In politics there’s always this ringing counsel to withhold the final cheer until the last vote is counted. It is so because, very often, politics doesn’t favour subtlety. No place in the recent governorship and supplementary elections did this advise hold true as in Sokoto, a state, it must be said, ccupies a special place in the sociopolitical history of Nigeria. Therefore, its politics never fails to rivet attention. As we already knew, the incumbent governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal was reelected for a second, four-year term in office with the slimmest electoral vote margin ever in the political history of gubernatorial elections in the country.
His margin of victory is also on the list of the narrowest election results in any gubernatorial contest around the world. It reminds me of the 2000 U.S. Presidential election result in Florida which George W. Bush won with a controversial close margin that state law required a recount. A month long series of legal battle led to the contentious, 5-4 Supreme Court decision of Bush V. Gore, which ended the recount. Bush won Florida by a margin of 0.009 percent or 537 votes.
According to the Returning Officer, Prof. Fatimah Muktar, governor Tambuwal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 512,002 votes to defeat Ahmad Aliyu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who scored 511,660 votes. The difference of 342 votes represents a margin of about 0.003 percent. For the records, Aliyu was until last year, Tambuwal’s deputy. Both were in the APC until the governor defected to the PDP.
In the March 9 election which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared “inconclusive”, Tambuwal polled 489,558 votes, while Aliyu polled 486,145 votes. The margin of win was just 3,413 votes compared to the votes expected from the cancellation in 136 polling units of the local government areas. Though Tambuwal lost in the supplementary poll, he edged his former deputy with margin of just 342 votes.
Expectedly, Tambuwal has been savouring his hard-earned, hard-fought, pyrrhic victory which he says will remain “evergreen”. Don’t begrudge him of this memorable victory. No wonder, he has described the figure as ‘divine’. “This is God’s doing, not money, or efforts of human being”, and I promise to always remember the figure by working tirelessly for the people of this state” (Sokoto). You needed to have seen Tambuwal when he addressed newsmen in Sokoto shortly after INEC announced him the victor of the historic election.
You see, to succeed in the greasy pole politics of Sokoto state, the home of the Caliphate, is not exactly the same as other states of the federation. Here the activating principles are unique, peculiar. In Sokoto politics, you need to learn the ropes. First, you need to have played the role of an apprentice, working under a master for a period of time, with consummate skill. In this state, unlike many other states, these are the informal channels of power you must pass through and excel. At the same time, the apprentice politician must understand the pros and cons of the major policy issues that he must face, and what to deploy to overcome them. Simply put, godfatherism is real in Sokoto politics. So, for you to be your own man, have talent, respect and unalloyed loyalty to your master, and also, build your own network of friends, not fair weather friends. If you must ruffle feathers, be sure you have a solid constituency base.
The picture which emerges from the above description is Tambuwal, a man for whom all human contacts has a purpose. The picture of the man you see today should be put in proper context. He began as an ‘apprentice’ in 1999-2000, working as Personal Assistant (PA) on Legislative Affairs to Senator Abdullahi Wali, then Senate Leader. He also received tutorials from ex-governor Attahiru Bafarawa, and Senator Matagarawa Wamakko who became his political godfather. Wamakko subsequently made him (Tambuwal) his successor in 2015. All these men had served as his master, teaching him the skills and the secrets of their trade. In return, Tambuwal, it was said, had given the full measure of his attention, talent, respect and loyalty.
Before long, indeed, in 2003, Tambuwal’s stars had begun to shine brightly. He won a seat in the House of Representatives, to represent Kebbe / Tambuwal Federal Constituency on the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). For an outsider looking in, it appeared the role of an apprentice had paid off. In a way,yes, but not as easy as you think. The Nigerian politician in Tambuwal has started to show. Few months to the 2007 election, he defected to the Democratic Peoples Party(DPP) alongside former governor of the state, Bafarawa. But, when DPP denied tickets to erstwhile ANPP legislators, Tambuwal went back to the ANPP. Later, he defected again, this time, he followed Wamakko to PDP. When things fell apart, he swung back to APC, and in 2018, back to APC.
By this time, the anger and bitterness between him and Wamakko, had started to run deep on all sides, presenting a political fight of formidable nature more difficult than any of them had faced before now. I have traced this background to show how in Sokoto politics, the reality and scale of power are defined by the extent to which it influenced or dominated behaviour and conditions both internal and external to the men of authority. Therefore, it’s fair to say that the outcome of the March 9 election and the rerun of March 23, reflected the bitterest contests of these two men. It’s also not unfair to say that the slimmest margin of victory by Tambuwal couldn’t have come as a surprise.
Putting the result in proper context, it mirrors Tambuwal as a politician of great commonsense and reasonableness whose calculations have been remarkably shrewd. These attributes are what gave him the Speakership of the House of Representatives some years ago. He has carried this mastery of modern politics as both an art and science and a leader of creative thought.
Altogether, I hope Tambuwal is acutely aware that his victory at the poll didn’t come easy; that it was achieved at great cost, not necessarily in terms of money, but with adversaries on all sides whose bitterness against him still runs deep. As Machiavelli said, “the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order… who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it”.
Therefore, more handwork, more achievements on the issues that matter to the people of the state should take priority. The truth is, you can’t win an election with 342 votes margin and take all. That will be an invitation to more problems.
I believe never in Tambuwal’s wildest dreams did he imagine that he would be reelected for another four- year term with such a nail biting, historic slimmest of margin. It’s almost like being saved by the bell. Overall, it is an opportunity for him to pause and reflect upon what all of this means, going forward.