said that the Deputy Governor of Kogi State, Chief Edward Onoja could still emerge as the governor of the state in future.
Okafor disclosed this while clarifying on issues surrounding Kogi November poll where he also explained that the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forthcoming coming state governorship election, Hon. Ahmed Usman Ododo, is the candidate to beat in the the poll.
According to Okafor, the successes recorded in Ododo’s ongoing campaign are result of the candidate’s leadership strides being a former auditor general for local governments of the state.
Okafor, a member, State’s Executive Council, also added that the Ododo’s ability to identify with the accomplishments of the outgoing Governor Yahaya Bello is also another reason for the wide acceptance the governorship candidate has received.
In this interview with The Sun , Okafor emphasised that Ododo is relying on his innate capacity as a grassroots politician and the assurances of consolidating on the blueprint of the incumbent governor, Bello, to win the hearts of the Kogi electorate.
The process leading to the emergence of Ododo was also explained by Okafor just as he shared his thoughts on the political ambition of the current Deputy Governor, Edward Onoja as well as other economic and political issues in the state.
How will you describe the capacity of Ododo to win the forthcoming election in Kogi State?
He is a tested technocrat and financial professional by training, he has been the auditor general almost from inception and he has been the engine room of a lot of the reforms we have had at the local government level which has allowed the Kogi State civil service to be streamlined. Though till today we’re still working to perfection but Alhaji Ododo was very instrumental in ensuring that not only made the system 99 per cent cleaner beginning from when Governor Yahaya Bello resumed office, but also the civil servants themselves are getting a better deal in terms of at least promptness in the payment of salaries since 2018 when the staff screening and verification exercise ended.
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As the auditor general of Local Government he has been very instrumental to the state’s clean slate when it comes to transparency, the state you know for about four-five years running now. As an auditor it’s not just about auditing the workforce, it’s also editing the finances of the local government, making sure that things are done properly. So, it’s not surprising that World Bank has continuously scored Kogi State high in ‘Fiscal Transparency’ and ‘Accountability’ it’s not just the because of the efforts of state level where we also have an auditor general but the incorporation of the local government level which is even in fact more critical because a lot of things can go wrong there if not properly handled. Ododo’s work at that level has helped a lot in ensuring that the ratings of the state in fiscal transparency, accountability and probity remain high. So, when he becomes governor by the grace of God the people of Kogi State will be getting somebody who is steeped in transparency as a tenet of governance, which of course, you know is very key in Nigeria where corruption seems to be overtaking the instruments of state. Ododo himself is a product of the current government system which is the “New Direction Political Family” founded and led by Governor Yahaya Bello; we call it the system which simply means the New Direction Political Family, that came into power in 2015 and has remained in power up to this current dispensation. And the Political family is actually working to transition into a second stage while still retaining power in Kogi State and Ododo is our flag bearer and I can have it on good authority that he came forth out of the system that took cognisance of all the other talents on display. I’m talking about all the system’s character, cognates, competency, in fact we had about 12 aspirants who are products of the system that purchased the APC governorship expression of interest form to contest for the ticket. It shows that Governor Bello has a pool of at least 12 leading men and so many others who could have succeeded him. Governor Bello gave the aspirants the nod to pick forms because he knew that any one of them was qualified to be governor but at the end of the day, the system threw up one person and that person is Alhaji Usman Ahmed Bello.
What is your opinion with regards of views in some quarters that Governor Bello backed Ododo’s emergence in order to cover up his financial lapses?
That’s not true. Ododo is not the auditor general of the state, but the auditor general of the local government, but of course, he worked like a junior colleague to the auditor general of the state. There is even a current Accountant General of the state in the person of Alhaji Jubril Momoh. All of them made the final shortlist to contest for the governorship, in fact, the three of them purchased forms and also were pushed through the process in addition to other persons such as commissioners and non-commissioners while some were just party members. From within the New Direction Political Family about 12 persons were given the green light by his Excellency Governor Yahaya Bello to obtain forms and from among all of them, there were several levels, but one can’t deny the fact that yes, of course, the APC in Kogi State and indeed the government in Kogi State is a ship that has a very strong hand at the helm so definitely you will not expect the ship of state in Kogi State and even the party machinery in the state to be rudderless without somebody controlling it. Of course, the governor has veto powers over a lot of things and he that I know does not shy away from leadership. But the thought that Ododo was chosen to cover up anything should be perished because if that was the reason there are persons who know more than him in this administration. There are other persons who manage the finances of the government whom the governor could have chosen if he had anything to hide. Even sometimes when it means taking the hard actions, yes he (Governor Bello) had input into the emergence of Ododo, but he did not dictate the emergence, the system worked on its own , people (candidates) proved themselves on their merit and then at a point when it came to be what seemed like a tie and they needed the leader to have the casting vote and the leader uused is discretion that are personal to him and decided to make his decision. The selection process had arrived at a logical conclusion and there was a need for someone to break the tie and that was when the governor came in and I am sure that he did what was best for the system, party and in the best interest of the state and its people. Particularly with regards who will become the next governor of Kogi State. I won’t tell you that some people did not feel it should have been them, I won’t tell you that within the party that there wasn’t searchings of heart, but ultimately, but one can see that even if it wasn’t the perfect choice, it wasn’t the wrong choice and as well know nothing is perfect in life. Summarily, let’s say it was the consensus choice in the sense that while not everyone may have agreed with it, the majority have agreed with it.
