The crisis of substitution bedeviling the All Progressives Congress (APC) continued unabated yesterday as the attempt by the party’s leadership to reconcile its governorship candidate, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, for the unconcluded Kogi governorship poll with its choice for running mate, Chief Abiodun Faleke, hit a brick wall.
Bello was formally selected by the party to replace Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the APC governorship candidate who died before the election was concluded.
But at a reconciliatory meeting summoned by the party to settle the two candidates, Faleke rejected the position of the party, maintaining that he was the governor-elect since he was on the joint Audu-Faleke ticket before his principal died.
Addressing journalists shortly after a three-hour meeting at APC’s national secretariat, Faleke said he would not accept the decision to field him as deputy governorship candidate for the supplementary election.
He said the meeting was not a reconciliatory one but a summon for a briefing by the leadership of the party which had already made up its mind on the choice of the substitute governorship candidate for the Kogi election.
“The issue of Kogi State was paramount in the mind of the national leaders and especially the national chairman of our party who said that he wanted a solution to it.
“However, we met for about two hours as you have observed and of course we discovered that the meeting that we were invited for was just a mere briefing rather than it being one where we could have deliberated and solved the quagmire we found ourselves in. We were only briefed about the position of the party,” he said.
Faleke added that the party informed them that it (the leadership) had nominated Bello, but he made it clear that as the political family of Prince Abubakar Audu, they would not accept that position.
He said that as far as he was concerned, he remained the governor-elect, adding that he had written to both the party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) about his stand.
He said he would subsequently approach the court to challenge INEC on his own over the declaration of the governorship election as inconclusive.
“We told them that it is not acceptable and I personally observed that my name has been submitted to INEC as deputy governorship candidate to pair with Alhaji Yahaya Bello and told the national chairman clearly that I had submitted a letter this morning distancing myself from that decision and that on no grounds will I be associated with the decision of the party to pair me with Alhaji Yahaya Bello because I am already governor elect.
“I also told him that for us as a family, the Kogi State political family, we are not taking part in that election, my name cannot be submitted because I was not even consulted in the first instance.
“The governor-elect cannot become a deputy governorship candidate. I want to make it very clear that Alhaji Yahaya Bello did not take part in all our campaign process and he will only be contesting elections in 91 polling units out of 2,548, or thereabout, polling units.
“So we have made it very clear that if they go ahead to conduct a supplementary election, it will be challenged in the court of law, it will be declared null and void.
“We won’t be addressing you today if the party out of honour took the path of honour we championed for the party to go to court and challenge INEC.
“However, Mr. Chairman told us right away, without considering it, that the party will not go to court and since the party is not going to court, we have taken it upon ourselves to defend ourselves in court and we are challenging the decision,” he said.
Earlier yesterday, the family and supporters of Audu and Faleke’s supporters met and decided to support him (Faleke) to emerge as the candidate to replace Audu.
Sources privy to the meeting informed THISDAY that the decision was made in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital, when both sides met before the meeting of the leadership of the APC, where a decision was to be made on Audu’s replacement
Emerging from the meeting, Faleke said: “I want to believe Audu Abubakar is not dead. His mandate is alive and we shall continue to fight until we achieve our goal. Adoja (Audu’s nickname) of our time will not rest, until our mission is achieved.”
Similarly, Audu’s son, Mohammed, who was briefly considered as a substitute for his father but had accepted to be Faleke’s deputy governorship candidate, said: “I Mohammed Audu, member of Audu’s immediate family, the Adoja political group, and distinguished party leaders across the state, are in support of Hon. Faleke.”
However, no word came from the party over what transpired at the meeting, as its chairman, Chief John Oyegun, quietly left the secretariat immediately the meeting ended avoiding the journalists who were waiting to be briefed.
Similarly, Bello, who was said to have been instructed not to speak on the details of the meeting, tried to evade reporters.
However, following the persistence of anxious journalists who had waited for hours to hear from him, Bello eventually caved in, confirming that he had been selected by APC to replace Audu to run in the Kogi supplementary governorship poll.
“I have been chosen as a replacement for Audu. I won’t say much, but to say thank you for all the cooperation you have extended to me,” he said.
Bello, who paid tributes to the late Audu, also expressed his gratitude to the party’s leadership for offering him the opportunity to contest for the governorship post.
Also confirming his nomination, INEC yesterday said that it received the nomination of Bello as APC’s replacement for Audu as candidate ahead of the supplementary governorship election in Kogi State.
The Deputy Director, Publicity at INEC, Mr. Nick Dazang, said: “They have sent the name of their replacement candidate, the second runner-up in their primary, that is Yahaya Bello, to the commission.”
He reiterated that INEC was prepared and determined to conduct Kogi supplementary and Bayelsa governorship elections billed for this Saturday.
“The commission is committed to conduct the two elections, that is why in respect of Kogi, in spite of what happened, we came out with a public notice asking the APC to submit its replacement candidate for the election,” he said.
He added that the commission would hold a stakeholders’ forum today in Bayelsa to underscore its readiness for the poll, adding that the distribution of non-sensitive materials for the Bayelsa poll had been concluded.
He said: “After the stakeholders’ forum, the commission will on Wednesday commence the distribution of sensitive materials in the state. We are inviting the representatives of political parties, their agents, observers, civil society oganisations and the media, among others, to witness the distribution of sensitive materials.”
The deputy director added that national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners from neighbouring states would be drafted to monitor the Bayelsa State governorship election.
But before the meeting of the APC leadership, the heavy security presence at the party’s secretariat could not stop the supporters of Bello and Faleke from clashing.
The supporters defied the security cordon and unleashed violence on anyone in sight around the national secretariat of the party yesterday afternoon.
Policemen on duty had a hectic time controlling the rival groups, which stormed the place at 2.30 pm.
In what looked like a moment of madness, rival groups went berserk, attacking each other and anyone in sight.
The rampaging youths threw stones, hit one another with sticks and smashed cars. In the end many people sustained injuries while many of the cars parked within the vicinity of the party’s office were damaged.
Even security operatives had to take cover from the rampaging supporters who threw stones and sticks at people until additional soldiers and riot policemen were brought in to restore order.
Though the reinforcement of security personnel successfully dispersed the agitated supporters, some of them still took positions around the secretariat waiting for the end of the meeting to know whether the outcome favoured their principals or not.