2019: Electoral Value Holds All the Aces


2019 promises to be a defining epoch in Nigerian politics. Having undergone several hiccups in the past 20 years – desertions, defections, betrayals, fortifications, bandwagon effects, alignments and realignments – political parties are set to take enduring forms. We should therefore view the current spate of defections across political parties as a good thing. Let every politician seek like-minds and soul-mates with whom they can flock together, so that real parties (with defined characteristics) can emerge.

The two major parties will likely be APC and PDP, and I don’t think either will change its name before the next year. Each party now fights like mad to attract the biggest fishes to its hook as the game reaches a crescendo in the next few weeks. It’s not every politician that has electoral value, however.

Several upsets in governorship and legislative elections are inevitable in 2019, as “godfatherism” and coat-tails become less effective. Thanks to poor performance, President Buhari for instance now has little electoral value in the north.

I take Kaduna, the political capital of the north, as a test case. Of all the influential politicians that have dumped their parties, the one I consider the biggest fish so far is a senator from the state: Suleiman Othman Hunkuyi.  He and Senator Shehu Sani last week announced they had left the APC, but they have yet to join another party. Will it be PDP or PRP as many speculate? Even the APC is still in talks with them. Governor Nasir el-Rufai certainly has cause to shiver, especially as Hunkuyi has indicated he would be seeking el-Rufai’s job. Sani, a former human rights activist, has electoral value but it’s not as weighty as Hunkuyi’s.

What makes Senator Hunkuyi a big asset is that he is a grassroots politician. He has been instrumental in the election of most of his party’s candidates in the state from 1999 to date. Ahmed Makarfi, governor of the state from 1999 to 2007, can attest to this: Hunkuyi was the DG of his campaign organisation. Consequently, he was appointed commissioner of finance. When he fell out with Makarfi just before 2003, the governor knew that his re-election would be a tough battle. The massive fraud perpetrated by the ruling PDP nationwide, with INEC’s compliance, saved the day! I believe it’s the same heist that saved some other PDP governors and even President Obasanjo himself.

In 2007, Hunkuyi pitched tent with Namadi Sambo and the latter was elected governor of Kaduna. Since Makarfi picked Sambo as his successor, both he and Hunkuyi once more belonged to the same camp. But Makarfi was said to have prevailed on Sambo to not make Hunkuyi secretary to the state government as he had proposed or give him any other worthy appointment. Hunkuyi bided his time. As fate would have it, President Yar’Adua died and President Jonathan named Sambo his vice-president. And that’s how, for the first time, a Christian from southern Kaduna became governor: Sir Patrick Yakowa, who was Sambo’s deputy and Hunkuyi’s confidant. He supported Yakowa in his bid in 2011, and he won.

All through Yakowa’s two years and a half, Hunkuyi was his dependable ally in the governance of the state. After Yakowa’s death in a helicopter crash in December 2012, Hunkuyi was at the beck and call of Ramalan Yero who succeeded him as governor – he worked well with him until the merger that produced APC.

As 2015 approached, many asked Hunkuyi to run for governor. He thought about it for a while and decided to back el-Rufai in his party. His friend Shehu Sani wanted to run for governor too. In the end, wisdom triumphed, and both Sani and Hunkuyi decided to run for Senate on APC’s platform. And it was time to square off with Makarfi on the political front. As the APC candidate for Kaduna North district, Hunkuyi defeated Makarfi who had been in the Senate since he completed his tenure as governor in 2007.

How Governor el-Rufai fought – and still fights – with both senators is not hidden.  Hunkuyi’s house got demolished, and another was marked for demolition, as they and the governor contested ownership of the party’s structures in the state.  Both senators together with Tijjani Ramalan and Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed have been associated with two groups in the Kaduna APC: Akida and Restoration.

The senators have been fighting el-Rufai only when he went against their people’s welfare. In a recent interview, Punch asked Hunkuyi: “The state government requested a World Bank loan of $350m, which all three senators from the state rejected. Why did you do that?” His reply: “We stopped that ($350m) loan because it was a callous outing. It was an unfair deed against the people. It is an unjustifiable deal against the people.”

The National Working Committee of the APC has since given party structures in the states to governors. When, therefore, it conducted its congresses there were parallel executives in all but two or three APC states. It was not long before the Reformed APC (R-APC) was born. Hunkuyi and Sani are members of the R-APC – they will remain so until they announce their new party.

For now, Hunkuyi is a “beautiful bribe” receiving suitors from the PDP, APC, PRP and other parties, apparently because of his electoral value. For no politician from his state can beat him in a popularity contest. Those wooing him know that his political machinery right from the ward level remains unshaken. A former chairman of Kudan LGA, he was for many years a commissioner, the arrowhead of the gubernatorial campaigns of at least three former governors, and now an elected senator.

Southern and northern Kaduna people are likely to unite under Hunkuyi’s leadership. In 2019 it would be payback time – the people of southern Kaduna are eager to show support for the man who was their son Yakowa’s pillar. I’m sure Hunkuyi did not just wake up one day and decide to run for governor; people from all corners of the state have been whispering nice words into his ears.

If talks between his faction and APC failed finally, the party should be in a mourning mood. The biggest fish, at least in Kaduna, would have escaped from its net! And any party to which he defects would gain immeasurably. The only mistake he must not make is to run on the platform of a small party: judging by current trends, one can emerge governor only on the platform of either of the two biggest parties.

The millennials, who have grown on the internet and the social media, will be voting for the first time.   I know many of them will root for personalities with radical ideas rather than for parties, but they can succeed in springing surprises only when the two major parties become truly different and each can counter the rigging tactics of the other.

Wikipedia has a scanty entry on Senator Hunkuyi. Apart from information on his date of birth (July 17, 1959), his election as LG chairman and as senator in 2015, the only other sentence in the introductory part is:  “Sen. Hunkuyi declared that the Governor of Kaduna state Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai has not been fair to the people of the state, and vowed to ‘do everything possible’ to vote him out in the next election in 2019.”  Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I believe, Hunkuyi’s time has come.

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