The race for Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna hots up with just weeks left for all interested political parties to submit names of their gubernatorial candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Cities and towns across Kaduna State currently compete in the clusters of colourful campaign posters and glossy billboards. With at least ten governorship aspirants for the 2019 general elections in the state, the choice may seem somewhat confusing for the voters.

At the last tally, the roll-call leads with Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Dr. Muhammad Sani Bello, Mainan Zazzau and Alhaji Isa Ashiru in prime position. A former Financial Controller of ECOWAS and ex-Commissioner for Science and Technology, Bello is the aspirant to beat with his grassroots followership.

Ashiru, a former member of the House of Assembly and member of the House of Representatives aside, former Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero and Alhaji Bello Kagarko, an ex-commissioner are gunning for the same ticket. So are Alhaji Ja’afaru Saad, the Galadiman Ruwan Zazzau, Alhaji Sani Sidi, Alhaji Shuaibu Idris (Mikati), Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi who recently defected to the PDP and Mr. Jonathan Kish.

A breakdown shows that the scenario is much simpler than it looks. Governor Nasir el-Rufai, who is set to be the sole candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after muzzling all potential rivals out of the party, will square off with one of the nine possible candidates above who have expressed their intention to contest for the gubernatorial ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Fortunately, none of the aspirants is unknown to the people and the delegates who will represent them at the party primary elections billed for August. Indeed, some of them are more popular politically than the incumbent who was seen as an Abuja politician that rode on the popularity of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last general election to clinch the position of governor on a political platter of gold. Provided it selects the best and most popular candidate, the PDP could easily send the APC out of power in next year’s gubernatorial election.

Muhammad Sani Bello, 54, who resigned as a senior lecturer at the Kaduna State University just this July to answer the call from his constituency to run for governor is the PDP’s best bet. His breadth of education, experience and exposure is unequalled by any other candidate as his grassroots followership cultivated over the past decade of active participation in politics at the state and national levels.

Development initiatives that he has been privately pursuing in the area of education, water supply and basic infrastructure have endeared him to people in disparate locations across the state. Communities have been clamouring for his emergence with various awareness fora, support groups and mobilisation units actively promoting his candidacy since the 2015 elections. Today, the Mainan Zazzau Movement boasts of large membership especially among the youths in all the 23 local government area councils of the state.

With his mediocre performance in the vital areas of security, employment and infrastructural development, el-Rufai will work to see the emergence of the least acceptable and capable candidate among the lot. To this end, some analysts believe he is covertly sponsoring spoilers in the race. Their role is to make the party primary elections as acrimonious and rowdy as possible to forestall a good choice and then render the opposition party’s subsequent gubernatorial election campaigns a disunited affair.

This explains the sudden emergence of aspirants like Alhaji Sani Sidi, erstwhile Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), in the start-line of the race even though he was nowhere to be found when the PDP picked itself up from the dust of defeat in 2015 and designed a pathway to regaining political relevance today.

Sidi was never even a politician for a single day. His sole qualification in politics is that he has worked with politicians such as Mrs Esther Nenadi, a former minister of finance, who is married to his maternal uncle. He was also a commisioner under the Namadi Sambo administration from where he was appointed to NEMA hence the popular belief that he is a candidate of the former Vice President.

Similarly, former Governor Mukhtar Yero seems to be in the race simply for image-laundering purposes. Yero’s handlers believe pitching him in the field of contest will divert attention from the negative publicity he has been generating for himself since his arraignment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Federal High Court in Kaduna.

Since the INEC has issued a circular informing that it would not clear candidates with ongoing criminal trials or convictions, analysts believe he is just expected to spoil the chances of more serious contenders.

The zoning principle introduced since 1999 by the PDP at the states and federal levels further simplifies the equation of extracting one from the eight or nine contestants. In Kaduna State, the office of governor ought to rotate among the three senatorial zones. At a meeting in Kaduna recently, the group of eight aspirants unanimously adopted the party’s strategy to come up with a consensus candidate from amongst themselves for the 2019 gubernatorial elections in Kaduna State. Under the able leadership of former Governor Ahmad Muhammad Makarfi who was also an Acting National Chairman of the PDP, the party stands a good chance to see this consensus to a logical conclusion.

–Abdul-Rahman writes from Abuja