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El-Rufai’s political engineering: What has religion got to do with it?

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Ben Agande, Kaduna

Against the background of the many controversies that shadowed his stint as governor since 2015, the re-election of Governor Nasir El-Rufai as governor of Kaduna State was a shock to many.

El Rufai, Kaduna Governor

Mallam Nasir El Rufai of the All Progressives Congress polled 1,045,427 votes to defeat his closest challenger, I,sa Ashiru of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP who garnered 814,168 votes to second place. To many people outside Kaduna State, El Rufai’s re-election came as a surprise because, for most of his four years, the governor seemed to be transiting from one controversy to the other.

From the myriads of the security challenges in the state to some of his utterances, El Rufai seemed to have moved from one trouble to the other every other day. When he sacked over 20,000 primary school teachers, laid off over 1,000 traditional rulers and frontally took on members of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, many people thought that those affected by his unorthodox reforms would naturally team up with his traditional political opponents in the state to deal him a deadly political blow. The choice of a Muslim woman as Nasir El Rufai’s running mate further heightened the resentment from the Christian community in the state against the governor.

But while the governor’s critics pointed to this foible as his possible Waterloo, his supporters pointed to his remarkable achievements as the reason he won at the polls.

According to Samuel Aruwan, the spokesman of the governor, El Rufai won because “we are the best in terms of our reforms which are people oriented and not elite-oriented.”

READ ALSO: El Rufai importing mercenaries from neighbouring countries to disrupt elections – PDP

He said that in the health, education and other critical sectors, the governor’s reforms impacted on the real people who paid back the governor by voting massively for him so that he would continue to do the good that he has been doing.

Despite the modest achievements of the El Rufai government, the controversies that have trailed his last four years have been enormous.

He brazenly upstaged the delicate religious balance in the state by picking a Muslim as his running mate in a state where most issues are viewed through the prism of religion. Rather than conscientiously explaining his decision, Mallam El Rufai haughtily rationalized that even if he had picked the pope as his running mate, that the majority of the people of southern Kaduna senatorial district would still have voted against him.

This flows from the fact the people of the region are predominantly Christians.

Beyond these, however, the governor and the APC did not relax during the run-up to the election. He campaigned vigorously in the nook and cranny of the state. For him, his reforms which caused some discomfort to some section of the society was aimed at bettering the lives of the vast majority of the people in the hinterland who bear the brunt of bad government policies.

While the APC went into the election largely intact, the PDP went through an acrimonious primary election, such that even when a winner emerged many stakeholders were dissatisfied with it and the acrimony was not resolved before the election.

For instance, throughout the campaign, many bigwigs in the party like Ahmed Makarfi, Othman Hunkuyi, Ramallan Yero and others did not take an active part in the campaigns.

But what perhaps was a deciding factor that worked for El Rufai was the weaponisation of religion by some of his supporters. In the few days leading to the election, some of the supporters of the governor presented the election as a contest between Christianity and Islam.

The APC was presented as an Islamic party while the PDP was seen as a party enjoying the support of Christians. With religious leaders preaching in mosques that the election was a census on Christians and Muslims in the state, even those who ordinarily would not have voted for the El Rufai, saw it as a religious obligation to vote for their religion.

However, for Aruwan, El-Rufai’s spokesman, the election in Kaduna has proven it that perception and reality are poles apart in politics.

“It is the fight between the old order and the new order, and it is clear that from the verdict of the people, the new order as represented by Nasir El Rufai won.”

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