INTRODUCTION: THE MAN FROM ARDOKOLA
Victor Bala Kona is the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Taraba state for those who don’t know. He is Jukun kona from Ardo kola, not far from Jalingo but speaks the Wukari variant of the jukun dialect fairly well having grown up in the city. He is also fluent with fulfulde. A hulk of a man with bulging eye balls, Bala instills fears as well as a sense of confidence in both friends and foes. He goes around with a frown but sometimes laughs out loud like a powerful man does. His traducers fear the business man who is well known for his brash method (some would say rural or village style) in his business and personal life. He is not a good dresser but this is probably again a cover for his wealth. A widower who remarried, not much is known about Victor Bala’s faith or family life (a silent rumour is that he was once a Muslim who converted to Christianity. Others said he only became a Muslim to get contracts from his Muslim friends when he lived in Yobe state. But today, he is a Christian again even though no one can say this for sure. He recently donated monies to a Catholic church though.) No one is sure of his academic credentials too but he speaks faltering English- a clear indication that Victor Bala has spent most of his precious time at the market rather than the classroom. He is wealthier than he is academically sound. Certificate or not, Victor Bala is a rich man today. He is into real estate. He likes to boast that he bought his way into power with his money, whatever that means. If he actually bought his way, then he has been fully paid with interests. Today, a collection of choice houses in Taraba, Abuja, Lagos and Dubai bearing the name VABALKON is a testimony to his business sense. He is also a ladies man with his athletic built and deep pockets.
His political credentials is also a case of controversies, he having moved from one party to another at various epochs. Some would say he is a practical individual who believes in the cash and carry school of political thoughts. Others would say he’s a smart Alec who likes to take calculated risk.
Whatever is his background, Victor Bala is now the PDP chairman on whose big shoulders, the burden of the party lies. It is a burden many say he can’t carry out well. They point to the last governorship election where Victor Bala could not even cast a vote because the machine didn’t capture his name or not found on the list. It is equally doubtful if Victor Bala can even win votes from his native Ardo Kola if he were to run for elections there because of the opposition he is said to face there. Apart from a massive castle he is building at Bakin Dutse village to the chagrin of the poor people there, there is no visible signs that he has touched lives in his place of birth. But his supporters point to the church and mosque he built in the village. He also gave the village roads and a clinic. So the questions many are asking is how would such a man help the party next election season seeing that even in his native soil, he couldn’t vote last time as the machine reportedly broke down or that his name was not captured in the voter’s register. It also means, ironically, that his vote is not one of the votes that brought in this government. Yet, it is no longer a secret that Victor Bala is the BIGGEST beneficiary of this government he didn’t even vote for. How sad.
Victor Bala too appears to be more interested in setting up his own structure, and not that of Governor Darius Ishaku. Victor Bala practically brought almost everyone working in the inner circle of Taraba state EXCO. Today, the governor is getting many criticisms about his team seen largely as incompetent. Did Bala deliberately bring in people that would benefit the governor or himself? Is it possible that the cabinet’s loyalty lies with the party chief and not the governor? Is this not dangerous should the governor and Victor Bala fall apart tomorrow? Is the governor even aware of this or he is just playing the Ostrich? Bala, it is rumoured has ambition to become a senator in 2019 and then the next governor from the North in 2023. This ambition, is said, has so consumed Victor Bala that he is making mistakes without acknowledging them. He wants to ride on the back of Darius Ishaku to reach his destinations. But in doing this, he is harming Darius by isolating people around the governor. So if Governor Darius fails, how would Victor Bala succeed in his own ambition? On any given day, Victor Bala can hold the governor hostage for hours. The least hours he spends when he goes to see the governor is five hours according to victims who have to wait for him to finish with the governor first. When he goes in, it is said he only discusses his personal businesses with the state’s leader. That’s the first thing many people point to as what would become a liability to the governor. Today, many allies of Gov Darius feel alienated by Victor Bala. It is no longer a secret that those who are angry with Darius tell everyone it is Victor Bala who caused it. They say he has hijacked the governor. Unfortunately, Governor Darius seems to have found his Man Friday and together they are walking into the storm. When a worried associate asked Darius what the matter is between
Victor Bala is also not friendly in the views of many even though he tries to be generous. Many compare him to the boisterous Abdulmumuni Vaki and say he doesn’t stand a chance. Vaki, who ran the PDP as Chairman for many years and now in the APC, is considered to be more friendly and popular. Bala, on the other hand, is hard, aloof and proud in the eyes of some. He is also unapproachable: menacing soldiers and police men always man his gate, harassing people and stopping them from reaching. His is the real “closed door” policy.
ASSET IN BLACK
Yet his supporters insist he is an asset. How he would use his vast wealth and experience still remained to be seen as the magic year of 2019 draws closer. But those who know him well say he’s the man for the job, notwithstanding the fact that he supported Sherrif instead of Makarfi in the last crisis of the party. His supporters insist that Bala would use his sound knowledge of the political terrains, his wealth and his connection to do the magic for his principal, Ishaku, who is said to have himself now graduated from the university of politics.
***Grace Awo Ibrahim, a political analyst, writes from Lagos