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Niger: Guber candidates in last minute scramble for votes

The tension is understandably heightening everyday as the clock ticks towards March 3, date for the governorship election in Niger State. Most of the candidates…

The tension is understandably heightening everyday as the clock ticks towards March 3, date for the governorship election in Niger State. Most of the candidates in the race for the state most coveted seat have concluded their rallies and retreated to boardrooms for the last minute strategies to outdo their opponents in the contest.

According to the list unveiled by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 31 candidates are cleared for governorship election on the platform of their respective political parties in the state. However, the contest seems to be narrowed down between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), going by their reach and structures on ground to prosecute the election.

Three other platforms such as the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD) and the Africa Democratic Congress (ADC) have shown some consistency in their campaigns and mass mobilisation ahead of the election, but analysts said the parties which are all relatively new, lack the much the needed support base and finance to make any appreciable impact.

They argued that those smaller parties only thrive on the profile of their respective candidates. As observers posited, Isah Kawu of the ADP, Bello Bawa Bwari of the ACD and Mani Ibrahim Ahmad of the ADC have made inroads, especially in their respective support bases.

Expectedly, both the APC and PDP have been active and mounted robust campaigns across the state ahead of the governorship election. Analysts said both are familiar foes being the major contenders in the 2015 governorship election, even as their candidates, Umar Nasko of the PDP and the incumbent Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, were also the standard bearers of their respective parties then. The existing zoning formula which favours the rotation of the governorship position among the three geopolitical zones of the state adopted by the main parties in the race has once again pitched them against each other. Incidentally, both of them although from different local government areas in Niger North, also belong to the same popular Kontagora emirate.

To the PDP and indeed Nasko, the contest is a redemptive one, having suffered loss of the power it had held for 16 years in the wind of “Change” that blew across the country in 2015. So the party’s slogan has been to “Change the Change” and that has been the sing song as the campaign intensifies ahead of the election.

But the question has been whether the party has the clout to bring about the regime change it desperately sought? Analysts and party officials advanced different opinions on this. Malam Abdullahi Yahaya Ability, PDP’s vice chairman Zone ‘C’ where Nasko and Bello hailed from said the party is more than ready to reclaim that mandate it lost in 2015.

He points at what he refers to as the “dismal failure” of the APC-led administration to fulfill its promises of providing the much needed dividends of democracy to the people of the state to buttress. He said despite receiving huge allocations and other interventions from the federal government, the state government has exhibited what he said is a “criminal” difference to the plight of the people by refusing to channel the resources to developing infrastructure and building on the gains recorded by the PDP in the state.

Using Zone ‘C’ as an example, Malam Ability averred that the people of the area had hoped that their lot would be better with their son as governor. “But today, Zone ‘C’ has the worst of roads. Kontagora to Rijau is a dead trap; most areas in Magama, Mariga, Borgu, amongst others are inaccessible. There are no healthcare facilities in Magama and Mariga designated to have the most hard-to-get areas of the state, yet their son sits on the saddle as governor,” he lamented.

But the APC insisted it has done enough in the last four years what the main opposition PDP failed to do in 16 years it held to power in the state. “Achievements go beyond gigantic buildings but providing basic needs to the people like water, electricity, education, healthcare and others which the APC government has exemplified by meeting the aspiration of the people,” the APC Chairman Engr Mohammed Jibril Imam pointed out.

However, analysts said both parties have inherent strength and weaknesses that test their acceptability among the electorate in the coming contest. Malam Suleiman Farinwata, an analyst, said one of the APC’s strengths may be the incumbent factor as Niger identifies with the party in power at the national level.

In addition to that, according to him, is the absence of personality with enough resources in the main opposition party to challenge APC, adding that the few who could have done so are facing litigations in courts.

He, however, said there are arrays of weaknesses that may undermine the APC’s calculation in the March election.  Among them, he pointed out, was the absence of social welfare culture that worked in favour of the PDP in the past, in addition to the party’s refusal to make what he referred to as political appointments which saw the employment of about 600 persons in Chanchaga Local Government area alone during the PDP era.

Others, he said, are the party’s poor infrastructural development against the backdrop of huge resources from the federal government and Governor Bello’s penchant for oversea trips to the detriment of the state, among others.

As the clock ticks towards the D-day, beyond the points adduced above, observers believe that a more fundamental indices in the choices the electorate would make ahead of the election is how the candidates related with them in past.

Analysts said many see Nasko as a more humane and easy going person than Bello who is believed to be abrasive and proud. Nasko brings these characteristics to bear through the door-to-door campaign strategy he had adopted.

“He will surprise you by walking into your home, sitting and interacting with you and even joining the dinner as well as accepting to drink with his hosts no matter their status. This to me is a new twist to campaign which is more than the millions anyone can offer,” Mohammed Abubakar, an elder in Chanchaga said.

He opined that Bello’s certain missteps such as given precedence to family and friends in the award of contracts as well as other privileges, attempt to remove some members of the National Assembly members from the state and replace them with his cronies during the last primaries of the party, denial of payment of NECO and GCE fees to non-indigenes and other perceived wrong doing have created much discontent among party stakeholders and would win sympathy for Nasko.

However, Farinwata said no matter the perceived shortcomings of Bello, the Buhari factor looms large and would certainly be the deciding factor when the chips are down. Added to this, he claimed, is the resources factor which is always the last resort in the inducement drive during election. Already, Bello has started reaching out to religious leaders and institutions across the state with largesse to rehabilitate mosques and churches. At his campaign visit to Munya Local Government area recently, media reports said he donated N5 million to a church in the area. Several of such interventions, our correspondent learnt, have gone round, even though the opposition faulted the timing and described the gestures as another form of vote-buying.

As the electorate warm up for the ultimate decision, analysts predict that Bello may scale the hurdle but would not without first drenching in his sweat.

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