How Will the North Vote in 2015?

August 7, 2014

As we approach 2015 elections, now more than ever, we should look at the records of our elected officials. Have they really kept their promises?

The following article appeared in the Y! Naija publication and discusses some of the factors that will affect how people will vote, particularly in Northern Nigeria.

When the elections come – How will the North vote in 2015? (YNaija Long Read) by Mark Amaza

In the week of Christmas 2013 the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Jigawa held rallies in the three senatorial zones of the state to drum up support for the local government elections – to hold on 18 January this year. As the ruling party in the state, the PDP was not prepared to concede ground in any of the 25 local government areas.

Like most of the states, the tenures of the local government chairmen had expired long ago, with interim chairmen put in place as a stopgap, and as political tactic to consolidate the hold of the party in the local governments.

To ensure maximum effect at the rallies, the PDP rolled out all the big names in the state chapter, with the three senators from the state on the speaking roster.

Power to the people

They didn’t bargain for Birniwa.

At the rally for the North-West Senatorial Zone, when it was time for Senator Abdulmuminu Usman Zarekeu to speak, a low murmur began to rise from the crowd.

It soon turned to a chant.

“Bamayi, bamayi (We are not in support of you)!” the crowd repeated the politician’s nightmare in Hausa.

Undeterred, Senator Zarekeu continued to make his way to the makeshift stage. And so the chants rose higher – and the message more urgent.

“Bamaso, bamaso (We don’t want you, we don’t want you)!”

And then, the water sachets began to be thrown – at the Senator. The hitherto well-behaved crowd was on the verge of a mob.

That was when the good Senator got the message. He stepped back and dropped all notion of stirring the people up for his party’s candidates in the local government elections.

At almost the same time, the exact same scenario was playing out in the North-East Senatorial Zone; Senator Zarekeu’s colleague, Abdulaziz Usman Tarabu the target of the chants and heckling this time.

He was supposed to speak at the rally in Miga, the headquarters of Miga Local Government Area. At that gathering, the PDP candidates of the seven local government areas that make up the Dutse Emirate Council were to be presented to the electorate by the state governor, Sule Lamido.

But as he mounted the podium, the crowd, mostly of young people, started chanting:

“Bamaso, kasauka, ba ka yi mana komai ba (We don’t want you, come down, you have done nothing for us; we do not want you)!”

Tarabu was the more courageous of the two however, stubbornly mounting the podium and proceeding to speak… until the chanting became so intense, it all ended up an embarrassment to the personalities present, led by the governor. He had to step down.

The evidence would appear to be clear, despite grumbling about opposition warfare – not only is there a deep sense of disenchantment with the senators among the electorate of Jigawa’s North-West and North-East Senatorial Zones, but the disregard for the slew of politicians present makes clear the verdict of the states votes: the elected are performing well below expectation.

That disenchantment however is not peculiar to Jigawa.

Minding our business

Being a legislator in Nigeria is a tricky job – on the one hand, it comes with much less pressure than, say, the governor or the president. A senator or member of the House of Representatives is not in charge of large budgets and governments. On the other, it is difficult to explain their utility to a large section of electorates suspicious of paying people simply to talk.

The result of this is an increasing focus on the amounts they earn as salaries and allowances, considered excessive by a large section of the Nigerian public, and the budgetary allocations they are given to develop their constituencies.

Therefore, while the job of parliament across the world is to deliberate on laws for the betterment of their people, and oversight over the executive, anecdotal evidence now proves that a legislator in Nigeria who concentrates only on lawmaking, no matter how excellent he is at that, may risk losing an election.

In between ethnicity, faith, zoning and other narrow factors that influence elections in Nigeria, a smart politician in the legislature knows that he also has to make his presence at the legislature felt beyond making laws which the bulk of the voting population may not understand (with adult literacy rate in Nigeria at 61% – at least 30million Nigerians of voting age can neither read nor write, which is almost half of the registered 73.5million voters in 2011).

He has to come home frequently to embark on projects such as building school blocks, donating books, launching water projects and any other project that puts him in direct touch with his constituents and shows him to be working – not to mention the ‘stomach infrastructure’ projects, where he issues monetary handouts directly to the people.

The most effective Nigerian legislators therefore are those excellent both at legislative duties – being vocal on the floor and in committees, raising motions and sponsoring bills – as well as constituency duties.

With limited constituency budgets however, yet a larger-than-life image, it is no wonder so many are so disenchanted with their representatives.

But its not just the legislators – disenchantment is now an accessory to democracy across the North, if not across the whole country.

