As unpredictable as the overall outcome of Saturday’s presidential election may seem, political permutations could at best give a hint on which of the two main contenders, Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), will take what states to cruise to victory on February 16.
There is no doubt that both the PDP and APC, have formidable political structures and are heavyweights in their respective camps across the three North-Central states of Niger, Kwara, and Nasarawa.
The PDP and APC have both produced two-term governors, several ministers, and many senators in the three states.
Interestingly, some of the main political gladiators in the three states have at one time or the other in the recent past either fallen in or out of favour with the federal government under Buhari.
Will these factors count in determining the outcome of the 2019 presidential poll across Niger, Kwara, and Nasarawa states?
The Main Political Gladiators
In Kwara, Senate President Bukola Saraki still controls and commands the loyalty of his late father’s (Senator Olusola Saraki) political dynasty, through which he rode to power as governor between 2003 and 2011 which has earned him the nickname of ‘Oloye’.
He also maintains sole leadership of his own sub-dynasty through which he once challenged his father’s political grasp of the state and prevailed.
In his capacity as the leader of the National Assembly, he has weathered many a storm under the Buhari government and equally overcame. As the Director-General of Atiku’s campaign, the effect of his influence on the outcome of forthcoming polls in Kwara cannot be underestimated.
On the other hand, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, is a longtime political rival of Saraki in Kwara. However, he also runs a sound grassroots political structure of his own in Kwa,ra having run for governor of the state in the past. Mohammed as the spokesman of the APC-led Federal Government still remains relevant in the scheme of things.
the minister also enjoys the confidence and support of Lagos political giant and APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, having served as commissioner in his cabinet and stuck with him all through the days of Tinubu’s opposition politics.
The recent deployment of Tinubu’s former security aide to Kwara as Police Commissioner ahead of the presidential election is seen in some quarters as a reinforcement of Mohammed’s political arsenal for the fierce confrontation with Saraki’s camp during the elections.
In Niger state, former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida still remains relevant in the power play within and outside the state.
Babangida, a founding member of PDP, commands the loyalty of traditional rulers and institutions as well the loyalties of majority of the political elites in the State. His mere ‘blinking of the eye’ during elections in Niger says a lot.
Also, the immediate past governor of the state, Babangida Aliyu, a staunch PDP member who is currently at odds with the Buhari-led APC government over corruption charges has not totally lost his firm grasp of the PDP political machinery in the state.
However, the incumbent governor, Sani Bello, of the APC equally controls the party structures which delivered him for a second term bid. A staunch Buharist; the power of incumbency lies at his disposal and could be deployed in favour of his party’s presidential candidate on Saturday.
Similarly, the Minister of Solid Minerals, Bawa Bwari, enjoys the confidence of the powers that be at the Aso Villa. He knows the inner workings of PDP structures in Niger state, having served as a member of the House of Representative under the party for multiple times before his appointment into Buhari’s cabinet.
For Nasarawa, the key political gladiators in the state are remarkably different from those in Kwara and Niger state in terms of their loyalties.
The current governor, Tanko Al-Makura has been a strong Buharist. He first came to power as governor of Nasarawa under the Congress of Progressive Change (CPC), a party formed by Buhari to run for Presidency in 2011.
Al-Makura moved to the APC along with Buhari as founding members and still won a second term under the party platform; lending credence to the fact that his political machinery works irrespective of the party he belongs.
A former governor of the state under the PDP and current senator under APC, Abdullahi Adamu, in his own right, is not a political pushover in Nasarawa. He has consistently won elections and delivered his densely populated native Nasarawa West (Keffi district) to whoever has won the presidential election since 1999.
Recently, a Minister in Buhari’s cabinet was appointed a first class Emir in Nasarawa. That further consolidates the APC’s structures at the grassroots in the state ahead of the Saturday presidential election.
The only visible PDP strongman at present in Nasarawa state is the party’s governorship candidate, David Ombugadu, a Christian from the Akwanga district.
He is also one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives. That notwithstanding, he had won elections twice in the state before. It can be safely said that he understands what works and what doesn’t in the politics of Nasarawa. Can he bring this experience to bear on Atiku’s behalf this Saturday to ensure the PDP prevails over APC?
President Buhari won the votes of a large portion of Kwara electorates in 2015 when the top gladiators in the state; Saraki and Lai Mohammed teamed up to work towards the common goal of sacking President Goodluck Jonathan from office.
However, the synergy between the two no longer exists as Saraki has since dumped the APC for a return to the PDP. They are currently at daggers drawn; always seeking for ways to ‘slit each other’s throats’ politically.
But having had a better understanding of each other’s political strategy of previous battles, both men have evolved fresh campaign strategies to outwit the other and win the hearts of the electorates in the 2019 presidential poll for their respective principals, Atiku and Buhari.
