By NBF News
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Nasarawa State was created in 1996 from the old Plateau State. It has an estimated population of 3.3 million made up of mainly rural farmers and artisans. The state also boasts of a small corps of professionals. The present administration is the second democratically elected. Since the advent of democracy in 1999, Nasarawa has been governed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

This total domination of power by the PDP has led to the near absence of viable political parties in the state, as virtually the entire political force congregate under the PDP in a stiff contest for control of power.

Prior to 2006, the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) had a measure of foothold in the state, to the extent of a puny threat to the hegemony. The defection of the incumbent governor, Aliyu Akwe Doma from ANPP to the PDP, together with a mass of his supporters in 2006 ended the seeming puerile challenge to the PDP dominance and gave more fillip to its present all-conquering status.

In the state capital, Lafia, besides the ANPP, only perhaps the Action Congress (AC) has an appointed state secretariat. The other parties at best are a mass of motley groupings without defined bases and capacity to challenge for power. The resultant effect is that a conservative 99 per cent of leading politicians in the state are holed up in the PDP, putting the party on perpetual fire in the fierce battle for relevance and power. The calculation is that a ticket of the PDP to contest for any position is as good as a victory in the general elections.

The Labour Party (LP), which made a late appearance on the scene in the twilight of 2006, has made a good run, mainly in the area of relevance. It has a sprinkling of recognition among the educated and professional classes, and even has a member in the state House of Assembly. In spite of the hot air in the ruling PDP, violence and brigandage have been on the low side since democracy took roots in the state in 1999.

The underpinning factors and driving force of the politics of the state reside in religion. There is an abiding contest between the two main religions of Islam and Christianity on numerical ratio and ipso-facto, power. While the Muslim population believes it has the nexus for exclusive control of power, the Christian population consigns the Muslim claims to undesirable arrogance and fancies of imagination.

But a cursory look at the praxis of power control at the state and local government levels shows that the Muslims enjoy a close to exclusive domination. However, an LP lawmaker in the state House of Assembly, Mr. Innocent Lagi disagrees. He says the impression was deliberately created because of the cacophony by the Muslim cabal in power, who rule as if other classes of citizens and interests do not exist.

'The fact that they make too much noise while in office does not mean they are more in population. Their incendiary inclination to the oblivious existence of Christians, who are in the majority, is a crime, which ought to be addressed. Their majority claims can only be located in official appointments where they appoint themselves and carry on with disdain for the Christians.'

Prof. Onje Gyewado, an Action Congress (AC) governorship aspirant equally lends voice to Lagi's position. He says that it is undisputable that the traditional indigeneship of Christians, especially in Nassarawa North, far outweighs the sprinkling of Muslim settlers, who, over time, with the backing of the sultanate have seized the levers of power exclusively, and dictate the tone and pace of the politics in the state.

In like terms, Gyewado believes that the truth will someday be unveiled. 'No matter how hard you try to suppress the truth or crush reality, it will one day be exhumed,' he declares, contending that the foreseeable future holds out much for the state in terms of religious amity and integration of the component religious camps.

However, the Commissioner for Information, Barrister M.T. Allah Kayi, disagrees. For him, the state is run on the basis of merit which disproves the arrogation of power by the Muslims. 'Every zone and interest is represented. If for any reason, you find a particular class of people or interest in the corridors of power, it cannot be a design of exclusion of others, but a conscious adoption of merit which also encapsulates the interests and sensibilities of the people,' he explained.

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Political Affairs, Hon. Musa Bako Kashim, equally corroborates him. He observes that those who worry about religious equilibrium are anarchists who are looking for a neck to hang their personal failures and frustrations. Of the six governorship aspirants that have so far signified intention, four are Muslims, while two are Christians.

The running mates of the aspirants for the governorship seat have always been from the opposing religious divide, a tacit acknowledgement of the sensitive religious nature of the state.

The aspirants
The PDP has more of the governorship aspirants. They include the incumbent governor, Aliyu Akwe Doma, Alhaji Umar Tanko Almakura and Mr. Nowani Aboki. Others are the former deputy governor of the state, Prof. Onye Gyewado, who is aspiring on the platform of the AC, Alhaji Ahmed Yusuf of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), and Hon. Innocent Lagi of the Labour Party (LP). There are also strong suspicions that the former Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mr Solomon Ewuga, who ran a very vibrant campaign for the same position in 2007, may also contest. He has since returned to the PDP from ANPP.

The incumbent governor, Doma, is believed to be oiling his campaign wheels on performance and the constitutional entitlement of two terms. A veteran of many political battles, he left his civil service job, where he rose to position of permanent secretary to become the Deputy Governor of the old Plateau State between 1979-1983. He has since then been active in every political dispensation. In 1999, he ran for the governorship seat on the platform of ANPP and failed. He made another futile bid in 2003. However, his defection to the PDP in 2006, against all odds, brought him to the exalted position.

He is generally regarded in power circles as the father of the state, having been one of the leaders of the movement for the creation of Nasarawa State. One of Doma's biggest challengers, Almakurah is a former youth leader of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic. A man with a vast and wide political network, he was the state secretary of the Plateau State wing of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in the aborted Third Republic, as well as member of the Constitution Drafting Committee of the same dispensation.