Kano’s emerging war

Kano is undoubtedly the most important state in Northern Nigeria – and one of the most in the country. The last population census, 2006, identified the state as the most populous state in the country with 9.32million.

It is also the economic capital of the North; its own capital, Kano the second largest city in Nigeria with a history of commerce that stretches back several centuries pre-colonisation – when the city of Kano served as the southernmost point of the famous trans-Saharan trade routes, with textile materials, leather and grains being the principal exports to North Africa.

It is also the birthplace of radical Northern politics, most notably, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and the Peoples’ Redemption Party (PRP) in the First and Second Republics, led by the late Mallam Aminu Kano.

They styled themselves as the anti-establishment party loved by the mass, in contrast to the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) in the First Republic led by the Premier of Northern Nigeria and Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which produced the former president, Shehu Shagari in 1979.

Kano is highly coveted during elections – it has a voter population of 5.1million (as at 2011), only second to Lagos with 6.2million. It, naturally, also has the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives – 21.

At the onset of Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, the PDP had a vice-like grip on the state – it had after all won the governorship, all three senate seats and 18 out 23 seats from the state in the House of Representatives.

However, in 2003, the combination of former Head of State and presidential candidate for the All Nigerian People’s Congress (ANPP), General Muhammadu Buhari, easily the most popular politician in the North since Sir Ahmadu Bello, and sympathy votes for the ANPP governorship candidate, a certain Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau who had been demoted to rector of the State College of Arts, Sciences and Remedial Studies from his position as permanent secretary in the state civil service, led to heavy losses for the PDP.

Not only did the then (and present) governor, Rabi’u Kwankwaso lose his seat, but votes were cast for the ANPP across all the elective positions. It was such a heavy hit that the PDP, which had held all but 23 of the seats in the lower house, was down to eight, with the ANPP winning the remaining 14 seats.

In fact, to hear them tell it, one of the elected senators – very confident of winning -was sleeping in his house on Election Day when he was informed he had won election. The ANPP was also so sure of victory, it only needed to seek a candidate.

This was to repeat itself in the 2007 elections, as the ANPP once again swept 21 seats in the House, and two out of the three senatorial seats in the state.

The bandwagon voting didn’t lead to the same effect in governance, however. Many of the legislators were lame ducks in the National Assembly, with no record of impact, through project or lawmaking. They were ripe for a change in the next elections.

In 2011, the competition was intense: Kwankwaso was taking another shot at the governorship as his successor; Shekarau had reached the constitutional two-term limit. Shekarau had also his denied his deputy governor, Abdullahi Gwarzo, the governorship ticket of the ANPP, causing him to move to the now-defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and Buhari’s party, the CPC, was participating in its first elections, hoping to ride on the General’s popularity to win.

Added to that was increased voter awareness. 12 years of uninterrupted democracy had taught the citizens not to vote en masse from one party. The result was winners cherry-picked at different levels, from different parties.

The PDP won 11 seats in the House of Representatives and all three senate seats. The ANPP won eight seats while the CPC won the last two.

So far, only one federal legislator from the state has been undefeated since 1999. Hon. Farouk Lawan (Bagwai/Shanono) whose national reputation was brought down by his ignominious role in the fuel subsidy bribe scandal of 2012 suffers no such deficit at home. In the north, he is one of the National Assembly’s most prominent faces in the National Assembly, vocal within the House and also popular at home courtesy of numerous – effective – projects.

“I believe that now that Kwankwaso has joined the APC, the combination of his popularity and that of General Buhari will enable the party to sweep the federal legislative seats in the state,” Salihu Tanko Yakasai, a radio broadcaster and member of Nigeria’s new opposition coalition, the All Progressives Congress (APC) says of the 2015 elections.

Kwankwaso was one of five PDP governors that defected in November 2013 and is already being mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for the party. His popularity within the state is built on numerous infrastructural projects including two flyover bridges within the city.

“Although the PDP has been trying to shore up the loss of Kwankwaso by wooing his predecessor, Shekarau who is said to be unhappy with the way he is sidelined in addition to the presence of Mohammed Abacha, it will still be an uphill climb for the party in winning the state,” Yakasai says. “The biggest risk for the party will be if it imposes candidates during the elections, which may cause the voters vote for the PDP in protest.

“This had happened during the transitional program of former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida in 1992 where the imposition of Magaji Abdullahi by party bigwigs as the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) made people vote for Kabiru Gaya (now the senator representing Kano South) of the National Republican Party (NRC)”.

No peace for the plateau

Unlike Kano, which upheavals are caused primarily by political calculations, Plateau is buffeted by crisis over which it might have no control.

