The Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, has since last week had to answer for the political correctness or otherwise of her statement, declaring support for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar at the expense of her principal, President Muhammadu Buhari. But that is â€˜vintage Alhassanâ€™, the numero uno of Taraba APC, writes Wole Ayodele
Since the video of her visit to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar went viral, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, has become the subject of political discourse. In the video, Alhassan, who had led a delegation of APC leaders in Taraba State to pay Sallah homage to Atiku, addressed him as incoming president of Nigeria come 2019.
Her comments immediately generated mixed reactions from some chieftains of the ruling party, political groups, opposition parties and members of the public in general. Many All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftains, particularly supporters of President Buhari, were enraged by the comment and demanded for her sack as minister. And while the dust raised by her comments was yet to settle, she was again quoted on a BBC Hausa service to have declared that Atiku was her godfather politically and her loyalty remained with him. She went further to disclose that her appointment as minister was at Atikuâ€™s instance, saying she would resign as minister if the president decides to run for a second term since her loyalty would be to the former VP.
Again, in a Reuters interview on Wednesday, Alhassan was quoted to have said Buhari told APC leaders before his election in 2015 that he would do only one term in office, a period he thought would be sufficient to clear the mess created by the Goodluck Jonathan administration just as she reiterated that she would resign as minister if Buhari decides to seek re-election.
According to her, â€œIn 2014/2015, he (Buhari) said he was going to run for only one time to clean up the mess that the (previous) PDP government did in Nigeria. And I took him for his word that he is not contesting in 2019. If today Mr. President says he is running in 2019, I will go to him respectfully and thank him for giving me an opportunity to serve and then tell him that I have to resign because my political godfather may be running,â€ said Alhassan.
However, when confronted by State House Correspondents on Thursday over her stance and what could be Buhariâ€™s reaction to her comments, Alhassan remained unyielding, saying the President is not naive and was swift to add without any fear of contradiction that she was not afraid of losing her position in the cabinet and that everything that has a beginning must have an end.
â€œGod gives and God takes. That is all and I have said it all in Hausa. You know that there is an end to everything. Let the will of God be,â€ she stated.
While Alhassanâ€™s comments and stance have continued to confound many political pundits, considering the average Nigerian politicianâ€™s propensity for self-preservation, only a few people that are privy to her antecedents are surprised by her latest disposition.
Alhassan, who is the first female Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Taraba State before she finally retired as Registrar of Federal High Court, Abuja is known to be somebody, who doesnâ€™t speak with tongue-in-cheek or shy away from battle for self-preservation. When she ventured into the murky waters of politics in 2011 by seeking the senatorial ticket of PDP for Taraba North, she was up against Senator Anthony Manzo, who was enjoying the support of the then governor, Danbaba Suntai.
She went ahead to defeat Manzo after a keenly contested primary election held at the Jolly Nyame Stadium in Jalingo and after winning the primaries, she had the first civilian governor and political grandfather of the state, Rev Jolly Nyame, to contend with in the general election. Contesting senatorial election against Nyame in a district, where the Mumuyes are the dominant tribe is a herculean task any day, but with the support of Suntai, who already had a running battle with Nyame, Alhassan emerged victorious.
But barely after a year as Senator, Alhassan had a disagreement with Suntai and even when it was obvious that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to win a second tenure without state government support in a state like Taraba, Alhassan nevertheless remained resolute and their relationship broke down irretrievably before she later joined other Senators to form the New PDP from where she defected to the APC.
Rather than seek a second term as Senator on the platform of the APC, she threw herself into the ring to contest the gubernatorial election even though she was not oblivious of PDPâ€™s strong roots in the state. She ran a very strong campaign and gave the ruling party in the state a run for its money, forcing a run-off after the first election was declared inconclusive before Darius Ishaku of PDP eventually emerged winner. She later fought a legal battle unsuccessfully up to the Supreme Court to upturn Ishakuâ€™s victory at the poll.
However, while still pursuing her case in court, she was appointed minister by President Buhari, which was seen in many quarters as a plot to make her drop her legal battle. But to the surprise of many, she declared publicly that she would continue with her case though she remained grateful to the president for finding her worthy to serve as minister. At a point, she was jokingly addressed as â€˜Your Excellencyâ€™ by Buhari before she finally lost at the Supreme Court.
At the home front, Mama Taraba as sheâ€™s fondly called by her teeming supporters has been having a running battle with the integrity group, a splinter group of APC. The groupâ€™s activity came to light after APC youths across local government areas in the state called on Alhassan to contest the 2019 gubernatorial election and the group is composed primarily of those opposed to her emergence as APC standard bearer.
Though the integrity group consists mainly of Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf supporters, Senator Abubakar Tutare, Ambassador Ardo Jika Hassan, who was APC chairman in the state until his appointment as ambassador, the partyâ€™s machinery in the state still remain in the firm grip of Alhassan.
When the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, visited Taraba State recently on a working visit, he arrived in company with Alhassan and when he later held a meeting at the Unity House (owned by Alhassan) to reconcile members of the party in the state, including the integrity group, it was clearly evident that Alhassan is the Numero uno of the party in the state. With her declaration that Buhari had promised before election not to seek reelection, even while still serving in his cabinet, Alhassan has perched where angels fear to tread and for indicating her readiness to resign as minister in the event that the President changes his mind on his promise to do only one term, Mama Taraba is inadvertently writing a new code of conduct for Nigerian politicians.
And clearly, more than anything else, she has equally reinforced the very essence and meaning of political loyalty. In her case are two issues that distinctly stand out – service and political loyalty. Whilst the record of her service as a member of the Buhari government has never been in doubt, at least, since her appointment, the recent stand in view of her loyalty has also been properly situated without equivocation. She has proven to have a lot of guts, regardless of whose ox is gored and with such a disposition, people do not have to go far in search of what political loyalty really means â€“ Alhassan is a clear epitome of one!