INTRIGUES, HARD CHOICES AND THE PITCHED BATTLE FOR APC’S NATIONAL WOMEN LEADER

On Saturday 23 June, 2018 to be precise, attendees will gather at Eagle Square, Abuja for the first National Convention of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Accredited delegates will, among other things, elect new leaders for Nigeria’s Governing Party.

Feelers from the National Secretariat of the party suggests that about 20 of the positions up for grabs have already been filled with the candidates returned unopposed. Another 42 offices however remain in play, with aspirants and their supporters locked in last minute horse-trading to achieve consensus and affirmation. Those candidates who fail to come to an arrangement will have to slog it out at Eagle Square in the heart of the nation’s capital on Saturday.

As at the time of filing this report, the position of the National Women Leader of the APC is still keenly contested. 4 amazons, all from Kogi State and all as equally determined, are battling to clinch the coveted seat which is zoned to their state. This article hereby gives honourable mention to the aspirations of 2 of the candidates whose names will not be mentioned here and salutes their courage. It will now hone in on the two considered most likely to emerge after Saturday’s Convention in order to keep things focused.

Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu is the incumbent and is fighting to retain her seat on Saturday. A career politician, she has been in and out of one party office or the other in the last 16 years, from way back before the formation of the APC. No doubt a Buharist, she has followed the President for much of her political career. Sadly, her lack of a strong grassroots following in her native Kogi State places a huge question mark on her ability to deliver actual votes for the APC in any election. APC needs all the votes she can get if she hopes to trump the opposition in what is sure to be a hot contest in the 2019 General Elections.

Dr. Aliyu’s people in the Kogi West Senatorial Zone where she hails from in Kogi State as well as members of the APC in the state consider her too elitist. To underscore how aloof they believe her to be from them, they call her an ‘Abuja politician’. Put simply, they believe Dr. Aliyu is not a homegrown politician neither has she shown the versatility necessary to convert her successes in Abuja into a grassroots movement or support at home. The result is that her name will generally elude most voters in her constituency while those who do know her will invariably describe her as ‘not on ground’.

‘Not on ground’, for those who know, is a damning verdict used by Nigerian electorates to dismiss natives who succeed in politics ‘abroad’ without showing corresponding inclination to identify with their people at home. It is their way of saying politicians like Dr. Aliyu have become strangers to them who are not connected to their realities, and should not bother coming for their political support, if circumstances ever dictate a need for it. Four years of near zero impact at home is not easily forgotten or forgiven but Dr. Aliyu can still make amends, and regain her people and their votes, but it will be a painstaking process, akin to wooing a reluctant heiress.

Her dismal relations with the Kogi electorate notwithstanding, Dr. Aliyu still hobnobs with some of the most influential people in her party, and in government. Sometimes, in Nigeria, such influence may be precisely all one needs to bring home the prize. Just do not bank too much on it.

Hajia Salamatu Baiwa Umar-Eluma, the challenger, is an entirely different personality altogether. She comes with an intimidating curriculum vitae from a long and illustrious career as a technocrat, with about 3 decades of unbroken experience in the private and public sectors. She earned her stripes in a blue-chip global hospitality conglomerate before being headhunted in 2000 by Andersen Consulting, now Accenture to join a corps of leaders who rapidly reformed Nigerian aviation. A fellow of many professional institutes, Hajia Salamatu Baiwa Umar-Eluma retired just this May from the civil service of the Federation having reached the apex of career progression.

For one who was in public service for a long time, during an era when citizens in the civil service where wrongfully excluded from partisan politics (an injustice now corrected by the Supreme Court of Nigeria), Hajia Baiwa has surprisingly garnered wide acceptance among the mass of voters in Kogi State.

Apparently, during her long career she leveraged her connections to find employment for scores of Kogi graduates, used her various charitable foundations to benefit the poor and vulnerable at home while her many philanthropic activities helped transform the lives of many villagers. Hajia Baiwa is a much beloved household name in Kogi East. In addition, she is fondly nicknamed ‘Mama Kogi’ for the sacrificial generosity and down to earth charm her people see in her.

It is therefore little wonder that Hajia Baiwa is considered a valuable political resource in Kogi State and much courted by aspirants to public office. Her support is thought to have contributed to the election of some notable politicians in the state, past and present, including Honourable Hassan Baiwa, her brother and the current Deputy Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly.

Assuming the APC considers bright electoral fortunes one of her needs in 2019, then she may need to remember that Mama Kogi’s Kogi East Senatorial Zone is the largest voting bloc in Kogi State and without them the APC would not have won the state in 2015. There is therefore plenty of profit in returning Hajia Salamatu Baiwa Umar-Eluma as National Women Leader.

