Governorship Election: Religion Rules the Air in Kaduna

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.

voters filled according to their gender. Photo
voters filled according to their gender.

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 2015 is seeking to dislodge the ruling APC and reclaim the Government House. The governorship candidates of both parties are Muslims from Kaduna North but religion is the major issue in the election for majority of the voters in a state, which had endured several ethnic and religious clashes in recent times.

Governor Nasir El-Rufai is seeking a second term and has gone against the political tradition in the state to pick a Muslim running mate, Hadiza Balarabe. Although Balarabe is from the Christian dominated Southern Kaduna zone, she is a Muslim. But Isa Ashiru, governorship candidate of the PDP, has picked a Christian running mate from Southern Kaduna-Sunday Katung.

“We must not deceive ourselves,” stated Usman Seriki, an agent of the PRP who spoke to TELL at the GSS Angwar Seriki polling Unit. “We know our problem in Kaduna State, it is religious sentiments. Religion is the slogan of all the parties.”

Seriki may be right. Voters who spoke to the magazine said religion was central to their decision on which party and candidate to vote for. All the Christian voters interviewed said they voted against the APC candidate because he had shown in his actions and utterances that he “hated” them. Muslim voters on the other are divided into two groups. There are those who voted for the PDP candidate because he picked a Christian running mate, which they believed is good for peace in the state.

But there are also those who voted for APC because they want continuity and reveled the idea of “proving” to the Christians that they can win without the support of Christians or more specifically, Southern Kaduna.

Matina Franscis, a house wife from Southern Kaduna, told the magazine he voted for the PDP because Governor El-Rufai doesn’t like Christians. Franscis, who voted at LEA Primary School, Constitution Road, said she came out to vote because of her religious persuasion.

“For me, Governor El-Rufai has done well to sanitise the state. But El-Rufai uses hate speech a lot of the times against Christians in the state. A leader is not supposed to be one-sided. This is my problem with him and it is why I want him out of the government house,” she stated.

Her husband, Franscis Otanwa, an electrical engineer, shares his wife’s sentiments. “There was a video on Youtube that went viral where El-Rufai said Christians are fake, and that if he loses the election, he would become a Christian to worship their fake god. I watched the video. He has also been saying other things to insult Christians.” He said.

But Usman Yahaya, an APC agent at the Oyo Road polling unit 014, acknowledged that religion was the undercurrent in Saturday’s election, but believed it shouldn’t be so. He said integrity and performance should be the yardstick for electoral choice, not religion.

He said:  “But we know this is Kaduna and religious sentiments is a big issue. But Governor El-Rufai is doing an experiment with his choice of a Muslim running. If the Muslim-Muslim ticket wins, then it is good because it may stop people from using religion in politics again.”

But the PDP is hoping to profit from the religious sentiments against the APC.  Mohammed Abdul Wahab, a PDP agent at the same unit, said Southern Kaduna Christians feel the El-Rufai government has not been fair to them. “They say he has concentrated attention on Kaduna North and neglects the south, which showed he doesn’t like them. We expect all the people to vote for our candidate,” he said.

At a press briefing on Friday, Kaduna State Police Commissioner,Ahmad Abdulrahman, said intelligence reports the command received before the election showed that some Muslim and Christian preachers in the state used their position to preach exclusion and campaign against certain politicians and political parties.

He said: “I have received intelligence reports from our offices that some clerics are heating up the polity; some mosques and churches are preaching politics of exclusion,

“I have also been receiving text messages from concerned people that if nothing is done about it there may be serious problems over tomorrow’s election,

“But we quickly invited them for a meeting, and we advised them to help keep the peace. Why should a preacher tilt towards one political party? What about other members of the congregation who belong to the other party?

“We pleaded with them to preach inclusion and not exclusion, and we’re happy that they agreed with us.”

The commissioner further disclosed that some concerned youths who were worried by the trend organized themselves into groups to monitor the affected worship centres in order to stop any cleric who wished to incite.

Although there were no reports of any disturbances during the election, a cloud of uncertainties hang on the state in anticipation of the election results.

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