In this piece, our correspondents examine how some governors lost their senatorial bids after they were defeated by candidates of the opposition parties in their respective senatorial districts, which is one-third of the states they govern
In Nigeria, governors are powerful. They have a huge influence and they have their way in almost everything they have interest in. In recent elections, the chances of any presidential candidate in the general election was seen to be partly dependent on the number of governors such a candidate had on their side, because governors seemed to have the uncanny ability to deliver the votes of their states in favour of their preferred candidate. However, it became a matter of interest in the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections when a number of them could not ‘deliver’ their states for their preferred presidential candidates while some of them who had senatorial ambitions were defeated by opposition candidates. For those who lost their senatorial bids, it also implied they could not win one-third of their states after eight years as governor. The instances are cited below:
Zam vs Gov Ortom (Benue)
Dr Titus Zam, a member of the All Progressives Congress, is the senator-elect for Benue North-West. He defeated his former boss and incumbent governor of the state, Samuel Ortom, of the Peoples Democratic Party in the February 25 elections. Zam, 54, was the Special Adviser on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs to Ortom between 2015 and 2018 when he was relieved of his duty. Many people believe his sacking might not be unconnected with his refusal to follow the governor to the PDP when he defected from the APC. Zam scored 143,151 votes to defeat the governor, who polled 106,882 votes. A PhD holder in Political Science and former civil servant, Zam was years ago appointed by the then Governor George Akume to serve as the Transition Committee Chairman of Gwer-West Local Government. He also served in the state chapter of the APC before he was appointed by Ortom. Speaking on what possibly made him defeat the governor, Zam told one of our correspondents in an interview that it was due to the poor performance by the governor. He said retirees whose pensions were not paid, students whose bursaries were not paid and farmers who couldn’t access fertilizers, among others, could not have voted for the governor. He added, “The outcome of the election in my senatorial district is what I call a referendum on the poor quality of leadership that my opponent, Governor Ortom, has provided. He has been in the saddle as governor for close to eight years, his performances should have given him the victory if he has done well, but it’s on the contrary. So, Ortom got what he deserved because he didn’t perform well as governor. How will civil servants who are owed over two years’ salary support the governor? It is a lesson for all of us aspiring to leadership positions that with the introduction of BVAS, power has gone back to the electorate.” Ortom is a member of the G-5 PDP governors who took a stand against their party in the presidential election.
Abaribe vs Gov Ikpeazu (Abia)
The senator representing Abia South in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, Enyinnaya Abaribe, would seem like a hard man to beat in a contest. He did not only defeat the incumbent governor and candidate of the PDP, Okezie Ikpeazu, in the February 25 senatorial election, the governor came a distant third. Abaribe, who defected to the All Progressives Grand Alliance after he lost the PDP ticket in 2022, scored 49,903 votes, the candidate of APC scored 43,903 votes, while Ikpeazu scored 28,422 votes. When Abaribe joined APGA, a relatively unpopular party in Abia State, and stepped down as Senate Minority Leader, many felt his stay at the National Assembly had come to an end, especially because he was contesting against the governor and the fact the state had traditionally been a PDP state since 1999. But he defeated the governor and will be in the 10th Assembly to serve his fifth term in the red Chamber. Speaking on how Abaribe was able to defeat the governor and the governing party, his media aide, Uche Awom, said he won because his people love him. He stated, “He is always identifying with his people. He didn’t even set up any campaign council. He worked with the party and he has done well for almost every community in his district. There is no ward you will not see his footprint and he’s not the type that makes noise. For him to have won for the fifth term, using APGA, it speaks volumes for his performance. He did not only win his own side of Obingwa, he won the governor’s side too. He defeated the governor in five out of six local governments. Till now, people keep coming to pay homage to him. He is a man of the people and a grass roots politician.” Meanwhile, Ikpeazu is another member of the G-5.
Ezea vs Gov Ugwuanyi (Enugu)
Chief Okechukwu Ezea, a member of the Labour Party, is the businessman and politician who defeated incumbent Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in the senatorial election. He will be representing Enugu North senatorial district at the Red Chamber. He scored 104,492 votes to defeat the governor and PDP candidate, who scored 46,948 votes. The APC candidate, Mr Simon Eze, however scored 6,816 votes. Since 1999, PDP has been the governing party in the state, and until the February 25 elections, Labour Party was largely an unpopular party in the state. Thus, Ezea’s victory came as a surprise to many and he is believed to be one of the beneficiaries of the LP wave on account of the persona of the party’s presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi. Ezea, a lawyer, is not new in politics. He contested the governorship election in 2003 and 2007 on the LP platform but lost. He later joined the Action Congress of Nigeria and later the APC, but returned to LP in 2022. Efforts to speak with him were not successful, but findings showed that apart from the Peter Obi phenomenon, he is also a grass roots politician. It was also gathered that his people in Nsukka/Igbo-Eze South federal constituency expected it would be their turn to produce the next senator since others had produced in the past, but that the governor didn’t honour the rotation, which many believe cost him the election. Ugwuanyi is also a member of the G-5.
