Voters in Kaduna State go to the polls to elect a governor and members of the state house of assembly in an election whose major undercurrent is religion.
Thirty-four political parties fielded governorship candidates in Saturday’s election, but the contest is a two-horse race. The election is a straight fight between the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The PDP, which lost power in 2015is seeking to dislodge the ruling APC and reclaim the Government House. Thegovernorship candidates of both parties are Muslims from Kaduna North butreligion is the major issue in the election for majority of the voters in astate, which had endured several ethnic and religious clashes in recent times.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai is seekinga second term and has gone against the political tradition in the state to picka Muslim running mate, Hadiza Balarabe. Although Balarabe is from the Christiandominated Southern Kaduna zone, she is a Muslim. But Isa Ashiru, governorshipcandidate of the PDP, has picked a Christian running mate from SouthernKaduna-Sunday Katung.
“We must not deceive ourselves,”stated Usman Seriki, an agent of the PRP who spoke to TELL at the GSS AngwarSeriki polling Unit. “We know our problem in Kaduna State, it is religioussentiments. Religion is the slogan of all the parties.”
Seriki may be right. Voters whospoke to the magazine said religion was central to their decision on whichparty and candidate to vote for. All the Christian voters interviewed said theyvoted against the APC candidate because he had shown in his actions andutterances that he “hated” them. Muslim voters on the other are divided intotwo groups. There are those who voted for the PDP candidate because he picked aChristian running mate, which they believed is good for peace in the state.
But there are also those who votedfor APC because they want continuity and reveled the idea of “proving” to theChristians that they can win without the support of Christians or morespecifically, Southern Kaduna.
Matina Franscis, a house wife fromSouthern Kaduna, told the magazine he voted for the PDP because GovernorEl-Rufai doesn’t like Christians. Franscis, who voted at LEA Primary School,Constitution Road, said she came out to vote because of her religiouspersuasion.
“For me, Governor El-Rufai has donewell to sanitise the state. But El-Rufai uses hate speech a lot of the timesagainst Christians in the state. A leader is not supposed to be one-sided. Thisis my problem with him and it is why I want him out of the government house,”she stated.
Her husband, Franscis Otanwa, anelectrical engineer, shares his wife’s sentiments. “There was a video onYoutube that went viral where El-Rufai said Christians are fake, and that if heloses the election, he would become a Christian to worship their fake god. Iwatched the video. He has also been saying other things to insult Christians.”He said.
But Usman Yahaya, an APC agent atthe Oyo Road polling unit 014, acknowledged that religion was the undercurrentin Saturday’s election, but believed it shouldn’t be so. He said integrity andperformance should be the yardstick for electoral choice, not religion.
He said: “But we know this is Kaduna and religioussentiments is a big issue. But Governor El-Rufai is doing an experiment withhis choice of a Muslim running. If the Muslim-Muslim ticket wins, then it isgood because it may stop people from using religion in politics again.”
But the PDP is hoping to profitfrom the religious sentiments against the APC. Mohammed Abdul Wahab, a PDP agent at the same unit, said Southern KadunaChristians feel the El-Rufai government has not been fair to them. “They say hehas concentrated attention on Kaduna North and neglects the south, which showedhe doesn’t like them. We expect all the people to vote for our candidate,” hesaid.
At a press briefing on Friday,Kaduna State Police Commissioner,Ahmad Abdulrahman, said intelligence reportsthe command received before the election showed that some Muslim and Christianpreachers in the state used their position to preach exclusion and campaignagainst certain politicians and political parties.
He said: “I have receivedintelligence reports from our offices that some clerics are heating up thepolity; some mosques and churches are preaching politics of exclusion,
“I have also been receiving textmessages from concerned people that if nothing is done about it there may beserious problems over tomorrow’s election,
“But we quickly invited them for ameeting, and we advised them to help keep the peace. Why should a preacher tilttowards one political party? What about other members of the congregation whobelong to the other party?
“We pleaded with them to preachinclusion and not exclusion, and we’re happy that they agreed with us.”
The commissioner further disclosedthat some concerned youths who were worried by the trend organized themselvesinto groups to monitor the affected worship centres in order to stop any clericwho wished to incite.
Although there were no reports ofany disturbances during the election, a cloud of uncertainties hang on thestate in anticipation of the election results.