One may wonder where the two candidates stand in terms of vision for the office. Here again, we see a stark contrast. In numerous press interviews and appearances, including a comprehensive interview she granted Dapo Falade of the Nigerian Tribune sometime ago, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu gave insights into her long term plans as a politician and women leader. It is full of mouthwatering promises to consistently improve the lot of the womenfolk. One can easily surmise that those ideals remains her guiding principles if re-elected National Women Leader of the All Progressives Congress.

Unfortunately again, Dr. Aliyu’s lofty promises sound hollow to those they should mean the most. APC women across the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory seem unanimous over her poor performance in her tenure so far. They question her ability to go to market on their behalf and bring home the promised goodies the first time, and query the sense in sending her on a second trip.

To buttress their dissatisfaction the APC women point to their underwhelming lot in government patronage, appointments and largesse during her current tenure. They stress that even her APC Women of Worth group is just a sorority of her personal favorites which excludes the real APC women, those who bring in the grassroots votes keeping the party in power at all levels. Almost to a man (pun unintended) they declare their need for a change of representative in the National Working Committee.

In the face of such widespread discontent from her primary constituencies, the possibility of Dr. Aliyu regaining the confidence of her women, much less of their delegates, between now and Saturday, might very much appear to be nil. In any case, her fate hangs very much in the balance.

Her challenger, Hajia Salamatu Baiwa Umar-Eluma is on her part confident that her professional antecedents, solid home base and political acceptability make her just the person to take the aspirations of APC and Nigerian women forward. She unveils a long list of things to do as National Women Leader of the All Progressives Congress which she calls, ‘My Commitment’ to underscore her resolve.

Hajia Baiwa’s To Do List details the policies, outcomes and targets which will drive her if elected National Women Leader of the APC. Ranging from politics (mobilisation of more women into the party’s ranks), to good governance (fighting for women and children centred policies), to affirmative action (partnering to ensure her party gives women at least 35% of appointive and elective positions). She also pledges to work for the Governing Party’s incremental implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals which do not offend the customary and religious values of Nigerians.

Even as these two frontliners, as well as the other two not profiled here work their beats, bustling to get in some last minute support, the APC, it will be recalled, has allowed governors elected on her tickets some say in who occupies positions zoned to their states. Since the governors are the automatic leaders of the party in their respective states, it is easy to see how Governor Bello’s powers to midwife the National Women Leadership of the APC to the best advantages of the party and the fortunes of his state can appear as a threat to an insecure aspirant.

The Governor’s aforesaid powers can easily evoke an ambivalence in candidates and their supporters. Each side may love or hate him by turns as he battles with deciding whom to support between the formidable aspirants. The Governor’s final choice is thus full of far-reaching implications. All of this hardly make his already onerous duty to choose one from a group of his people any easier. He must be hugely concerned about maintaining balance in the delicate power play which defines Kogi politics while ensuring none but the best candidate wins.

The Governor’s aides assure anyone who asks that he will do the right thing. The young leader is also well-known for taking hard, even outrightly unpopular decisions, as long as he is certain the outcomes will be in the overriding public interest. While he may take a while to weigh pros and cons, once his course in any action is charted, Governor Bello is renowned for following through, and remaining unintimidated by the opinions of those who cannot, or do not want to, exercise similar foresight.

This is perhaps why it appears to those who like to analyse current affairs and predict trends that the Governor is tending more towards Hajia Salamatu Baiwa’s candidacy than Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu’s. Such people must bear in mind at all times that the Governor, caught between and betwixt these two strong contenders, is only trying to do his best to midwife the preferences of the Kogi State Chapter of the APC for National Woman Leader.

Already, incendiary articles have appeared online attacking Governor Yahaya Bello for his alleged support for the challenger against the incumbent. In a poor piece posted on June 17 in the quite unknown pmexpressng.com and syndicated across a few similar rags, a faceless writer goes out on a limb to attack perceived enemies of Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu’s ambitions.

Though the semi-literate writer attempted his, her or its best to rope the Governor of Kogi State and the Wife of the President, Her Excellency, Hajia Aisha Buhari, into an imaginary conspiracy against Dr. Aliyu and her plans for tazarce or self-succession, the attempt fails. The combination of atrocious grammar, incoherent syntax and wild accusations quickly undoes both writer and article. But for the lack of evidence tying her to the writer, and the benefit of doubt that she would never knowingly assent to the publication of such nauseating and retarded nonsense, it very nigh undoes Dr. Aliyu also.

Such minor irritations aside, there is no doubt that whoever the Governor chooses to stand by on Saturday at Eagle Square between the two aspirants, he would be hurting another for whom he has severally expressed great respect. It is expected then that he must have made his choice solidly convinced by the merits of the individual’s case and the growth potentials for the party. He cannot permit the dictates of maudlin sentiments to intervene.

Truly, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

Safiya Ali writes from Abuja, Nigeria.

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