Zamfara State government stands as a huge bonus for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Prior to the 2019 general elections, the state was a mainstay of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
With APC holding the office of Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) back then through then Governor Abdullaziz Yari, nobody gave PDP any chance to swing an upset by clinching the state through the gubernatorial poll.
Now, as the build-up towards the 2023 general elections gathers momentum, both parties, PDP and APC, are making frantic moves to ensure that Zamfara remains or returns to its fold.
Top on the strategic calculations of the two major political parties is the need to have the incumbent state governor, Dr. Bello Matawalle, in their corner, especially given that the nature of elections in the country confers some adventitious advantages to an incumbent governor. Consequently, in the march to 2023, Governor Matawalle has become a beautiful bride being wooed by the governing and opposition parties.
More than a year ago, speculations about Dr. Matawalle’s possible defection from PDP, on which he won the governorship, to APC, have been sustained by the governor’s body language and political circumstances.
Given the fortuitous circumstances that propelled his inauguration as Zamfara governor on May 29, 2019, Dr. Matawalle seems to be mindful of the political realities on the ground, particularly the fact that he is a PDP governor in an APC political environment. After years of APC, the possibility of transforming the political structures from the ward, local, and state level to reflect PDP tendencies would not be likened to a hundred meters dash.
Then, knowing that he has a competitive election to prosecute to berth a second term in office, the governor and his inner men seem conscious of the indomitable nature of the opposition APC in the state.
LEADERS of APC, both at the state and national levels, knowing the vulnerabilities surrounding the governor’s political future, have been weighing the options. In the first place, they believe that with the political division and recriminations between former Governor Abdullaziz Yari and Senator Kabiru Marafa, the odds favour Matawalle to come in and fly the party’s flag in the coming election and thereby save the party the headache of going through the rigours of reconciling competing interests and aspirations of Yari and Marafa’s groups.
One other reason that informs the pressure on Matawalle to rejoin APC is the fact that he enjoys a cordial relationship with a former governor of the state, Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima. As such, those pushing for his entry believe that if he comes in as governor, it would be easy for Matawalle to align with the Yerima tendencies to ward off whatever contrary plots the Yari and Marafa camps may throw on his political path.
Also, based on the soured political relationship between Yerima and Yari, caused by the fact that Yari, Yerima’s political godson, decided to sideline his benefactor after mounting the saddle, Matawalle would be a bridge of return of Yerima to political reckoning in the party.
The question that Matawalle and his allies are weighing is whether, having been favoured by unexpected political circumstances to emerge as governor, he needs the burden of a political godfather, which Yerima’s influence would present.
Not that alone, within the national level of APC also, the existence of three diverse tendencies holding contradictory views about the 2023 Presidency, present an imminent challenge to Matawalle. The reality of this setback was seen recently when only three APC state governors, namely Senator Atiku Bagudu, the Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) chairman, Mai Mala Buni, and Abubakar Badaru visited the Zamfara State governor.
Although the three governor visited Matawalle in continuation of talks aimed at facilitating his entry to APC, the meeting was veiled as commiserating with the state over the destruction of the state’s market in an inferno.
But, within the three governors, two are in the camp of those pressing for a national convention in June 2021, which the Buni tendencies are obviously opposed to, as they prefer a slight forward adjustment in the tenure of the CECPC.
So, apart from considerations about the zoning of the 2023 Presidency, opposition to and support for a tenure extension of the MMB committee constitute another point of disagreement within the fold of APC governors.
For instance, when recently the Director-General of Progressive Governors’ Forum, Dr. Lukman Rilwan, released a statement warning against any further delay to holding the national convention, it was obvious the DG was merely echoing the hearts of some APC governors.
Consequently, in the light of the unsettled scheme of things in APC, would Matawalle’s membership of the party favour his political future or provide another basis for schism within Zamfara APC? It is most likely that either the pro-extension or anti-extension of CECPC tenure extension forces would battle Matawalle using either the Yari or Marafa footsoldiers to requite him (the governor) for siding with its rival.
Discreet searches by The Guardian revealed that Bagudu and Badari have been upbeat about the feasibility of dragging Matawalle into APC, a development they consider in the wider geopolitical interest of Northwest in the ensuing APC power calculations in the buildup to the national convention.
NOT long after the three APC governors left Gusau, where they donated N50milion to the state government towards indemnifying the losses incurred at the market inferno, six PDP governors came calling.
The PDP governors led by its forum chairman, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, asserted the party’s right of occupancy of the Government House. Speaking through their chairman, the governors declared: “This is our home. We, the governors of PDP, are not visitors. We are fully at home and no visitor can replace or supplant the homeowner.
“We have come home, not as visitors, but as owners of this home to commiserate with our own people, who have been affected by this inferno. I pity any leader who seeks to take advantage of a misfortune to play politics.”
