Although the next governorship election in Kaduna State is almost two years away, the two main political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), are already engaged in a silent battle to produce Governor Nasir El-Rufa’I’s successor at Sir Kashim Ibrahim House. Correspondent IFEANYI AGUMBA reports

It was sweet victory for the then newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) when the former Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufa’i, defeated the sitting Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) to emerge the Governor of Kaduna State in 2015.

El-Rufa’i retained the exalted seat at the Sir Kashim Ibrahim House in 2019, after defeating former chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Finance, Hon. Isah Mohammed Ashiru, who contested the seat on the platform of the PDP. The 2019 governorship election was more like a bigger popularity contest for El-Rufa’i and Ashiru. They both contested for the APC governorship ticket ahead of the 2015 election and El-Rufa’i picked it. Though, many tied El-Rufa’i’s 2015 success at that primary election to the open support he got from the then General Muhammadu Buhari, the 2019 poll vindicated those who believed that El-Rufa’i was naturally more popular.

The next general elections in 2023 is certainly going to be different, as it is certainly not going to be a repeat of Ashiru versus El-Rufa’i contest. While it is too early to predict Ashiru’s emergence as the PDP flag bearer, the APC is equally yet to flaunt its desired heir to the governor’s seat.

Though each is keeping its cards to its chest, both the ruling APC and the leading opposition party, the PDP, have commenced what can be best described as a silent battle for the successor to Governor El-Rufa’i.

The APC might be confident of retaining power beyond 2023, due to the infrastructure development of the El-Rufa’i’s government tagged the Kaduna Urban Renewal Project, but it is a big relief for the opposition party that the man who defeated its candidate in 2015 and 2019 is moving out of the scene.

The exit of Governor El-Rufa’i in 2023 notwithstanding, the battle for the number one position promises to be tougher than the previous races, as the outgoing governor would want to nominate a loyal successor, while the PDP will fight tenaciously to ensure it wrestles power from the ruling party.

PDP Publicity Secretary, Abraham Alberah Catoh said even as the election is two years away, the people of Kaduna have chosen to elect the PDP, come 2023. To him, the opposition party does not have to make noise to make its presence felt, but invest its time strategizing and selling its manifestoes to the people at the grassroots, which he believes, are the way to go in their quest to wrestle power from the ruling APC.

Catoh said: “Our level of preparedness for the election cannot be determined by how loud we are, it is not about noise-making, it is about strategies. When you are in opposition, you strategize through meeting people, promoting your party’s ideals and manifesto to the grassroots, and that is what the PDP has been doing. So, it would not be right to think we are not doing anything. We are not noise makers, we strategize at the grassroots.

“The executive members of our party in Kaduna State just came back for the second term in office and so far, we have set up committees; the committees majorly are for reconciliation and repositioning of the party for better. With those committees, provided we remain committed, we are on our way to victory, especially starting with the local government election, which is coming up any moment from now, according to feelers from the government.”

The PDP spokesman who expressed unwavering confidence in the victory of his party in the coming polls waved the incumbency advantage of the ruling party away, saying the power of the people, who have compared, contrasted and resolved to vote in the PDP is greater than any incumbency advantage.

He added: “We are not bothered about what the APC is doing, we are relying solely on our own strategies as a political party and we depend majorly on the people of Kaduna State, based on the past experiences that we had between the PDP and the APC. So, it is left for the people to compare and contrast, but I am very sure, with what we are seeing, the people have already made their choice even before the election.

“You may say the APC has financial resources at its disposal, the fact remains that the power to vote rests with the people. If money is anything to go by, the APC would not have been in power because, we had everything at our disposal, yet they defeated us in 2015. So, it is more important to sell our manifestoes to the people and be on the ground than putting all our hopes on money.

“You could see what happened during the 2019 general elections, even with the government’s incumbency advantage, the military, the INEC, police and the rest, you saw what happened; the PDP gave them a run for their money. We are not resting on our oars in this coming election; we are doubling our efforts to ensure we wrestle power from the APC.”

