Ajaka, a former national officer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had dumped the ruling party and secured the governorship ticket of the SDP following his inability to get the APC ticket, which was clinched by Ahmed Usman Ododo.
The SDP’s candidate, an Igala from the Kogi East Senatorial District, is perceived to be one of the popular contenders in the November election.
He is also seen as the main challenger to Ododo, who is believed to be Governor Bello’s anointed candidate. Kogi had witnessed series of electoral violences in the past.
During the November 2019 governorship election in the state, a report by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) revealed that 10 persons were killed in 79 cases of violence recorded across the 21 local government areas of the state.
Violence was also recorded in Kogi during the February 25presidential election. An instance was the killing of a young man, simply identified as Akayama, who was said to be gunned down by thugs who invaded Anyigba in Dekina Local Government Area of the state to cart away election materials.
There were also reports of violence at Mopa in the Kogi West Senatorial District and some areas of Kogi Central Senatorial District during the poll.
Yesterday’s incident, it was learnt, happened around the Navy Quarters, near Lokoja, when Governor Bello was returning from Abuja.
Bello and Ajaka traded blame over the incident, accusing each other of being responsible for the attack.
While Bello alleged that his convoy was attacked by the SDP’s team; Ajaka claimed that it was an assassination attempt on his life by Bello and his men.
An eyewitness said the governor’s convoy ran into the SDP’s stalwarts and their supporters who were on the way to Lokoja, after paying a courtesy call on the paramount ruler of Kotonkarfe, Ohimege Igu, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isah Koto.
The source added that the SDP supporters, who were moving in a long convoy of vehicles, took over the road, thus preventing the governor’s convoy from negotiating out of the highway at that particular time.
According to the source, the melee that followed led to sporadic shootings by alleged “miscreants” and bullets hit many cars, though no life was lost.
However, the Kogi State Government in a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, alleged that the governor’s convoy was blocked and attacked by people believed to be supporters of Ajaka.
“The attack took place near the Naval Base, a few kilometres from Lokoja where the convoy of Muritala Yakubu Ajaka, having sighted that of the governor, blocked the road and some of his armed thugs started shooting sporadically at the convoy of the governor.
“The governor left the scene unscathed and there is no cause for panic as the Governor is in high spirit”, Fanwo said.
The state government alleged further that “some security aides and other aides attached to the governor sustained injuries and had been rushed to medical facilities for medical attention”.
Fanwo said while the state government promised to ensure that law and order is maintained, the “governor warned that no APC member should be involved in any reprisal as insecurity from any quarter will be met with stiff penalties”.
Bello, while speaking on the incident at the Government House, vowed that his administration would deal with anyone or group of persons threatening the peace and progress of the state.
He said there was no hiding place for any political thug, miscreant or whoever is hiding under politics to perpetrate evil in the state.
“In the game of politics, I don’t take anything for granted. In this particular game , I will leave no stone unturned. We are sure of an overwhelming clean victory in the coming governorship election.
“On lion’s day, an antelope blocked my way. Let this be the first and last. We are looking forward to the law enforcement agents to take action.
It’s assassination attempt – Ajaka
Meanwhile, Ajaka, in a statement by his campaign’s spokesman, Faruk Adejoh, alleged that gun-wielding men in the governor’s convoy attacked him.
The statement read: “Ajaka and some vehicles accompanying him were approaching Lokoja at the vicinity of the Ram Market at about 300pm when two power bikes and a Toyota Hilux overtook his car and forced it to a stop.
“The men jumped down and began shooting at Ajaka’s car and all other cars in the motorcade. They shot for over 5 minutes at Ajaka’s bullet proof car unprovoked.
“All this while Bello’s car was parked a few meters in front and was used to barricade the road while the gun men had a field day.”
“When they ceased, Ajaka’s car, a Lexus SUV though a bulletproof (car); was totally damaged and demobilised.”
Our correspondent learnt that Ajaka aborted his courtesy visit to paramount rulers in the state and returned to Abuja because of the incident.
One of his closest aides, Muhammad, said that an SDP chieftain identified as Muri, “escaped by grace of God”, saying, “his bulletproof vehicle prevented the bullets from reaching him as he was shot at close range in the confusion that ensued on the highway”.
The Kogi State Police Command’s Public Relations Officer (PPRO), SP William Aya, did not respond to a text message and call to his mobile for comment.
CDD, CODE demand action on Kogi violence
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Connected Development (CODE) have demanded proactive and decisive actions over Saturday clash ahead of November governorship election in the state.
Speaking with Daily Trust on Sunday in Abuja, Director CDD, Idayat Hassan, said: “Kogi elections has always been one of the most violent in Nigeria, we often say that Kogi State is one of the headquarters of political thugs in Nigeria.
“Why this is worrying is that this is several months into the election, almost five months, and there are stories of election violence particularly between a sitting governor and a candidate. It is extremely worrying and this can only tell us how violent the election can actually be.
“It could be recalled that in the 2019 election, there was huge election day violence, very unprecedented such that even observers were beaten up and the largest polling unit was scattered.”
Also, the Chief Executive of the Connected Development (CODE), Hamza Lawal, urged the security agencies to be on the alert ahead of the governorship poll.
He said: “This is madness and unacceptable and security agencies must rise to the occasion. First, they must institute inquiries and investigate what transpired and they must ensure that there are consequences.
“Kogi State has enjoyed peace for the past seven years and now we cannot afford a breakdown of law and order. Election is just one of the democratic processes and no one should subvert the will of the people. Security agencies must be on high alert and for we civil society, we shall not relent in holding government accountable.”