2019 : 21 politicians queue up to run Boko Haram-hit Borno state

Borno state in northeast Nigeria has been devastated by Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency but candidates are lining up to become governor at elections next year. 
 Some victims of the error bomb attack at an IDP camp in Borno State, yesterday. Photo: AFP.
At least 21 politicians have thrown their hat in the ring to try to secure the nomination for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at party primaries this weekend.

Whoever emerges as winner will contest for the governorship at elections in March next year and likely succeed Kashim Shettima, who steps down after a maximum two four-year terms.

Muslim-majority northeast Nigeria is an APC stronghold and in 2015 an overwhelming 94 percent of voters chose Muhammadu Buhari in Borno state, securing his victory for the presidency.

APC governorship primaries are being held in most of Nigeria’s 36 states on Sunday but the crowded field for the Borno ticket is unusual, not least because of the huge challenges it faces.

More than 27,000 people have been killed in Borno and two neighbouring states since 2009, in one of the world’s most violent conflicts that has destroyed homes and infrastructure.

Suicide bombings and attacks against both civilians and the military remain a constant threat, despite official claims that the jihadists are weakened to the point of defeat.

Aid agencies are meanwhile grappling with the humanitarian fall-out from the conflict, not least providing 1.8 million homeless people with food, shelter and life-saving healthcare.

Since 2016, more than $10 billion (8.6 billion euros) in state and federal government funding has been ploughed into northeast Nigeria to improve security and help the relief effort.

On top of that has come international donor funding of emergency and humanitarian projects from tackling severe acute malnutrition to sanitation and food security.

Earlier this month, a conference in Berlin saw pledges of $2.52 billion to help Nigeria and its neighbours Cameroon, Chad and Niger fight Boko Haram and deal with the aftermath of violence.

– Control of resources –

Shettima, who has been governor since 2011, is expected to contest for a seat in the Senate but has complained “Abuja-based politicians” were trying to impose their own candidate in the remote region.

The governor last month said he had no preferred candidate of his own “and no power to elect or impose a governor”. He has said only God would decided his successor.

Divinely chosen or not, at the very least it can be said that Shettima has political links to many of the candidates: eight of the 21 are members of his cabinet.

Khalifa Dikwa, from the University of Maiduguri, told AFP that was “a political strategy by Shettima to dominate the contest against the Abuja bloc and ensure only his preferred candidate wins”.

The APC in Borno has opted for indirect primaries in which delegates vote for candidates on behalf of blocs of local party members.

In Nigeria, state governors control enormous financial resources and are also in charge of local political party structures and officials.

“The reason why Shettima flooded the contest with his men is to allow him to have the highest number of delegates,” said political analyst Modu Mustapha.

“It is a strategy used in indirect primaries where delegates decide.”

Mustapha said he would not rule out a mass last-minute withdrawal from Shettima-backed candidates to make way for the preferred candidate and ask delegates to vote for him.

“Since the governor controls the party in Borno, the delegates will do as he says,” he added.

Local media have said Shettima has settled on his commissioner for reconstruction, resettlement and rehabilitation, Babagana Umara, as his successor.

Umara has spearheaded a controversial policy of returning tens of thousands of displaced people from makeshift camps in the state capital Maiduguri.

Aid agencies have said basic services and infrastructure were still lacking in many towns outside the state capital.

Dikwa said the struggle for power was largely about control of resources rather than any desire to bring about “meaningful improvement” to the embattled, impoverished population. 

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