Governor Yahaya Bello said on Sunday that his political future would not be undermined by the victory of his arch political rival, Dino Melaye.
“The governor is not in any way connected to the exercise,” Petra Onyegbule, a spokesperson for the governor, told PREMIUM TIMES by telephone Sunday afternoon. “That it is going to affect the governor’s political future is a very myopic thinking.”
A campaign to recall Mr Melaye, representing Kogi West Senatorial District, failed permanently on Saturday after electorate in the district failed to show up for the recall exercise conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Only five per cent of voters turned out to verify their signatures when at least 51 per cent is required for the exercise to scale through to the next stage.
Mr Melaye, 44, welcomed the news from his hospital bed in Abuja ?by thanking his constituents for the unwavering trust they reposed in him, saying evil will never triumph over good in an apparent swipe at his political opponents.
The senator’s victory was immediately seen as a precursor to the 2019 general elections by his supporters and even members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Mr Melaye is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), but he had recently become a darling of some PDP commentators who are trying to seize on his ongoing political ordeal to encourage him back to the PDP.
Mr Melaye was formerly of the PDP, under which he was elected into the House of Representatives in April 2007. He later abandoned the party and was elected as senator in 2015 under the APC.
Although Mr Melaye supported Mr Bello, 42, for governor in 2015 and emceed his inauguration in January 2016, the two soon fell out with each other over the state’s staff verification exercise.
The exercise was widely deemed unpopular because it left thousands of workers unpaid for several months, but the governor said the initiative was necessary to winnow out ghost workers and other employment racketeers who constitute a major drain on the state’s already insufficient resources.
Mr Melaye recognised the essence of the policy, but strongly opposed the tactics deployed by the Bello administration. The matter soon became a serious point of political tension between the two, and Mr Melaye believes it is also the basis for his ongoing criminal investigations by the police.
The senator has been accused by the police of arming criminal elements to terrorize Kogi residents, as well as being a person of interest in murder, armed robbery and other criminal matters.
He was being driven to Lokoja when he reportedly escaped from a moving police vehicle and sustained injuries on Tuesday.
Although Mr Bello did not publicly participate in the campaign to recall Mr Melaye, the senator’s ability to survive the recall exercise despite being bedridden in the lead up to Saturday has made some commentators see it as a loss for the governor.
Demola Olarewaju, a PDP commentator, said the outcome of the exercise was a reflection of the electorate’s capacity to enthrone and dethrone politicians, a statement that echoed an earlier one by Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose.
But Ms Onyegbule dismissed the euphoria over Mr Melaye’s victory as indicative of a deep-seated ignorance of political commentators.
“Most people who make commentary on political issues do not know how the political systems work,” Ms Onyegbule said. “The politics in Nigeria is usually about ethnicity about religion.”
Ms Onyegbule suggested that Mr Melaye survived the recall because his supporters made the campaign about ethnicity rather than on substance.
“People are saying the governor want him out because he is an Okun person which is not true,” she added. “People should not make permutations, this is not in any way a reflection of 2019”
While it was difficult to establish where Mr Bello stood on the recall, some of his aides frequently ran partisan online commentaries that gave tacit support for the pro-recall campaigners.
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