Laleye Dipo writes that the governorship race in Niger state has gathered momentum with the two major parties running neck-to-neck; and one lesser-known party providing a strong challenge
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in Nigeri State flagged off its campaign at the Idris Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, with Governor Sani Bello giving an account of his stewardship (since he assumed office in 2015) to stakeholders.
The forum was also used to present the scorecards of three key commissioners. The commissioners for Finance, Health and Agriculture gave a run down of what they said the administration had done since their appointments.
One interesting aspect of their presentation was that the filled venue was calm until the tail end when the governor requested the people to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari, “myself and our national assembly candidates,” that the hall came alive with chnts of ‘Sai Baba! Sai Baba!’, to demonstrate their acceptance of Buhari.
The APC has since been criss-crossing the length and breadth of the state soliciting for the support of voters .
Two days after the APC flagged off its campaign, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in grand style moved into Bida, the headquarters of the Nupe speaking ethnic nationality in the country, which also incidentally serves as the headquarters of the Niger South senatorial zone of the state.
Present at the PDP were the who-is-who in the party in the state. It was even rumoured that some of the foot-soldiers of the PDP governorship candidate arrived Bida two days before the event under the cover of darkness to reach out to the people in the community.
Bida and, in particular, Niger south is very critical to any political party that wants to win an election in Niger state because the town is the home town of the PDP deputy governorship candidate, Mr Mohammed Ndayako.
While the zone is reputed to have a very large voting population that had in the past thrown its weight behind the PDP and its candidates, the scenario may not be the same, this time around.
Recall that since the First Republic till the National Republican Convention (NRC) era in the botched Third Republic when the late Bagudu Waziri was the political leader of the zone, the people of the senatorial district had always voted for one political party. This might have informed the decision of the PDP to flag-off its campaign from the zone and it did a beautiful job with the assignment because not less than 3000 members of the ruling APC and the African Democratic Congress (ADC) switched political party loyalty to the PDP at the rally.
Four days later, the PDP campaign train moved to Niger East senatorial zone, stopping at Suleja.
The choice of Suleja is very understandable. It is one of the most populated cities, if not the most populated, in the zone. The town also has a large number of non-indigenes some working in Abuja but residing in the town. Suleja is no doubt also the commercial nerve centre of Niger state because of its location on the federal highway linking the southern and northern parts of the state.
No wonder, therefore, the message of the PDP in Suleja was assurances that all discriminatory policies hindering residency of non-indigenes in the state will be removed.
The party’s standard-bearer, Umar Nasko was referring to the dichotomy in the payment of school fees by indigenes and non-indigenes in the state and the APC government’s refusal to pay the NECO and WAEC fees for non-indigenous students in public schools. This policy may be the albatross of the ruling party in the governorship election.
The Action Democratic Party (ADP) which has a former member of the state house of assembly, Alhaji Isa Kawu as its candidate also flagged off its governorship campaign at a hotel in Minna. Though a very likeable person and a grassroots politician who hails from Bida town, it is not very clear if Isa Kawu is serious about his governorship ambition especially when it is clear he does not have the needed funding for the project. Also not believing in a godfather, as well as, being independent minded could work against him. In other climes, these qualities would have been added advantage to his governorship pursuit.
As things stand now, it is very clear that the field has been left very clear for both the incumbent Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello of the APC and the PDP candidate Alhaji Umar Mohammed Nasko. To say otherwise will be to deny the obvious.
The setting now is also a replay of the 2015 governorship election when the duo of Nasko and Sani Bello slugged it out with Sani Bello having the upper hand.
Political observers attributed that victory to the “Buhari hurricane”, which swept off many good candidates in the state and the country.
“That hurricane has been stemmed now with the non-performance of the APC government in the state in the last four years,” one observer said.
Since 2015 things have changed politically, to the extent that the APC cannot boast of the 100% support it enjoyed and which made it to win in that election.
The situation has even become worse by perceived non-performance of the party in the eyes of the electorate. The electorate in the state are using the same yardstick of the tremendous eight-year performance of former Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu to compare the almost four years of Governor Sani Bello.
The present administration has not helped itself in the area of public enlightenment. Much is not known about the supposed achievements of the government. The governor’s relationship with the media has been so poor that he cannot mention the name of five correspondents. He has only been able to speak to the media only once in his almost four years in office.
Another issue that may work against the APC especially in the governorship election is the lack of cordial relationship between the governor, on one hand and its state and federal legislators, as well as lack of logistics for the campaign.
Also likely to affect the second term bid of Governor Bello is the sour relationship with Abubakar Magaji who is seen as the political leader of the Niger south senatorial zone.
Though Abubakar Magaji a foundation member of the APC and a member of the party’s BoT, he has remained quiet since the crisis broke out. It is being speculated that he could turn against the governor during the governorship election. If he does, it could lead to irreversible loss to Bello.
The campaign for re-election by Sani Bello too has not been smooth sailing. In some areas so far visited the governor was reportedly booed especially in Gbako and Lavun local government areas.
The PDP governorship candidate, Umar Mohammed Nasko who has been showered with much show of love from the youths and women may spring a surprise in the election. His choice of a Bida Prince, Mohammed Ndayako also a former chairman of the state branch of the Nigeria Bar Association is a master stroke that has also endeared him to majority of people in the Bida emirate.
The style of campaign of the governorship candidate of the PDP (house-to-house; ward-to-ward; people-to-people) has made it possible for Nasko to reach and talk to more people. However, lack of enough financial resources may also be a setback for the governorship candidate.
With both contestants coming from the same zone, chances are that they will share from the pool of available votes. There is also the possibility of sharing Niger south senatorial zone where their deputies come from, therefore, Niger east which is predominantly inhabited by the Gbagyi-speaking people is going to be the battle field where the governorship race may be decided.
The style of campaign of the governorship candidate of the PDP (house-to-house; ward-to-ward; people-to-people) has made it possible for Nasko to reach and talk to more people. However, lack of enough financial resources may also be a setback for the governorship candidate