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KANO: DON'T RULE OUT SURPRISES

By NBF News

In 2007, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau broke a 30-year jinx when he became the first incumbent to be re-elected governor in Kano State. Those who tried it before him failed woefully, even when it was thought they already had a renewed mandate in their pockets. Witness: Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso in 2003, and the late Abubakar Rimi before him in 1983. Shekarau's tenure ends next May 29, and as politicians of different hues and party affiliations position themselves to take over from him, one key element that observers are already looking out for is that peculiar unpredictability that is native to Kano politics.

It is something that is rooted in history, in Kano's very nature as a complex, sprawling entity with a large population of spontaneous, if volatile, voters. Kano people like to follow their heroes, and are quick to identify with one when they see him. But their heroes hardly last, thanks to their famed impatience, that tendency to easily get fed up with their leaders. This is what has been described as the Kano factor. It is this character that has over time made the politics of Kano an unpredictable affair in which the so-called dark horses have often trounced the front runners.

History of electoral upsets
Few examples might be relevant here. In 1979, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had fielded Alhaji Aminu Wali as its governorship candidate in the state while the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) led by local hero, Mallam Aminu Kano, opted for Salihu Iliyasu, an experienced engineer that enjoyed a lot of grassroots popularity in the state.

Being the behemoth it was in the Second Republic, the NPN had used its power to get Iliyasu disqualified on flimsy excuse of non-production of tax clearance, even though he had been in the civil service. Having been thrown into confusion, the PRP had to substitute the disqualified Iliyasu with a relatively young, unknown Abubakar Rimi who was getting set to run for the Kano South Senatorial seat.

Despite the popularity of Wali and the strength of the NPN, Rimi won the election squarely: The people of Kano insisted on voting the person endorsed by their cult hero, Aminu Kano. Rimi was later to establish himself as a peoples' governor who laid a solid foundation for the infrastructural development of the state. However, before he could finish his second term, Rimi fell out with Aminu Kano. Having lost out in PRP, he took his followers to the rival Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) which quickly adopted him as its candidate for the 1983 election. PRP fielded another dark horse in the person of Sabo Barkin Zuwo. Rimi thought his popularity, charisma and first term achievements would make him the voters' choice in the election, but again, Kano people went with the dark horse in deference to Aminu Kano, and Rimi lost to Barkin Zuwo.

Ever since then, the politics of Kano has followed that pattern. While Rimi and his followers were dubbed santsi - people who broke away, those that remained with Aminu Kano became known as tabo - those that resisted deviation. The two groups outlived the Second Republic, and have continued to dictate the direction of Kano politics up till now. Even in intra-party affairs, the difference between the two groups has been maintained.

During the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC) days, the former chose Magaji Abdullahi, a tested politicians and later national chairman of the National Centre Party (NCP) as its gubernatorial candidate. The NRC on the other hand, handed its flag to Kabiru Ibrahim Gaya, a relatively unknown, political neophyte. With many top Kano politicians like Rimi and Wali in the SDP, nobody gave the NRC and Gaya much chance in the election of 1991.

However, the mistrust between the santsi and tabo factions reared its ugly head again in the dominant SDP. While Rimi's santsi people wanted Aminu Inuwa as the flag-bearer of the SDP for the governorship election, the tabo faction wanted Magaji Abdullahi. When Inuwa lost to Abdullahi in the primaries, Rimi's faction said Abdullahi was imposed on the party and struck a deal with Gaya whose campaign was already sagging. That was how Gaya, another underdog, became the governor of the state.

At the beginning of the politics of Third Republic, both the santsi and tabo factors had again found themselves in the same umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But Magaji Abdullahi had pitched camp with the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) where he again emerged as the gubernatorial candidate. With this, the equation changed completely. But this had angered his traditional allies who were in the PDP. When Kwankwaso, a relatively unknown political starter, became the flag-bearer of the PDP, both the tabo and the santsi people decided to unite to punish the renegade Magaji who clearly was the front-runner in the race. Again, true to tradition, the underdog had it and Kwankwaso became the governor.

As governor, Kwankwaso wielded so much power within the ranks of the PDP, and had its structures firmly in his control. With time, he began to see himself as a made man, and thought he could wean himself from his mentors like Rimi and Musa Gwadabe. So in 2003, when he was due for reelection, Kwankwaso was in exactly the same situation Rimi had found himself 20 years earlier. With Aminu Kano dead, Rimi was more or less undisputed king of populist politics in the state. But Rimi, like other influential PDP men who felt spurned by the man they made governor felt it was pay back time for Kwankwaso. They left him to his fate, neither campaigning for, nor against him. What happened in that election has since become another chapter in Kano's politics of upsets.

