The race for Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna has become daunting for Malam Nasir el-Rufai, who is seeking a comeback bid. In this report, COBHAM NSA unveils the faces of the contenders and the behind-the-scene plots against the former FCT Minister whose headstrong disposition in politics is dimming his prospects for re-election
Since assuming the reins of power on May 29, 2015, the cherished hope of improved the living conditions of the people has turned into despair and hopelessness. Nearly three years after Malam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai took over from Alhaji Mukhtar Ramalan Yero as Kaduna State governor, the anguish has increased, with citizens regretting why they elected the APC candidate in 2015.
Riding on the crest of popular support, he had won the election even before it was conducted, el-Rufai was no stranger to propaganda to achieve his dream. The state had been in the eye of the storm in 2015 over killings in Southern Kaduna zone and the Birnin Gwari axis that had become the theatre of cattle rustlers and other criminals. Anger had become the measuring stick deployed to swing the pendulum against Yero, who was seen as a stooge of the then Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo.
Ominous signs against el-Rufai
Almost three years down the line, the el-Rufai government has become one of the most hated administrations the state has ever witnessed. Critics have accused the state government of taking certain decisions that have robbed the state of peace and tranquility. For the public sector workers, the el-Rufai government has been more of a thorn than hope, as no fewer of 36,000 of the state workforce were sacked. This number comprises of 22, 000 workers, over 4,000 council workers and about 10,000 from other ministries and parastatals.
More worrisome, the engagement of consultants by the government has rendered some of the workers redundant in the performance of their key functions. The remunerations of these consultants have also rubbed off on the zeal the workers whose meagre salaries are hardly anything to write home about.
Apart from the public sector, the state traditional institution has not been left out in the share of gloom. No fewer than 4,000 district and village heads were sacked, citing paucity of funds and bastardisation of the system by previous governments to create employment for their cronies. Efforts by the state government to appoint new district heads have become a mirage, just as the recent creation of over 17,000 wards by the government has led to wagging of tongues over the desirability and rationality of the ward creation.
The emergence of el-Rufai as governor in 2015 was led by old political horses that were steeped in the politics of the state. Presently, most, if not all, of the politicians are at loggerheads with the former FCT Minister. His bickering with Senator Shehu Sani is a matter with a long history. When Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi fell apart with him and exposed the falsehood behind the rejected World Bank $350 million loan, not a few were shocked, taking into cognisance the long term relationship between the senator and the governor. The parting of way between the governor and Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed early in the life of the administration prognosticated heady days ahead.
According to a source knowledgeable in the politics of the state, by repudiating these time-tested political horses in his camp, el-Rufai placed himself on harm’s way and brought in political neophytes still engaged in learning the ropes. Alienated from those whose political footprints have been clearly defined, the public angst against the government over its failure to transform the state is set to play out against el-Rufai in 2019. Though aides of the governor are still confident that there is no fear over the re-election bid of their principal, signs are obvious that the hope of re-election for the former Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises is fast waning.
A senior lecturer with the Kaduna State University told Forefront on condition of anonymity that; “It is very clear that the people of Kaduna State are not happy with el-Rufai. His government has been one of the worst in the history of the state. Besides the social media campaigns on his achievements, there is little that can be seen as an achievement of a sort. The greatest challenge we have now is the rainbow coalition to send el-Rufai from Sir Kashim Ibrahim House.”
Similarly, one of the top politicians, who worked with the el-Rufai campaign organisation in 2015 confirmed to Forefront that the Kaduna State governor has really crossed the red lines by not carrying a majority of the APC members along. He noted that el-Rufai has not only done away with those that assisted him to be governor, but also ensured that he surrounded himself with yes-men and women incapable of questioning and checkmating his excesses.
“With el-Rufai, you cannot challenge his views and opinions on matters. He remains the boss that cannot be questioned. A leader with such a trait cannot be a good democrat. Above all, he really wants to be in charge and knows what it means to be in power. Defeating him at the poll is only possible through a rainbow coalition. But he will not sit idly and wait for you to defeat him. He will bring out all the tricks in the book of Nigerian politics to stay afloat. Anything short of a rainbow coalition cannot defeat the re-election bid of el-Rufai,” said the top class politician who also pleaded anonymity.
