Despite the formidable forces deployed by suspected agents of Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State to truncate the political ambition of Senator Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan, her doggedness, resilience indomitable spirit and popularity frustrated all the state and non-state forces with the recent judgment of the Appeal Court declaring her as authentic winner of the February 25 senatorial election in Kogi Central, Ejiofor Alike reports
It was a humbling, if not a humiliating experience for the Kogi State Governor, Mr. Yahaya Bello, on Tuesday, when he announced his acceptance of the Appeal Court’s verdict affirming Senator Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the duly elected Senator for Kogi Central, and congratulated her for the victory.
The humiliation stemmed from the fact that despite the state machinery and non-state apparatus the governor’s suspected agents mobilised for over five years to stop her political ambition, she not only triumphed over these forces but also emerged as the senator representing the sitting governor’s senatorial zone on the platform of an opposition party.
Many believe her victory signifies a vote of no confidence in the governor and his eight-year tenure by his Kogi Central senatorial district.
Reacting to the Appeal Court verdict, the governor, while addressing State House correspondents after the Police Council meeting at the Aso Rock Villa, reportedly said: “I accept the decision of the Appeal Court and I use this opportunity to congratulate my sister, Barrister Natasha as a senator of the Kogi Central Senatorial District.”
He added: “I, as the executive governor of Kogi State received the news of the decision of the Court of Appeal nullifying the election of Senator Abubakar Ohere, and affirming Barrister Natasha Akpoti as the senator representing Kogi Central.”
The governor’s humiliation began in September when the Kogi State National/State Assembly Election Petitions Tribunal, pronounced Akpoti-Uduaghan as the rightful winner of the February 25 National Assembly elections as against Abubakar Sadiq Ohere of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who was earlier declared winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The tribunal chairman, Justice K. A. Orjiako, who delivered the unanimous judgment of the three-member panel, declared that Ohere’s results were inflated in nine polling units in the Ajaokuta Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
He added that INEC reduced Akpoti-Uduaghan’s results in those areas and omitted the results of three other polling units meant for her in the same LGA.
Following the corrections, the tribunal declared her as the winner of the election with 54,074 votes, as against Ohere’s 51,291 votes.
However, dissatisfied with the tribunal judgment, Ohere approached the Court of Appeal, seeking to quash the tribunal’s verdict.
But the three-member panel of the appellate court, in a verdict, upheld the judgment of the state’s election tribunal and dismissed Ohere’s appeal.
The court agreed with the submission of counsel for Akpoti-Uduagan, Mr. Joshua Usman, (SAN), that Ohere’s appeal lacked merit.
Before Governor Bello congratulated her on Tuesday, his suspected agents had deployed state and non-state apparatuses to frustrate her political ambition but she remained undaunted.
During the November 16, 2019 governorship election, which she contested on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Akpoti-Uduaghan had alleged that Governor Bello had ordered people to kill her since the eve of the election.
Addressing journalists shortly after she cast her vote, she said that no credible election was going on in Kogi central as most of her party agents had been harassed and arrested by “fake police officers.”
“I have been ready for the past hour and half but each time I try to cast my vote, there are sporadic gunshots then chanting violent words.
“This is definitely not an election; this is almost like a war zone and the sad thing is military personnel and security agents around there are doing nothing while thugs harass the SDP agents,” she explained.
Despite the violence unleashed on her and her supporters in the 2019 governorship election in the state, she remained undeterred and still contested the National Assembly elections on February 25, 2023.
But Governor Bello’s political intolerance also manifested when he allegedly ordered the destruction and excavation of major roads leading to the Kogi Central on the eve of the National Assembly elections, in what his opponents described as an attempt to obstruct the movement of election materials and personnel.
Akpoti-Uduaghan, who was the senatorial candidate of the PDP and who also wields significant influence in the politics of the state, had described the excavation of the major roads leading to the areas considered her strongholds as politically-motivated.
But defending this shameful action, the state government described it as a preemptive measure to stop terrorists from unleashing havoc on the people of the state.
In a statement issued on February 24, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr. Kingsley Fanwo, cited an unrelated bomb blast that had occurred two months earlier, on December 29, during a visit by the then President Muhammadu Buhari.
“One of the measures arrived at was to restrict the number of routes to the flashpoints to enable security agents to properly mount effective surveillance on the other access roads for the safety of the people,” the commissioner added.
Despite the violence unleashed on her and the manipulation of the senatorial election results in favour of the APC candidate, both the election tribunal and the Court of Appeal have unanimously declared her as the authentic winner of the election, to the humiliation of the governor, who had no choice than to accept the court’s verdict and congratulate her.
In her reaction to Bello’s congratulatory message, the senator who was sworn in on Thursday, by the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio, had on Tuesday, accused the Kogi State government of a plot to harm her during the senatorial election.
She made this allegation in an interview on national TV.
“I heard guns; I heard his henchmen shoot at my vehicle; I have video evidence of that,” she said.
She expressed concerns over Governor Bello’s recent statement where he acknowledged her victory.
She said: “He said this is the beauty of politics; this is not the beauty of politics. You don’t endanger people, you don’t destroy properties, and you don’t frustrate the electoral process just because you want your candidate to win and call it ‘the beauty of democracy.”
She recalled that essential routes within the state were destroyed to impede the seamless progress of the election.
“It was a day for the election, but thank God we had the payloaders, and I went all night; we had to cover the gullies so that the election could take place.”
With her victory, the first female senator in Kogi State has demonstrated that she is a dogged fighter who cannot be cowed by manipulative forces.
At last, her resilience, and wide acceptability by her people have paid off.
Her case should serve as a lesson to some governors who think that they can always use the apparatus of government to lord it over the people and truncate their wishes.