Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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Congratulatory messages have been booming out from radio stations in Nasarawa state, following Supreme Court’s recent verdict that affirmed Governor Abdullahi Sule’s election. Recall that Sule won the March 18, 2023 governorship election by 64,193 votes. According to INEC’s official result, he scored 347,209 votes while his closest challenger, PDP’s David Ombugadu had 283,016. This was the second time Ombugadu was contesting against and also losing to Sule, the first being in 2019. Sule himself mounted the saddle as governor for the first time on May 29, 2019, taking over from Tanko Al-makura as his favoured successor. But it was not the first time that Sule was vying to be governor of Nasarawa state. He dabbled into politics in 2006. He did not succeed in his dream to be the state’s number one citizen because he contested under what was considered a wrong platform, a little known party then. Thus his political foray at the time was uneventful and he reverted to working in the private sector, notable among them, Dangote group, a blue chip conglomerate. As flag bearer of the ruling APC in 2018, Sule who had lived and worked abroad for a long time, had a taste of Nigeria’s dirty politics in which the average Nigerian politician considers all methods to be fair in the quest for political power. For the average Nigerian politician, the end justifies the means. Abdullahi Alhaji (A.A.) Sule candidate of the APC had his baptism of fire in the murky waters of Nigerian politics during and after campaigns for the 2023 polls, during and after the elections, during the waiting period for the court judgements and after the courts’ verdicts
In the run up to the 2019 governorship election he was labelled a ‘foreigner’ (strange to say in this 21st century) by some of his political adversaries. Some others said he was fronting for and working in concert with Aliko Dangote, chairman of Dangote Group in a ‘secret’ plan by the ‘’Fulanis to take over Nasarawa state’’ (another bizarre claim). Sule had resigned at the time as managing director of Dangote Sugar company to contest both the primary and secondary elections and the state government had signed a memorandum of understanding with Dangote industries Limited for establishment of a sugar company in Awe in the southern senatorial district of Nasarawa state. Of course, Sule debunked these at the time, stating that his grandfather was among the founders of Gudu (their hometown) and the town’s first traditional ruler. He noted that his father as traditional ruler had had to sign at some point, the ‘’indigene form’’ of some of his political opponents. He had stated further that his only interest in promoting setting up of a sugar company in Awe is advancement of Nasarawa state.
In the 2023 general elections the fault lines were blown open by political parties and their supporters that sought to reap political gains thereby. Labour party candidate, Peter Obi won the presidential election in the state —191,361 votes to Bola Tinubu’s (the ruling party candidate) 172,922 votes. Atiku Abubakar of the PDP polled 147,093 votes to place third. Results of the National Assembly polls which held same day and time as the presidential poll showed that the ruling APC lost all three senatorial seats with PDP winning two of them (Lafia and Akwanga zones) while the SDP clinched that for Keffi zone. These results created a veritable tensed environment for the impending gubernatorial election. Can Governor Sule make it? That was the question on the lips of many anxious residents. However, experts believed that the motivating factors for voters’ decisions were different for the presidential, national assembly elections and that the scenario for the governorship election could similarly be different as other factors would come to play such as incumbency factor, etc. LP presidential candidate’s win was put down to primordial sentiments. Reason for APC loss of all three senate seats was attributed to wrangling within the party that saw some of its members defecting to other parties to get tickets.
