Nseobong Okon-Ekong converses with a chieftain of the All Progressives Party, Senator Basheer Garba Lado, who represented Kano Central Senatorial District in the 7th National Assembly and served as Director, Contact and Mobilization, North, in the Buhari Presidential Campaign Council. He dismisses allegations of thuggery and violence and shares insights on how Governor Ganduje won the Kano gubernatorial election
As a member of the Northern political intelligentsia, what’s your take on the imperative of creating a new Nigeria?
The importance of creating a new nation state defined by a genuinely progressive template and inclusive governance cannot be overstated. It is a matter of urgency and importance to our future development. Therefore, all hands must be on deck and we must be relentless in our efforts towards the transformation of our nation. This is a continuous process, which requires proper planning, commitment and courage. I believe our past leaders like the brilliant late Mallam Aminu Kano, my political role model, and several other eminent national leaders have laid the foundation for us to build upon.
People are surprised to see that after President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory in the presidential election, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under the leadership of Senator Kwankwaso almost took over Kano in the governorship and state assembly elections. What really gave birth to the electoral problems in Kano?
Let me start by thanking the Almighty Allah and the good people of Kano for the victory. In my opinion, the notion that the PDP almost defeated us in the assembly and gubernatorial elections is totally wrong. There were a number of people who were opposed to some of Gov Ganduje’s policies in Kano. For instance, his government introduced new taxes in order to improve the state’s IGR in an effort to augment the dwindling federal allocation which did not go down well with some of the people so there were some criticisms from some quarters over that.
Another issue, which arose, was Gov Ganduje’s plan for infrastructural development in the heart of the commercial district in Kano. Also in trying to find a solution to the traffic congestion in the city, there are plans to construct a mega overhead bridge that would run from Kano Municipal LG into Fagge LG and terminate at the famous Singer Market, which is the main commercial center in Kano. Most of Kano traders operate from the area. To them, that kind of structure would adversely affect commercial activities. They also campaigned and, mobilised against our party during the election as a way of protesting against the plan.
Aside from these issues, which were largely external factors, some of the problems we faced were also internal. I am referring to the crisis within the party, which was fallout of the primary elections. This was a major problem, which in my opinion was not managed properly by the party. Unfortunately, some aspirants who lost the primary election were still aggrieved up to the election period because not much was done to appease them. This greatly affected their commitment towards the party’s victory and as a result many did not contribute as they should have done.
However, a major factor that affected our performance was our confidence after winning the Presidential and National Assembly elections. We let our guards down and took it for granted that it would be a smooth victory for us. In my opinion, these were the real issues that contributed to our average performance at the gubernatorial elections, which made it inconclusive, in the first instance. That cannot be attributed to PDP’s popularity or the ‘Kwankwaso factor’ at all. After all, Kwankwaso lost in his Local Government Area. Gov Ganduje defeated him in both the governorship and state assembly elections. It was basically a case of PDP exaggerating APC’s problems, by using a lot of propaganda to create the wrong impression.
Talking about primary election, you were also a victim?
In my own case, I was not happy with the way I was treated having campaigned for the seat for almost a year. Suddenly, Mallam Shekarau was brought in three days to the primary election and I was asked to drop my ambition for a person who had just joined the party. I thought that was most unfair especially when I was informed that I would not be allowed to contest the primary election against him. Initially, I resisted and continued with my campaign but when I found out that his move from the PDP to the APC had the involvement and blessing of the Vice President and the National Leader of the party, Tinubu and our party chairman and also the intervention of some governors who brokered peace, I had no option but to put the interest of the party before my personal interest.
This is where I fault the position of my colleagues, namely Senators Kabiru Marafa and Magnus Abe. Sometimes we have to put the party’s interest above personal consideration. If I had followed their approach, the APC would have been plunged into a serious crisis and suffered dire consequences. Remember, the relationship between Shekarau and Mr. President had not been so cordial. When he joined our party most of the President’s supporters rallied round me unsolicited and they were ready to fight it out. But once I sensed division that would occur in the party, I decided to step down and sacrifice my ambition for the overall interest of our party. It was a worthwhile sacrifice and I do not habour any ill feelings since it has led to our victory in Kano. I wish Mallam Shekarau the best of luck and I trust he will do very well.
Do you regret not returning to the National Assembly?