It is almost a cliché now, but no less true for that. Plateau, once famous only for its scenic beauty and cold weather, has now become one of Nigeria’s most troubled states due to constant ethno-religious conflicts and mysterious, unsolved nighttime raids on villages where entire families have been wiped out.

The crises, which began in September 2001, have been on and off, getting so severe that the Olusegun Obasanjo administration had to declare a state of emergency in 2006, removing the governor, Joshua Dariye and installing an administrator to stabilise the peace in six months.

Dariye, like the president, was a member of the PDP, which has always had a solid grip on the state, winning all four governorship elections, and all but one senatorial race out of 12. It has also won 17 out of 24 House of Representatives elections in the state from 1999.

The strongest challenge to the dominance of the party came via the 2011 gubernatorial election. The Deputy Governor and former Minister for Industries, Pauline Tallen committed political suicide when she challenged her boss, Jonah Jang for his position. She moved to the Labour Party, a hitherto unknown party in the state, no doubt bolstered by the candidacy of former governor, Dariye for the Plateau Central Senatorial Zone through the same party.

Dariye won, but, as expected, Jang defeated Tallen resoundingly. Expected because the governor has become popular thanks to a slew of infrastructural projects executed and completed.

The state’s defining crisis also played a crucial role. There were rumors that Tallen had gone into alliance with the minority Hausa Muslim community, considered to be settlers within the state, who many accuse of fomenting the crises.

When Tallen took her campaign to Angwan Rogo, a predominantly Hausa area in the state capital, Jos, and wept openly on what she termed ‘injustice to the Hausa people’, the indigenous people did not need to look further for evidence of the ‘said alliance’. She ended up winning 35.37% of a total of the 1.3m votes cast in the elections. To complete the humiliation, when the results were declared, women famously trooped out en masse to sing songs celebrating her defeat.

The Plateau people have showed themselves very engaged beyond this. It is in fact one of the very few states in Nigeria where there has been a serious attempt to recall a legislator. In 2006, the Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, who was representing Plateau Central, found himself battling to keep that seat.

Unfortunately for those behind the recall attempt, they were unable to get the required one-half of signatures of all the registered voters in the district. So the voters simply waited – and voted him out at next elections.

“It cannot be said with certainty if the present set of legislators will win (next year),” said Ibrahim Faruk, a civil society activist based in Jos.” A lot depends on what will play out within the parties, where some legislators might likely not win the tickets to run for re-election.

“The PDP still remains highly rated to win most of the seats in the 2015 elections: apart from its lone senator, Dariye, who is tipped to retain his seat, the LP has gone back into the obscurity from where it emerged in 2011; the APC might likely win the Wase Federal Constituency as usual (it used to be the ANPP that always won), which the PDP has found it a nut too hard to crack. A major factor behind the inability of the PDP to win this constituency has been due to the overwhelming Fulani Muslim population, where it is perceived as a Christian party, although the PDP is said to be working hard to win the constituency in 2015.

“Most of the battles will be within the PDP. As at yet, no one has formally declared for any of the positions, although that does not mean that the politicians interested are not strategizing for the offices of their choice. Most are waiting upon Jang, who as the party leader shall install the candidates of his choice to run in the election.”

There are rumors Jang – also factional chairman of the Nigeria Governor’s Forum – is also interested in running for the Senate. A source close to the governor, who declined to be named, confirmed this to me.

“When the winner of the 2011 senate election for Plateau North, Gyang Dantong died in July 2012 and a bye-election was held, Jang was said to have installed his Chief of Staff, G.N.S. Pwajok as the PDP candidate who went on to win the election, to hold the office for him till 2015, when they will likely swap offices, as Pwajok has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Jang, who is very popular within the state,” he said.

For Plateau South Senatorial Zone, its representative, Victor Lar, is reportedly preparing for a run for Government House, Jos – no matter the risk of losing his seat in the process.

Another legislator that is popular with his constituents is Bitrus Kaze, who represents the Jos East/Jos South Federal Constituency. However, he faces a common challenge: an agitation by a section of the Berom ethnic group to have one of their own replace Kaze, who is of the Anaguta ethnic group and has been in the House since 2007.

Another possible intense race will be for the Mangu/Bokkos Federal Constituency, where a rumored interest from the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Shedrack Best, who is a close Jang ally, might scuttle the re-election chances of Hon. Aminu Jonathan.

Rumble in the Savannas

An hour and thirty minutes from Jos, Bauchi, capital of the state by same name, has been birthplace of legendary political careers from the North, including Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and radical Northern politician, Mallam Aminu Kano.

