During Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, there has been a tradition and an expectation that if a Christian southerner holds the presidency, a Muslim northerner will hold the vice presidency, and vice versa. The sample is small, so we should not perceive the pattern as written in stone, and religious dynamics in Nigeria are much more complicated than a “Muslim north” and a “Christian south.” But since 1999 the pattern has held: the southern Christian President Olusegun Obasanjo and his northern Muslim Vice President Atiku Abubakar from 1999 to 2007, northern Muslim President Umaru Yar’Adua and his southern Christian Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from 2007 to 2010 and, presently, President Jonathan and his northern Muslim Vice President Namadi Sambo. All of these politicians have come from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Kaduna State, a PDP stronghold, has had a version of this rotational system, though usually under Muslim governors. The Muslim Governor Ahmed Makarfi from 1999 to 2007 had two Christian Deputy Governors: first Stephen Shekari until his death in 2005, and then Patrick Yakowa until Makarfi was term-limited in 2007. The Muslim Governor Namadi Sambo succeeded Makarfi, with Yakowa continuing on as Deputy; when Sambo ascended to the vice presidency in 2010, Yakowa became Governor with a Muslim, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero (who is seen as close to Sambo), as his Deputy. Yakowa, who won an extremely close re-election battle in 2011, was the State’s first Christian governor, and the first governor from the southern zone of Kaduna.
Kaduna city was the capital of the defunct Northern Region, and Kaduna is part of northern Nigeria. But some also consider the State (or its southern zone) part of the “Middle Belt,” a zone of tremendous religious and ethnic diversity. The Nigerian census does not ask respondents for their religious affiliation, so the religious demographics of states are unknown, but Kaduna is religiously mixed. Kaduna State has a history of interreligious violence that includes periodic riots since 1987, including major riots in 2000 and 2002 as well as recent clashes stemming from the ongoing cycle of church bombings in northern Nigeria. While the causes of riots and interreligious clashes should not be reduced to religion, religious identity is one focus of tension in the state. That helps explain why it matters who holds the posts of governor and deputy governor (though the complexities of officeholders’ religious identities turn on more than just questions of conflict).
On December 15, Governor Yakowa died in a helicopter crash that also killed former National Security Adviser Owoye Azazi and others. Deputy Governor Yero has taken over as Governor. The transition introduces various political complexities, including the immediate question of whom Yero will appoint as deputy (perhaps Yakowa’s widow) and what will happen with the governor’s seat in 2015.
Here are three takes on those questions and their significance:
The Guardian predicts that while the new deputy will come from Kaduna south, it will be some time before that zone produces another governor. This situation may produce dissatisfaction in the southern zone:
To what extent will [Yakowa's] death alter the political configuration of the state? What is apparent is that Southern Kaduna has lost the chance to produce a governor that spent a full tenure in office. Will Yero, who is also from Kaduna North like Sambo and Makarfi, step down in 2015 and ask the Southern Kaduna zone to throw up a candidate to finish Yakowa’s tenure. This scenario is unlikely, following the precedent set by President Goodluck Jonathan when he did not step down for the North to produce someone to complete the tenure of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in the 2011 election.
The Southern Kaduna senatorial zone had waited for a while to grab the chance that made Yakowa governor…
And it is almost certain that Yero, the incumbent governor will appoint his deputy from the Kaduna South, to maintain the political balance that had secured peace and kept everyone satisfied in the state. With the belief that the next deputy governor would come from the Christian-dominated Southern Kaduna, there are long faces asking that ‘certainly we are not likely to rejoice over that for a number of reasons,’ after previous nominees, Shekari and Yakowa have died in office.
It is a cheering prospect for a people who since the history of the state had only one chance of occupying the seat of power, a chance cut short by death, after two years. What will 2015 offer the people of Southern Kaduna?
Vanguard, depicting Yarowa as a unifying figure, suggests that Yero will have to work hard to manage the state’s interreligious tensions:
As governor Yakowa undoubtedly had his job well cut out. Given the history of delicate relations between the Muslim and Christian populations in the state, Yakowa as governor was always quick to calm tension that repeatedly broke out during his short reign. He was particularly passionate in wooing the Islamic population.
Though he had a difficult time winning election in 2011, he was by some account already worming his way into the heart of the muslim population through his government’s charm offensive to Muslims through such programmes as Ramadan feeding and hajj sponsorships…
Yakowa was, off course not universally popular among Christians at the time of his selection as Sambo’s deputy in 2007. He was regarded in bad light for having helped what some regarded as the conspiracy to frustrate their brother, Isaiah Balat in the 2007 gubernatorial primary. He, however, over time won all but extremists to his side.
Nigeria Intel portrays the interreligious politics around Yakowa differently, suggesting that Yakowa’s story – coming to the governor’s seat only through Sambo’s elevation to the vice presidency, and then struggling bitterly to retain the seat in 2011 – illustrates division rather than unity. The difficulty Yakowa had in obtaining and holding his post, the author writes, “raises serious concerns about our brand of politics, the concepts of majority and minority, competence in the selection of candidates and the entire electoral process itself.” Somberly, the piece continues:
In essence, at a time when Nigeria should be electing its best people to strategic positions, too many states and local government areas in the country remain bogged down by the politics of balancing ethnic and religious interests. Thus, competence, capacity, qualification, experience, honesty and other considerations that should determine a candidate’s eligibility and electability are relegated to the background.
In the final analysis, this is a time when Kaduna, like other states battling with majority/ minority agitations should reach out to all groups to forge a consensus. This is a sombre, delicate dance that the new leadership must do in order to rebuild trust and togetherness.
In Kaduna’s tragedy and its political aftermath, then, we find much to ponder about Nigerian politics.