On Saturday, the people of Borno State will elect their next governor and members of the State House of Assembly to serve them for the next four years – starting from 29 May.
Eleven parties nominated candidates for the governorship poll in Borno State, according to the list published by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, only four of them were visible during the campaigns. They are the incumbent governor, Babagana Zulum, who is seeking a second term under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mohammed Ali Jajari of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Captain Ibrahim Mshelia of the Labour Party (LP) and Umar Ali-Nasco of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
The other names on the ballot paper include Babagana Buji of Action Alliance (AA); Alhaji Monguno of Action Democratic Party (ADP); Hassan Musa of Allied People’s Movement (APM), Abdulkadir Umar of Action People’s Party (APP) and Shettima Kakagoni for Boot Party (BP). Others are Umar Mustapha of the National Rescue Movement (NRM); Maigawa Muhammad of the People Redemption Party (PRP); Modu Abba, Social Democratic Party (SDP), and Fatima Abubakar, the only female in the race who is the candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC).
But the contest is really between Governor Zulum of the APC and Mr Jajari of the PDP.
The APC has won all elections in the state since 2015 when it emerged from a merger of the major opposition parties in Nigeria. In the general elections of 1999 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019, politicians under the current APC won the governorship elections in Borno with high margins. The PDP had always tagged along as the only opposition of note in Borno.
Rise of Radical Opposition
However, Saturday’s governorship and state legislative polls may not follow that established pattern of victory for the APC due to the emergence of more radical opposition parties in the state.
For the first time since 2007, the PDP is being considered a force to reckon with in the politics of Borno. The opposition party lost its steam, even as a weak opposition, when Kashim Imam, now an APC member and current chairman of the TETFUND board, left the party. PDP’s participation in successive governorship elections had been mere rituals because the defeats were predictable.
During those inglorious days in opposition, the PDP, the main opposition party in Borno, was seen and treated as an annexe of the ruling party.
But the emergence of a young and relatively unknown politician, Mohammed Jajari, as its governorship candidate for the 2023 election has not only revived the PDP but also repositioned it as a force to be reckoned with. Mr Jajari brought excitement to the opposition camp because he represents a new generation of younger politicians seen as a replacement for the older generation of compromised Abuja politicians.
Though APC has a formidable candidate in Governor Zulum whose achievements in the past three years and nine months have scaled up his party’s winning chances, the emergence of PDP’s Mr Jajari provides a platform for some unhappy politicians and communities to challenge the dominance of the ruling party.
Also, the debut of the NNPP as a party in Nigeria and its acceptance by some politicians in Borno State have added to the voice of the novel radical opposition in Borno State. Led by Atom Magira-Tom, an APC governorship aspirant in 2019 who left the ruling party in 2022, the NNPP became another formidable opposition party whose popularity amongst the Hausa and the Shuwa Arab residents of Borno, at a point, constituted a significant source of worry to the ruling APC.
In 2019, Mr Magira-Tom, a Shuwa Arab, mobilised people from the Gwange area of Maiduguri and the Customs area to support Mr Zulum. Mr Magira-Tom once alluded to dissatisfaction with the governor’s leadership style, a factor that may have influenced his exit from the ruling party.
Mr Magira-Tom, a major financier of the NNPP in Borno, is not the party’s governorship candidate. He chose to vie for the senatorial seat of Borno Central District, which he lost in the just concluded presidential and National Assembly elections. His defeat as party leader may affect the party’s performance in the governorship election on Saturday. However, the NNPP, having fielded candidates for the 28 House of Assembly seats in Borno, may rob the APC of some of its popular winning votes in some of its strongholds.
The LP, as the number four opposition party in the state, may not significantly impact the election, given its abysmal performance at the presidential and National Assembly polls in the state. The defeat of LP’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, and the obscure presence of the party’s governorship candidate may not yield any serious vote advantage to the ‘Obi-dients’. However, should the LP members listen to the call of their presidential candidate to turn out in large numbers and vote for their sub-regional candidates, the opposition party may make some inroads in some of the Christian and non-indigene-dominated localities of the state.
Factors that favour the APC
The APC still stands the highest chance of winning the governorship election but it may not retain its overwhelming majority in the state Assembly. Governor Zulum’s performance as a first-term governor places high his chance of winning Saturday’s election. Apart from initiating and executing over 500 projects that cut across all sectors in three years, the recent commissioning of more state government projects by President Muhammadu Buhari earned him more points toward retaining his seat beyond 2023.
President Buhari, who was in the state last Thursday, endorsed Mr Zulum for a “well-deserved second term”. Those public endorsement days to the governorship elections mean a lot to the ruling APC. But that does not mean the party cannot be surprised if it goes to sleep before Election Day.
Another factor that may favour the APC against other contending parties is the control of the IDP camps. Like in the two previous elections, INEC said most voters in different local government areas would be voting in camps. These camps are controlled by the ruling APC government, which enjoys massive support from the inmates there.