We understand that your governor shares a very robust relationship with the current Deputy Governor, Edward Onoja dating back to so many years. Has that changed since the outcome of the APC primaries ?
The contest for who became the flag bearer was very tight and, of course, the Deputy Governor was very highly mentioned. We also have the current Chief of Staff, Asuku Jamiu . Though former Smart Adeyemi turned his back on the political family even before the primaries, so within the intra-party rivalry he was on the other side. The contest was a difficult choice for anybody and even the governor himself acknowledged the fact that at the end, it was a difficult choice. It was at his discretion, when a father has to pick only one out of his children over a particular opportunity, the father just has to pick one not that he hates others that he didn’t pick. But as a father you have some considerations that are peculiar to you for which you decided to make this choice. Guess this is why persons in office usually write memoirs of their lives when they leave office, where they reveal certain things. Myself as the chief archivist of this administration, I can’t sit down and tell you the reason Alhaji Ododo Usman was picked. But when it comes to the things that are empirical and measurable like competency, education, experience and wide acceptance Ododo is also in the frontline with others that I have mentioned. So, when we had a tie situation, the governor’s unpleasant duty was not to be a tie breaker and the governor is the only one that can tell us the reason it had to be Ododo.
Do you think Edward Onoja was fairly treated despite his loyalty to the governor and system?
Let me first tell you about their current relationship. This week I saw both of them together. I can assure you they still have each other’s backs strongly. The deputy governor has also been in the forefront of harmonising everyone after the choice had been made. He has made it clear that it’s not about his ambition. Of course, he did aspire and had high hopes that it would be him, just the same way the other 12 felt. But since it ended up that way he has made it very clear from the moment the decision was made that it remains one family we are together and the key thing is for the APC to win the forthcoming election and all hands must be on deck. Yes, the deputy governor has been very loyal to the system and to his principal (Governor Yahaya Bello) and he has done his very best since Ododo emerged to also provide guidance. On why he wasn’t chosen I’ve said it before that this is an in house choice after everyone in the house had lined up, there’s a reason, the father or principal took the final decision. What I know is that the system put itself through a transparent process of selection and at the end of the day Ododo was chosen and we have all thrown our weight behind the party’s choice and we are all working for the victory of the party in the forthcoming election on November 11. The deputy governor himself has not in any way shown that this is anything, but an in house selection process which did not favour him now. But I believe that God’s time is the best, in 2023 it’s Ododo. In another eight years’ time it can be Edward Onoja. The fact is everyone is still within an acceptable age bracket; in eight years time Edward might just be 54 or 55 so he will just be ripe. For me I don’t think we should speculate too much. What is important is that at the appropriate time after a process where everyone was allowed to contest and show their interest and do whatever they can do to persuade the system when it was time the governor made the final casting decision. Some turned their backs on the “New Direction Political System” which Governor Yahaya Bello founded in 2015 and it turned out to be the biggest mistake of their lives. As far as I know the entire group of people who obtained forms and did not emerge have solidly surrounded Ododo and they are pushing his candidature led by the Deputy Governor, His Excellency Edward Onoja, of course, under the overall tutelage of our principal, Governor Yahaya Bello and the rest of us are all keying in. Of course, there must be disappointments, some may have cried into their pillows at night, but ultimately we have all picked ourselves up and I can tell you we are unstoppable. What has happened in Kogi State is beautiful that a system could throw this without any rancour. As someone from the Southeast I wish our people can emulate this if we are going to grow in the Nigerian political space.
With the influence of Governor Bello in the emergence of Alhaji Ododo, do you think he won’t be a stooge ?
There’s no governor who didn’t emerge from a previous governor, if a governor finishes his tenure it’s expected that he hands over to a party man. If the governor completes his term he has to handover to someone who will carry on with the good works. The fact that Ododo has emerged under the leadership of Yahaya Bello does not mean that Ododo is a stooge to Alhaji Yahaya Bello.