In Nigeria, a wave of “decamping” is occurring as politicians switch parties. I’ve written a little about it here and here, as have Matt Page and Lagun Akinloye. All of the party switches have national implications, but in this post I’d like to zoom in on some of the dynamics in one key state: Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria and the second-most populous state in the country as a whole. Kano’s decampings give a sense of just how complicated all this has become, and also point to some of the key actors who will shape the outcome in the state in the 2019 elections. Kano is probably a must-win state for incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari – if he loses in Kano, that might spell trouble elsewhere for him in the north, and if he starts to lose pieces of the north then his whole map falls apart.
To begin describing Kano State politics, we can point to two former governors: Rabiu Kwankwaso (served 1999-2003 and 2011-2015) and Ibrahim Shekarau (served 2003-2011). A long narrative on their rivalry can be found here. Both men have decamped in the past, but at the time of the 2015 elections Kwankwaso was in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Shekarau was in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 2015, the APC won the presidency and the PDP, Nigeria’s long-time ruling party, lost. In 2015, the APC also won the governorship of Kano, with Kwankwaso’s Deputy Governor Abdullahi Ganduje defeating Shekarau’s ally Salihu Takai. Kwankwaso himself moved to the Nigerian Senate, representing the Kano Central senatorial district.
This summer, Kwankwaso became part of a larger group of Senators, governors, and other politicians who left the APC to return to the PDP, the party to which many of them previously belonged. Some of these defections, and particularly Kwankwaso’s, reflect presidential aspirations. Kwankwaso has been seriously discussed as a major presidential contender since at least the 2015 cycle, so his aspirations are far from delusional.
Back in Kano, Kwankwaso’s decamping raises a few important questions. Is there room for both him and Shekarau in the PDP? Perhaps. And what about Ganduje, who will face re-election in 2019? So far, Ganduje is remaining in the APC, although his own deputy governor, Hafiz Abubakar, has already resigned (h/t Matt Page), and may well defect to the PDP. Does Kwankwaso have the upper hand over Ganduje? Or does the outcome of 2019 in Kano come down to which two of the state’s three past and present governors (Kwankwaso, Shekarau, Ganduje) align against the third, given “rumours that Kwankwaso and Ganduje are struggling to win the heart of Shekarau”? And what does any of this mean for Takai, already being floated unofficially (Hausa) as a candidate? Don’t think that having lost a few elections (2011 to Kwankwaso, 2015 to Ganduje) counts someone out – just ask Buhari, for whom the fourth time was the charm.
Far be it from me to say what all this means. But it’s interesting to watch the consequential knock-on effects of national politicians’ decisions and decampings as they reverberate down through the political system, compelling deputy governors, state legislators, and other figures to make their own decisions. The wave of decampings, then, is throwing into relief the various networks and rivalries that make up Nigerian politics. The struggles within the states also highlight that perennial feature of politics, particularly in systems with term limits – the “godfathers,” no matter how formidable they may be, never have complete control over their hand-picked successors, and the resulting rivalries can have major consequences for party unity.