Tambuwal, Bafarawa staking Sokoto State beyond Wamakko, APC
Political developments in the days following the Supreme Court judgment on the March 9, 2019, gubernatorial poll in Sokoto State have continued to mirror the stiff contest between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its rival All Progressives Congress (APC).
Between 1999 and 2019, Sokoto State, popularly called the Seat of the Caliphate, has belonged to the governing party and opposition in an undulating fashion. Incidentally, some of the current major political combatants happened to be divided along the party lines.
While last year’s governorship poll between Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of PDP and APC’s Alhaji Ahmed Aliyu Sokoto was seen from the prism of APC versus PDP rivalry, it was taken by ‘Sakwato’ indigenes as a final showdown between former governor Alhaji Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa and Senator Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko for who becomes the ultimate political godfather of the state.
Two issues that seem to be working in favour of Tambuwal and Bafarawa include the potential of PDP’s imminent total control of the local government councils and the fact that by 2023 President Muhammadu Buhari, upon whom Wamakko and APC hinge their political battle, would no longer be on the ballot.
With the recent emergence of Tambuwal as the chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and Bafarawa’s declared intention to eschew further participation in electoral contests, sources disclosed that both men are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that Sokoto remains a stronghold of PDP going forward to 2023.
Echoes of Supreme Court’s ruling
THE Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) returned Governor Tambuwal as the winner of the governorship election, but APC and its candidate, Ahmed Aliyu, rejected the result, alleging that the poll figures were inflated in favour of the PDP candidate. Based on the anxieties over the likely implications of the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the governorship election, the Sokoto State Police Command decided to deploy close to 1,000 officers across the state.
Ibrahim Kaoje, the state’s Commissioner of Police, explained that his command took that step to ensure that “peace reigned before and after the hearing,” noting that the approach paid off. Apart from the massive deployment of secret and conventional security officials, the Supreme Court added to the suspense when after hearing the appeal on January 14, deferred its ruling to January 20, 2020.
It was also gathered that due to the fact that the same panel led by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, had sacked Chief Emeka Ihedioha of PDP from office as governor of Imo State, raised apprehensions that a similar judgment awaited Governor Tambuwal.
The camp of APC was said to have made a song and dance of the approaching juyen miliki (reversal), especially as the apex court’s panel comprised the same set of Justices, including Justices Ngwuta, Kayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Amir Sanusi, Amina Augie and Uwani Abba-Aji that displaced PDP candidate with that of APC in Imo State.
It would be recalled that INEC had, after declaring the March 9, 2019 exercise inconclusive, conducted a re-run on March 23, 2019, during which Tambuwal was returned as winner having polled 512, 002 votes to defeat APC’s Aliyu Sokoto, who polled 511, 660 votes.
The margin of 342, which separated the winner from his closest rival, seemed to have provided the motivation for the recourse by APC and its governorship standard-bearer to challenge the outcome at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal and Court of Appeal.
Although Tribunal and Appeal Court dismissed the petitioners’ allegations of substantial non-compliance with the electoral guides as well as over-voting, APC and its candidate appealed to the Supreme Court for final adjudication.
But, even as the apex court affirmed Governor Tambuwal’s election and dismissed APC and Alhaji Ahmed Aliu’s appeal, the shadow influence of the political godfathers of the chief combatants continue to dominate discussions in the state.
Bafarawa, Wamakko’s unfinished ‘war’
IN 1999 Bafarawa dragged Wamakko from the civil service to join him on the All Peoples Party (APP’s) governorship ticket, which he won as running mate. Although Wamakko continued in that position as deputy governor after Bafarawa won his re-election in 2003, they parted ways shortly before the 2007 polls.
Following allegations of misappropriation and sundry inappropriate transactions, the deputy governor resigned to avoid imminent impeachment and crossed over to the then opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Having crossed over to PDP, Wamakko eventually picked the party’s ticket and defeated Bafarawa’s preferred candidate, Alhaji Dingyadi Muhammadu Maigari of Democratic Peoples Party (DPP). Despite the national outrage against the level of rigging that attended the 2007 general election, Wamakko’s election was annulled on account of the fact that he did not resign his membership of APP.
In the re-run poll that was ordered by the court, Wamakko was returned as the winner by INEC as even as DPP’s supporters blamed the defeat of Dingyadi on alleged large scale rigging and the fact that the party’s founder, Bafarawa, was robbed of victory at the presidential election.
While he regained his position as governor in the May 2, 2007 re-run, Wamakko contrived a scheme to rubbish the reputation of his former benefactor through a commission of inquiry put together to investigate an alleged misappropriation of N2.9 billion.
However, when Bafarawa released a statement denouncing the commission as a witch hunt and explained how his former deputy, Wamakko, was to be impeached by the state House of Assembly for corruption, the commission resorted to evasive maneuvers, claiming that such was beyond its mandate.
While advising the commission to invite Wamakko to throw some light on the alleged missing N2.9 billion, the DPP founder had stated: “He (Bafarawa) should be in a better position to answer if there were such illegal deductions and withdrawals. So, I think the commission of inquiry should start by inviting him to testify.”
The battle between Bafarawa and Wamakko was temporarily suspended. But, towards the buildup to the 2015 polls, the DPP founder convinced his former Lagos State counterpart, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on the need for fringe opposition parties to merge into a sizeable platform to confront PDP.
