Saturday’s governorship election in Kebbi State, North-west Nigeria, promises to be one of the most keenly contested in the history of the 31- year-old state.
Although 15 of the 18 registered parties have candidates in the race to succeed Governor Atiku Bagudu, it is largely viewed as a two-horse race between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
While the APC is fielding Nasiru Idris, a former national president of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the PDP’s flag bearer is Aminu Bande, a retired major-general and former GOC 8 Division of the Nigerian Army, Sokoto.
Upon the return of democracy in 1999, Kebbi State, carved out of the old Sokoto State eight years earlier, was governed by Adamu Aliero of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) which was later rechristened All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He was succeeded after eight years by Saidu Dakingari of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who governed the state from 2007 to 2015.
Mr Bagudu assumed office in 2015 on the ticket of the APC and will conclude his second four-year term on 29 May.
However, the chances of the ruling party retaining the governorship seat of the state appear to be slim. Several factors account for this.
APC’s unending crises, divided house
The ruling APC in Kebbi State is enmeshed in several crises, some of which have resulted in some of its prominent members defecting to other parties.
In the build-up to its governorship primary election in the state last year, a crisis erupted in the party when Mr Bagudu, who is also the chairman of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF), a body of all APC governors in the country, was accused of hijacking the structure of the party to the benefit of his supporters.
The crack in the party eventually led to the exit of some of its members, including two senators – Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central) and Abdullahi Yahaya (Kebbi North), a former Senate leader.
Apart from Mr Bagudu emerging as the senatorial candidate for Kebbi Central, Mr Idris, his political ally, emerged as the governorship candidate.
Messrs Aliero and Yahaya, alongside their followers, defected to the PDP where they sought re-election. Although the senators met stiff opposition in their new party with a series of legal battles against their candidacies, the Supreme Court judgement affirming them as candidates changed the face of the contest and put the APC under pressure and uncertainty.
Also, prior to the crisis, the party was unsettled by the allegation that the governor was planning to impose Abubakar Malami, the attorney general and minister of justice, as the governorship candidate.
Another crisis erupted in the state APC just before the presidential and parliamentary elections. This time it was a disagreement between Mr Bagudu and the members of the party in the state House of Assembly. The crisis led to the resignation of all the principal officers of the assembly from their positions in protest against the governor’s alleged highhandedness in the handling of the party.
They also complained about the governor’s constant absence from the state, thus not being available to address the plight of his people and party members.
The lawmakers also invited the governor to appear before them to explain how he spent about N19 billion of federal government loans they approved for the state in 2021.
The governor, however, refused to appear until former governor Dakingari reportedly pleaded with the lawmakers to return to their respective positions and reconcile their differences to forestall the party going into the elections as a divided house.
Outcome of Presidential/National Assembly elections
The results of the 25 February presidential and National Assembly elections in the state may also influence Saturday’s governorship election in Kebbi.
In that election, the opposition PDP floored the ruling party in the state. The presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubakar, won with 285,175 votes while Bola Tinubu of the APC came second with 248,088 votes.
The PDP also won two out of three senatorial seats – Kebbi Central and South districts. Mr Bagudu lost the central seat, which he once occupied before he became governor, to Mr Aliero.
The opposition also picked Kebbi South, beating APC incumbent senator, Bala Ibn Na’Allah.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), however, declared the election in Kebbi North, where Mr Yahaya was the PDP candidate, inconclusive.
The PDP won in three federal constituencies – Aliero/Gwandu/Jega federal constituency, Argungu/Augie federal constituency and Bunza/Birnin Kebbi/Kalgo federal constituency.
The APC, on its part, got three seats – Baguio/Suru federal constituency, Fakai/Sakaba/Wasagu/Danko Wasagu/Zuru federal constituency and Ngaski/Shanga/Yauri federal constituency.
INEC declared the elections in Arewa/Dandi and Koko Besse Maiyama federal constituencies inconclusive.
Analysts say if the pattern of voting in the presidential and National Assembly elections is maintained, the PDP may trounce the APC in Saturday’s contest. But it is also believed that if the APC succeeds in putting its house in order, it may retain the state.
Bagudu’s alleged non-performance
There are people who believe Mr Bagudu has brought ill luck to the APC because of his alleged poor performance in the almost eight years he has been in power and that this may affect the party’s outing on Saturday.
For instance, while the scuffle between the governor and members of the state legislature raged, a video recording of a former APC local government chairperson, Umar Mashaya-Digi, went viral on social media in the state accusing the governor of failing to address the infrastructural development needs of the state.
In the video, the politician claimed that he regretted supporting Mr Bagudu to become governor, alleging that under the governor, the state is facing its worst times.
