Though there are 38 candidates jostling to become governor of Kaduna State, John Shiklam writes that the contest is really between incumbent Governor Nasir El-Rufai of the All Progressives Congress and Hon. Isah Ashiru of the Peoples Democratic Party
The governorship election in Kaduna State is a battle of two political gladiators, deploying all available guts and wits.
There are 38 candidates jostling for the exalted office of the governor, but the main contenders are the incumbent governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Hon. Isa Ashiru of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who have been crisscrossing nooks and crannies of the state canvassing for support from the people.
Both of them are Muslims from the northern part of the state. While the APC is flying a Muslim- Muslim ticket, a departure from power sharing and inclusiveness that had existed since the creation of the state in 1967, the PDP is presenting a Muslim- Christian ticket.
The impact of the other 36 candidates can hardly be felt . Apart from a few of their posters and billboards on the streets, there is no indication that they on the ground and campaigning like the APC and the PDP.
The election, is therefore, a straight fight between the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP in the state.
It must be noted that since 1999, Kaduna had been the stronghold of the PDP, having governed the state for 16 years.
However, the party lost out in the APC’s “wind of change” that swept across parts of the country and led to the woeful defeat of the PDP in the 2015 elections.
El- Rufai, having made his mark as a performer while serving as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was the toast of the people at that time. His emergence as governor raised the hope of the people in their quest for dividends of democracy. They believed he would transform Kaduna as he did Abuja.
Interestingly, his opponent, Ashiru, a former state lawmaker and member of the House of Representatives who dumped the PDP in 2014 and joined the APC, contested for the governorship ticket with El-Rufai and three others. He lost the primary to El-Rufai who got 1,965 to his 1,379 votes.
Kaduna occupies a strategic position as the political capital of the north. It is also home to the northern elites. President Muhammadu Buhari and some of his aides like his Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari, Minister of Interior, Abdulrahaman Danbazau among others reside in Kaduna.
The northern elites, therefore, play a role in ensuring who becomes governor of the state.
For El-Rufai, besides the incumbency factor, he enjoys the backing of the federal government. Buhari has substantial followership in Kaduna and this will work to his advantage. In fact, the governor has promised Buhari 80 per cent of votes in the February 16 presidential election.
The governor feels that he has achieved a lot in the past four years and therefore deserves to be re-elected.
His performance has however remained a subject of controversy among the people of the state.
While the governor’s supporters claim that he has performed, his critics and the opposition insist that he has failed, accusing him of implementing anti-people policies and programmes that have led to poverty and hunger.
At the flag off of his campaign on December 12, 2018, the governor said the ordinary people will support him because his programmes are aimed at improving their living condition.
He said his administration has “made tough choices and accomplished much for the people. It is clear that the political forces that were soundly defeated in 2015 have ganged up again, we must mobilise our people to again reject them at the ballot,” he said.
According to him, “the struggle to empower ordinary people and to make their lives better requires that the party of the people should continue in government.”
El-Rufai said he was seeking re-election on a record of achievements in human capital development and governance innovations, adding that the controversial local government elections, conducted in 2018, which the APC won overwhelmingly, was the first test of his popularity and support.
“It was our first test of popular support, and it showed that ordinary people know who is standing for them. We do not take that for granted. Therefore, we will campaign even harder,” he said.
He maintained that, “in spite of all the risks we have taken and all the people we are supposed to have upset, the election on March 2, as far as Kaduna State is concerned, is almost a done deal.”
He argued that the reforms in local government administration and the restructuring of traditional institutions in the state has freed up resources for the 23 councils which are now financially buoyant enough to execute capital projects after paying salaries and overhead costs.
However, some of the alleged anti-people policies, have created a large coalition of aggrieved people who have vowed to vote against the governor.
Upon assumption of office, El-Rufai banned the age long practice of sponsoring people for pilgrimage to either Mecca or Jerusalem, thereby saving millions of naira for the government.
This may not have gone down well with some people as many states, continued to sponsor people for pilgrimage.
He also banned the practice of street begging and introduced a Bill to regulate preaching by both Christians and Muslim clerics in the state, but these could not be enforced as they were mired in controversy and were never revisited again.
The banning of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, (IMN) also known as Shiite, by the governor has also pitched them against him.