Shekarau versus Kwankwaso
Elsewhere, the emergence of Shekarau would have been considered a political miracle, but in Kano it was tradition reinforced. Shekarau was a permanent secretary in the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) while Kwankwaso was governor. It was the politics of sharia that pitted both men against each other. Strictly speaking, Kwankwaso was not a sharia person. But having seen the potential political capital inherent in its adoption, the then governor had introduced a diluted version of it in Kano State. But to his chagrin, Shekarau who was expected to play a crucial role in the implementation was seen to be doing enough to ensure its success along the line of the governor's thinking. Shekarau, on the other hand, felt that the governor was not serious in implementing the sharia in the state.

The face- off came to a head when Kwankwaso redeployed the permanent secretary to the classroom as a lecturer in the state College of Education at Kumbotsho. Shekarau was understandably angered, but nevertheless reported to his new duty post before he eventually disengaged from service to challenge Kwankwaso. By then, his popularity in the state had soared, if for nothing for standing up to the incumbent governor. But Kwankwaso withheld his retirement benefits, promising to release them after the 2003 elections. The motive was all too clear: just to ensure his ambition of challenging the governor died a natural death.

But luckily for Shekarau, some prominent Kano people, notably Dantata, stood by him, and goaded him on. Luckily for him, Gen. Muhammad Buhari (retd)had entered politics and joined the ANPP. During the party primaries, Ibrahim Little, an employee of Mohammed Abacha who had had no experience in public service, won. Feeling that he was too inexperienced to stand up to Kwankwaso or even govern a complex place like Kano, the ANPP eventually gave Shekarau the ticket.

During the election proper, Shekarau had leveraged on the popularity of Buhari who enjoyed a wide followership in Kano, so much so that when Buhari raised Shekarau's hand in a public rally in the state, his victory was more or less fait accompli. In the ensuing election, Shekarau had roundly trounced his erstwhile master on his way to the Government House.

However, before Shekarau could finish his first term in 2007, he had fallen out with Buhari, just as Rimi and Kwankwaso did with their own mentors in 1983 and 2003, respectively. Even while Buhari was campaigning for the presidency in the state, he never asked the people to vote for Shekarau. However, using the factor of incumbency and his own personal acceptance, he was able to get back to power, a feat that no other person had performed in Kano politics.

2011: Shekarau's three-pronged battle
Whatever happens, Shekarau remains a potent factor in the politics of Kano come 2011. In the past seven years, his profile has soared not only because of the stride his administration has made in the provision of infrastructure and social services in the state, but also for setting up the mechanism for the implementation of real sharia.

Shekarau had endeared himself to the masses of the state who were disenchanted by what they called Kwankwaso's lip service to the sharia with the setting up institutions like the Sharia Commission, the Zakat Commssion, and another agency for social reorientation in line with the demand of Islam.

Shekarau has also been able to rein-in sectarian violence for which Kano is notorious, since he came to power, and this has endeared him to non-natives resident in the state. Apart from the first one, which his supporters said took him unaware, no major religious violence has broken out in Kano since the coming of his administration. Unlike before, when the crisis in Jos would have elicited sporadic backlashes in Kano, the state has been quiet. Moreover, the appointment of three non-natives into cabinet level positions has cemented the unwritten pact between Shekarau and the former.

However, although not contesting for the governoship, Mallam, as he is popularly called, faces a three-pronged battle as he seeks to lead the charge to deliver the Kano Government House to the ANPP in the election. First, he has to contend with the angst of a growing number of his party faithful who are grumbling over his choice of former finance commissioner, Sagir Takai as his preferred successor. Second, there is the long-awaited epic confrontation between him and Kwankwaso in a somewhat rematch of the 2003 governoship contest that left the latter bruised and deflated. And then, there is Buhari whose brush with Shekarau in 2007 had ended in no victor, no vanquished. Unless there is a major upheaval, the outcome of this battle will surely determine who becomes governor of the state next May 29.