“I am calling on the people of Kebbi State, especially the members of the APC, together with our family members and supporters we have done our best and voted for Governor Bagudu hoping for good things to happen but this is the worst government in the history of Kebbi State.
“We must not shy away from the truth, my position as the local government chairman will not stop me from telling the governor the truth because power comes from God. I am calling on the people of the state to pray because we are approaching a stage whereby we will regret having Kebbi State if things continue this way.
“Under Bagudu, Kebbi has no development, no empathy, no listening ears, and no responsible leadership. I am not afraid of anything happening to me as a local government chairman, the governor cannot even give you time to tell him the truth.
“But it’s mandatory for us the local government chairmen to speak to the people of Kebbi State,” the former council boss said in the Facebook video.
It is not clear when Mr Mashaya-Digi made the video. He has, however, joined the opposition PDP.
Mr Bagudu’s handling of the security challenge in the state is another source of concern for residents. There are those who believe that insecurity in Kebbi State under the governor is underreported.
Unlike in other banditry-prone states in the North-west and North-central zones, governors, government officials and politicians unofficially donate money for the release of their abducted people in Kebbi. Mr Bagudu merely visits IDP Camps without releasing money to them.
Parents and relatives of some of the yet-to-be-released students of Government Secondary School, Yauri, believe that their daughters are in captivity due to the alleged nonchalant attitude of the governor who allegedly refused to listen to the bandits’ leaders to negotiate the release of the students, some of whom have been reportedly married off in the forest to their abductors.
In all this, the opposition PDP is taking advantage of the APC’s alleged poor handling of security in such areas where the school children were kidnapped. The residents of such local government areas are reportedly being wooed by the PDP candidate, who has promised to secure their lives and properties.
Kebbi political structure and power rotation
The existing animosity over power rotation among the three senatorial zones may also influence the outcome of the governorship election in favour of the opposition.
Although both the APC and PDP produced their governorship candidates from the central zone, the PDP candidate may be considered by voters in the southern zone because of the grudge against the incumbent governor.
Mr Badugu had insisted that his successor must come from Kebbi Central despite the fact that the southern senatorial district has yet to produce the state governor since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999.
Kebbi has many ethnic groups but has a record of political, religious and cultural tolerance strengthened by intermarriage among the various groups.
The state has four emirate councils – Gwandu, Argungu, Yauri and Zuru – some of which cut across senatorial districts.
Kebbi Central Senatorial District consists of eight out of the 10 local government areas in Gwandu Emirate. These are Birnin-Kebbi, Kalgo, Gwandu, Bunza, Jega, Aliero, Maiyama and Koko-Besse.
Kebbi North has six local government areas. Four of these are in the Argungu Emirate, comprising Argungu, Augie, Arewa and Dandi. The other two, Bagudo and Suru, are in Gwandu Emirate.
Kebbi South has seven local government areas spread across Yauri and Zuru emirates These are Yauri, Ngaski, Shanga, Zuru, Fakai, Sakaba and Danko-Wasagu.
Mr Aliero hails from Aliero LGA in the central district while Mr Dakingari is from Suru LGA in the northern district and Mr Bagudu is from Birnin Kebbi, also in the central district.
The APC candidate, Mr Idris, is from Birnin Kebbi in Kebbi Central, the same as Mr Bagudu, the outgoing governor, while the PDP candidate, Mr Bande, is from Bunza, also in Kebbi Central. They are, however, from the Gwandu emirate.
Based on the unofficial rotational arrangement of power, the 2023 governorship ticket should move to Kebbi South. This district has two emirates – Yauri and Zuru. It is feared that because Mr Bagudu refused to allow the southern district to produce the state governor, this will draw protest votes against the APC in the two emirates.
Incumbency factor will not guarantee victory – Don
Badamasi Sa’idu, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, Federal University, Birnin Kebbi, told PREMIUM TIMES that the APC may not be able to cross many of its hurdles to win Saturday’s poll.
Mr Ya’u said that though the APC has been in power in the state since 2015, it is not enough to guarantee its victory in the election. He said the party has to work hard to secure the support of the people in the coming poll.
READ ALSO: Gov Bagudu, Na Allah lose senatorial elections in Kebbi
“But despite this home advantage (incumbency factor) and the effort by the party, there is massive criticism and opposition by the larger part of the people in the state on the poor performance of the party within its leadership period in the state in terms of poor infrastructures and services coupled with the heightening insecurity, economic policies of the party at national levels such as currency redesigned, cashless policy and fuel scarcity among others.
“These and many more are serious challenges to the APC ruling party in the state, of which the opposition PDP is building its political muscles to ensure it wrestles the power from the APC in the coming election. And the chances of the opposition party securing victory are high given itemised issues above,” he said.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999