The contest for the governorship seat in the Saturday, March 18, governorship and State house of Assembly elections is between candidates of 12 political parties in Niger State.
However, undoubtedly, the governorship race is going to be a two-horse race between the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Many thought the New Nigeria Peoples Party, NNPP, was going to be a third force until the Party’s governorship candidate, Alh. Muhammad Sokodeke fell short of expectations by getting embroiled in a leadership crisis. He was seen as an unserious contestant in the race.
In view of this, stakeholders of the party earlier made an attempt to put him aside to get a more pragmatic flagbearer, but the efforts ended up in the court.
The development is said to have dampened the morale of some party supporters who had initially wanted to work for the governorship candidate’s success at the elections, while another candidate, Mr. Joshua Bawa of the Labour Party has been on the low key and quietly politicking as he took his campaigns to various groups taking advantage of the Peter Obi’s movement which has engulfed parts of the country.
Even though political analysts have ruled out his chances due to the fact that he is from Zone C (Niger North Senatorial district) which has done two terms of eight years with the incumbent, governor Abubakar Sani Bello, he insisted that the zoning arrangement in Niger State has come to stay and he cannot be ruled out. Bawa claimed that if the three zones have tested the rotation under the PDP and APC, it is only pertinent for it to start from anywhere afresh.
As it stands, the presence of the governorship candidate is not felt as, according to supporters of the party, one can count the number of his billboards across the State.
Niger State is assumed by many as a two party state or better still a one-party state going by the fact that you can hardly feel the presence of the opposition in the state.
The tradition has always been that of winner takes all in Niger State, at least since the return of democracy in 1999, except in 2007 when the seats of the House of Assembly were shared almost equally between the then ruling party, PDP, and the defunct Sen. David Umaru-led All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, which also won some Local Government Council elections.
Since the creation of Niger State in 1976, the opposition has never taken power from the ruling party until 2015 when the APC ousted PDP. However, history records that the legendary Alh. Alhassan Abubakar Badakoshi’s opposition party, Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) defeated Alh Awwal Ibrahim’s ruling party, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in the 1983 gubernatorial election. However, the victory was only affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2003, 20 years after, and exactly 19 days after his (Badakoshi) death on the 16th of March 2003.
The ruling party appears to have an upper hand, but where the pendulum could swing is left for the electorate to decide.
The governorship candidate of the PDP, Hon. Liman Kantigi is a former local government chairman and ex-commissioner for LG who hails from Niger South Senatorial district where the party zoned the seat.
Kantigi was not visible until the presidential campaign rally of the Party’s presidential candidate, former VP Atiku Abubakar made him bring his campaign to Minna as he was said to be in the rural areas as part of his campaign strategies.
Another factor that might work in favour of the PDP candidate is that most Nigerlites have fallen out with the ruling APC following what many in the state described as abysmal performance at both national and state levels, especially, the untold hardship being witnessed and the continued security challenges facing the people of the state.
Pundits also claimed he was clever enough to have picked a Christian Deputy, which some believe will trigger more support from the Christian block in the state.
A lot of pundits described Bago, a three term member of the national assembly representing Chanchaga constituency and who equally hails from the Niger South Senatorial district, where the APC zone the governorship seat, as a true leader and a serious candidate who is determined to win the election.
Ahead of the Saturday elections, Bago is said to have met with the two former Nigeria’s heads of state, Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdulsalami Alhaji Abubakar in separate meetings at their uphill country homes, where he was said to have gotten their fatherly blessings.
Also, on Wednesday, his candidature got another boost at a special event at the Justice Legbo Int’l Centre, Minna, where he got the endorsement of the Coalition of Youths in Niger State.
Given the above scenario, watchers of political events in the state opined that Bago is the candidate to beat at Saturday’s governorship polls, particularly, since APC is the party in power in Niger State, as nothing may really change from the current situation whereby all elective posts are occupied by the party.
Meanwhile, the three Senate seats, 10 House of Reps seats, 25 out of 27 state Assembly seats and 24 out of 25 local government council seats, and majority of the councilorship seats, all belong to the APC.
It is left to be seen how the PDP will dislodge this structure.