At the inception of the Fourth Republic in 1999, the state was won by the PDP at all levels. The party couldn’t repeat that feat in the 2003 presidential elections howewver. The ANPP’s candidate, Muhammad Buhari swept most of the states in the North, including Bauchi.

PDP proceeded to lose the state governorship for the first time when the former Minister of Aviation, Isa Yuguda was schemed out of getting the party ticket by his erstwhile political ally and the governor, Ahmadu Mu’azu. Yuguda decamped to the ANPP and combined his popularity with that of Buhari’s to win the Government House. The party also won two senate seats and most of the federal constituencies.

Not that the people have much felt like winners over the same period.

There have been two attempts to recall legislators in Bauchi State: the first in 2009 to recall the senator representing Bauchi South Senatorial District, Bala Mohammed. Mohammed, who was an ANPP member, had consistently tongue-lashed Governor Yuguda for decamping to the PDP after being elected on the platform of the ANPP, and accused him of betrayal. This did not go down well with Yuguda who is said to have begun the drive to recall Senator Mohammed.

He was reasonably assured of succeeding before Mohammed’s saving grace – he was appointed minister by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, a reward for his role pushing through the doctrine of necessity that brought Dr. Jonathan into office. Ironically, Senator Mohammed did not take too long to join Yuguda in the PDP after he became the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. He is now working hard to succeed Yuguda as the governor, even constituting a 12-man committee to visit all six emirates.

Ibrahim Adamu Gumba was the second target for recall. The senator presently representing the Bauchi South Senatorial Zone, a group called the Youth for Democracy confronted Adamu Gumba. The group claimed to have gotten close to half the signatures required as at May 2013. Then it disappeared. Nothing has been heard since.

What shall we hear from the electorate come 2015 though?

“It is very hard to predict specifically how the elections into the National Assembly will play out in Bauchi State, as the ruling party, the PDP and the opposition APC is still quite in flux,” said Jafaru Idris, who hosts a political-affairs radio show.

“Within the PDP, there is no assurance that the incumbents will get the chance to fly the party’s flag in the elections; like every other state, the governor calls the shots within the party. Also, some incumbents are looking to move up politically, such as the Deputy Majority Leader in the Senate, Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central Senatorial District who is said to be eyeing the Government House, as Yuguda has exhausted his two-term limit. With this ambition comes the risk of ending up with neither his senate seat nor the governorship.

“At the same time, the APC is said to be making overtures to the incumbents to switch parties and promising them automatic tickets to contest the elections. If this happens, it will likely force those within the APC interested in running for the Senate and National Assembly to move in the opposite direction to the PDP.”

State of Gombe

The perception of political performance is almost the same in Gombe State, which was one of 6 created out of old Bauchi State by the Abacha regime in 1996.

Its first taste of democracy came in 1999. Since then, three governors have been elected, including the first, Abubakar Habu Hashidu of the now defunct ANPP, who lost his re-election to Danjuma Goje. Goje spent two full terms and is now in the Senate.

Its citizens give conflicting reports on the state of democracy dividends – legislators, for instance, spend a lot of time at home, but their presence is hardly felt in terms of constituency projects. They are conspicuous in ‘human development’, interpreted as the basic doling out of money to all who approach, but that is all.

You would think this dissatisfaction has led to a citizen reaction, at least such as Mantu faced. But that is not (yet) the case. The only attempt at recalling a legislator came for Goje, who is now representing Gombe Central Senatorial District. Don’t get too excited though – the state government led that attempt, after Goje fell out of favour with his successor and the incumbent governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo. Goje now feels so safe in his seat; he recently joined the bandwagon to the APC.

“A lot of the politicians will follow Goje to the APC as he is still very popular,” said Ibrahim Yusuf, who runs Society for the Future, a youth activism and development organization in the state. “While no one can deny that Dankwambo is performing especially in terms of infrastructural development, politicians and top civil servants are not enjoying his government because money is not flowing to them. The governor’s experience as an accountant seems to have influenced his frugal nature.”

Is there any sense of certainty as to how the state will vote?

“The fate of politicians is really unsure, as there is a lot of realignment in the politics of the state,” Yusuf explained. “More defections are certain to come, and it is not sure if the incumbents will even secure their re-election tickets. However, one legislator who is the man to beat will be Usman Bello Kumo, representing Akko Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives on the platform of the PDP. He is so popular that he can win no matter the party he runs on.”

There are many politicians across the north who desperately wish the same could be said of them. Unfortunately, the average Northern citizen has gotten more difficult to please with each election cycle.

Or, as some will say, fortunately.