Given the number of very credible politicians that have indicated interest in the office within the ruling party, such as former governor, Kabiru Gaya, Ibrahim Khaleel, Sani Kofarmata, Abdullahi Sani Rogo, Bashir Galadanci, as well as incumbent deputy governor, Tijani Gwarzo, forces within the ANPP in the state feel that the governor was rather hasty in anointing one of the contenders without consulting widely with other relevant interests. Shekarau's case is not helped by the fact that his chosen one appears not to be that popular in the party, or in the state. The fear within the ANPP camp is that if care is not taken, the governor might make the same mistake that cost the SDP the Kano governorship election in 1991.

However, state secretary of the ANPP, Rabiu Ahmed Bako, said such fears do not arise because the governor's choice was not binding on the party. He said Shekarau had only opted for a person who in his own judgment would be the best material for the office, pointing out, however, that the ultimate decision would be that of the party. And Bako said all what the party needs to do is to ensure a level playing turf for all aspirants while ensuring that the primaries are transparent. But whether Shekarau and the party leadership will be able to resist the temptation to manipulate the primaries in favour of Takai is quite a different matter. Whatever happens, if history is anything to go by, then Kano people will resist a perceived imposed candidate any day.

Even if ANPP sorts out its internal problem, it still has PDP's big grudge and Buhari to contend with. PDP's grudge is personified by Kwankwaso who was ousted by Skekarau in a bitter contest in 2003. Kwankwaso wanted a rematch as early as 2007, but was stopped, thanks to a government white paper which had indicted him. His proxy, Ahmed Garba Bichi, was again defeated by Shekarau. The former governor is warming up again to retake the office from the man who wrested it from him seven years ago. Bako, the party secretary said they would still wave the same indictment paper they used in 2007 to scare him off the election as they did thee years earlier. But from all indications, Kwankwaso will get a reprieve from the amended constitution, and the combat between him and whomever Shekarau supports appears imminent.

Kwankwaso controls the PDP machinery and stands a good chance of picking the party's ticket ahead of Mohammed Abacha and Farouk Lawan. Seven years after leaving office, he is now no longer seen as the monster he was thought to be before the 2003 polls. It is easy today to remember again that he introduced the sharia in the state, even if his version was adulterated and adopted for mere political reasons.

Moreover, it is clear that ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo who was a collateral liability for Kwankwaso in 2003 is no longer a baggage he has to carry. His rejection in 2003 has been seen in part as an expression of the hatred of the Kano people for Obasanjo whose convoy was once stoned in the state. Then, Buhari had been the rallying point of the anti-Obasanjo sentiments in the north, and Kano by reason of its nature was the right place to fully express the sentiments.

With no Obasanjo to dilute its support base, and no Buhari to shore up that of the ANPP, PDP appears to be in a pole position to mount a credible challenge this time around. Moreover, Shekarau will not be a candidate, and his reported ambition to challenge for the presidential ticket of his party might rub off on his availability in terms of time and resources to personally campaign for and deliver whoever emerges the candidate of his party.

The Buhari factor
The quarrel between Skekarau and Buhari shortly before the 2007 general elections diminished the political influence of both men in the state. A bitter quarrel between the erstwhile political allies had seen the latter asking Kano electorate to vote for any candidate of their choice in the last gubernatorial election. Nevertheless, Shekarau won, even if he received fewer votes than Buhari got in the presidential poll.

With Obasanjo out of the way, Buhari who physically personified the anti-Obasanjo sentiments in the north has to reinvent himself to remain relevant in the politics of Kano. His decision to ditch the ANPP with his followers was a response to that imperative. The coming of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) led by Buhari tore the ANPP right down the middle across the nation, particularly in Kano. Virtually every single member of the party is a former member of the ANPP, and the full import of this can only be known during the election.

However, like any other politician of note, Buhari has those who are ready to die for him, and there are quite a number of such people in Kano. But such people are no longer in government unlike before. Instead he has been a rallying point for those who feel aggrieved. For instance, the state chairman of the CPC used to be a Special Assistant to Shekarau before he was sacked.

But when it comes to real electioneering politics, it takes more than mere populism; money and influence are required to make impact, especially in the Nigerian context. Though charisma can sway the commoners, in the long run, it is the elite that manipulate or influence outcome, and those people are no longer with Buhari. It is tempting to think that Buhari will come off stronger and more influential in Kano if Jonathan runs for the presidency in spite of pockets of opposition from the a section of the north. But with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, former military president, Ibrahim Babangida and Shekarau himself warming up for the presidency, Buhari's influence is sure to be whittled down.