The home and property of their leader, Shiekh Ibrahim Zakzaky who has remained in detention since December 2015 were demolished by the state government.
El-Rufai banned the group on the recommendation of a judicial panel of enquiry set up to investigate the clash between the Shiites and the Nigerian Army in Zaria in December 2015.
Over 21,000 teachers sacked following his reform of the education sector have not forgiven him, though the governor said the reforms were aimed at ensuring quality education in public schools in the state.
The teachers were sacked for failing a competency test administered on them by the state government.
His decision to nominate Dr. Hadiza Balarabe, a Muslim woman from the southern part of Kaduna state, as his running mate was received with mixed feelings.
His critics accused him of further dividing the people along religious line, alleging that he was promoting religious sentiments for political gains.
But El-Rufai has consistently defended his position, saying his choice was not based on any religious consideration but on competence and capacity, saying he is optimistic about winning the election.
His alleged marginalisation of the southern part of Kaduna state and the alleged poor handling of attacks on communities it the area by herdsmen, may have been responsible for the seeming sour relationship between him and the people of the area.
The governor himself recently confirmed his unsavory relationship with the Southern Kaduna people when he said that even if he had nominated the Pope as his running mate, 67 per cent of the Christians in the area will not vote for him.
Furthermore, the renaming of some traditional institutions, without regards to their historical and cultural dynamics did not go down well with them. For example, the renaming of the traditional title of ‘Agwom Adara’ to ‘Agwom Kachia’ and the ‘Sa Gbagi’ to ‘Etsu Chikun’. The leadership and indigenes of the affected communities are waiting to extract their pound of flesh from El-Rufai at the polls.
Besides, a sizeable number of those who worked to bring him to power in 2015 state had left the APC for PDP and other political parties following the conflict that embroiled the party.
Chief among them are his arc political rivals; Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi (representing Kaduna North) and Senator Shehu Sani (representing Kaduna Central) who were once castigated by the governor, for rejecting the $350 million World Bank loan to the state which was to be approved by the senate. Others who left the APC include, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Mr. Tom Matamaki Maiyashi, Alhaji Saeed Haruna, governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Ambassador Sule Buba and Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba among several others.
Before declaring for the governorship race, Ashiru had served two terms each in the state assembly and the House of Representatives.
But very little was known about him, politically, until he decamped to the APC and contested for the party’s governorship ticket in 2014.
Besides enjoying the support of those aggrieved against the El-Rufai’s administration, he has the backing of influential politicians like former Vice President, Namadi Sambo, former National Caretaker Chairman of the PDP and two-term governor of the state, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former governor Mukhtar Yero, Mr. Ishaya Dare Akau, former Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Waje Yayok, former National Organising Secretary of the PDP, Alhaji Abubakar Mustapha, former Finance Minister, Senator Nenadi Usman and former Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu among others.
He also enjoys the support of both Muslims and Christians in the northern and southern part of the state, having chosen a Christian as his running mate.
He is likely to get bloc votes in the southern part of the state, which has remained the strong hold of the PDP since 1999.
However, observers opined that the emergence of Ashiru as governor may be disastrous for the state as he does not seem to have the necessary experience and the intellectual capacity to govern a complex and volatile state like Kaduna.
The fear, according to his critics, is that he may end up being controlled by his political godfathers and may not be able to bring any development to the state.
Curiously, he doesn’t seem to have any policy document. If he does, it has not been made public.
Besides, blaming the APC’s failure to perform, promising to review the cases of those sacked from work and promising to chase out hunger and tackle insecurity, nothing much is known about his vision for the state.
He also seems to be media shy. He has effectively avoided the probing eyes of the media, so far.
Beyond the candidates, is the quest by residents of the state to have a peaceful and transparent election.
There is palpable fear about the eruption of violence as politicians strategise to outwit each other.
In the past few weeks, there have been concerted efforts by the Kaduna State Peace Commission and non-governmental organisations towards sensitising the people for peaceful elections.
Kaduna is like a tinderbox and at the slightest misunderstanding, it may go up in flames.
Each election year brings the sad memories of the 2011 post-election violence which led to the killing of 800 people in the state.
The governorship candidates recently signed a peace accord for a smooth conduct of the elections.