Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, veteran journalist, is founder of the Northern Emancipation Network which has been in the forefront of the struggle for good governance in all northern states of Nigeria. In this interview, Suleiman gives an insightful assessment of how 2019 politics is likely to play out in Kaduna and gives reasons why he believes the current Governor, elrufai would no go beyond one term. EXCERPTS
Q: The Northern Emancipation Network has been quite popular especially in the build up to the 2015 elections. But it appears you have grown silent since the elections. What could be responsible for that?
A: I don’t think that conclusion is correct. We have been outspoken where and when necessary as usual. You know we don’t operate like the everyday politician who jumps to conclusions whimsically.
We study events dispassionately and then draw concise conclusions before we commit to a line of action.
Since the elections, after they were lost and won, we broke up into smaller units to observe the manner governments are run in the states and assess the political preparations by key players in each state.
Q: Has your group arrived at any conclusions in any of the states yet?
A: Certainly. We have drawn preliminary conclusions regarding states such as Kaduna and Kebbi.
Q: Can we take a peep into your predictions on these states?
A: Yes. Though we are still drawing up our plan for 2019, we can tell you that our predictions for Kaduna State are already coming true.
Q: Can you shed more light on that sir.
A: If you recall, we predicted a system failure in Kaduna soon after the 2015 elections. But then no one thought it would come so early. And here we are, less than two years on, the administration has completely derailed. You can see that though nobody wants to openly admit it, yet vivid images of preparations to take over elrufai’s job after the first tenure are already visible due to the system failure I mentioned.
Q: How do you explain this system failure as you call it?
A: Bluntly, failure of governance and broken promises. We all know that politicians know that the key to winning elections is to make great promises. But in practical terms, the key to maintaining power is keeping those promises. You can’t attain power by making promises then breaking them and still expect to retain that power.
In 2015, elrufai and his campaigners promised to cure the ills of society including illiteracy, disease, unemployment, and poverty. Many supporters and independent voters alike got caught up in a sort of mass delusion of inflated expectations.
People hoped for urgent results from his administration and when the results failed to materialize, they naturally began to react with outrage and contempt.
It is sad that despite the public acclaim that ushered his administration just two years ago, he has failed to bring about the promised vast improvements in health, education, employment, infrastructure, the civil service and the economy.
Kaduna was recently rated as the most indebted state in Nigeria along with Edo and Lagos – sad indeed.
Q: But people are bound to interpret your assessment of the el-rufai government as mere elitist prejudice given that the bulk of his support came from the rural population. Don’t you view it that way?
A: Whichever way you choose to look at it, there is no way you can alter reality.
The incontestable reality is elrufai and his government have failed to deliver even at the local level, from where, as you rightly pointed out, he extracted most of his votes after promising to improve specific problems that the rural people care about the most.
Q: So, what really could be the likely consequences of this failure observed by your group?
A: Naturally, you see that negative climate in politics has gotten worse in Kaduna State in the past one and a half years, with voter discontent fast becoming a phenomena among the population. This is shown in the manner each of his government’s many inconsistencies now go viral within minutes of their discovery.
Q: Can you cite solid instances of these inconsistencies you keep hinting at?
A: Let me correct an impression here. The inconsistencies are not only perceived by me. They have been trending for quite some time now. Look at it this way: his reluctance to strongly relate with the grassroots, his obvious contempt for workers, his reckless and hurtful statements about politicians and his general bully persona that are impacting the state for the worse, are there for everyone to see and feel. It’s not about me or about the Northern Emancipation Network, but about the people.
The failure is so glaring that even without the need to further detail his many broken campaign promises that have accumulated throughout the last one and half years, one can safely conclude that Kaduna is no longer set up for eight years of an elrufai administration.
And like I pointed out in an earlier analysis, it is instructive that in many ways in the past, voters in the state have proved they are not the optimists who can’t learn from experience. The pendulum is therefore going to swing a different way in 2019 – definitely.
Q: If I get you right, you appear to be suggesting that elrufai is likely to be replaced after just a single tenure?
A: Certainly so. He has simplified the task for politicians who are likely to challenge him. They now only need to capitalize on the growing angry mood of disillusioned voters in the state and then take a slight detour by basing their candidacies on the premise that they would fulfill a new set of realistic promises.
Q: But are there formidable challengers for the seat?
A: I can reliably tell you that so far, about four formidable blocs are believed to be in the fore for the Kaduna top job.
These blocs represent the interests of former Governor Ramalan Yero, Senator Shehu Sani, Alhaji Isah Ashiru and Dr Muhammed Sani Bello.
Q: How can you assess the potential of these likely challengers?
A: Though we can’t rule out the possibility of alliances and realignment, as things stand now, it does not take much effort to see that Yero’s threat is of little or no significance because it will require much more than his political ingenuity, which we all know he does not have in abundance to be able to turn his lost fortunes around.
As for Senator Sani; he is widely viewed as a non-starter as far as calculations for the Kaduna governorship go.
His reach is basically limited to confined areas of just one out of the three senatorial districts that define the state’s political landscape.
That brings us to Dr Bello who so far has the most impressive CV of all the four.
But Bello’s chances too are as gloomy as elrufai’s in view of his elite background. The typical Kaduna voter is quite unlikely to risk another chance with a politician that is seen to be out of tune with grassroot realities after his bitter experiment with elrufai. Hence, like elrufai, Dr Bello is also categorized among those labeled Abuja politicians – and this will be his undoing.
This leaves us with Isah Ashiru, who is more of a grassroot player actively involved with both rural and urban politics. I mean he is best known in his career through his success in people-oriented politics.
I know Ashiru from the earliest stages of his career; he takes his constituency one person at a time and always tries to convince people that their concern, no matter how small it might seem to other people, is the most important thing in the world to him. And this proved to be very helpful to his political career at a later point.
His strength is in his unique style of getting to know people on the most personal level that he could, and it helped Ashiru immensely in the Federal House of Representatives. in 2007.
Here, Ashiru typically found out who was most powerful, and became friends with these persons, or allies if you will. In politics, it may not be fair, but it is about who you get to know, and Ashiru had without a doubt mastered this art, and made it a trademark to his political styling.
He always keeps track of people’s differences, and knows exactly who he is talking to, so that his good relationships with the people who made up the other branches of government really helped him to get many of the things he wanted, especially in the legislature. He was able to gain approval of some of the most massive and historic federal government programs for Kaduna State; medicare, social amenities, education, and employment.
These were all stepping-stones to the growth and prosperity of the state and are bound to count in his favour when the chips are down.
Q: Thank you sir.
A: Thanks. You are welcome.