Come 2019, voters in Niger State, like elsewhere across the country, will render the final judgment through the ballot box on whether Governor Abubakar Sani Bello deserves a second term or not.
There will be variables that would be used to arrive at what analysts describe as the “all important decision”. The voters are likely to point at the physical projects that directly have impacted on their lives; the various policies that enhanced their standard of living; their relationship with the governor’s political appointees, officials elected on the platform of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and party stakeholders that would convince them to put their hope in him for the second time, among other deciding factors.
Analysts are unanimous that unlike in 2015, the variables are many, even as the stakes are higher. The situation is complicated by the fact that the enthusiasm which heralded the birth of the “Party of Hope” has diminished. Many observers believe that Governor Sani Bello’s action and inaction have further enhanced the mounting odds against the ruling party and his own re-election somehow.
They point at the gulf which emerged early in the party following the governor’s first appointments into key positions in his government. Most stalwarts, including key party officials, felt slighted by his alleged failure to seek their input on the matter.
Stakeholders from Niger East Senatorial District had described the appointments as lopsided against the zone. The development had pitched the governor against the Chairman; Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters, David Umaru, who is unarguably one of the party’s founding members and main financier in the state. The altercation over the issue had further widened the gulf between the two party leaders. The same outcry had also trailed the list of commissioners and subsequently, the elevation of some directors to permanent secretary positions.
As the administration settled down to work, complaints of alienation by stakeholders in the award of contracts for various projects were rife. Even loyal party members were disenchanted with the governor’s alleged habit of “treating the seat as hereditary”.
He is also being haunted by allegations that only close friends and family members get considered for contracts, which are hardly advertised for bidders.
“Commissioners only get to see contract papers after they are signed and nobody can hold defaulting contractors liable,” a sacked cabinet member had alleged.
Perhaps his major undoing as the clock ticks towards 2019 is his perceived inability to build a formidable structure that will work towards his re-election.
“He erroneously believes that he will still benefit from President Muhammadu Buhari’s whirlwind which catapulted most of them to power in 2015,” an APC stalwart who would not want to be named said.
Probably because of such belief, Bello has just few trusted allies and has seemingly refused to build bridges across intra-party lines. Many had expected that he would woo into the APC’s fold, politicians elected on the platforms of opposition parties, but it seems he has so far carried on with a contentment that frightens close friends.
Observers also point out that in a highly monetised politics like in Nigeria, the governor is not doing enough; especially not arming his aides ahead of the 2019 elections. Commissioners and other appointees claim in hushed tones that they are being deliberately starved of funds, even as decisions concerning various ministries are taken in the government house.
Even party officials are said to be moving cap in hand to be able to carry out basic assignments. They claimed the non-funding of the party had greatly impeded its progress as politicians elected on the platform of the APC have left it to its fate. Therefore, it seems the party leadership has no hold on its members, hence threatening its unity.
The issue of apparent discontent within the party was raised by a Member of the House Representatives representing Shiroro/Rafi/Munya, Abubakar Chika Adamu, recently in a letter to various stakeholders.
In the letter, Chika wrote that, “I wish to draw the attention our great party, the APC in Niger State, to the disconnection between the government in the state and the membership of the National Assembly, the state assembly and other key stakeholders, because there is the absence of synergy.”
Hon. Chika said elected members were in pursuit of individual agenda and as such at loggerheads with the ideals of the party.
There is also the alleged existence of a cabal which decides how things are run. These individuals are said to be so powerful that they flout even the governor’s directives. The cabal has allegedly become a clog in the wheel of progress and is also allegedly using the governor’s instability in the state to their advantage.
Bello, it is alleged, is the most travelled governor the state has ever produced. At some point last year, the opposition PDP had to raise alarm over his many trips outside the country. “He had never stayed in the state for a month at a stretch since he assumed power”, PDP had alleged. However, Bello’s aides were quick to come to his defence, saying such trips were aimed at luring investors to the state. But observers argue that the many overseas trips have not translated into any investment of consequence.
With his many perceived miss-steps, the confidence which hitherto deserted the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is gradually returning, even as the initial shock over the death of its point man, a former Governor, Abdulakadir Kure, is easing.
The seeming clampdown on its key stakeholders such as a former Governor, Muazu Babaginda Aliyu, the party’s governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Umar Nasko, and its state Chairman, Barrister Tanko Beji, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over allegations of abuse of office and fraud, hardly had the desired impact.
Analysts see this development as an apt metaphor for the diminishing popularity of the ruling party in the state. Even a former governor who was pelted out of the state for alleged non performance now gets a hero’s welcome in the state. And from all indications, the party’s stakeholders are aligning and mobilising ahead of 2019. It is claimed that the result of such effort is beginning to manifest.
Just recently, in the governor’s home town of Kotangora, over a 1000 APC members in Zone C reportedly defected to the PDP during its rally. Also, ahead of 2019, signs are becoming ominous with a recent reported attack on the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu, by party leaders, where the governor also comes from.
Analysts predict that the situation will be worst for Bello in Zones A and B. They point at the frosty relationship between him and David Umaru who is undoubtedly the leader of the Zone B to buttress this point. “The likelihood is that Zone B will support an acceptable candidate from another party,” an APC stakeholder stated.
However, Bello’s consolation may yet be the unwritten zoning formula put in place by the APC leader of the state to give each zone a sense of belonging. Zones A and B have both benefited from the arrangement by producing the chief executive of the state for two terms. Governor Bello from Zone C is just midway into his first term and he has confidence that he would be returned.
Many, however, believe this may turn out to be a miscalculation on his part if the emerging signs are anything to go by, especially as the late Kure who was the key architect of the zoning formula has long exited the scene. So, analysts predict that without a rallying figure, the zoning arrangement may give way to contending interests.
Already, there is discontent in Zone A and a ground move to field a candidate even if it is on another platform. And supposing the zoning arrangement even holds, there are also moves by the opposition PDP to spring a surprise by producing a candidate from the same zone and party as the incumbent as its standard-bearer. If that happens, the impending contest would be a tough one.
But observers said Governor Bello could still redeem his chances ahead of the election by reversing some of the perceived “miss-steps”. They suggest that if he hastens the completion of strategic projects across the three zones he may likely be returned. “A speedy completion of the Minna-Bida road rehabilitation could ease the growing discontent in parts of Zone A, while a similar effort, at least a major road in all the zones, will also go a long way in rekindling the hope in him and his party,” an APC stalwart advocated.
Observers also suggest that he could also build confidence around the civil servants and pensioners who form the bulk of voters. “Promotion in the civil service had stagnated since 2010, while arrears of those earlier promoted are left on paid. There are also backlog of arrears of minimum wage increment, while issues regarding the Contributory Pension Scheme remained unresolved. Resolving these anomalies would greatly enhance his chances,” the stalwart said.
He is also of the opinion that Bello should begin to assert himself as the party’s leader by reaching out to aggrieved party members who are currently disenchanted with his style of leadership, while also suggesting that aides and appointees be empowered enough to be able to also reach out to their constituents to build confidence ahead of 2019, among other measures.