Guber/SASS Poll: Can Binani, Itubo bail Nigeria women?
Special focus in today’s gubernatorial and State Assembly elections would be on Adamawa and Rivers States. The elections in the two states are of great interest to Nigerian women, especially coming barely days after the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) and particularly the Presidential and National Assembly polls.
Results from the February 25 National Assembly Election left a very sordid picture of the struggle by Nigerian women to be part of decision making in the country. The dismal outing by the womenfolk was highlighted by the return of just three candidates as winners in the Senatorial poll.
Down from the yet unimpressive five female members of the Red Chamber, the election of Ireti Kingibe of Labour Party (LP) in the Federal Capital, Lar from Plateau and Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo (Rivers State) both from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), into the 109-strong upper chamber represented a further constriction of the political space against women.
The report card from Anambra State, where two female Politicians-Senator Uche Lillian Ekwunife and Adaeze Stella Oduah-failed to receive a fresh mandate, captured the downward slide.
However, despite the poor showing in the upper federal legislative elections, it is on record that apart from Dame Virgy Etiaba, who became governor by default, no woman has ever won the election in any state in Nigeria within the lifetime of the country’s presidential democracy.
Etiaba was sworn into office as governor of Anambra State after her principal, Mr. Peter Obi, was impeached in 2007. Ever since that auspicious circumstance, attempts by female politicians to mount the governorship saddle have always ended in near misses or outright technical infringement to their efforts.
For instance, when Mrs. Joy Emordi came close to becoming governor in Anambra State during the Sani Abacha transition to civil rule programme, she was informed of the awkward cultural implication of her ambition on the traditional ceremony of kola nut breaking in Igbo land.
Again, in the buildup to the 2015 general elections, when the first wind of change blew across various parts of the country, Hon. Aisha Jummai Alhassan (Mama Taraba) came so close to clinching the governorship seat in Taraba State. While the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal raised citizens’ hopes that a woman governor was possible, the Appeal and apex Courts dashed it.
Mama Taraba had won the PDP ticket to represent Taraba North Senatorial District in the Senate, but had to defect to All Progressives Congress (APC), on which platform she contested the gubernatorial election.
When the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal nullified the poll, she was defeated in the re-ordered election of April 25, 2015. Piqued by the outcome of the election, which pundits tipped her to win, Senator Alhassan went to the Election Tribunal, which granted her prayers. Only for the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court to hold that Architect Darius Ishaku won the election.
It is against this rich background that the 2023 general elections rekindled hopes that the women would hold their ground this time around. However, out of the 18 political parties regularized by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to participate in the polls, only two of the four front-leaning platforms have women on the gubernatorial ballot. Like Mama Taraba before her, Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, who is popularly known as Binani, is standing for election on the platform of APC as a Senator.
Then in Rivers State, which is one of the four strategic states in terms of voting strength, Comrade Beatrice Itubo, is the gubernatorial candidate of wave-making Labour Party (LP). Both women did not have it easy picking the tickets of their respective political parties. It is a mark of their doggedness that Binani and Itumo appeared on the governorship ballot as representatives of their gender.
For Itubo, who was the chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Rivers State council, before winning the LP gubernatorial primary, it was one controversy unto another. Itubo was declared winner after polling 201 to 71 votes to defeat a former House of Representatives member, Eneyi Braid, during the primary.
In her remarks after being returned as winner of the primary, Comrade Itubo said Rivers State would secure their freedom through their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
While urging citizens to be prepared to vote out bad leaders, Itubo had declared: “Go and get your PVC and your PVC will speak. With the new Electoral Act, the time of ballot box snatching is gone and gone for good.”
However, no sooner than she was announced as LP’s gubernatorial standard-bearer in Rivers State than Fafaa Princewill claimed to be the authentic governorship candidate. Princewill contended that he was recognised by INEC following an order of court on February 2.
Dogged by controversies over who was the LP’s authentic gubernatorial candidate in Rivers State, the party’s national chairman, Barrister Julius Abure was propelled to present Mrs. Itubo at a ceremony in the party’s secretariat in Port Harcourt.
