By OBINNA EZUGWU
From the groundnut pyramids of the 20th Century, Kano, northern Nigeria’s commercial hub, has historically been a strategic state for the region’s, and indeed, Nigeria’s economy. But while it has lost much of its economic spark to Lagos, the nation’s former capital, now its most prominent commercial city, Kano has in recent years, shut itself back into prominence, this time, on account of its large voter turnout during elections. And ahead of the 2023 polls, the leading presidential candidate: Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), have begun to pay special attention to the state.
The debate about which state, between Kano and Lagos, has more people will probably continue for decades, even if every indicator points to Lagos being the most populous state in Nigeria. But what is no longer subject to debate is that the northwest state, despite having a total of 5,927,565 registered voters, or 6.34 per cent of Nigeria’s total going into 2023, over a million less than Lagos’ 7,075,192 total or 7.57 percent, is the country’s vote capital. And it’s hardly surprising that ahead of the February 2023 general elections, the presidential candidates, have made Kano the centrepiece of their campaigns.
Kano has, in every election cycle since 2003, delivered over 2m votes, about the highest of any state in the country. And more importantly, delivers bloc votes more often than not, which is why it’s become a very important state for politicians seeking the country’s coveted seat.
But Kano had not always turned out such large vote numbers to be so regarded as the country’s vote capital, and from available statistics, it’s safe to say that the state’s new status was inspired by Muhammadu Buhari, the current president. In the 1979 presidential candidate, which was won by the late Shehu Shagari, the state turned out a total of 1.19m votes, less than Anambra which had 1.2m, Kaduna 1.3m, Ondo 1.38, Oyo 1.39 and Sokoto, 1.3m.
Similarly, in 1993, the state only managed a total haul of 324.428 votes, out of which MKO Abiola of SDP got 169, 619 to edge Bashir Tofa of NRC who got 154, 809. The 904, 713 votes turnout in 1999 was a vast improvement from 1993, but was much less than those of Bauchi, Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Rivers and Lagos, all of which crossed the one million mark.
Kano’s vote numbers, however, rose rapidly with the emergence of President Buhari into the picture. A widely popular figure in a state that has a history of voting candidates of austere disposition, notably Aminu Kano in the Second Republic, Buhari brought out the numbers when he joined the presidential race for the first time in 2003. That year, the state went from 904, 713 total number of votes it recorded in 1999 to a whooping 2.3 million, highest in the country, with Buhari securing 1.6m to trounce Olusegun Obasanjo, the then President who only managed 493,755.
The actual figures of the highly contentious 2007 presidential polls won by the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is not available in the records of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). But in the following election of 2011, Kano gave Buhari another 1.6m votes, with Goodluck Jonathan, then incumbent president managing 440,666.
Yet, it was in 2015, the year Buhari eventually won the presidential election, that Kano cemented its place as the leading state in the country in terms of voter turnout. Of the 2.1m total number of votes cast in the state that year, Buhari had an overwhelming 1.9m, to Jonathan’s meager 215, 779. Buhari went on to beat Jonathan with roughly 2m votes to become president. But it must be said that the 2015 Kano numbers remain subject of controversy.
In 2019, Buhari’s numbers came down to 1.46m, as Atiku Abubakar, his main challenger and candidate of the PDP secured only 391, 593 votes.
In all, Kano’s numbers dwarfs those of Lagos, even though the latter has more registered voters. The low turnout in Lagos has been partly blamed on voter suppression, which is likely to get more intense in 2023. But even in the event of the state turning out surprising large numbers, its cosmopolitan make up means that no single candidate, not even Bola Tinubu, the state’s political godfather, can be certain of winning the state by reasonable margin.
Tinubu, despite being in charge of the state’s politics since 1999, has struggled to deliver it for his party in presidential elections, losing those of 2003, 2007 and 2011 to the PDP. And despite the massive support Buhari enjoyed in the state, courtesy of the former governor in the 2015, the president only managed to edge Jonathan by less than 200,000 votes, scoring 792,460 votes, or 54.89 percent to Jonathan’s 632,327, or 43.80 percent.
In 2019, Lagos delivered only 580,825 votes for Buhari, despite Tinubu’s support, while Atiku Abubakar polled 448, 015 votes. By contrast, Buhari had 1.9m in Kano, against Jonathan’s 215, 779 in 2015, and 1.46m against Atiku’s 391,593 in 2019.
Unlike Lagos, Kano has often delivered bloc votes from the time of Aminu Kano, which perhaps explains the interest in the state. Ahead of next year’s polls, the state’s numbers could well go a long way in deciding who becomes president, and with this in mind, the prominent contenders for the number one office in the land have been wooing the state’s electorates with generous donations and constant visits.
A fortnight ago, Tinubu, the APC candidate donated N100m to flood victims in the state, even as it is obvious that the state is not one of those most affected by the recent surge of flooding in the country. Yet, the former Lagos governor had only followed in the steps of his PDP counterpart, Atiku who earlier in August, donated N50m for the same purpose.