While Saraki, in his capacity as Atiku’s campaign DG, has repeatedly said the PDP will play the politics of 2019 on issue-based campaigns away from personality attacks, the APC camp in Kwara rolled out the O’toge (Enough is Enough) mantra in a bid to influence the electorates into revolting against the Saraki political clout which boasts of the incumbent governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, Senator Rabiu Ibrahim, and ex-APC spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi, and seasoned federal lawmaker, Abdulrazak Atunwa.
Lai Mohammed had boasted in Ilorin: “The easiest nut to crack will be the Kwara Central Senatorial District because the first revolution started from there.
“Cast your minds back to what happened in the last Local Government elections, you will see that the people of Kwara are ripe for change and we have no fear in any part of the state.
“When revolution comes, it comes in total and hence the slogan across nooks and crannies of Kwara today, ‘O to ge’ meaning ‘Enough is Enough’.
“What is happening today in Kwara is mass movement and that is why everywhere we go in the state we are warmly received, whereas the PDP are being received there with hostility,’’ he said.
But Nigerians, Kwarans inclusive, are wiser politically than in 2015 when the ‘Change’ mantra swept APC to power.
Mere electioneering chants may no longer be effectual in delivering any presidential candidate in 2019. A lot more hard work on the psyche of the electorates is required.
In Niger state, the electorates have always followed IBB’s lead. They are yet to vote against any candidate the ex-Head of State endorses. Though, his endorsement are not as open and flamboyant as Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s, yet Nigerlites have accurately almost always sensed his political focus and toed whatever line he has drawn.
Last February, IBB issued a statement urging Buhari to complete his first term and allow a new generation of leaders to take control of the affairs of the nation.
“In the fullness of our present realities, we need to cooperate with President Muhammadu Buhari to complete his term of office on May 29th, 2019 and collectively prepare the way for new generation leaders to assume the mantle of leadership of the country.
“While offering this advice, I speak as a stakeholder, former president, concerned Nigerian and a patriot who desires to see new paradigms in our shared commitment to get this country running.
“While saying this also, I do not intend to deny President Buhari his inalienable right to vote and be voted for, but there comes a time in the life of a nation, when personal ambition should not override national interest,” he stated.
However, Atiku is of the same generation as Buhari so does not fit IBB’s specification in all ramifications.
But, as the military would say ‘Obey the last order until it is reversed’, Babangida has not rescinded his anti-Buhari second term remarks. It may count as a minus to Buhari and APC in Niger state on Saturday.
On his part, ex-governor Aliyu Babangida has repeatedly vowed to ensure PDP takes back the state from APC. However, the duo of incumbent Governor Bello and Minister Bwari could match the ex-governor squarely in the fight for the soul of Niger in 2019. But, it is doubtful if they can be as potent in challenging IBB’s political influence on the elites and masses of the state.
On a separate note, two APC senators from Niger state, David Umaru, and Sabi Abdullahi were denied party tickets for reelection. Both senators are influential in their constituencies.
They head two Senate Committees on Justice and Media and Publicity but they have remained largely silent in the face of the recent executive, legislative debacle. None of them has been reported in 2019 to have spoken enthusiastically about the APC or its presidential candidate.
In Nasarawa, the electorates are majorly divided along religious and ethnic lines. These two factors play a huge role on the outcome of elections in such an agrarian state.
While the APC and PDP have members across the divides in the state, the key political actors in the state may play up these sentiments on Saturday to ensure they deliver the state to their respective party presidential candidates .
But those parochial sentiments, may not be effective in swaying the votes in 2019 because of the harsh economic downturn in the country which has jolted more Nigerians from political lethargy.
Additionally, the influx of Internally Displaced Persons from Benue and Plateau States as a result of farmers/herders clashes may sway the direction the votes will go on Saturday in Nasarawa in an unprecedented fashion, particularly if INEC allows the IDPs to vote in their camps.
While PDP’s David Ombugadu remains popular among Nasarawa young Christian populations, whose sentiments lean towards Atiku, can he achieve a major breakthrough into the Muslim much older generation in the state who are sympathetic towards Buhari?
Senator Adamu had vowed to ensure that President Buhari wins with landslide victory, considering the support that the President is receiving day and night.
“APC government had done a lot in impacting positively on the lives of Nigerians, hence the need for us to vote President Buhari for second term,” he had said.
In all, while APC has PDP’s “Saraki element” and the “IBB factor” to combat in order to win over the electorates in Kwara and Niger for Buhari on Saturday, the PDP has the APC’s Al-Makura/Adamu combined force to resist so as to pave way for Atiku to win in Nasarawa.
While no political permutation is perfect, it may be safe to say Atiku will grab Kwara and Niger states but lose Nasarawa to Buhari; all things being equal. However, until the votes are cast and counted on Saturday, this submission remains an inconclusive analysis.