From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The March 2 governorship election in Borno is undoubtedly a stiffer contest between two old forces; the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) and its arch-rival/greatest challenger, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The new entrant, the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) appears to be in the rear, waiting to reap from the fallout of internal wrangling in the fold of the two major parties.
Interestingly, the three parties have resorted to house-to-house campaigns in the last minutes efforts to get votes on the D-day. Political activities too are gradually winding down and the cloud of uncertainty will soon dissolve in the Sahel Sahara state as Borno people choose the occupant of Maiduguri Government House from May 29.
General overview, the issues that will shape the governorship contest
Borno, situated in the North-East zone is the largest state in Nigeria in term of land mass with distinct political culture far from most northern states. Created in 1976, Borno is pluralistic in ethnic composition, a situation which makes its politics unique.
The state was reputed for being in the opposition to the ruling party at the federal level until 2015 when it aligned with the ruling party. In 1979, the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) won the governorship and some parliamentary seats in the state as opposition to then President Shehu Shagari’s ruling National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The tide changed in 1983 when NPN won the state in a very controversial manner. The second republic was short-lived as military took over governance.
By 1999, at the return of civil rule, Borno was again returned to the opposition party on the platform of the All Peoples Party (APP) which later transformed to All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP). The political situation continued in 2003, 2007, 2011 until 2015 when the state came on same platform with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the federal level.
Since 1999, ANPP which later fussed into APC has remained the ruling party in the state, maintaining lead in most elections. This feat may also be repeated in 2019 baring all odds including internal bickering in the ruling party. In 2003, the then governor, Malla Kachallah was defeated at the poll by the then ANPP governorship candidate, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, having defected to Alliance for Democracy (AD). Also, the power of incumbency largely influenced the voting pattern in the governorship poll as witnessed in previous elections and the March election will not be different. Electorate will be looking out for continuation of reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement agenda of the outgoing government and the APC candidate who has been piloting the programme may sway many votes with this sentiment.
The resettlement of affected victims of insurgency has formed the crux of APC and PDP campaigns ahead of the elections. The issue of employment for the huge jobless youths and sustenance of the state-backed Civilian Joint Task Force, a volunteer armed force against Boko Haram, will also influence voting. This is because many of the youths are within the voting age. Sadly, most of the voters in northern part of Borno may exercise their franchise at the IDPs camp as it were in 2015 due to recent upsurge in Boko Haram attacks. Ironically, the APC has been receiving backlash over this with claims that the party in the state surreptitiously caused the upsurge to force people to IDPs camps so as to manipulate the election.
But Governor Kashim Shettima has repeatedly denied this allegation though many dismissed his defense. This may count against the APC governorship candidate in the poll. Linked to this, is security. Maiduguri Metropolitan, Jere Local Government and other Local Government Areas in the southern part of Borno will determine the outcome of the governorship election. Aside Bama and Dikwa towns, most of the councils in the central and northern parts are largely not secured.
The leading political parties, their history, their strength and their weaknesses
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)
PDP has remained a big opposition party since its formation in Borno late 1998 by some eminent personalities. The party has an array of seasoned politicians, bureaucrats, intellectuals, accomplished citizens of Borno. These include ex-FCT ministers, Ibrahim Bunu and Alhaji Mohammed Abba Gana, ex-works minister, Senator Sanusi Daggash, septuagenarian Shettima Mustapha, former minister of interior, Mohammed Wakil, ex-minister of state for power and Alhaji Tijjani Bukar, also former minister of state for agriculture. But it is doubtful if these personalities are still deeply involved in the party activities. Ironically, their presence even in the past has not translated into PDP victory particularly at the previous governorship elections. The party is currently divided following a long legal battle over the party leadership. It was same scenario that led to its abysmal failure in the 2015 poll. However, the internal crisis rocking its arch-rival, APC could push up more supports for the PDP by the electorate.