However, midway into the merger arrangement, some of the promoters decided on luring incumbent state governors from the ruling PDP to strengthen the financial and structural base of the proposed new mega party.
As it turned out, the new policy brought back the unfinished political animosities between Bafarawa and his estranged political godson, leading to the swapping of political platforms. Deeming the merger committee’s dicta on surrender of APC structures to defecting state governors as infra dig, Bafarawa and his Kano State counterpart, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, moved over to PDP in protest.
With the new development, the Sokoto State political atmosphere, which had been under Bafarawa’s control, witnessed a further strain, especially with the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tambuwal, joining APC. The candidacy of General Muhammadu Buhari as APC’s standard-bearer in the 2015 polls produced a domino effect in the Northwest geopolitical zone.
But the table turned once again in the lead up to the 2019 general elections when Tambuwal returned to PDP and contested unsuccessfully for the party’s presidential ticket. Out of fear that Tambuwal’s ascendancy could pose a serious threat to his political future, Wammako’s supporters thronged the Port Harcourt convention, where they dished out anti-Tambuwal messages.
Yet, unknown to the Sokoto APC, Governor Tambuwal had a plan B, such that after the presidential ticket went to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, he fell back on the governorship nomination form already purchased by proxy before hand to beat the INEC deadline.
Tambuwal also went ahead to earn the unalloyed support of Bafarawa, who also contested the PDP presidential ticket, thus giving his second term aspiration, renewed vigour from the famed Bafarawa grassroots machinery.
It was, therefore, the re-jigging of the old Bafarawa political network across the 23 local government areas of the state. Sources disclosed that the grassroots presence of Bafarawa’s foot soldiers, as well as PDP’s structures, assisted Governor Tambuwal to overcome the combined efforts of the Wamakko group in APC, which received strong federal backing in the 2019 polls.
In a bid to avert a repeat of what befell Dingyadi in 2007, Bafarawa was said to have relocated to Sokoto and canvassed for support for Tambuwal, especially after INEC declared the March 9, 2019 exercise inconclusive.
Peeved by his former political godfather’s strenuous campaign, Senator Wamakko was moved to attack Bafarawa at the Sokoto International Airport, wondering why he decided to become a permanent resident in the state. Alluding to his disputed roots, Bafarawa was said to have taunted his former deputy, stressing that while he (Bafarawa) could point to his late grandfather and father’s graves in Sokoto State, there are those who couldn’t.
It was that airport encounter that helped to play up the still gubernatorial contest between Tambuwal and Ahmed Aliyu, which culminated in the serial legal challenge from the tribunal through the Appeal Court to the apex court.
Bigger to better
WITH the Supreme Court’s final pronouncement of Governor Tambuwal’s electoral triumph, PDP has regained dominance of Sokoto State, just as the victorious ruling has set the stage for the routing of APC in the state.
Although the Senator representing Sokoto North, Wamakko, also had his election affirmed, his pending corruption case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the gubernatorial election loss by his protégé, Aliyu, have combined to diminish his grounding in the Seat of the Caliphate.
Bafarawa has indicated that he was done with participation in electoral contests, stressing that he would invest his energies to grooming future leaders both in Sokoto State and beyond. It was perhaps as a result of his positive agenda and synergy with Governor Tambuwal that Sokoto State PDP continued its winning streak during the recent re-run elections in Sokoto North/Sokoto South and Isa/Sabon-Birni Federal Constituencies of the state.
In the re-run polls, which were contested among 38 and 21 candidates respectively, PDP’s Abubakar Abdullahi beat APC’s Bala Hassan, who was earlier returned by INEC by 68,985 to 42,433 valid votes to win the Sokoto North/Sokoto South House of Representatives’ seat.
Also, the PDP candidate for Isa/Sabon-Birni House of Representatives seat, Sa’idu Bargaja, polled 44,490 votes to beat Sani Aminu-Isa of APC, who scored 41,048 votes. The victories came just as the state governor, Tambuwal, succeeded the outgoing governor of Bayelsa State, Henry Seriake Dickson, as the chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum.
With Tambuwal’s emergence as PDPGF chairman and the strong support from Bafarawa, it is left to be seen how far Senator Wamakko and the APC would fare in the days ahead, especially given that President Muhammadu Buhari would no longer be on the ballot in subsequent polls.
There is no doubt that the next battle between the two warring political camps would be the search for Tambuwal’s successor. Distracted by EFCC, Senator Wamakko might shift his support from Alhaji Ahmed Aliu Sokoto to another candidate in line with the zoning arrangement. That approach would most likely divide Wamakko’s camp as the chubby-faced 2019 APC gubernatorial candidate and his supporters would be unsettled by such a decision. The split in APC might then swell the fold of PDP in the state.
Governor Tambuwal alluded to this possibility in his remarks shortly after his unanimous selection as chairman of PDP Governors, when he stated: “We want to assure the chairman (Prince Uche Secondus) that in the forthcoming congresses, we are going to give you all the support that you require as your governors. We should use them to further deepen democracy by being transparent so that we cannot fail to win more members and build a more virile party.”
Would Bafarawa’s support for Governor Tambuwal pave the way for the eventual political retirement of Senator Wamakko from Sokoto State politics? Whatever happens, for now, the former Sokoto State governor and founder of DPP has succeeded in gifting Tambuwal a safe and strong political base to fly as high as his dreams could carry him in Nigerian politics.