Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
No, Africa’s richest man whose net worth is put at $11 billion (about N3.3 trillion) is not in the dock answering to a law suit as such. But his name has been brought into the political mix of Nasarawa State, bandied about by critics. Abdullahi Audu Sule (popularly referred to as AA Sule) from Gudi town in Akwanga West Development Area of Nasarawa State defeated ten other aspirants to emerge governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party in Nasarawa state. His closest rivals were Ahmed Aliyu Wadada, former House of Representatives member, representing Keffi, Kokona, Karu federal constituency and Silas Ali Agara incumbent deputy governor who trailed second and third respectively. Sule emerged on a rather auspicious day for the state and country – October 1 – which happened to be Nigeria’s 58th Independence Anniversary and the 22nd anniversary of the state’s creation. So, rather than converge at the stadium for the traditional march-pasts and cultural displays to celebrate these twin occasions, the political elites converged at the lafia square in the state’s capital for the ruling party’s primary election.
Tense was the atmosphere as the election which started on Sunday, September 30, using the indirect system, spilled over to Monday. People awaited its outcome anxiously. In the build-up to the primaries, supporters of various aspirants were throwing brickbats at one another, primordial sentiments were raked up and it was even bandied that the aspirants had ganged up against Sule. Critics’ allegation against Sule was intriguing. They alleged that Sule who has spent most of his adult life in the private sector and whose work place before he joined the gubernatorial race was Group Managing Director of Dangote Sugar Refinery Plc, Lagos, was fronting for Dangote, that selecting him as the candidate and electing him as governor would tatamount to selling Nasarawa state to Dangote because he would be at the beck and call of Dangote who is from far-away Kano state, not an indigene of Nasarawa State. It was alleged that Sule who was backed by Governor Tanko Al-makura, himself from the private sector, was sponsored by Dangote to ostensibly protect his investments in Nasarawa State.
It is said that Dangote is taking more than a passing interest in the politics of Nasarawa State to avoid a repeat of his experience in neighbouring Benue State where youths are said to be extorting money from his companies there for them to operate unencumbered, in peace. The Dangote Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U) with the Nasarawa State government sometime in 2016 for the establishment of a multi-billion naira sugar company in Tunga, Awe local government area of the state. The company is expected to employ some 30,000 people directly and indirectly when fully operational. Also the Dangote Group is making arrangements to establish a rice company in Doma local government area. Paperworks for the Dangote Rice are underway. This writer could not get across to Candidate Sule. But I put aforementioned allegations to the Nasarawa State Commissioner of Information, Culture and Tourism, Jamil Zakari. Youthful-looking Zakari who is writing his doctoral thesis, answered in measured voice:
“This complaint or argument is a little bit childish. As far as I know Dangote did not say he wanted to run for governor of Nasarawa. The APC flag bearer (A.A. Sule) that emerged used to work for Dangote company yes, but so is the other aspirants/candidates, they worked for either government or elsewhere, for somebody. The fact that they worked for somebody does not necessarily mean that those people will be using them as pawns. Told that it is alleged that Dangote is sponsoring Sule’s campaign, Zakari replied, “There is code of conduct as far as raising campaign finances are concerned and the authorities that are supposed to be responsible will know better; we will not respond to those kinds of allegations unless and until we have concrete evidence, even with the evidence, has it contravened any laws?
“As far as we are concerned we have produced a flag bearer who is a good Nigerian, has been paying his taxes, he is a responsible gentleman who has a pedigree for achievements and who is focussed and determined to bring to bear his experience to improve the infrastructure of Nasarawa State. That is what should be at the core of the argument, not some petty things. This candidate (Sule) is determined to ensure that there is civility in governance. This candidate is not beholden to any particular interest or religion; this candidate is a party man, he believes in inclusion, he believes in broadminded approach to issues; he believes that Nasarawa State should be able to earn for itself a place where its people will have support of government to be able to realise their potentials and that is what we are focussed on”.
Answering a question, the Information commissioner remarked that it is normal for politicians to throw darts at one another, even in advanced democracies, adding that there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies. On fears that some of the aspirants may decamp, Zakiri brushed this aside, averring that APC in Nasarawa is one family and that the primary election was the most peaceful and credible ever conducted in the state “The aspirants have congratulated the winner. Reconciliation is part of the process, from feelers and evidence on the ground all the aspirants are saying they are not going anywhere, nobody was brutally offended to the extent of saying ‘you refused me a level playing ground so I have to find comfort elsewhere’ and I think it is in the interest of everyone that we join forces together to secure a mandate to continue the good things that Governor Tanko Al-makura has been doing in the last seven and half years. We shall take account of any reservations and grouse, we will try to mend fences, and we will perfect our strategy as a party so that we emerge victorious in 2019 election because we believe our candidate (Sule) presents the best option for governing Nasarawa State”.