The battle for the governorship of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Borno State can be anything but rancour-free as 21 political gladiators compete for the coveted office.
Aside the large number of contestants in the ring, the contest is apparently going to be between two political blokes – the Shettima boys and the so-called Abuja politicians.
Of the 21 aspirants, 14 have recently indicated their alliance with the outgoing governor, Kashim Shettima, by agreeing to go for indirect primaries – an option some of the aspirants had opposed fearing that they may not have a fair access to the delegates who were literally appointed by the state government.
Already, one of the aspirants have accused the Borno State government, in collusion with the state party executives, of shielding them from reaching out to the delegates to sell their candidature.
Sources from within the government of Kashim Shettima have informed PREMIUM TIMES that most of the aspirants, especially those serving in the cabinet of Mr Shettima, as well as those he may have helped or encouraged to purchase the APC gubernatorial nomination forms, will automatically step down for the preferred candidate to be announced by the governor.
“We know, for sure, that at least 14 of them currently in the contest will step down the moment his Excellency announces his endorsed candidate,” said the source who is a top party chieftain but declined to be named to avoid victimisation.
Mr Shettima is expected to announce his preferred candidate on Saturday.
The aspirants, their strengths and weaknesses
For now, Babagana Zulum, a professor, ranks topmost as the most favoured contestant on the list of candidates being managed by Mr Shettima.
Mr Zulum came into the political limelight when Mr Shettima, in 2011 appointed him as the rector of the state owned Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri.
His impressive turnaround of the Polytechnic, earned him more confidence and trust of the governor.
Mr Zulum was appointed to head the newly created ministry of RRR, where he was to implement the reconstruction agenda of the Shettima administration.
His forthright stance and rare courage of leading construction workers to dangerous locations partially liberated by the military spoke volume of his commitment to making sure the state bounced back again.
Many had tipped him as the man to beat in the contest.
Many politicians whom he used his office to empower through direct contract award for local supplies of building material hail him as a man with immense patience and the large heart to accommodate all.
Though popular amongst the party supporters in the state, there are thoughts about the professor that he is not a ‘real’ politician and is too cosmopolitan for their lacking.
The attorney general may probably be one of the youngest of all the aspirants, but those close to the government believe if loyalty, trust and ability to carry on with his vision is what Mr Shettima craves in the 7th democratically elected governor of Borno State, then Kaka Shehu Lawan is the worthy political son in whom he could build his absolute trust on.
As a matter of fact, the attorney general and the professor are in recent days the only choice aspirants whom the governor is seriously considering as his successor.
The lawyer-turned politician has been credited for all the legislative and legal interactions of the government in such a manner that he has become indispensable.
“Kaka Shehu is always the man to call on to execute the most difficult jobs,” said another source.
His weakness is that many of the Borno elders consider him as too young to be given the job of a governor of state like Borno.
He is adjudged not too strong financially to run a campaign without the full backing of the state government.
Mr Lawan joined politics in the same manner as his principal joined, in 2007. He was a banker with Zenith bank just like Mr Shettima.
The rumour has been on for a long time that Mr Shettima brought him into government to perpetuate the Zenith Bank legacy in Borno government.
His weakness, however, is that many of the politicians have considered him as an outsider who has not much experience politically, to rule the state.
However, similar argument was advanced in 2011 against the candidature of the current governor who is serving out his last year of his eight years as governor.
Mr Garbai, is the current senator representing Borno central, a seat the incumbent governor, Mr Shettima, has picked a nomination form to contest for, in 2019.
The two suddenly fell apart since Mr Garbai moved to the senate where he began to form dangerous allies with characters like the senate president, whom the APC considers as the number-one enemy of the president Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr Shettima has reportedly ruled Mr Garbai out of the likely successors he has in mind.
It is also believed by some quarters in the state that Senator Garbai, being a younger cousin to the Shehu of Borno, His Royal Highness, Abubakar Garbai Allamin Elkanemi, may not even get the support of the palace because of traditions that usually places the sitting Shehu high and above any other prince of the Elkanemis.
So it will be tantamount to a taboo for him to be supported to become the number-citizen.
If experience, technocracy, pedigree and maturity is what governor Shetima wants in his successor, then Senator Kyari is the man for the job.
In 2011, Senator Kyari, then a commissioner in Ali Modu Sheriff cabinet, was amongst those fingered as likely successors of former governor Sheriff, before fate brought the pendulum swinging on the side of incumbent, governor Shettima.
Mr Kyari was later compensated with the office of the chief of staff to governor Shettima. Many, who are conversant with the politics that played out between 2011 and 2015, believe Mr Kyari was hugely responsible for the impressive outing of the governor.
Mr Kyari is the son of Brigadier General Abba Kyari, the former military governor of north central states. Still alive, Mr Kyari senior wields a lot of influence and respect amongst the creme of Borno elders.
Besides, Mr Kyari also shares a spiral network of relationship with key politicians, especially those that are currently on war path with governor Shettima.
But what may deny Mr Kyari the endorsement of Mr. Shettima is the fear of the party politicians who consider him as too cosmopolitan and one who would not be ‘generous’ with public funds towards them the way other governors are.
If knowledge, quality in governance, technocracy, business ideas, discipline, ability to revive Borno State is what the APC wants in its next governor, then the Kings’ College old boy is the man for the job.
All through his three times of contesting as governor and aspirant on the platform of the PDP, Kashim IMAM, has always come out with a clear development blueprint for Borno State and he equally clarifies how he intends to achieve them.
His topmost plans for Borno state is local government autonomy and education for all.
He also has the financial war chest to embark in a full-scale campaign without the support of the state government.
