As electorate in Taraba State prepares for the 2019 governorship election, ANDREW OJIH, writes on the issues at stake and the factors that may determine the outcome of the polls.
Much like other states, the electorate in Taraba State will file out in their thousands to elect a governor who will be in charge of the affairs of the state for another four years.
The tenure of the incumbent governor Darius Ishaku will lapse in 2019.
But he is likely to seek reelection, under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), his party. He emerged governor in 2015 at a time the political tsunami generated by the then presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Gen Muhammadu Buhari,swept through the North, dismantling the strongholds of PDP in its wake.
At the heart of that political storm in Taraba, which the PDP narrowly escaped is the then governorship candidate of the APC, Sen Senator Aisha Jummai Alhassan, the immediate past minister of women affairs and social development. On the back of her senatorial mandate at the time, she had given the then PDP candidate a run for his money.
Alhassan, popularly called Mama Taraba, finished second (275,984 votes) to Ishaku’s (369,318 votes).
She came close to becoming Nigeria’s first democratically-elected female governor after a tribunal court briefly nullified Ishaku’s victory at the 2015 polls. The court gave the judgement based on Alhassan’s argument that Ishaku, the PDP candidate, was ineligible to contest the election because he allegedly did not partake in any primary election by the party.
The Court of Appeal in Abuja however overruled the tribunal’s judgement, ruling that it’s a gross misdirection in law. The five-man panel unanimously ruled that Alhassan and the APC had no right or capacity to question the decision of the PDP who decided to field Ishaku to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court who ruled that the appeal by the APC and its candidate lacked merit.
Ahead of 2019, while the governor is poised to seek reelection, the resignation of Sen Alhassan, from the federal cabinet, few days ago, was in order to contest the 2019 governorship election in the state.
As such, the gubernatorial election in Taraba is shaping up to be a battle of two familiar political foes.
Aisha, who recently declared her intention to contest 2019 governorship election in Taraba under the platform of the APC, pledged her loyalty to the administration of president Muhammed Buhari.
She has the control of the APC structure in Taraba State during the last congress of the party. She contested the governorship election in 2015, but lost to incumbent governor.
However, President Buhari in his official response to the minister’s resignation letter President Buhari said: “I have received your letter notifying me of your intention to contest for the governorship of Taraba State in the 2019 election. Let me thank you on behalf of the Federal Executive Council and Nigerians for your services as minister under this administration. I note with passion your past contribution to our great party APC during and after the 2015 elections.
“As you are aware I am totally committed to free and fair elections. Our policy is to support all APC candidates. I wish you well in your ambition to be governor of your state. Rest assured that all security agencies as well as INEC will have my full support to conduct free, fair and transparent elections in 2019.”
Aisha who, working hard to unseat incumbent Governor Darius was born in 1959 and hails from Jalingo Local Government Area in the northern part of the state.
Aisha studied Law at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and graduated in 1985 after which she proceeded to the Nigerian Law School Lagos. She was called to the Bar in 1986 respectively.
The former minister of women affairs joined active politics in October 2010 and went on to contest for Taraba North Senatorial seat during the 2011 elections, which she won.
During her service as a senator of the federal republic, she was able to construct many roads, water, education, and youth and women empowerment projects to her constituents.
In 2015, she emerged as the APC flag bearer in the state after three other aspirants in the contest reportedly boycotted the primaries over what they described as irregularities. Upon losing the governorship election to the incumbent governor, she challenged the outcome of the results in an intense legal tussle which she lost. She was then offered the ministerial position.
The former minister popularly called ‘Mama Taraba’ among her opponents is believed to be commanding a large crowd especially at the grassroots, given her numerous youth and women empowerment initiatives. Her ability in terms of grassroots mobilisation is believed to be one of the factors that may still work for her at the polls in 2019.
Some analysts opine that the lingering party crisis in the state remains a challenge for her as she has not been able to resolve with the aggrieved factions.
They argue that the outcome of the recent concluded congresses of the state chapter of the APC, which was characterised by pockets of controversies, if not addressed would threatened the party’s quest to capture power from ruling PDP in the state.
Interestingly, she had, perhaps willfully, put herself in a position where her loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari was questioned last year, even while she served as minister. Her declaration of loyalty to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar should he decide to join the presidential race, had sent shock waves across the party both in the state and the national level.
This was more so that she had led a protest to the national secretariat of APC under the previous chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, over what she considered a neglect of supporters.
However, another task to her ambition is the gender perception in a patriach conservative political setting. Some pundits still wonder whether the state is fully ripe to see a female governor, considering the religious and cultural sentiments held against female leadership especially in most northern parts of Nigeria.
Her supporters nonetheless believe that the issue of gender would not affect her ambition, pointing out that she had proved her worth as a former senator and former minister and would do even more, if she becomes the executive governor of the state come 2019.
Addressing the party leadership in Abuja on her decision to vie for the governorship in 2019 she said, “I won the 2015 election; everyone knows that, including the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and I will re-contest in the election in 2019 if God keeps me alive and well.
“It is God that gives power to whoever he desires. I won the election in 2015, but God did not give me power.
“I will keep trusting in Him and the grassroots people of Taraba, and God willing, I will win the election this time.”
Incumbent Governor Darius Dickson Ishaku of the PDP, who hails from Takum LGA of the state was born on July 30, 1954. Ishaku graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and also obtained a Master of Science degree in Architecture from the same university in 1979.
The incumbent governor had once served as minister of state for Niger Delta Affairs and minister of state for power and was a supervising minister for the Federal Ministry of Environment before resigning to contest for 2015 governorship position in the state. Ishaku in 2015 emerged as the PDP’s flag bearer at primaries held in Abuja amid complaints of electoral irregularities alleged by other aspirants, especially Chief David Sabo Kente and the former sacked acting Governor of the state Garba Umar.
Ishaku who was viewed as not too rooted in the state politically in 2015 is now believed to have consolidated politically in the state.
Analysts aver that with Ishaku still enjoying the backing of former minister of Defence, Gen TY Danjuma (Rtd), and other stakeholders, he is far likely to retain his seat by 2019.
Still, the issues that will dominate the campaigns ahead of the election will be crucial. So far, state has had its share of insecurity amid a back and forth between the state, which is PDP controlled and the APC-led federal government. Another major issue will be performance level of the state government with regards to providing infrastructure in the state.
Supporters of the APC have argued that since Ishaku assumed office three years ago, the socio-economic growth and development of the state hasn’t improved at all. They have knocked his administration’s inability to provide the needed and adequate infrastructure, sufficient finances among others to the people.
But there is more. The recent defections of some prominent SDP and PDM members to the All Progressive Congress (APC) would likely affect the PDP in 2019.
Naturally, the supporters of the governors argue differently. For them, Ishaku has done so much within the three-year period he has served to help him realise his re-election bid.
On the political front, they also aver that the current crisis rocking APC in the state would give the governor the upper hand, if not resolved.
But with APC chieftains like Joel Kenya and Chief David Sabo Kente, joining the contest for the governorship seat in the state, the stakes are likely to be higher for the governor. These two APC bigwigs are from the southern zone, same zone with the Ishaku.
The PDP has been in charge of Taraba since 1999 and has well-established structures across the state.
Analysts believe that DKS and Senator Danlami Joel Ikenya who are from the same zone with incumbent Governor Ishaku would help senator Aisha to wrestle power from Ishaku.
They believe that to get in government house come 2019 is not going to be business as usual, they said Aisha’s gender as a woman would likely constitute a limiting factor, considering the religious and cultural sentiments held against female leadership especially in the northern part of Nigeria.
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