All Progressives Congress (APC)
From ANPP to APC, it remains a party to beat having won all the governorship polls in the past; 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. The humane disposition and peace-loving posture of the incumbent, Kashim Shettima may also sway voters’ interest in the party’s way ahead of the PDP which is currently divided.
But its success in the coming poll may be marred by resentment by aggrieved party members after the last primaries. One of the governorship aspirants, Alhaji Idris Mamman Durkwa is still in court challenging the conduct of the October primaries. Sources in the party also said some party loyalists have also vowed to work against the party in the 2019 poll except the presidential election. They alleged the governor pushed forward and “imposed” those with less political values as the party candidates in most elective positions against loyal members. The altercation among the governor’s political allies early December as fallout of the party governorship primaries, which was also taken to the media, clearly underscores the extent of the problem in the party. These may be the party’s Achilles hills in the governorship poll. “There is no love lost among Oga’s aides and some APC leaders. People are just pretending that all is well,” a source in the Maiduguri Government House who preferred anonymity told Daily Sun.
Zenith Labour Party (ZLP)
The party is still struggling to make its impact felt in the political space of Borno State. For now, it stands to benefit from the wrangling in the ruling APC and its arch-rival, the PDP. Sadly, the ZLP which is the baby of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) appears not to have the support of even the labour leaders in the state.
How the candidates stand, their areas of strength and weaknesses
Ibrahim Kadafur Mshelia (ZLP)
Capt. Ibrahim Kadafur is a pilot and businessman with investment in airline operation and aviation academy as well. He hails from Biu, the political headquarters of southern Borno. He said he joined the governorship race “to provide alternative voice and platform to Borno people, away from the deceitful parties – dominant PDP and APC.”
Mshelia is popular among some educated youths particularly in Maiduguri and the southern Borno people. He said his experience in the management of resources as a businessman in the aviation sector and exposure will impact positively on rebuilding Borno devastated by years of Boko Haram violence. Many in Borno believe he would also use his private sector experience to develop good environment for investors in agriculture, micro-finance and entrepreneurship to create employment opportunities for thousands of unemployed youths if given the mandate to lead the state.
However, Kadafur is being viewed as a man out to give vent to the power shift campaigns by the southern Borno people. He is seen by most Kanuri (the largest ethnic group), as a candidate for his Babru-Bura part of the state(the second largest ethnic group in the state) in a largely heterogonous state as Borno with its political diversities and intricacies. Some claimed he only wants to test the political waters ahead of 2023 election. Also, ZLP, his platform, is not very popular in the state. It is unclear if the leadership of the labour union, who has been known to be hobnobbing with the APC- led government, will support Kadafur at the poll.
Mohammed Alkali Imam (PDP)
Mohammed Imam who is about 50 years old started his political journey when he became the youth leader of the defunct All Nigerian Peoles Party (ANPP). He later became the chairman of Maiduguri Metropolitan Council (MMC), the position which shore up his political image in the state. He was very popular among the youths and he consolidated on this rising profile, drawing more party supporters to himself. He was later appointed commissioner by the then governor, Ali Modu Sheriff. He was known to be one of the inner members of Sheriff’s administration. His governorship ambition in 2015 on the platform of PDP was truncated by a court ruling, leading to his substitution with Alhaji Gambo Lawan few weeks to the governorship poll.
He has an appreciable experience in public service and capacity to mobilise both human and capital resources for the development of post-insurgency era in the state having been in government for about two decades. He is also known to be a courageous politician but his candidature is yet to receive the support of the larger Borno elders.
Though, the population of these elders; mostly of Kanuri extraction, may not hugely affect the result of the election because most of their family members live outside the state especially since insurgency heightened, the voice of the Borno Elders’ Forum is strong in political decision in the state. Few PDP chieftains and allies of the candidate said he does not have the huge fund needed to run his campaigns and may be relying on some party stalwarts who are reportedly unwilling to donate due to the uncertainty in the party.