Nasarawa state is a multi religious, multi ethnic state with no less than 20 tribes. It had never witnessed any religious crises; most of the crises here are communal, mainly farmers’/herders clashes with isolated cases of tribal clashes. Adherents of the two major religions maintain that they are in the majority in terms of population. However, analysts say it is 50/50. Apart from the regurgitated conspiracy theory of 2019, in 2023 campaigns the religious and ethnic cards were thumbed up, sharply dividing Nasarawa state citizens. A pastor urged Christians to vote for Christians only while a Sheikh warned against having a Christian at the helm of affairs. Truly all of the state’s governors since its establishment to-date have been Muslims but people cared less because they had been living in harmony. It is only in recent years that religion was thrown up by politicians in an apparent desperate bid for earthly power. Apparently, the Eggons who are the largest tribe had been ruining their chances to produce the state’s governor to-date and considered 2023 as their date with destiny in the person of Ombugadu, the PDP flag bearer a.k.a mai wanka. So, majority of them lined up behind Ombugadu and the PDP. Although they constitute the majority the Eggons cannot by themselves produce a governor given the diverse nature of Nasarawa state. They have to align with other tribes and this can also be realised through negotiations with the political elite
When INEC declared Governor Sule winner of the election, majorly Eggons and other PDP supporters protested for days. A disturbing aspect of these protests was that many of them were middle-aged and elderly women who were half naked, barring their chests in public. It was an assault on peoples’ sensibility and a disgrace to womanhood. As their agitations continued, the state’s police command banned public protests indefinitely whereupon they relocated to the PDP secretariat, making it their staging post, all dressed in black attire. When the three-man Election Tribunal ruled in favour of the PDP candidate, Ombugadu, in a split decision, they poured out into the streets in wild jubilation… Then rumours started flying of what the PDP/Eggons would do when they take over power; one of which was that they would dethrone the Emir of Lafia, retired Justice Sidi Bage (who is chairman of Nasarawa state council of traditional rulers), etc; etc. These were denied.
And when the Appeal court unanimously ruled in favour of the governor, the protests resumed. They permanently camped at the PDP secretariat, holding loud night vigils, and prayer sessions for a favourable judgment at the Supreme Court. They still continued their agitations after the highest court had given its final judgement whereupon the police arrested 38 of them for breach of the peace accord signed between PDP and APC. They were later charged to court and released on bail. As at now policemen are deployed at the PDP secretariat’s gate, apparently to forestall its reoccupation by the protesters. While the political battle raged, PDP had an upper hand in the media where its supporters were pushing different narratives. It faulted composition of Supreme Court judges to hear its case, stating that they were all Muslims. Chief Justice Kayode Ariwoola had howevy, said that Supreme Court judges would not be swayed by public opinion or social media noise but guided by extant laws and the constitution.
Apparently, the opposition party had been stalking the governor so to speak, throughout this toxic politicking period. For instance when inauguration of the state House of Assembly was delayed and two factional Speakers emerged, Governor Sule was accused of wanting to impose the former Speaker Alhaji Balarabe an APC member, on the House. APC does not have an outright majority in the 20-member Assembly. As per initial result, It won nine seats, PDP eight while SDP and NNPP have two seats each. Some members from the minority parties were/ are expected to switch camp to the ruling party The crisis within the House was later resolved and Balarabe remained Speaker. However, he was later sacked by the Appeal court and his PDP rival in the Umaisha/Toto state constituency sworn in as Member. New Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Majority Leader emerged. The opposition had alleged that ‘’delay’’ in composition of the cabinet was because Governor Sule was waiting for the (Election) Tribunal’s decision. And when the state’s traditional rulers paid Vice President Kashim Shettima a courtesy visit, PDP said they were sponsored by the government to go lobby for a favourable court verdict for Sule, etc. The APC dismissed these as false.
Although the Nasarawa State PDP chairman, Francis Orogu acknowledged that the Supreme Court is the final bus stop and urged its supporters to take the verdict in good faith, his comment that Governor Sule was responsible for arrest of its protesting supporters could reignite the war of words between both parties. However, the director-general, Events and Strategic Communication in the office of the Governor, Yakubu Lamme told this columnist in a brief telephone chat that the governor would not reply such snide remarks and would never deviate from his good natured disposition of opening his doors to the opposition, embracing them and preaching peace to his own supporters and others. He gave instances of Sule’s kind gestures to the opposition, such as personally visiting Orogu to commiserate with him over death of his wife, paving the road to another opposition chieftain’s house, attending church events, etc. It is significant that Chief Solomon Ewuga an elder statesman, former deputy governor and prominent Eggon son recently defected from PDP to the ruling APC. It is signal for the PDP to sheath its sword. For the PDP, it has been a long drawn, financially draining battle to occupy the foremost seat at Government House on Shendam Road, Lafia. And the ultimate loss of this prized trophy is painful to it. Notwithstanding, I urge parties especially the opposition PDP to let bygones be bygones. All should unite in harmony for the greater good of Nasarawa state.