Plots Against el-Rufai’s Re-election
With the storm of opposition that trailed the recent congresses for the council polls slated for May 12, 2018 still suppressed, not a few are predicting heady days ahead for the APC Congresses slated through May and June 2018. With the AKIDA and Restoration group of the APC poised to wrest power from the el-Rufai-led faction of the APC in Kaduna State, behind-the-scene maneuverings are bound to influence the final outcome.
The hope of reconciliation between the rebel group and el-Rufai’s faction is almost nil, as there has been no love lost between the groups. Political insiders disclose of subterranean meetings to frustrate the re-election bid of the governor. According to one of the sources engaged in the meetings, the main strategy being considered is getting a coalition strong enough to dislodge el-Rufai if he eventually gets the governorship ticket for the 2019. Senator Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi has vowed to end the tenancy of el-Rufai through mobilising political forces to truncate his re-election bid.
More than anything, the Southern Kaduna axis that has been a victim of the el-Rufai government, is harping on the need to unite with other zones to ensure the defeat of the governor. If that eventually comes to be, the defeat will become a fait accompli, as the prospects for el-Rufai’s re-election would be weakened and unrealisable.
As the drumbeats of 2019 sound louder, the need to frustrate the comeback bid of el-Rufai is becoming clearer and imperative. There are many politicians from all the three zones of the state that are engaged in meetings to realise their ambitions. Though some are yet to declare their dream, they have gone far in strengthening their structures and reviving old friendship before throwing their hats in the ring. These governorship candidates are aware that 2019 may not be the same as 2015 where the incumbent sat idly and watched their defeat. The present tenant in Sir Kashim Ibrahim knows what power is and will not waste time deploying it to achieve his dream of securing another term in office.
As behind-the-scene negotiation are still ongoing, here are some of the aspirants engaged in raving up their machine to dislodge el-Rufai in 2019.
1. Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi
He remains a crucial factor in the politics of the state. Presently, he is a member of the Senate representing Kaduna North Senatorial zone. He provided the needed political structures for el-Rufai’s emergence as governor in 2015. An old political war horse with a network that can only be ignored at one’s peril, his influence on the politics of the state is yet to wane.
Though his critics have often accused him of caving in at the last minutes, his aides insist that Hunkuyi’s politics is hinged on collective bargaining based on consultation. Recently, his political profile rose when he stood up against the $350 million loan request of the Kaduna State Government just as he has also been in the vanguard of calling on el-Rufai to ensure justice and equity.
Despite his sour relationship with the governor that eventually led to the demolition of his home in Kaduna, the senator does not have an immediate plan to defect to any other party. Can he defeat el-Rufai in the governorship primaries or would he defect to another party at the last minutes? He has made it clear that he would not spare any stone to terminate the suffering imposed by el-Rufai in 2019. Though he has given hints he might contest in 2019, his present disposition in ruffling feathers is causing sleepless night in the camp of his opponents. To many close to his politics, his formal declaration for the governorship may prove a watershed in the contest for el-Rufai’s position. For now, the taciturn lawmaker prefers a silent movie that has left most of his opponents guessing on his next move.
2. Isah Ashiru
The former member of the House of Representatives contested for the primaries with el-Rufai for the 2015 governorship ticket on the platform of APC. Like others, he lost and worked for the success of the party. Apart from being a close political ally to former Governor Mohammed Ahmed Makarfi, he has deep pockets and can be expected to ride on the bank of the former governor whose influence in Southern Kaduna is unquestionable.
However, like Hunkuyi, Ashiru is still a member of APC and has not disclosed of any planned defection. His association with the AKIDA and Restoration group reveals him as belonging to those opposed to the continuation of el-Rufai as governor. Will he contest on the platform of the APC or PDP or will it be on a different platform other than the two popular parties? The big question is: Will Makarfi support his governorship ambition?
3. Mukhtar Ramalan Yero
He was defeated by el-Rufai in 2015 after he succeeded late Patrick Yakowa, who died in a helicopter crash in December 15, 2012. Those who are still desirous of the PDP era are still engaged in working for the comeback bid of the former governor on the platform of the PDP.
However, those opposed to his return are quick to remind the electorate of the undue influence foisted on him by his godfather, former Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo. Can the ashes of yesterday turned into coals of fire today? That seems to be the prospects of Yero, who was defeated as an incumbent in 2015, as he seeks another shot at the highest position in the state.