The third factor that may work in favour of the APC against the opposition is the impact of the outcome of the last presidential election. Though the number of voters that participated in the election was much lower than in previous elections, a more severe voter apathy may be recorded even in this Saturday’s election, especially on the side of the disgruntled opposition party members.
It was on record that the APC polled 836,496 votes to beat the Peoples Democratic Party, who scored 71,788 votes in Borno, during 2019 presidential election. However, the APC could not garner the same level of votes in the 2023 presidential election to earn its candidate a similar landslide victory. The ruling party managed to poll 252,282 votes to defeat the PDP, which got 190,921 votes.
It is not likely that Mr Zulum, who polled over 1.1million (1,175, 440) votes in 2019, could do better or near that figure in Saturday’s election, mainly because of voter apathy and the influence of the opposition on the electorates.
READ ALSO: Governor Zulum lays foundation of first private university in Borno
The PDP, which managed to poll a paltry 66,115 votes during the 2019 governorship elections, can stage a big surprise on Saturday if its performance at the last presidential election is anything to go by. It polled 41 per cent of the votes cast. PDP’s flag bearer, Mr Jajari, had, at a press conference on Monday, claimed that his party won the majority of the votes in the presidential elections but was “robbed” by the ruling APC.
He called his party supporters to turn out en masse to vote for him and other PDP candidates as he stressed that all loopholes that enabled the APC to rig the election had been identified and taken care of. Mr Jajari said his party did not deploy enough polling agents to cover all the polling stations during the presidential election; as such, they could not monitor the results or insist on uploading the same to the INEC server.
“We have learned our lessons, and we are going to massively mobilise to vote and defend our votes this time around,” Mr Jajari said.
However, the APC Deputy National Chairman (North), and former senator, Abubakar Kyari, said, “the 2023 election has been made easy for us in Borno State, and we are confident about our party winning the governorship because Governor Zulum has campaigned based on his remarkable credentials of
Trouble Spots For the APC
Though Governor Zulum towers above his contemporaries in terms of performance, the ruling APC in Borno State may not have a smooth ride in the governorship and state Assembly elections if it fails to address some of the local issues within and outside the party, especially in some key local government areas of the state.
One of its major trouble spots for the APC is the Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), otherwise known as the state capital. MMC has always remained a strict opposition zone, so much so that a chunk of the votes from there usually favour the opposition.
The APC had to struggle to win the last presidential election in the MMC. Many cases of vote buying were alleged and alluded to as factors that made the APC win the election last week. This has not been confirmed by PREMIUM TIMES.
Another major trouble area for the APC is the southern parts of Borno, especially the Biu Local Government Area, where disagreements over the choice of Assembly candidate had forced a popular party aspirant to defect to PDP where he now stands as an opposition to the APC’s preferred candidate.
The defector, popularly known as Mamman Opanka, is primarily expected to defeat the APC candidate going for a second term. It is feared that the love for Mr Opanka as a PDP candidate may mar the chances of APC winning the local government for Mr Zulum.
APC is also looking at another tough contest in Bama Local Government Area as voters there had vowed to vote against the party on Saturday. The people of Bama had expressed their anger to the APC for insisting that a member of the House of Assembly who had served several terms should not be replaced by a new and preferred candidate. During the party primaries, the APC had a pseudo-consensus arrangement that favoured many of the incumbents in the state assembly.
Though the APC won Bama in the presidential election with 12,579 votes, to defeat the PDP that polled 6,617 votes, the people, except they are appeased, may mobilise against the rejected House of Assembly candidate of the APC, which may affect the governorship votes as well.
The only seat the APC lost to the PDP during the National Assembly elections is the Hawul, Askira-Uba federal constituency, which indicates the strength of the opposition in the area. The defeat of the APC in that federal constituency can be linked to the dislike of the APC candidate there. It is feared that should the same scenario play out, it might roughen the party’s chances on Saturday.
Kashim Shettima’s VP factor
The emergence of former governor Kashim Shettima as vice president-elect will largely boost the chances of APC retaining power in Borno State.
Before the presidential election, voters in the state went to the polls with a divided mindset – some opted to vote for the PDP candidates thinking that Mr Shettima had a slim chance of becoming the vice president due to the public anger over their Muslim-Muslim ticket; the hardship caused by fuel scarcity and the federal government’s botched policy on naira note swap.
But with the defeat of Atiku and the emergence of Mr Shettima as vice president-elect, there is a high chance that many of the disgruntled voters may be influenced by the bandwagon effect to vote APC rather than “wasting their votes”.
In the final analysis, the 2023 governorship election in Borno State promises to be a challenging game for the ruling APC. The opposition parties, especially the PDP, may, for the first time, make a bold statement in terms of improved numbers of votes in their favour; but at the end of the day, the ruling APC should still carry the day.
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