As Nigerians wait to go to the polls for the 2015 elections across the country, which was earlier scheduled to hold on the 14th and 28th of February 2015, now re-scheduled to hold on the 28th of March and 11th of April 2015 respectively; political analysts, journalists, the international community and many Nigerians have continued to air their views on the dramas and the likely events that may unfold in the coming weeks. There is no doubt that after the presidential election, the gubernatorial election is the second biggest election in Nigeria. Governors are seen to be very powerful, second only to the President of the country. Despite the fact that in the recent years women have participated actively in our political processes and have held several political and public offices, there hasn’t been a female governor, vice president or president in Nigeria.
After the political parties conducted their primaries, there were a lot of surprises as expected; one of such was the emergence of Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan as the only female Gubernatorial candidate on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and subsequently in Nigeria – she will be contesting in Taraba State. Two things are significant here if she eventually wins, she will be the first female elected as governor in Nigeria, and secondly, Taraba being a North-Eastern state – a region where Boko haram insurgents are currently waging a supposed ‘holy war’, a democratically elected female Governor from that region will no doubt send a clear message of defiance to the insurgents that Nigerians, particularly in the north are not giving up on the democratic system and will not submit to their demands.
Who is Senator Aisha?
It will interest you to know that Senator Aisha is known to be a record breaker; She was the first female Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Taraba State. She was later appointed as Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in December 2003. She retired from Civil Service and went into business before she later joined politics. She contested and won the PDP primaries against all odds in 2011 defeating the then incumbent Senator, Anthony Manzo and finally defeated the former Governor Jolly Nyame of the then ACN in the general elections.
This is a brief highlight of Senator Aisha’s public and political life.
Who does the odds favour?
Anybody who follows Taraba politics knows that PDP has always been the party to beat in Taraba but recent events have significantly changed that narrative, especially with the crisis rocking the PDP. This has presented a rare opportunity to opposition parties in the state to try and snatch power from the ruling party in the state. So far, there are three major candidates running for the seat, Darius Ishaku (PDP), Aisha Jummai Alhassann (APC), and David Sabo Kente (SDP). Many analysts believe unlike in other states where the battle is between the PDP and the APC, in Taraba, the SDP also stand a chance and Senator Aisha is believed to be the dark horse in the race. The SDP candidate is more popular than the PDP candidate – the Southern Taraba People Congress initially endorsed him before T. Y. Danjuma reportedly influenced the choice of Darius in Abuja and ended up putting the party in an unresolved crisis till date. It is on the back drop of this avoidable crisis in PDP that the former acting governor of the State, Garba Umar, who was favoured to win the primaries if conducted left the party alongside many key members of the party including SDP’s candidate David Sabo Kente. Both men left the party after disagreeing with the way Darius was selected at Wadata plaza Abuja as the party’s candidate after failing to conduct the primaries in Jalingo, the Taraba state capital as scheduled by the party.
As I earlier mentioned the crisis rocking the PDP is a huge boost for the opposition especially the APC in their bid to wrestle power from the ruling party. To capitalise on it and mobilise support from all angle for Aisha, especially the aggrieved PDP members who are believed to be working for the APC already to ensure that Aisha emerges victorious. One of the major things that is working against the former minister of state for Niger Delta, who is the PDP candidate is the fact that he is seen as a political novice who is there to serve the interest of the cabal that held Suntai captive for more than two years and denied the former acting governor his mandate of becoming the substantive Governor until he was sacked by the Supreme Court. In fact, many analysts believe that the SDP candidate stands a better chance than the PDP candidate, because he has been in the race a long time and has established some structures on ground. However, both the PDP and SDP candidates are seen as people who are pushing for a Southern Taraba agenda as against the interest of the state as a whole. Their choice of deputies was also criticised by many commentators who believed that they shouldn’t have ignored the northern zone which has the highest number of voters and has been the major decider of whoever becomes Governor of the state or not. Coming from Southern Taraba, a zone with the least number of voters, both candidates picked their deputies from the Central Zone. These miscalculations by the two Southern Taraba candidates will give Aisha an edge over them. Again it is important to note that as serving Senator, she performed well in her constituency (Taraba North) in the last three years.
Religion as a factor?
As much as one may want to ignore the use of religion in the so called Nigeria’s secular state, it has been used to either to marginalise some quarters or as a tool to actualise the interest of an individual or group at the expense of the overall interest of the people at various levels. In Taraba state the issue of politics and religion cannot be ignored so the question here is, Does Senator Aisha stand a chance of becoming not just the first female Governor in Nigeria but the first of her faith to lead the state? The answer to this question in my opinion is a yes. Why? Because if the 2015 elections do take place as scheduled Tarabians and of course Nigerians at large are beginning to see beyond politicians’ religious and ethnic identities in electing their leaders.
In my opinion the people of Taraba state are not afraid of a Muslim Governor if they can elect two out three of their senators and four out six of their members of the House of Representatives from the same religion.
How Taraba Governors emerged in the past?
Since 1999 none of the winners of the PDP primaries became the governor of the state. In 1999 Jolly Nyame replaced the winner of the PDP primaries, Usman Bibinu who died in a car crash few days to election. Nyame was in the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) then and was brought in by Atiku Abubakar to pick the PDP ticket and he eventually won – he returned again in 2003 for a second term. After serving his second term, Nyame attempted to imposed his crony, a secondary school dropout, Danladi Baido. Danladi had several corruption cases against him with Ribadu’s EFCC then, even though he won the PDP primaries, he was later disqualified and Nyame hand-picked his then SSG, the now incapacitated Governor of Taraba State, Dan Baba Dan Fulani Suntai. Nyame was accused of introducing religion in Taraba politics by ignoring the runners up of the PDP primaries three of them who happened to be Muslims by bringing Suntai (a Christian) who never showed any interest of vying for the seat. Suntai served his first term and returned in 2011 before becoming incapacitated due to a plane crash he was involved in. Since then, Taraba State has been without a substantive Governor, leaving the state in the hands of two Acting Governors for over 27 months now. This is a brief highlight of how Taraba politics has been played in the last 16 years. And this tells us that although Aisha stands a chance of beating her opponents in a free and fair election, it is not going to be an easy ride. Her biggest challenge is fighting the cabal who fought the former Acting Governor to a stand still with the backing of the presidency and T. Y. Danjuma ,who is willing to give whatever it takes financially to ensure his unpopular political god-son of the PDP emerges as the winner. Another challenge for Aisha is her gender, many people are still not comfortable with the idea of having a female Governor in the state. Nonetheless, with the crisis rocking the PDP and the Buhari momentum sweeping across the North, and with support of some powerful individuals like Atiku abubakar who has strong political base in the state, a victory for Senator Jummai Alhassan is not far-fetched and may be, just may be, Nigeria may have its first female Governor
Abdulrahman Usman Leme
Views expressed are solely the author’s