Both Atiku and Tinubu had held stakeholders consultations in the state at least twice in recent months, while Mr. Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party last week, returned with his running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, on a courtesy visit to the Emir of Bichi, HRH Nasiru Ado Bayero.
“It was a pleasure to return to Kano and an honour for Dr Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed and I to call on HRH Nasiru Ado Bayero, the Emir of Bichi and exchange views on critical nation-building issues,” Obi tweeted after the visit on Friday.
Obi’s visit to the state last week was the second in a space of one month, having initially visited Aminu Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano, on Saturday, September 24.
Omoyele Sowore, presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), also on Saturday, flagged off his campaign in Kano, describing the Northwest state as the People’s Assembly, thus the reason for launching party’s manifesto for his presidential campaign there.
But it’s perhaps Kwankwaso, former governor of the state and presidential candidate of the NNPP that has the most realistic chance of emerging ahead of others in the state, even if he may not be considered a front runner in the overall equation of 2023.
“It’s just inseparable, Kwankwaso is Kano, and Kano is Kwankwaso. Don’t let anybody deceive you and tell you otherwise,” noted Nasiru Fulatan, a supporter of the former Kano governor.
It’s not in doubt that Kwankwaso is widely popular in the state, and can be said to rank only second to Buhari in terms of street support. In 2023, Buhari won’t be on the ballot, and his largely uninspiring performance as president, many suggest, has undermined his popularity in the state, as much as it has elsewhere, which could leave Jean-Luc as the major inheritor of this support base.
“For over 20 years, six election circles, every candidate in Buhari’s party in Northern Nigeria made his poster with a photo of Buhari, but this 2023 campaign season, I haven’t seen a single candidate with Buhari’s photo on his posters in Kano,” noted Salihu Tanko Yakasai, former media aide to Abdullahi Ganduje, the incumbent Kano governor. “Everything that has a beginning must ve an end.”
Buhari has since vowed to lead Tinubu’s campaign going into 2023. His influence may help the former Lagos governor make inroads in Kano and elsewhere in the North, but Tinubu is the person running for president and it’s highly unlikely that he would pull numbers as Buhari had done, especially given that the state’s voters have overtime proved to be dynamic.
For instance, in 2019, while Buhari achieved a landslide victory against Atiku, in the governorship election that followed a week afterwards, the president’s candidate, the incumbent Abdullahi Ganduje, was nearly beaten by the PDP candidate, who was backed by Kwankwaso. It had taken a bit of arm twisting to ensure that Ganduje returned for second term. The implication being that Buhari’s backing of a candidate is not likely to guarantee such candidate Kano votes, and Tinubu should be weary.
Atiku on, on the other hand, may also struggle in the state, as his somewhat liberal disposition continues to be a turn off for many in the core north, Kano inclusive. But up against Tinubu who comes with his own baggage, the former vice president can be confident of getting the better of the ruling party in the state, at least perform better than he had previously managed. His major headache, however, will be Kwankwaso, who remains widely popular in the state, and is very confident heading into the polls.
“Kwankwaso will win the Northeast, the Northwest and the North Central, which when combined, accounts for over 50m registered voters,” boasted Buhari Galadima, a chieftain of NNPP on Channels TV last week. “He will also poach part of South South, Southeast and Southwest.”
Galadima has enough reason to be hopeful about Kwankwaso’s chances in the North, particularly the Northwest, but his principal doesn’t have enough support base across the country to stand a good chance of winning the presidential election, and there’s been speculations, which he’s consistently dismissed, that he may eventually collapse his structure for either Tinubu or Atiku.
Galadima admitted on Channels that Atiku has been mounting pressure on the former Kano governor to step down for him, but insisted that he won’t step down for anyone as they were confident of winning in 2023.
“PDP is not even on the ballot because its strength is in the south-east, which has been eroded by Peter Obi. The next strength of PDP is in the south-south. With Wike never supporting Atiku, the south-south is gone,” he said.
“The Northeast is completely Kwankwaso because he will win Taraba, Adamawa, Gombe, and Bauchi, including the governorship. He will win the Northeast, Northcentral, and will win the Northwest.”
Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra, had before now, been considered an outsider in the contest for Kano, and by extension, core northern votes, but the Labour Party candidate is gradually throwing himself into the mix. Last week, he embarked on another tour of northern states, meeting prominent Muslim cleric and traditional rulers, on the back of his impressive showing at the Arewa House dialogue in Kaduna earlier this month. He may not still be considered a top contender for core northern votes, but Obi is winning enough converts to hope for 25 percent in a number of states.
“No Nigerian politician has ever gained so much intense lift-on-high within a thin length of time like H.E Peter Obi and it’s an amazement to see folks projecting him to come far third. Many lessons to be learnt 2023,” noted Dan_Borno, @DanBornoReal, who had declared support for the Labour party candidate after watching him at the Arewa House.
Mr. Obi launched his campaign officially on Saturday in Nasarawa, as he continues to push for more acceptance in the north, and from available feedback, it’s an effort that is yielding results.