WHEN EL-RUFAI DARES THE DEVIL
By Abba Muttaka
Although the candidates of both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are both Muslims, the gubernatorial election in Kaduna state will be beyond Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i and Hon Isa Ashiru of the APC and PDP respectively. The poll, as envisaged, will be a test of the numerical strengths of the two dominant religions of Islam and Christianity.
Since he assumed office on May 29, 2015, Governor Nasir el-Rufa’i has changed the face of politics and governance in Kaduna state. From sacking ‘incompetent’ teachers and civil servants, demolishing illegal structures, to the appointment of non indigenes into key positions of government, el-Rufa’i has enacted various controversial policies that were never contemplated by his predecessors or even fellow governors. Severally, the governor of Kaduna state has taken on the media, civil servants, religious establishments and traditional institutions as well as professional politicians and there is no stopping him. In fact, he is still flexing his muscles, spoiling for a fight and not ready to take a break even with election looming on the horizon. Specifically, he has boasted that he doesn’t mind losing election but he will always do what is right and not necessarily what is politically correct.
Significantly, upon assuming office, el-Rufa’i had trimmed state ministries from 20 to 14, scrapping the Ministry of Information. Similarly, he appointed non indigenes as aides, including Jimi Lawal, Special Adviser on Investments, Muyiwa Adekeye, Special Adviser on Media and Communications as well as Malam Hafiz Bayero, Special Adviser on Inter Government Relations. Specifically, Lawal is from Ogun state while Adekeye and Bayero are from Lagos and Kebbi states respectively. Apart from these, their are other non indigenes occupying high profile government positions.
Politicians, the people of Kaduna state and the opposition have kicked against these appointments but the governor has justified them, saying the appointments were based on merit. In any case, el-Rufa’i had argued that his administration has cancelled the settler/indigene dichotomy and that in Kaduna state, every resident is an equal stakeholder.
Similarly, the governor’s appointments are generally seen not to take cognizance of the state’s diversity as most of the beneficiaries are from Kaduna North and Zaria local governments. According to reports, Alhaji Balarabe Abbas Lawal , the Secretary to the State Government, is from Zaria local government, so is the Chief of Staff Alhaji Bashir Saidu and Alhaji Uba Sani, the Political Adviser to the governor. Expectedly, out of the 14-member cabinet, not all the 23 local government areas have representations at the State Executive Council. Some area councils like Kaduna South have no commissioner while the Commissioners of Budget and Planning as well as his colleague at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs are from Kaduna North local government. Naturally, these lop-sided appointments pitched el-Rufa’i against politicians, more so that their inputs were not sought in the appointments. Significantly, the fact that the minister representing Kaduna state at the Federal Executive Council, Hajiya Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, is el-Rufai’s cousin further adding salt to injury. According to reports, President Muhammadu Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari, was responsible for Zainab’s appointment but this explanation was received with a pinch of salt by politicians across the state.
Before now, political offices are shared amongst the three senatorial zones in order to achieve harmony in Kaduna state. In 1999, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi was governor and his deputy was Engr Stephen Shekari, a Christian from southern Kaduna. In addition, Mr Isaiah Balat, another southern Kaduna Christian, was appointed Minister of Works. In 2003, when Balat went to the senate, Mr Garba Ali Madaki replaced him at the Federal Executive Council. Similarly, the trend continued in Makarfi’s second term but Shekari was succeeded by Mr Patrick Yakowa, following the latter’s death. In 2007, Architect Namadi Sambo became governor and Yakowa was his deputy. Yet again, Mr Nuhu Way emerged minister, another Christian from southern Kaduna. However, two years down the road, the political configuration changed following Sambo’s elevation to vice president.
On May 5, 2010, President Umaru Musa Yar’adua died in a Saudi Arabian hospital and his deputy, Dr Goodluck Jonathan succeeded him. Similarly, Jonathan picked Sambo as his deputy, paving way for Yakowa to succeed Sambo as governor of Kaduna state. In 2011, after winning the election, Yakowa nominated Hajiya Hadiza Mailafiya, a Muslim educationist from Zaria, as minister. However, with the demise of Yakowa, Alhaji Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, the then deputy governor, became the new helmsman and changed the power sharing arrangement. In 2014, Mrs Laurentia Laraba Malam, a Christian from the south, became minister.
However, in one swoop, el-Rufa’i changed this arrangement as both the governor and the minister that represents Kaduna state at the Federal Executive Council, are of the same faith. Last week, the governor also deffected in his choice of running mate for next year’s election. In a surprise move, el-Rufa’i chose a southern Kaduna Muslim, Dr Hadiza Balarabe, as running mate. Before now, she was the Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Primary Health Care Development Agency. Significantly, this kind of choice is the first in the north, for a woman to get such an elevation. In addition, it’s the first time that a Muslim-Muslim ticket will contest a gubernatorial election.
Little wonder then that the choice of Dr Balarabe has heated up the polity and polarized political discourse in Kaduna state. Expectedly, most Southern Kaduna people and Christians have denounced the choice, calling it divisive and highly provocative. According to them, the governor’s decision has underscored the governor’s well known dislike for their people. The choice, they further argued, will entrench religious politics in the state and further heighten distrust between Muslims and Christians, especially in Southern Kaduna.
It remains instructive to note, however, that the Southern Kaduna Elders Forum (SOKEFO) has endorsed Dr Balarabe’s choice, urging their compatriots to put all hands on deck to “desist from this religious dichotomy that is being propagated in Southern Kaduna. ” According to a statement signed by Reverend Musa Kokwain, the nominee is “a bona-fide Southern Kaduna Indigene and as such, should not be denied the opportunity of becoming deputy governor because of her faith. ” The statement which was issued on November 4, further said that “it will be very selfish of us if we persecute Dr Balarabe and alienate her from her ancestral home of Southern Kaduna, by denying her this opportunity, particularly because of her faith.
However, the next day, SOKEFO denied endorsing Balarabe in a statement signed by Chief Peter Nicholas Buba, Sarkin Fadan Jaba. According to him, Reverend Kokwain is a ghost name as he is not known to Southern Kaduna Elders Consultative Forum. “Our investigation shows that there is no one in the whole of Southern Kaduna by that name that is a Reverend “, the statement clarified. In addition, it disassociated SOKEFO from Kokwain’s earlier endorsement of Dr Balarabe.
Conversely, APC supporters and a cross section of the residents of the state generally praised the governor for the Muslim-Muslim ticket. In addition, they argued that Christians’ numerical strength in Kaduna State does not warrant them to get the deputy governorship slot in the first place. According to them, the position has all the while been given to Christians as a favor. They cited Plateau and Benue states as having a sizable Muslim population but have never been considered for the deputy governorship since this dispensation.
Similarly, about a year ago, el-Rufa’i had sparked off controversy, when he said that the Muslim/Christian population in Kaduna state is to the ratio of 70:30. Significantly, pundits believe that religion will be the major determinant of the coming gubernatorial election, in spite of the fact that Alhaji Isa Ashiru, the PDP candidate, is also a Hausa/Fulani Muslim like el-Rufa’i. Once and for all, the election will settle the numerical strength of the two dominant religions of Islam and Christianity.