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Now that the voter registration figures have been certified and released by INEC, the stage is set for the National Assembly elections on April 2, presidential election on April 9, and the gubernatorial and state assembly elections on April 16. Though the voter registration figures are being contested in some constituencies, a cursory analysis suggests that the population patterns of the country are being followed. Lagos, Kano, and Kaduna are the most populous states and have registered the most voters. This suggests that registration rules have been followed. Political parties who did not mobilize their constituents to register have only themselves to blame. The next task is for voters to go out to the polls on April 9 and 16 and vote, and to ensure peaceful elections.

This article will focus on the Kaduna State voter numbers. Kaduna State is the third most populous state and the most diverse state in the country. It is a microcosm of Nigeria. It is a state whose sociological minorities have complained of marginalization since amalgamation and have formally requested a state of their own whenever state creation commissions were set up. Their requests for statehood have always been denied, and they have had to live under the rule of the ethnic majority, the Hausa Fulani. This April, the Kaduna minorities have for the first time, an opportunity to make electoral history. Governor Yakowa, a Southern Kaduna minority, is in a position to win the election. I’m sure that everyone will be watching to see if Kaduna State’s minorities can see themselves represented in the highest office in the state and if the majority ethnic group will be part of the history making.

Since the release of the Kaduna State voters list, brouhaha has ensued among the usual combatants: the people of Southern Kaduna and the people of Northern Kaduna. Each side is making a mountain out of a molehill. The people of Southern Kaduna claim that there is a conspiracy to disenfranchise them, as it has registered relatively few voters. They suggest, that Yakowa—whom they claim as their own, though he sees himself as “nakowa”—is now at a disadvantage to win the 2011 gubernatorial election on April 16. The people of Northern Kaduna claim that Southern Kaduna’s numerical strength was always a myth and that the voter’s registration supports it. In reality, however, the 2011 voting population distribution in the state has not demystified the Southern Kaduna people’s claim to numerical strength.

Kaduna State as a whole registered about 6 percent of the little more than 67 million eligible Nigerian voters. Of that 6 percent, 43.95 percent came from the central senatorial zone, 33.35 percent from the northern senatorial zone, and 24.70 percent from the southern senatorial zone. If one looks only at these numbers, then the southern senatorial zone has the least numbers of registered voters. However, there is an assumption that the ethnic groups collectively known as the Southern Kaduna people are found only in the southern senatorial zone. This assumption is not only historically and culturally incorrect, but also spatially incorrect.

The political and cultural discourse in Kaduna State has always been cast along the lines of Northern Kaduna (majority) and Southern Kaduna (minorities). And it inevitably becomes a game of ethnicity and numbers. In a memo for the creation of Gurara State, submitted by Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU) in 2010, it was suggested that a new state be curved from Kaduna State, along the historical, cultural, and spatial definition of Southern Kaduna. This new state would consist of 13 of the current 23 local governments in Kaduna State. These 13 local governments had a population of 3.3 million in 2006, and the creation of this state would numerically overshadow Northern Kaduna, which in 2006 had a population of 2.7 million.

This state has come into being, but this document clearly asserts that the Southern Kaduna people claim ancestry in 13 of the 23 local governments in Kaduna State. In other words, the Southern Kaduna people are “indigenes” not only in the southern senatorial zone, but in all three senatorial zones. In fact, they are in all eight local governments in the southern zone (Jaba, Jama’a, Kachia, Kargao, Kaura, Kanuru, Sanga, and Zango Kataf); in four of the seven local governments in the central zone (Chukun, Kajuru, Kaduna South, and Kaduna); and in one of the eight local governments in the northern Zone (Lere). Interpreting voter registration numbers by zones, as some analysts did, gives the impression that Southern Kaduna people registered fewer voters than Northern Kaduna. However, proper interpretation of the numbers- based on local governments- suggests that the Southern Kaduna people need not worry as they have registered a high number of voters.

The local government format is not only proper because of spatial claim, but also because the thinking of Kaduna State citizens continues to be that of Northern Kaduna versus Southern Kaduna, or majority Hausa Fulani versus Southern Kaduna minorities. Senatorial zones are a recent construction. While politicians are already looking for ways to capitalize on the zone structure to their advantage, the average citizen has not yet been able to shift from the ethnic divide to the zone divide. The effect of this zones approach has led to Northern writers to suggest that the people of Southern Kaduna have lost territory and been reduced to occupying only the southern senatorial zone. The suggestion is that any Southern Kaduna people in the central zone and in Lere Local Government in northern zone will come to no longer see themselves as Southern Kaduna people. The intended effect of this kind of misinterpretation of the demographics is to convince minorities that they are no longer relevant in the state’s political calculations. But if these reports intend to downplay the relevance of the Southern Kaduna people in state wide election and argue that Governor Yakowa has little chance of wining on April 16, they have not done their homework.

It is true that Governor Yakowa, who was born in the southern senatorial zone, he cannot stand for election to a southern zone local government council, house of assembly, house of representatives, or senate because he does not currently reside in that zone. However, he is not running for local office. He is looking for votes across Kaduna State as governor. In fact, he has an advantage over his opponents in that he can claim support from the southern senatorial zone as a “son” of that zone and also from the central senatorial zone as a long-time resident of that zone. This means that his political roots spread to 12 of the 23 local governments in the state as a whole.

Assuming that the vast majority of citizens will vote along the lines of their ties to their zone or region (Northern Kaduna or Southern Kaduna), Yakowa stands a good chance at victory on April 16. Yakowa must, according to Section 179(2) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, win the highest number of votes as well as receive “not less than one-quarter of all the votes cast in each of at least two-thirds of all the local government areas in the State.” The voter registration numbers at this point indicate that it is possible not only for him to receive the highest votes of the 14 competing gubernatorial candidates, but also receive at least one-third of the votes in at least 15.33 (?) of the local governments in the state( pray we avoid the 1979 Awolowo v. Shagari imbroglio).

In conclusion, the Southern Kaduna people should not be misled by voter registration figures. The Southern Kaduna people are rooted in 13 of the 23 local government areas of the state and heavily in two of the three senatorial zones. The voter registration figures favor them immensely. With this said, we can look forward to the day when Nigerian citizens vote with their conscience, listening to political ideas and party platforms, and voting for the candidate they feel best represents them regardless of where the candidate was born or where he or she currently resides. In the meantime, there is the 2011 election, one that may indeed be of historical significance if Yakowa is elected governor. He claims to be “nakowa,” or a transcended citizen of the state, and if given the chance he may for the first time be able to bring together this heterogeneous state and govern both majority and minority peoples fairly and equitably.

Tunga Lergo is a Sociology professor teaching at Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida, USA.

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