Niger 2019: When odds pile against Gov Sani Bello

Weekly Trust - - Analysis - Ahmed Tahir Ajobe, Minna

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 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 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 Min­naBida 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.

Gov­er­nor Abubakar Sani Bello

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