Not at all. I have always said that that my constituency, which is Kano Central, with a population of almost 7 million is the largest in the country. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to represent the people for four years. It is therefore only reasonable if someone else is given an opportunity to contribute his/her quota. I am proud to say that it is on record that I completed over 108 developmental projects, in Kano Central constituency during my tenure, which is unmatched in the history of Kano politics. I was also the facilitator of the Kundila Overhead Bridge, which the good people of Kano chose to name after me as Gadar Lado. The bridge is so central and has become a popular landmark that you can ask in any motor park from any part of the country to be taken to Gadar Lado. I also initiated and facilitated the dualisation of Kano to Kastina Expressway as one of my constituency projects. The Expressway when completed will save lives and ease transportation and movement between the two states. These are projects that would outlive me and my grandchildren
It is alleged that APC in Kano had the backing of the presidency during the rerun poll. What’s your reaction to that?
I heard these allegations and to me, they are outrageous. I say this categorically because I served in the Presidential Campaign Council as the Director, Contact and Mobilization, North – that is the entire North. I had the privilege of working closely with the presidency because of the nature and sensitivity of my assignment.
It is a known fact that Mr. President does not entertain any type of suggestion that would go against the law. His position regarding the proper conduct of elections is so strong that even his demeanor would prevent anyone from daring to bring up any plan to interfere with the elections. For someone that is unwilling to influence the natural outcome of his own election, how is it possible that he would instruct government agencies to rig in favor of another candidate? I am sure everyone heard Mr. President on so many occasions during his campaign say that people should vote for candidates of their choice.
In all honesty how was the Kano APC able to win the supplementary election?
I attribute this success to many factors but most significant is hard work and doggedness. I was with the governor and a few others when the results started coming in that same day around 4pm. I remember we sat from 4pm till the following day around 12pm monitoring results from the various local government areas. As the results were coming in, we were quite pleased because in all the results from the local governments outside Kano metropolis, APC was leading. When results from the city started coming in, the outcome began to change. Kano Central alone, has a population of over 7 million people and we noticed that the margin gained was being swallowed by the local governments in the metropolitan. It was at this point that INEC declared the election inconclusive due to the irregularities of over voting.
Soon after the declaration by INEC the governor called for an emergency meeting of all the major stakeholders. We sat and quickly reviewed the election in its entirety. We were able to retrace our steps, analyze the problems, particularly what went wrong.
We discovered that the reason was mainly because we took it for granted that the landslide victory we recorded in the presidential election will create a bandwagon effect in the governorship election. In other words we did not take it as seriously as we did during the presidential election. We therefore campaigned aggressively and took no chances this time around.
We also observed that the business community, that is, the traders, worked against us during the election simply because they did not agree with the governor’s decision to construct an overhead bridge that will pass through the heart of the commercial centers which they felt would impact negatively on their business activities. This impression was immediately rectified by the Governor to appease them.
As soon as the areas for the rerun where announced, we quickly moved into action bearing in mind that we were going into the election with a deficit of about 26,000 votes in favour of the PDP. We x-rayed the LGs where the rerun were to take place and in my local government which is Nassarawa, Gama Ward alone has 62 Polling Units with about 40,000 votes out of the 120,000 that was up for grabs.
No matter what anybody says about the governor, you cannot take away humility and political sagacity from him. As a first move, he started seeking audience with the aggrieved business communities, explaining the need for their support. As Gama Ward was the decider, he took it upon himself to visit the local government every day of the week, interacting with the elders, youth and women. He started new projects such as construction of roads, provision of water, youth and women empowerment, among others. I would say he was practically sleeping there for the two weeks duration.
For some of us, we saw the election as everything about our political future. In my opinion, the two major political parties have been regionalized with the PDP having a stronghold in the south and of course APC in the north. So why should we give PDP an in-road in the north by allowing them to win Kano? So there is no way we would have folded our arms and allowed PDP such a lifeline. The question is: what happens to us come 2023.
I recall in one of our conversations with the governor, I emphasised to him the importance of making sure that whoever is going to be saddled with any kind of responsibility for the rerun must have as much to lose as anyone of us.
But there were reports of thuggery and violence and some say thugs were brought in from the neighboring states of Zamfara, Kastina and Jigawa?
That is absolute nonsense. The government and the APC members in Kano are peace, loving people. The information is false. Even the videos circulating on the day of election, purporting violence in Kano did not even originate from Kano, as buttressed by the DIG of police in charge of security of that election.