There was no doubt the PDP governors alluded to the visit of their APC counterparts and they were prepared to meet the challenge handed out by their rival. APC offered N50million, PDP gave N100million to the victims of the fire incident. And, whereas the APC had just three delegates, PDP sent six of their governors, which seemed more reflective than representative of the six geopolitical zones.
However, in a bold attempt to tone down the silent competition for Matawalle, chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, Tambuwal, disparaged their APC counterparts, saying the opposition party came to play petty politics instead of “genuinely commiserating” with the people of Zamfara State over insecurity and the fire incident.
But, try as much as he could to downplay the political undertone, Tambuwal’s jab on APC showed actually that the hunt for Matawalle was real. His words: “We must always remain as leaders in providing leadership and know where and when and how to play politics. How many lives have been lost from when APC was in charge of this Government House till now. How many of them came here to commiserate with the people of Zamfara State. Even those of us that are neighbours.”
Rivers State governor pinned down the political competition by ‘advising’ APC to speedily resolve the ‘excruciating’ insecurity and poverty in the country, even as he urged that the federal governing party concentrate on governance and sort out the nation’s myriad of security and economic problems.
While encouraging Matawalle not to be intimidated by what he called the antics of the APC, Wike accused the party of fueling the crisis in Zamfara State to distract the state governor from his focus on development and good governance.
Weighing the options
AFTER PDP and APC made their overtures of solidarity and solicitation, the Zamfara State governor has been left to count the cost of his political decision to remain in PDP or join APC and prosecute his second term battle in 2023.
The challenge before Matawalle is enormous. He must have seen how much personal hard work his close neighbour, Tambuwal, put into the election contest to snatch a second term from APC, particularly against the background of strong pro-President Muhammadu Buhari sentiments in the zone.
However, in 2023, it is obvious that President Buhari would not be on the ballot and it is so early in the day to wager a bet on how the Presidential tickets of APC and PDP would affect northern votes.
Then within the circles of internal Zamfara politics, Matawalle is left to gauge how far his track record of achievements has been able to mobilise popular positive sentiments towards his administration vis-à-vis his party’s, PDP, preference in the state.
Add to that, the governor is also in a better position to ascertain whether the dispositions and political clouts of Yerima, Yari, and Marafa would enhance or detract from his possible re-election if he eventually decides to pitch tent with APC.
Sources confided in The Guardian that part of the offers made to Matawalle was to cede 60 percent control of the APC state structure to him, while Yari and Marafa contend for 40 percent. But, incensed at such a ‘cheeky’ and freaky proposition, former Governor Yari threatened to abandon APC if such level of control of the party’s structure is given to the incumbent.
Yet, even if Yari makes good his threat of leaving APC, Matawalle would be left to confront the likes of Marafa and Dauda Lawan, thereby falling back on the depleting political structure of Yerima to wage the supremacy battle.
The governor was also said to have been offered a backup of federal might should join APC, a suggestion that broaches the crucial inputs of the Presidency into the governance and politics of Zamfara.
Those pushing the Presidency narrative point to the Ebonyi State example, where Governor Dave Umahi was said to have consummated his defection to APC at the highest level of the party with no recourse to the divided state structure.
But, unlike the Umahi scenario, Matawalle has a retinue of well-heeled strong opposition politicians, particularly Yari and Marafa that could make things quite challenging within the state. In the event that he rejoins APC, it would be seen whether the differences that prompted his (Matawalle’s) defection from APC to PDP at the buildup to the 2019 general elections have been resolved.
In contrast, would Matawalle be encouraged by the fact that former Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe withstood the Buhari Tsunami in 2015 and remained in PDP?
Better of two worlds
IN the meantime, Governor Matawalle seems to be taking his time and savouring his beautiful bride position. There is no doubt that the Zamfara chief executive is making the better of two worlds. He has been patronizing and taunting his two ‘suitors’ in a quite astonishing manner.
When his PDP counterparts visited over the Gusau Market fire, Matawalle was grinning ear to ear when he observed that he felt abandoned until their solidarity visit, adding, “A crying child abandoned by his mother is likely to take food from a street beggar.”
Perhaps the N50million from APC governors was what he described as food from a street beggar. But, when Matawalle disclosed that APC was employing all tricks to lure him back to the party, it was obvious that he was stonewalling against the overtures to join the federal governing party.
One point the Zamfara State governor succeeded in highlighting is that he is comfortable with his current ambivalent position as the darling of PDP and APC.
At least, time is on his side, because the 2023 elections are still a clear one full year away. He can afford to keep the two rival major parties waiting and having his laugh.
Meanwhile, Yari has reminded him that the Supreme Court has barred APC from Government House Gusau, between 2019 and 2023. This is a piece of legal advice that Matawalle must consult his legal team over before taking a step.
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