The Task to Heal Wounds in Kaduna

Nasir El-Rufai has won his election for a second term as governor of Kaduna State. He must now win the hearts of the people who rejected him at the polls for the state to have peace.

Governor Nasir el-Rufai, had in November last year explained why he picked Hadiza Balarabe, a fellow Muslim, as his running mate for the 2019 governorship election, breaking the tradition of Muslim-Christian ticket in the state. He said there was no room for religious sentiments in his administration. “Muslim-Muslim ticket is not a religious ticket but a competent and performance ticket,” he had said, indicating that his running mate was picked for her qualities rather than her religion.

Nasir el-Rufai and Hadiza Balarabe Photo
Nasir el-Rufai and Hadiza Balarabe

But his major challenger in the election, Isa Ashiru picked a Christian, Sunday Katung, as his running mate. That is one of the reasons why Umar Sani, Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Stakeholders Forum in Kaduna who spoke to TELL was confident of his party’s victory. “If we lose this election, it can only be by rigging, not by the actual votes cast by people.”

But when the results were counted, the APC candidate trounced Ashiru, who came second, by 231.269 votes. El-Rufai polled a total vote of 1, 045, 427 to beat his rival, Ashiru who received a total 814, 168 votes. But Ashiru and his party have rejected the results as not reflecting the will of the people.

However, the pattern of the votes in the just concluded governorship and house of assembly elections, showed that a significant population in the state did not agree that El-Rufai didn’t pick a Muslim running mate to spite them. The distribution of the votes indicates that El-Rufai won in 14 local governments while Ashiru of the PDP won in nine. El-Rufai lost the election in all Christian dominated local governments in the state, including in Sanga, where his running mate comes from.

The results of the election showed that El-Rufai got his wining votes from the Muslim dominated parts of the state in Kaduna North and Kaduna Central senatorial districts. His highest votes came from the four local governments of Zaria, Igabi, Kaduna South and Kaduna North where he scored 111,041; 102, 612; 102, 035 and 92, 243 respectively.

On the other hand, the PDP’s candidate, Ashiru, who picked Sunday Marshal Katung, a Christian from Zango/Jaba Federal Constituency of Southern Kaduna defeated El-Rufai in all the seven Christian dominated local governments in Southern Kaduna and two from Kaduna Central senatorial districts of Chikun and Kajuru.

The state had gone into the election with significant apprehension on how religion could impact the process. The Muslim-Muslim of the APC and the Muslim-Christian ticket of the PDP had polarized the state with some religious leaders interpreting developments to their congregations from partisan perspectives. The state commissioner of police, Ahmad Abdurrahman had revealed that intelligence report showed that some religious leaders were preaching politics to their congregation, which heightened political tension before the election.

This was confirmed on election day by most of the voters who spoke to TELL on why they voted. Matina Francis and her husband, Francis Otanwa were among voters at the Gaji Ward 029 polling unit located on Constitution Road, Kaduna. They are Christians from Kachia Local Government in Southern Kaduna. They told TELL they voted against El-Rufai because “he hates Christians.”

The evidence, they claimed, is that his government has done little for the Christian dominated people of Southern Kaduna compared to the Muslim dominated Northern Kaduna where he had done new roads, rehabilitated schools and hospitals. “But more importantly, he uses hate speech against Christians and his actions show he doesn’t like us. That is why he picked a Muslim running mate instead of a Christian running mate,” Matina, more outspoken than her husband, said.

Most of the people who voted against El-Rufai told the magazine he is a divisive figure who had done little to unite a state wrenched by ethnic and religious rivalries. Prominent preachers in the state have called him unprintable names on account of what they perceived as his one-sided interventions.

The APC structure in the state had also been ruptured by the abrasive style of El-Rufai, which saw many leaders of the party move to other parties. Prominent among them are two serving senators from the state-Suleiman Hunkuyi (Kaduna North) and Shehu Sani, (Kaduna Central).  Both accused El-Rufai of not consulting party leaders and stakeholders before major decisions are made.

El-Rufai rattled the state through some executive actions that caught most leaders of the party unaware. He sacked nearly 20,000 teachers for being “incompetent” and scores of district heads of villages to cut cost of governance. He demolished alleged unauthorized buildings, including the residence of Senator Hunkuyi who was then a leader of the APC.

But his choice of a Muslim running mate was one controversy many thought would consume him. It had never happened in the state that a Muslim governorship candidate would run with a Muslim deputy. According to Umar Sani, Chairman of the PDP Stakeholders Forum in the state, the tradition had been that when the governorship candidate comes from the North, his deputy comes from the South. It was a balancing act for a religious sensitive state.

“But El-Rufai introduced religion and stoked religious tension when he picked a Muslim running mate,” Sani told the magazine in Kaduna.

However, El-Rufai had justified his actions as necessary, and choice of running mate as based on competence. And there are many in the state who supported those actions. Like Usman Yahaya, a civil servant and one of those who acted as agents of the APC in the governorship election. He said El-Rufai does not discriminate based on religion or ethnic sentiments but puts premium on the competence of his staff.

“That is why I think, if he wins this election, it would rest the issue of religious sentiments in the governance of the state,” Yahaya stated. The distribution of votes did not, however, support Yahaya’s view.

But Ashiru, who spoke to the magazine before the election, believes the first task of anyone who won the election is to begin the process of reconciliation. “There has to be peace and unity for us to have development. That is why what we must do urgently is to bring everybody back to the table,” he said.

El-Rufai also admitted this much in his victory speech last Tuesday. He said even though he was victorious in the election, he acknowledged ‘the preferences of our fellow citizens who did not vote for us.” There goes the pride some people complain of about el-Rufai. Definitely over 800,000 voters cannot be regarded as few in a state that has 3.2 million registered voters. A leader who will take the path of peace will refrain from making statements that will further enrage those who did not vote for him. But may be that was a slip.

He said: “We would listen to their concerns, but we invite them to join hands with us so that we can together build a better Kaduna State…where there has been strife through accord and conciliation. Where suspicion and ill-will have reigned, let us enthrone goodwill. We can do so much for the good of our state and its entire people when we come together…”

If El-Rufai wants unity in his state, many believe he must talk and show that he belongs to everywhere and to everyone. That is when people like the Francis’ from Southern Kaduna would truly believe Kaduna is one.

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