At the occasion, Abure urged Rivers State people to cast their vote for Comrade Itubo to show that the state is ‘Obidient.’ According to Abure, “It will be easier for us to prove that we won Rivers State in the presidential election if we win it again in the gubernatorial election.
“Do not be deceived by the PDAPC’s affliction that you should vote for them. It’s a ploy to make regaining our mandate more difficult. A vote for our governor is a vote for our mandate as represented by Peter Obi.”
Yet, barely days after some members of the Rivers State working committee of LP, led by Dienye Pepple (state chairman), Prince Favour Reuben (member, BOT) and Dr. Amadi Solomon (publicity secretary) endorsed the candidate of PDP, Sim Fubara.
In a communique made available to reporters, the Rivers State LP leaders disclosed how some unknown characters claimed that Itubo had stepped down from the contest to support Pastor Tonye Cole of APC.
On their part, Pepple, Reuben and Solon declared: “As Labour Party Members, and as Obidient adherents, we must come out and support a region that has never in the history of the state produced a governor.
“Voting a Riverine candidate in the person of Sir. Siminialayi Joseph Fubara from the South East Senatorial District of the state during the upcoming gubernatorial polls, ensures that the Labour Party and her members are defenders and ambassadors of the values that have set her and the Obidient Movement apart from all other parties.”
But, believing the move was a spectacle of political merchandising, the national leadership of Labour Party (LP) dissolved the state executive and in its place appointed Hilda Dokubo as caretaker chairperson. The move was seen as a strategic effort to strengthen the women solidarity already building up around Itubo.
In a statewide broadcast, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, appreciated voters in the state for the emergence of his Deputy Governor, Dr. Mrs. Ipalibo Harry Banigo, as one of the only three elected women Senators of Nigeria for the 10th National Assembly.
Wike noted: “Her (Banigo’s) election further demonstrates the commitment of our Government and the Rivers State PDP to advancing inclusiveness and women’s political empowerment in Rivers State.
“Therefore, the successor we need is a Governor who will consolidate and continue with the new Rivers vision, defend and protect the State’s interests, and propel it to more remarkable progress and prosperity.
“This is precisely what the candidate of the PDP, Sir Siminalayi Fubara and his deputy, Professor Ngozi Odu, have committed to accomplishing with their blueprint for consolidation and continuity…
“We must agree that this election is about the future of Rivers State. It is about moving Rivers State forward to the next level. It is about advancing the security and well-being of our people. It is about protecting and defending the interests of Rivers State.”
But, it is the attempt to pigeonhole women into the perpetual position of deputy governors that today’s election seeks to affirm or demystify.
The story is same in Adamawa State, where Senator Binani is up against an incumbent Ahmadu Umaru Fintri, who is seeking a second term mandate on the coattails of PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Binani runs on the popular perception that she has done well for the people, especially the women folk, as well as the belief that today’s election in Adamawa State would be a referendum of track records of performance in the receding four years.
Like Itubo, the LP female guber candidate in Rivers State, Senator Binani’s journey to clinching the APC ticket was riddled with intrigues and series of litigations.
At a point in time when the Federal High Court in Yola annulled the primary election that threw her up, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, who hails from the state, flew the kite of pairing the woman with a man to solve the cultural biases tending towards stakeholder gang-up.
However, the Court of Appeal upheld Binani’s nomination and, during a visit to Yola on January 8 to inaugurate some federal projects in the state, President Buhari laid all speculations to rest that Binani was the APC gubernatorial contender for Adamawa State.
While arguing that Binani’s election, as governor would broaden opportunities for Nigerian women, the President expressed the hope that it would also “send a positive signal to the world about Nigeria’s democratic and leadership maturity.”
Perhaps, reacting to speculations and conspiracy theories against her nomination, Buhari declared: “I came to ensure that from the end of Nigeria to other places, I am identifying with the candidate, Binani, and other candidates.
“We are here to ensure that Sen. Binani becomes the first female elected governor God willing. Her election would speak volumes to Nigeria and the world through Adamawa State.”
With these two women in serious contention for the high-stakes governorship polls in Adamawa and Rivers States, whatever results they post at the end of balloting today would show them as either giant killers or attest to the giant strides of women in the nation’s polity.