“Kashim Imam is still the only Borno politician that has gone through three elections which he funded almost 100 percent without going broke”, said one of his allies in government of Borno State.
“If he is given the ticket, APC does not need to wait for the government to fund its campaign in 2019.”
“The only thing people fear about Mutawalli Imam is the fact that he does not tolerate or excuse mediocrity,” the politician said.
But many of the delegates may not be allowed to vote for Mr Imam, who the party and government feel is an Abuja politician and who is ‘too forthright’ for their liking.
Apart from being a younger brother to former governor, Mai is also a personal friend to governor Shettima.
They both served in Sheriffs cabinet as commissioners. When Shettima became governor, he retained his friend as commissioner.
Despite the sour relationship between governor Shettima and Sheriff, the friendship between the two remained intact.
He ranks as the most cognate politician in Borno State. He contested the governorship of Borno State in 1999 on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party but was practically denied the mandate by the Borno establishment, when the election result was allegedly rigged to favour the then candidate of defunct All Peoples Party (APP), Mala Kachalla, now late.
A court judgment would four years later declare him winner of the contest.
Mr Jidda would in 2004, join the ANPP.
Mr Sheriff later appointed Mr Jidda as the Secretary to State Government (SSG) following the demise of the then SSG, Abbagana Terrab.
In 2011, the Kashim Shettima administration had to retain Mr Jidda for the purpose of stabilizing a government that was considered ill-experienced. He served all through the first tenure of Mr Shettima, before he resigned in 2015 to later pick up appointment as an ambassador.
It is strongly doubted if Mr Jidda will go into the primaries as he is already allying with the state government to go for indirect primaries.
After his stint as a commissioner in 2003, Mr Makinta went into his private business outside Borno State. He later showed with a bang when he returned as a member of APC and head of the neighbour to neighbour campaign of Mr Buhari in 2015.
Many also say he is an ally of governor Shettima.
His campaign poster surfaced in Maiduguri about two months ago.
But he allegedly lacks popularity among the local politicians who are in control of the delegates.
He came into limelight in 2011 when he won a house of reps seat in Borno central.
He delayed his decamping to APC in 2015 that could have given him an automatic return ticket.
He joined the ruling party months to the election.
Mr Shettima had last year appointed him the state chairman of the resettlement committee for IDPs.
Though a grassroots politician, he is not seen as a man with deep pockets that can either entice delegates or win a general election.
Candidates like Babagana Banki, though a serving commissioner, are considered as ‘not too serious’ contenders.
He was once a cognate member of the federal house of reps from 1999 to 2011.
Though he may not have made the most of the time at the legislative house, many consider him a strong grassroots politician, and may use his aspiration to bargain for yet another space in the new government.
It is believed that he is among those Mr Shettima gave money to buy the nomination form as a way of checking the antics of the ‘Abuja politicians’.
He was a deputy governor between 2003 and 2011.
He was the only man that challenged his principal when he came out to declare his intention to contest the 2011 governorship. Though he was defeated at the primaries, many knew Mr Dibal wouldn’t have made any impact due to his background as a non-Kanuri speaker.
In Borno State, the southern senatorial zone hardly produce the governor.
The zone always play the second fiddle by producing the deputy governors. It is not clear why Mr Dibal joined the race.
He is also allegedly among those the state governor helped to buy nomination form.
He is also from the southern Borno.
He was never in active politics, but his elder brother, Usman Durkwa, the current deputy governor, is known as a fierce grass politician who controls most part of the southern politics, especially in Biu emirate.
Mr Durkwa is rumoured to have been encouraged by former governor, Mr Sheriff, to join the race.
With his hat now in the ring, the state government and the party have reportedly been worried because of his deep pocket as a multi-billionaire and generosity.
His only setback in the contest is his lack of access to the delegates.
If he has his way, the retired civil servant would easily buy off the minds of almost all the delegates.
He is the current minister of states for power, works and housing and a strong ally of the president.
Before his current office, Mr Shehuri was a ward councillor, local government chairman, state lawmaker and then house of reps member.
If his pedigree as a grassroots politician is what is needed to win the ticket, Mr Shehuri may take the day.
However, the indirect delegate system of primaries and the huge resources needed to grease the palms of every delegate may hinder his chances.
He was the governorship candidate of the PDP in 2015. He lost woefully to governor Shettima and blamed his failure on his former party whom he said denied him ticket until days to the election.
He joined the APC early this year.
He is also considered to be a weak aspirant because he lacks the resources needed to go for the primaries, let alone the general election.
He was once the candidate of the defunct ADC in 2011, before he later defected and joined the APC in 2015.
He is one of the politicians that enjoy a lot of popularity since his days at the federal House of Representatives where he was the minority leader. He also has appreciable structures across the state which he could leverage on, if given the ticket.
Apart from the fact that he lacks the deep pocket to finance a governorship election, it is also not certain if Mr Kumalia is out for real in the contest.
Many believe he may step down for the candidate preferred by the governor at the end of the day.
He is one of the early birds for the APC gubernatorial ticket contest.
Many say he was encouraged by governor Shettima to join the race.
He is not in any way a known politician but it is believed he has the money, being a former customs officer and business mogul.
It is certain the delegates may not vote for him because he is not considered a known ‘party man’.
Mr Magira, 36 years old, is the youngest of all the aspirants.
He was not known in the political circle until he joined the race early September.
Though a successful young man, many do not consider him due to his shallow political background.
Many analyst count him among those in the race to secure a bargain for possible cabinet appointment after the elections.
He is the current commissioner of religious affairs and a very quiet gentleman.
He is rated a grassroots politician but not very popular in town.
He is rated amongst those who will eventually step down for the preferred candidate at the end of the day.