Jarigbe vs Gov Ayade (Cross River)
The senator representing Cross River North in the National Assembly, Agom Jarigbe, won his re-election by defeating the incumbent governor of the state, Prof Ben Ayade, who had earlier represented the senatorial district between 2011 and 2015 before he became the governor in 2015. Meanwhile, 52-year old Jarigbe, who is a member of the PDP, scored 76,145 votes, while the governor, a member of the APC, scored 56, 595 votes. Jarigbe is not new in the National Assembly. He was a member of the House of Representatives in the 8th Assembly in 2015 and won his re-election in 2019 to represent Ogoja/Yala federal constituency. But in 2020 when Senator Rose Oko died and her seat became vacant, he contested the election and he lost. He however challenged the election in court, and the Supreme Court in 2021 declared him the winner of the election. Thus, he assumed office as a senator on September 15, 2021. Jarigbe studied Chemistry at the University of Calabar and is presently studying Law. Ayade is one of the governors who would have retired to the Senate like some of his colleagues but for his loss at the poll.
Aliero vs Gov Bagudu (Kebbi)
The race for the Kebbi Central senatorial seat in the upper chamber of the National Assembly was a contest between a former governor and an incumbent. Senator Adamu Aliero, who was the governor of Kebbi State between 1999 and 2007, won his re-election in the February 25 election, defeating the outgoing governor, Atiku Bagudu, who was aspiring to retire to the Senate like some of his colleagues. He was once a senator before he became the governor in 2015. Interestingly, both Aliero and Bagudu belonged to the APC until May, 2022 when Aliero withdrew from the senatorial primary and dumped the party for the PDP, where he got the ticket. In his open letter to the leadership of the APC then, Aliero said the scheduled primaries of the APC in the state would be “shambolic and patently fraudulent because the delegate list comprised persons handpicked by the state governor to do his bidding.” In the election, Aliero polled 126,588 votes to defeat Bagudu of the APC who scored 92,389 votes. Aliero has since attributed his victory to his constituents, whom he said gave him another opportunity to serve.
Jimkuta vs Gov Ishaku (Taraba)
David Jimkuta, a member of the APC, defeated the Governor of Taraba State and PDP candidate, Darius Ishaku, in the race for the Taraba South senatorial seat. Jimkuta scored 85,415 votes while Ishaku, who is also seeking to retire to the Senate, scored 45,708 votes, translating to a margin of about 40,000 votes. He won in all the local governments in the senatorial district, including the governor’s town, Takum. He had told journalists after he was declared winner that he felt good “defeating a sitting governor.” The senator-elect was a leader of the Southern Taraba Youths for Positive Change. He was also the National Coordinator, Northern Minority Youths for former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, which Jonathan eventually lost to the incumbent, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). The Court of Appeal on February 8, 2023 declared him as the candidate of the APC for the senatorial election. The appellate court had set aside the decision of the Federal High Court, which dismissed Jimkuta’s suit challenging the substitution of his name with that of Danjuma Shiddi. Meanwhile, Ishaku, an architect and former minister, was also planning to retire to the Senate like some of his colleagues, but his loss at the poll frustrated that move.
Bali vs Gov Lalong (Plateau)
The Governor of Plateau State and Director General of the APC presidential campaign council, Simon Lalong, lost his bid to represent Plateau South senatorial district. He scored 91,674 votes, while the winner of the election and candidate of the PDP, Air Vice Marshal Napoleon Bali (retd.), polled 148,844 votes. The governor had lost his polling unit to the Labour Party. Meanwhile, 59-year-old Bali, who is from Langtang North Local Government Area of the state, was a member of the 33 Regular Course at the Nigerian Defence Academy and was commissioned as a pilot in 1986. He had his Master’s in Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Ibadan in 2013. Lalong has been in the political space for a while. In 1999, he was elected into the Plateau State House of Assembly and in 2000, he became the speaker until 2006 when there was a crisis in the House. He was also the Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of State Legislatures in Nigeria. In 2015, he contested to be governor and he won. His tenure ends on May 29. However, his defeat at the poll frustrated his bid to retire to the Senate like some of his colleagues.
Report by Tunde Ajaja, John Charles, Sunday Nwakanma, Raphael Ede, Patrick Odey and James Abraham
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