The APC Assistant Publicity Secretary, Salisu Tanko Wusono, disagreed with Catoh on the reason for the opposition party’s silence, as he argued that, the PDP was simply silenced by the performance of the Governor El-Rufa’i-led government of the APC.

Wusono argued that, though, the PDP ruled Kaduna for 16 years before the coming of the APC, the El-Rufa’i administration, has outclassed the achievements of the PDP in just six years of presiding over Kaduna. This, he opined, has earned the party the people’s trust and will make the APC win the 2023 elections.

Wusono said: “As you may be aware, the APC came into power in 2015 based on our campaign promises to the people of Kaduna State. The people of Kaduna gave us their mandate in 2015 for four years and the confidence in our government was confirmed in 2019 when they voted for us again. As I speak to you, we are still trying our best to deliver on our campaign promises successfully.

“Our concern and our topmost priority is delivering our campaign promises to the people of Kaduna State with all sincerity. The situation is like someone who is given a loan of N20,000, his repayment efforts and attitude will determine whether that person is going to get another loan; if he has his N20,000 ready for repayment, he will be confident that he will get another one.

“So, we in APC have the mandate of the people, which is like the loan am talking about and we have prioritised the delivery of our promises to the people of Kaduna State, so we are confident that they will give us another mandate.

“The people of Kaduna State trust us a lot. If you remember, in 2019, there were a lot of projects we were yet complete, we promised them that, when we return, all those projects would be completed and today everyone can see, in less than two years into our second term, many of projects have been completed and several others ongoing. You cannot even compare our achievements within the last two years with the four years of the first term; there are a lot of developments, roads and other projects everywhere under the Urban Renewal Project.

“As for me, I doubt if there is any political party that can withstand us in the next general election. This is because the people of Kaduna State voted us for development of the state and we have delivered and still delivering that development to them. We are not the first political party to rule Kaduna, the PDP was here for 16 years and we have just spent six years, but despite that, they are ahead of us with 10 good years, people can testify to the fact that, we have already matched the achievements of the PDP.

“You can see that the opposition party itself has been very quiet in Kaduna State, because the major work of the opposition is to challenge the ruling party based on its campaign promises, but they can see that we are delivering on our campaign promises, so they have no option than to keep quiet.”

A veteran journalist and political analyst, Tajudeen Tijjani, however, believe there is a tough battle ahead for both the ruling APC and the opposition PDP. He said Governor El-Rufa’i has not built anybody within the APC to succeed him and that the PDP is equally in good standing to face the next governorship election.

He said: “You see, Malam Nasir El-Rufa’i has not built a successor for himself from within the APC and it is going to be difficult for him to have a very strong successor at the end of the day if by now he has not built one. And if you look critically now, there is already a crack in the APC due to the struggle for who will succeed El-Rufa’i.

“The only person who appears to be interested in the office now is Senator Uba Sani. But, he is not as acceptable as he thinks he is. In fact, there are people who are already protesting against him and even the Governor, accusing him of bias. So, it is going to be difficult for El-Rufa’i to pick a successor.

“The governor believed to be considering Abdullahi Mohammed Dattijo, his Chief of Staff initially, but all of a sudden, Dattijo’s name is not featuring again, because the person at the Senate has dominated the whole exercise. This is a man is now having a running battle with the State house of Assembly Speaker, Yusuf Zailani who is interested in replacing Sani in the Senate.

“One person that people are also thinking Malam El-Rufa’I can use is the Commissioner for Local Government, Ja’afaru Sani. He has entrenched himself in local governments’ politics, which is actually the grassroots. But, one cannot say whether Governor El-Rufa’i would be disposed to him.

“On the part of the PDP, apart from Ashiru, we don’t know other possible contenders for now. Though, people like Senator Hunkuyi, Mohammed Bello Kagarko and the rest might be coming out later. Another problem with the PDP is that their house is not in order. Are they on good terms with Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who is supposed to be the leader of the PDP in Kaduna State?

“There is also the factor of Southern Kaduna, who may also want to have the PDP ticket this time. But, for now, there is no formidable candidate from Southern Kaduna. So, the context is going to be tough for both the ruling APC and the PDP at the end of the day.”