He became a member of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP) in the late Gen. Sani Abacha's stillborn transition period, and has been a chieftain and financier of the PDP in Nassarawa State since 1999.

Aboki, a grassroots politician and retired permanent secretary, runs a high profile non-governmental organization (NGO) in Lafia. He is reputed as a master-strategist, whose ambition to govern the state was not conceived overnight. His campaign structure is said to be one of the best organized with youths and women as the anchor point.

For Gyewado, after resigning voluntarily as Deputy Governor in 2002, he devoted much of his time to the classroom, grooming future leaders and offering intellectual perspectives to the nagging problems of the state on all fronts and spheres. He has also kept in touch with the political terrain, playing sublime roles in party development and consensus building.

His desire to realize his ambition on the platform of the AC, an acclaimed progressive party, is perhaps a demonstration of his innate drive to put into proper focus his political beliefs and vision. Yusuf, an up-coming politician with nerve and drive is a man of the people in the conventional sense. His ideology and political persuasions derive from his immense understanding of the plight of the common people, the masses in popular parlance.

Although, his Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) is hardly reckoned with in the state, his campaigns are as combative as they are penetrating. Lagi is widely known in the state as the authentic voice of the opposition. As minority leader in the state House of Assembly, he captured the imagination of the people. He has the advantage of youth (early 30's) and is imbued with a keen understanding of the peculiar problems of the state and a vision for its liberation.

The division within
The fluid zoning formula of the PDP, which enhanced the smooth transfer of power from Nassarawa West in 2007 to the South after an 8-year- stint, is seriously under threat. In the run up to the 2011 governorship elections, aspirants and other political leaders in the state, from their utterances and campaign strategies apparently have scant regard for it.

Their rallying point, is the desire for credible, acceptable and performing leadership, regardless of the zone. While those from the mainly Christian North insist on these canons, they also reiterate their alleged marginalized status, hoping that next year's elections would be a good platform to produce a governor for the state for the first time.

The West has so far played minimal role in this agitation, as there are yet no known aspirants. So far, the three leading aspirants in the PDP are all from the South. This, perhaps, is in furtherance of their wish to equal the four years mandate that the West enjoyed. For Almakurah and Aboki, who are from the same local government area as the governor, their interest is predicated on the perceived poor performance of Doma, which they insist they will improve on to rebuild confidence in the ability and capacity of the zone to acquit itself on performance.

Their aspirations have rankled and embarrassed the Governor's campaign team, which believes that the division in the zone, especially the challenge from Almakurah, a close ally of the governor, is undesirable and indecent. The team had hoped for a common front from the zone and the governor's allies, to deflate onslaughts from the North, which is easily regarded as the hotbed of opposition.

Almakurah campaign organization, however, believes that the emergence of Doma as governor in 2007 was in error, and since his programmes are allegedly deficit in the elements of good governance and quality delivery of dividends of democracy, the time to rout him from office is now or never.

'We cannot fold our arms and watch while the state is drifting into a bottomless pit. We want to rise up now to get him out of office through a popular mandate. The people are wallowing in abject poverty, while hopes that things will improve under him thins out with each passing day. This is the time to correct the error that was made in 2007,' Sunday Sun was told.

The Information Commissioner, however, lashed out at those who claim that the governor's performance is below par. 'Go round the town of Lafia, the villages, all the zones in the state, and you will see ample evidence of the footprints of this administration. They cover road, healthcare, schools, water supply, industries, electrification, name them.

How can anyone with objectivity claim that these things that have been provided do not impact positively on the lives of the people? Their criticisms cannot go beyond their parochial interests, and I do know that the people will not believe them.'

The structure of the local governments as per the zones is also instructive. Out of the 13 local governments of the state, the South has five, which makes it electorally influential and politically crucial. The local governments that make up the zone, which includes the state capital, Lafia, are Obi, Keana, Awe and Doma.

The West also has five in Keffi, Nassarawa, Toto, Karu and Kokoana.

The North has only three, Nasarawa Eggon, Akwanga and Wamba. This perhaps explains why it is always holding the wrong end of the stick, including appointment to Federal agencies.

Godfather syndrome
Former governor, Abdullahi Adamu, who is now aspiring to be senator representing the West, played more than a godfather's role in the emergence of Akwe Doma as governor in 2007. To that extent, the present government reveres him, and is always ever willing to accord him due recognition in all schemes.

Thus, the government has since inception not reversed any of Adamu's programmes, no matter how controversial.

The ex-governor on his part, has conducted himself with utmost reverence and statesmanship, avoiding meddlesomeness. The only time he made some innocuous remarks on the leadership style of his successor, the government quickly responded with a revelation that only N5m was met in the treasury, on assumption of office. But so far, godfather and godson tread cautiously and have had no hitches. Adamu had in 2006 supported and groomed Barrister Musa Husseini to succeed him, but made a grand retreat to back Akwe Doma at the tail end of the campaigns, in a swift and rather complex twist.

On the face value, the PDP looks set to retain the governorship seat in 2011.

It has the structure and the people to deliver. However, in valid and credible polls, the factors of religion, the popularity of the aspirants without recourse to political platform, may come in handy in shaping the course of events.