The governorship contest in Sokoto State has the combined characteristics of political wit and fists.
As expected of a shootout between an estranged godfather and godson, Aliyu Wamakko, a former governor of the state and now a senator, and incumbent governor, Aminu Tambuwal, are the real dramatis personae.
Each gladiator is unfurling his party’s banner in desperate contradictions.
Mr Wamakko was formerly under the Peoples Democratic Party, now in All Progressives Congress, while Mr Tambuwal was formerly PDP, then All Progressive Congress and now PDP. Both are now unleashing confusion on the electorate as party men and women run back and forth and in and out seeking to find political relevance.
At the impending implosion of the PDP in 2014, many lawmakers and party leaders under the canopy of the nPDP, including the current president of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, moved en bloc to the APC.
Mr Tambuwal, then speaker of the House of Representatives, joined that band to the party that later became the government at both the centre and the state of the caliphate.
Mr Wamakko, who was elected governor of Sokoto State in 2007 on the platform of the PDP, had earlier, along with other governors of the PDP, dumped the “torn umbrella” to embrace the change mantra of the APC.
The party flourished under his administration and subsequently handed the mantle of leadership of the state to the former Speaker.
Mr Wammako has since retired to the Senate, from where he is still controlling the political levers of the state.
Things have since changed in the last four years. Political realignments have brought an end to the alliance between the two.
They no longer see eye to eye as the gulf of differences separates them.
Mr Tambuwal, who ascended the governorship with the backing of Mr Wamakko, will be heading for a return this weekend without his support.
Leaving the APC in August last year, along with 18 members of the House of Assembly, Mr Tambuwal said he was returning to the PDP because of the failure of the APC and its government.
He said, “The party has brazenly turned itself into a sanctuary for the corrupt and a machine for rigging and the rape of democracy.”
“Let me also put it on record that all attempts to discuss the electoral promises of the APC-led government, including the restructuring of the country as promised Nigerians and as contained in the APC manifesto, have proved abortive,” Mr Tambuwal said, as he delved into the sundry missteps of the Buhari administration.
On the PDP that he dumped a few years ago, the governor said, “Let me at this juncture state emphatically that I return to the PDP with a clear conscience today, because the party has learnt some bitter lessons and noted what mistakes it must avoid in the future.”
Mr Tambuwal’s move received immediate and expected flak from Mr Wammako. He said the governor had made his greatest political mistake by moving out of the APC, a statement which many see as forfeiture of his re-election as governor of the state.
Lunge for presidency
Another scene of the entire episode was his foray into the PDP presidential race, barely a month after his return to the party. Political observers drew conclusions that his real reason for returning to the party was to contest the presidential election, if possible against Mr Buhari, having assumed that he enjoyed the support of many PDP leaders, who wanted another candidate besides Atiku Abubakar.
By the rules guiding elections, Mr Tambuwal temporarily dumped his governorship re-election, as he pursued his ambition to run for president.
While that subsisted, the governorship ticket fell to one of his loyalists, Manir Muhammad Dan’iya.
Mr Tambuwal failed to get the presidential ticket of the PDP, and immediately retreated to his seat of power, and after some dramatic events behind the curtain, Mr Dan’iya withdrew his candidature to give room for Mr Tambuwal.
Mr Wamakko has an overwhelming following in the state. He has proven that and had successfully ensured that Mr Tambuwal’s deputy, Ahmed Aliyu Sokoto, remained in the APC.
However, further adjustments became necessary in the government, when in November Mr Sokoto suddenly resigned his position as the deputy governor.
Although officials confirmed his ‘willing’ resignation, it was however gathered that he chose the path of resignation when he got wind of a plot by the PDP dominated legislature to remove him through impeachment.
Further to Mr Tambuwal’s defection was the loss of about 252 of his political appointees who refused to follow him to the PDP, but chose to resign and remain in the APC.
Although the state government had downplayed the situation when it explained that the appointees were relieved of their positions to allow them pursue their political ambitions, the affected appointees insisted that they left because they did not want to follow the governor to the PDP.
Further adjustments saw the appointment of Mr Dan’iya as the new deputy governor, while Mr Sokoto became the standard bearer of the APC in Sokoto State, now contesting the top seat with his former boss.
There was another gale of defection in December, which gave the impression that the governor was losing his support especially from within his party.
Thousands of PDP members reportedly abandoned Mr Tambuwal, including some of his close political associates towards the end of last year.
As if that was not enough, barely one week to the election, Mr Tambuwal suffered another shock, losing his Commissioner for Information and Chairman of the Publicity Committee, of his Gubernatorial Campaign Council, Bello Muhammad Goronyo, to the APC.
The defections greatly emboldened the Wamakko-led APC which now seems confident of creating an upset during the election, especially after the APC swept across the state in the February 23 presidential and National Assembly elections.
In the presidential election, the APC scored 490,333 votes to defeat the PDP which polled 361,604 votes.