Again, the lingering crisis and factions within the PDP fold could be a major blow to Imam’s victory at the poll. The party is currently factionalised with both Alhaji Zanna Mustapha Gadama and Alhaji Usman Baderi in court claiming the chairmanship position. This scenario, Daily Sun learnt, has created confusion and in some cases apathy among members and party supporters. Imam may however put up a strong contest with APC candidate should his party leaders resolve their differences before the contest.
Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum (APC)
Babagana Zulum, who hails from Mafa Local Government Area, in the central part of the state, was born about 49 years ago. He obtained a National Diploma (ND) in irrigation engineering from the state-owned Ramat Polytechnic Maiduguri in 1988. He later joined the services of Borno State government as an Assistant Technical Officer in the state Ministry of Agriculture. In 1990, he moved his service to Borno Unified Local Government Service as Senior Field Officer. He went to the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) where he bagged his degree in Agric Engineering in 1994 and his Master’s degree in same field at the University of Ibadan, Oyo State in 1998. He got his Ph.D in Irrigation Engineering and became a professor few years later. He also served as Head of Department and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at UNIMAID.
A member of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru-Plateau State, Zulum’s first political outing was his appointment as the Rector of Ramat Polytechnic, Maiduguri, his alma mater in 2011 by the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima. He reportedly combined his teaching job at UNIMAID with his new appointment as the polytechnic rector. He was later appointed the Commissioner for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RRR) in 2015, overseeing reconstruction of towns and communities destroyed by Boko Haram.
Zulum emerged as the party’s governorship standard bearer at the APC primary on September 30. He was picked ahead of two other aspirants and political allies of the governor initially penciled down for the job and believed to be loyal and more experienced. Some party chieftains said the professor joined APC barely six years ago though the newspaper was unable to verify the claim. Sources close to the governor toldDaily Sun the professor emerged the choice due to his reported acceptability by a cross section of groups in the state including the traditional leaders, Borno elders and some elites. Governor Kashim Shettima’s last minute choice of Zulum caused a huge friction in the party as some party members are still bickering over the development. The political row was brought to the public as the party chairman; Ali Dalori reportedly vowed to deal with an aide of the governor for persuading his principal to settle for Zulum even as the governor was already holding meetings with concerned members.
Despite series of peace-building meetings with various groups in the party by the governor,it was gathered that some aggrieved chieftains have vowed to “fight back” Zulum who has also embarked on peace move with members and interest groups within and outside the party. He has also been appealing for unity. However his biggest challenge remains the bickering in the party. Shettima once voiced out this fear in an interaction with journalists.
“There is no opposition in Borno State. Our major challenge is the opposition within the party,” he said. He also alleged some “Abuja politicians” were trying to destabilise the party, an allegation political analysts say was targeted at former governor, Ali Sheriff.
Apparently, there is no love lost between the former governor, Ali Sheriff who returned to the party last year and the incumbent, Shettima with party members also divided along the same lines. Beside this, some of the party gladiators that contested the governorship primaries have been visibly absent from the party’s campaigns, an indication that all may not be well with the APC in Borno. Nigeria’s ambassador to China, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda, minister of state for power, works and housing, Mustapha Baba Shehuri, and former minority leader in the House of Representatives, Mohammed Kumalia among others have stayed away from the party’s staggered campaigns.
But then, there are also fears about Zulum’s disposition to the settlers. Some said he may not be as liberal as the outgoing governor in dealing with issues relating to non indigenes in the face of the overwhelming influence of his kinsmen; the Kanuri in an heterogeneous Borno State. Similar fears were also expressed by other ethnic groups in the state. But those who know the professor dismissed the claim as “political gimmick” to discredit the APC candidate. They said he has visited most leaders of ethnic groups in the state to dismiss the claim of his critics.
In all, Zulum stands a better chance ahead of other contenders. Huge supports for his candidature are expected from the academic especially his alma mater, UNIMAID and Ramat Polytechnic where he had worked for two decades. Elders in Borno also see him as more receptive.