4. Shehu Sani
He was initially that lone voice against the bourgeoning display of headstrong disposition of the el-Rufai regime. Though his early days of opposition against the governor was dismissed as hinged on the fallout of the 2015 governorship contest that favoured el-Rufai, his rebellion soon paid off as others joined his bandwagon with the creation of AKIDA and Restoration Group to wrest the APC from the state governor.
Sani is endowed with a political sagacity and appropriate disposition in confronting forces that are opposed to him. His handling of the controversial $350 million loan request and his ability to speak when it matters the most place him on a different pedestal.
Though he is mute on 2019, some analysts are predicting he has his eyes on Sir Kashim Ibrahim House. The rumour mills have it that he may defect to the Social Democratic Party, but there is yet to be confirmation. For now, he remains in the spotlight and carrying on the rebellion within the party, even though on suspension by the el-Rufai-led group.
There is no doubt that some may not agree with him, but he is seen as someone that can be trusted to defend the people at all times. He remains a relentless voice in calling on the el-Rufai government and the security organisations to ensure a return to peace in the southern part and the Birnin Gwari axis of Kaduna State. If popularity and appropriate political statement are all that are needed for winning election, the senator representing Kaduna Central is set to coast home with victory.
5. Haruna Yunusa Saheed
He recently dumped the APC in March 2018, citing undemocratic practices in the party as reasons. He was the governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), in 2011. He contested with el-Rufai for the APC ticket in 2015, but lost.
Saeed’s dumping of the APC reflects the frustration faced by many members of the ruling party in the state. It is not certain if the former Accountant General of Kaduna State will throw his hat in the ring. However, his status and footprints are obvious that he may team up with others, if necessary to end the government through a coalition. Whatever happens, the APC is less one man whose sterling efforts brought successes to the party in the past.
6. Jonathan Kish
Former Attorney General of the state and member of the House of Assembly from Kaura State Constituency, he had since thrown his hat into the ring with the sole purpose of defeating el-Rufai in 2019.
Kish, who is reaching out to other zones and has been assured of support, believes he has all it takes to truncate the governor’s re-election bid. He believes that the performance profile of the governor has been so poor and his waning popularity due to his inhuman policies are enough to defeat him.
He has promised to bring a new lease of life to governance, just as he vowed to carry every zone in the art of governance. For those who think he is out to negotiate for the deputy governorship position, the smooth talking Kish says he is in the race for the top position and not to play a second fiddle. How this pans out in the months ahead is best left to time.
7. Sani Sha’aban
The former House of Reps member from 1999 to 2003 and former governorship candidate on the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), in 2007 has declared for 2019. He has called on el-Rufai to prepare his handing over notes, as it has become clear that the APC-led government by the former BPE boss has not delivered short of its electoral promises.
Though a member of the APC and a businessman, Sha’aban insists that democrats must be united to end the inglorious era of el-Rufai that has brought misery and suffering to the people of the state.
Sha’aban has also expressed commitment in salvaging Kaduna State from “unprofessional government” that is out to foist untold hardship on the people, adding, “time has come, enough is enough, as a politician I have given enough time for the present government in Kaduna State but nothing to write home about, I am beginning to make comments, criticisms where necessary for government to adjust its style of leadership.”
How Sha’aban beats el-Rufai and other top contenders is left to conjectures. His political relevance may have waned, following his failed attempts to secure victory in 2007 poll but he is believed to be enjoying the support of some powerful members of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabal that are believed not to be comfortable with el-Rufai to deliver the state. Can his structure deliver him for the 2019 poll? Close observers of politics in the state say he is one politician without strong and prominent supporters.
As the political war drums beat closer and louder, there are signs that many other candidates are set to declare their intentions. Among those expected to come up are former Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Samaila Yakawada. Though appointed as political counselor by el-Rufai, he has remained in the background. While he is said to wield tremendous influence in the southern part, it is yet to be ascertain if he can withstand the Makarfi machine that is still raving.
Also, Mr. Weynet Sidi from the southern part has declared interest for the state topmost position. While the platform may not be imperative for now, the weeks ahead will give clearer perspectives.
Like no other
As the various political forces mobilise to dethrone el-Rufai in 2019, it is becoming clearer that the poll may turn out to be like others in the past. The key word here, according to a politician, is collaboration and coalition.
“There is need for all of us to retrieve the state from those determined to plunge Kaduna State into despair and suffering. In 2019, it can be anyone but el-Rufai,” said the politician.
But, will the politicians walk their talk? Only time will tell.