Mr Tambuwal’s arch-adversary, Mr Wamakko, also secured his return to the Senate, scoring 172,980 votes to defeat a former senator, Ahmed Maccido, who secured 138,922 votes.
The APC also won seven of the nine federal House of Representatives seats in the state, with the PDP securing only two seats.
The odds are certainly against the governor, who recently cried out to the international community to help secure the sanctity of Saturday’s governorship and house of assembly elections across the country.
Although there are about 49 political parties contesting the governorship, not much is expected from other parties besides the APC and the PDP.
The state is engulfed in the uproar issuing from the drumbeats of the two leading parties. Undoubtedly, a governor will only emerge from either of the two parties.
However, some candidates trying to draw the attention of the voters and disrupt their focus on the APC and PDP, include Abubakar Sadiq of the Social Democratic Party; Salamatu Isa Abdullahi who is contesting under the banner of the Progressives Party Alliance (PPA); Ibrahim Manzo Mohammed of the African Democratic Congress; Adamu Danbako Ibrahim of the APGA; Bala Danlami Adi, of the Labour Party; Bello Mohammed of the PPA; and Issa Musa, of the Zenith Labour Party..
In the last governorship election, Mr Tambuwal won more than half of the total votes cast to defeat his rival of the PDP in all of the 23 local governments.
He scored 647,609 votes to beat his major rival and former political benefactor, Abdallah Wali, who polled 269,074 votes of a of 958,736 votes cast.
The total number of registered voters in 2015 was 1, 611, 929. However after the last contiguous registration exercise INEC has computed the figures to be 1,903,166.
The governor is from Tambuwal Local Government in the Sokoto South Senatorial District. Ahmad Aliyu, the 48-year old candidate of the APC was a Commissioner of Health under the administration of Mr Wamakko and he is from Sokoto metropolis.
However, Mr Wamakko, the “godfather” and backer of Mr Aliyu, hails from Sokoto North Senatorial District.
These areas are traditionally followers of Mr Wamakko, whose stronghold on APC political structure is sterling.
Mr Tambuwal is in a battle against one who has insight into his government and had been part of his decisions in the last four years.
While that may be an advantage for Mr Aliyu, the governor would be doubling his efforts to stave off defeat from his former deputy.
Mr Tambuwal has the backing of some strong political leaders in the state, such as a former governor, Attahiru Bafarawa.
Mr Baffarawa was a two-term governor of the state between 1999 and 2007. Added to his experience is the fact that he was a presidential candidate on the platform of the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) and in the 2007 presidential election he lost to the candidate of the PDP, the late Umaru Yar’adua.
He aspired for the presidency on the platform of the PDP in 2011, 2015 and 2019 presidential primaries. Mr Bafarawa is a major stakeholder in the project of returning Mr Tambuwal as governor.
He is believed to have much influence among traditional politicians in the state.
The governor will also be counting on his goodwill and acceptance among the grassroots; popularity that spurred him into attempting to run for president.
He is the governor of Sokoto State and his power of incumbency is certainly at his disposal.
While that is not enough to win an election, deploying it effectively is a joker the opposition will need to watch out for.
On the other parallel, the choice of Mr Aliyu as the candidate of the APC did not come easy. He was the anointed candidate of Mr Wamakko, against the wishes of other contenders for the ticket.
One of the leading contenders for the ticket was Faruku Malami Yabo, who is also a profound loyalist of the former governor. Although Mr Aliyu is said to have the experience of governance being a former deputy governor, Mr Yabo, on the other hand, is more popular with the people and tended to pull more votes.
Howbeit, making him the running mate of Mr Aliyu seemed to have removed the contention and it is the opinion of many APC adherents that the popularity of Mr Yabo would do the magic for the good of the party.
It is expected that the APC candidate will also be leveraging on the Buhari factor and the recent overwhelming victory of the APC in the concluded presidential and national assembly elections.
Mr Buhari’s followership has already been seen. The APC will go for broke and unleash all within its powers to ensure Mr Tambuwal does not return to office after Saturday’s exercise.
Mr Wamakko had boasted at one of his rallies that Mr Tambuwal would regret his move from the APC to the PDP, underscoring his vow to ensure the people rejected the governor next week.
“The present political situation in Sokoto is not between me and Governor Tambuwal but between APC as a political party and the dead PDP,” said Mr Wamakko had said at the rally.
He urged the people to continue to support the APC to realise victory in the 2019 general elections.
The effectiveness of his plea to the people, who are now divided along party lines, can only be evaluated at the count of the ballot on Saturday.
The setting is no longer uncertain. While it is unusual to defeat an incumbent, the reign of force from the centre could do the most difficult job of changing the government.
For Mr Tambuwal to remain in government beyond the election, he must appeal to the “gods” of the seat of the caliphate and deploy an uncommon political savvy, even if it offers a narrow escape.