Familiar rivals face off again in Niger State governorship race

Governor Abubakar Bello
Governor Abubakar Bello [Photo credit: National Trail Newspaers]

As voters in Niger join those in 28 other states on Saturday to elect the next class of governors, the race in this north-central state will be between two familiar rivals.

Seven states are not participating in the exercise as their governorship elections have fallen outside the main electoral season due to successful petitions against the election of some of their governors at various times in the past.

For the record, 31 parties will be fielding candidates in the Niger governorship election on Saturday.

Out of the 31 candidates, two are women – Aisha Mamhud and Abdulsalam Aisha, representing Change Advocacy Party (CAP) and Labour party (LP) respectively.

The race, however, will be between the candidates of the two main political parties in Nigeria, the ruling All Progressives Congress, which also runs this state, and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Governor Abubakar Bello is flying the APC flag while Umar Nasko is the candidate of the PDP.

It will be a repeat of the contest in 2015 when Mr Bello defeated Mr Nasko to emerge governor. Adding a little more spice to the contest is the fact that the two rivals are the children of two former military officers who came to national prominence when they held high political offices under military governments in Nigeria.

The sitting governor’s father, Sani Bello, retired from the Nigerian Army as a colonel after serving as a military governor of old Kano State. He was later appointed an ambassador and is the founder of the Sani Bello Foundation.

The PDP candidate is the first son of Gado Nasko, a retired major-general of the Nigerian Army who served as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT Minister) under the military presidency of Ibrahim Babangida, who is also from the state.

Mr Bello won the first contest between the two rivals in 2015 and he appears to retain the edge over the opposition candidate.

In 2015, he polled 593,702 votes and won in 23 out of the 25 local government areas in the state to defeat Mr Nasko who got 239,772 votes.

Aside from the advantage of incumbency, the zoning arrangement in the state also favours Mr Bello.

Both candidates are from the Zone C senatorial district. But while Mr Bello can only serve for four more years if he wins, Mr Nasko may seek a second term, thus delaying the opportunity for the next zone, the Zone A senatorial district, to take its turn at producing the governor. A Mr Nasko victory will bring with it the prospect of his zone retaining the coveted seat for 12 years.

The former governor under the PDP, Babangida Aliyu, is from the Zone B senatorial district of the state.

The outcome of the February 23 Presidential and National Assembly elections also shows that the APC remains the dominant party in the state. The party won the presidential poll with a wide margin. The ruling party also won the three senatorial seats and all the House of Representatives seats in the state.

The incumbent governor has been more active on the campaign trail than his rival, apparently because he has more resources at his disposal. The PDP in the state is also not united and does not have the strength that it used to have in the state.

The PDP in the state suffered a major setback with the recent defection of many members and leaders to the APC. The immediate past state chairman of the party, Abdulraheem Enagi, led about 2,000 of his supporters to join the APC. However, no fewer than 3,000 youth from Edati Local Government Area also dumped the APC for the PDP, citing lack of focus of the APC-led state government as the reason.

The PDP candidate is also affected by his connection with the corruption case of the former PDP governor, Mr Aliyu.

Messrs Nasko and Aliyu were re-arraigned sometime in February before a Minna high court for alleged fraud.

The duo is standing trial alongside the state PDP chairman, Tanko Beji, for alleged diversion of ecological funds to the tune of N4.568 billion.

Justice Aliyu Mayaki, who was handling the case, adjourned hearing until March 4 but the case was withdrawn from him and reassigned to the state high court under Justice Mohammed Mohammed who started it afresh.

They were asked to continue with their previous bail granted by Justice Mayaki and to submit their international passports to the court registry.

Mr Nasko and the PDP, however, alleged that the change of the trial judge was a calculated attempt to pervert the course of Justice.

Niger State voted for the APC in the just-concluded presidential election and looks set to do the same for its governorship and state House of Assembly candidates.

The PDP scored 218,052, while the APC scored 612,371 to give victory to President Muhammadu Buhari in the state.

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