The aspirants
ANPP
The race for 2011 is a three-way race among ANPP, PDP and CPC. It is not surprising that more aspirants have indicated interest to bear the flag of the ANPP than in any other party. Besides Takai, the candidate allegedly anointed by Shekarau, notable ANPP aspirants include Sani Kofarmata, a deeply religious man who enjoys the confidence of critical section of the party, nay the state. He was the director-general of the Pilgrims Welfare Board. On a good day, barring any undue interference from the powers that be in the state, Kofarmata can always hold his own.

Another notable aspirant is Senator Kabiru Gaya, a one-time governor of the state who currently represents Kano South at the Senate. Other former commissioners in the race are Abdullahi Sani Rogo, Sarki Labaran who once presided over the works ministry.

The commissioner for science and technology, Bashir Galadanci, as well as the incumbent deputy governor, Tijani Gwarzo, are also in the race. Much as each of these candidates can put up a good showing, there is no doubt that the one that gets the blessing of the governor who is the leader of the party has an edge. That is why irrespective of the grumblings going on in the camps of the other aspirants, Takai is still the man to watch. How these men are able to close ranks and fight for a common cause once a candidate is picked will go a long way in determining the fortune of the party in 2011.

PDP
In the PDP, Kwankwaso controls the party machinery, and in a delegates' election, holds the ace. But if care is not taken, the santsi/tabo divide might rear its head again within the PDP and the party could play into the hand of other parties as was the case in 2003. Mohammed Abacha is another aspirant whose ambition should not be wished away. For one, he has the resources, and it helps in politics. Irrespective of what other Nigerians think of the Abachas, they enjoy a lot of support in Kano. Although the sudden death of Rimi, his principal backer had brought a temporary setback to his camp, he was able to recover in enough time to put the campaign on a steady footing again. He is also said to enjoy the confidence of Kwankwaso, and it might not be surprising if both eventually go on a joint ticket.

Farouk Lawan who chairs the Education Committee of the House of Representatives is another notable aspirant in the party. Farouk has not been known to be a friend of Kwankwaso because of his relationship with former speaker of the House, Ghali Umar Na'Abba, who lost out in 2003, thanks to Obasanjo and Kwankwaso. Na'Abba himself was to join Rimi and others in ensuring that Kwankwaso was not returned. But in politics, alignments and realignment are a way of life. A very practical person, Farouk knows how to pick his enemies and must have weighed the odds before plunging into the race. The former military administrator of Niger state, Col Habibu Shuaibu has also indicated interest in the race, even though he appears not to be as vocal as others.

CPC
Lawal Jafaru Isa, a retired army officer who was once a military administrator in Kaduna State, left the Action Congress (AC) for the CPC once Buhari dumped the ANPP to form the new party. He had indicated his interest to run for the governorship as soon as he joined the party and has sustained his campaign ever since and has remained a front runner for the party's ticket.

Another notable aspirant in the party is Anwalu Anwar, a university teacher and former chief of staff to Na'Abba when he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. After serving Na'Abba, Anwar had been made a mandate secretary in the Federal Capital Territory Administration where he was in-charge of education, before picking up a lecturing appointment.

The interim national chairman of the party, Rufai Sani Anga, has also been strongly rumoured to be interested in the Kano governorship race, a rumour he has never denied. By the structure of the party, the national chairman will eventually come from the southern part of the country once a convention is held, and Anga, who is in the position in interim capacity is expected to go back to Kano to slug it out with likes of Isa and Anwar. Besides, there are also ample chances that those who feel hard done by in the ANPP might still troop into the CPC to swell the number of aspirants for the gubernatorial election.

The bottom-line is surprise
Kano people always like to follow a towering figure who will tell them the way to go in any election. Shekarau fills that gap in the ANPP; Buhari does so in the CPC, but with Rimi gone, who does so for the PDP? Hardly a serious problem, because the people are also apt to invent a hero when they get disenchanted with existing ones. Shekarau will present a candidate, Buhari will, and the PDP candidate might not have somebody in the image of a cult figure who will raise his hand and mobilise the people after him. Musa Gwadabe who left the PDP with Atiku would have fitted the bill, but he has refused to return to the party.

But nothing is ruled out in Kano politics, because the bottom-line is surprise.

•Next Week: Jang and the elite gang-up in Plateau