Between popularity and incumbency: How Nyame takes on his ex-protégés in battle for Senate

Fierce contests are underway in the northern and southern senatorial zones of Taraba State for the April 2nd National Assembly elections. The tones of the contests have been set by the calibre of politicians involved and the worth of the seat they are gunning for. It is no longer news that the Nigerian senators receive the highest pay package in the world and politicians running for the seat would do everything to win the seats they are running for.

If you take Taraba North, for instance, it will be interesting to note that former governor Jolly Nyame is in the race to grab the Senate seat there, running on the platform of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN ), against Hajiya Aisha Jummai Alhassan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Anthony Jellason of the Labour Party. Political analysts say his popularity is tied to the people’s perception that he is a generous politician who would not abandon them once voted in. This assertion becomes glaring by the presence of posters of Jolly Nyame everywhere, even in local governments that don’t make up the northern senatorial zone. His posters can be seen in Gashaka, Bali and Sardauna, all in central zone.

Nyame’s supporters are optimistic that he will emerge victorious at the polls come 2nd April. They are counting so much on his political clout as godfather of Taraba politics—something the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) under Governor Danbaba Suntai has tried to rubbish—and his deep pockets to defeat other candidates. But Nyame is up against formidable opposition from his former party, the PDP. Hajiya Aisha is formidable enough to have dislodged the incumbent, Dr. Anthony Manzo, who party supporters that swarm around political office holders to survive have labelled as “tight fisted”, in the January senatorial primaries of the PDP.

Hajiya Aisha is an astute and influential politician in her own right, having retired as Registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and a former Attorney General of the state; but keen observers have insisted it is Nyame that brought her and mobilized support for her to defeat Dr Manzo, to make the job of winning the seat easier for him (Nyame). Even if that was Nyame’s intention, now he may be in for a shock as the woman is waxing stronger every day. While Hajiya Aisha is a fresh politician and has not stepped on many toes, Nyame has a retinue of political enemies to fight. Besides, she has charisma and feminine appeal going for her and has been able to make Nyame look like a pauper with the kind of money she spends wherever she goes. During the senatorial primaries, she reportedly fed every delegate, and she now goes on campaign with a motorcade of plush jeeps. Her supporters attest that she is generous and if money is all it takes to win the seat, observers say, she would clinch it.

Another factor working against Nyame is his protracted fight with the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over allegations of embezzlement of public funds while in office.  Besides, most people would want to put what they term “Nyame’s era of terror” behind them by not voting for him. Political analysts in the state say political thugs reigned supreme while Nyame was governor, and now that Governor Suntai has rid the state of vicious political thugs, they wouldn’t want to take a step backward by voting him. But this is just the thinking among the middle class who have precious lives and properties to protect; for the poor masses who depend on political patronage Nyame is still the candidate to vote. While Hajiya Aisha, a Fulani Muslim and a minority in the northern zone, remains a formidable candidate, considering her deep pockets, goodwill and feminine appeal, Nyame would draw from his Mumuye (a leading ethnic group in the state) solidarity to cruise to victory at the end of the day.

Jellason is neither a threat to Nyame nor to Alhassan as he is considered by political observers as a political jobber, allegedly acting the script of the state government. He apparently harmed himself when he went with the gubernatorial candidate of the LP to Gembu in Sardauna local government for campaign and instead of shouting ‘Labour Party’, he allegedly shouted ‘PDP’.

The southern Taraba zone has always been a politically-active area, if not volatile, and the senatorial contest there will nonetheless be fierce. With strong characters like Emmanuel Bwacha of the PDP, Mrs Salome Jankada of the opposition Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Arc Aliyu Sunday Dankaro of the ACN wrestling for the seat, it is going to be an explosive contest.

Political analysts in the zone have argued that the ruling PDP has lost its supporters in the zone by first hoisting Bwacha as the senatorial candidate on the people and then marginalizing the Tiv people, who appear to have a huge chunk of the electorate in the zone. While Bwacha is a government candidate, Dankaro is seen as the people’s candidate. And while Dankaro may get block votes from the Tiv spread in Donga, Ibi, Takum, Ussa and Wukari, the Jukuns and Kuteps both of whom also have huge chunks of the electorate in the zone may share their votes among the three candidates.

Interestingly, all the three candidates contested for the ticket in the January PDP primaries but Bwacha, backed by the government and the party secretariat, won, leaving the other two aggrieved.  While Bwacha polled 889 votes to defeat Dankaro (who got 310 votes) and Jankada (who got just one vote), Bwacha’s opponents strongly believe that the election was rigged in his favour and that may be his undoing. During the delegates’ election, Mrs Jankada had alleged that the delegates were not elected but chosen by party officials who had hidden agenda.

However, Mrs Jankada, though a former minister of state for health, her popularity appears to be dwindling and it will take a miracle for her to make an impact in the April polls. Unfortunately for her, the popularity of the PDP and the ACN in the southern zone has muffled the voice of the CPC there and her candidature alone may not secure her the votes needed to win.

The central senatorial zone is an all PDP affair and whoever picks the ticket, which will be decided by a Jalingo high court, will eventually emerge the winner of the seat unopposed. In the January senatorial primaries of the party, Alhaji Abubakar Tutare was announced the winner, having scored 315 votes to defeat three other candidates including the incumbent, Senator Dahiru Bako Gassol, who polled 215 votes. But a re-run of the primaries was ordered by the national secretariat of the party and Tutare said he had no choice but to drag the party to court to claim his mandate. Supporters of both candidates are running out of patience as they await the decision of the court. Whatever the legal outcome there, the PDP is set to retain this seat as the other parties have not fielded candidates for the post.


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Between popularity and incumbency: How Nyame takes on his ex-protégés in battle for Senate