ANALYSIS: Binani battles incumbency, clerics, gender bias in Adamawa -

In Saturday’s governorship election in Adamawa State, North-east Nigeria, voters principally face a choice between the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Aishatu Dahiru, popularly called Binani, and the incumbent governor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ahmadu Fintiri. But the choice is not as straightforward as it may seem: Binani is not just facing an incumbent, she is also running against religious and cultural biases that have long stood against women in contests for power in the more conservative part of Nigeria.

In spite of the gender bias, the two main contenders are seen as having almost equal strengths, which has made it very difficult for pundits to project a winner for this election, This is evident in their campaign rallies that have pulled massive crowds in all the 21 local government areas of the state. The two candidates are familiar to the state’s electorate because of their long history of public service.

“As a non-partisan, I know the two candidates are strong enough to win the election judging by their teeming supporters. But if not for the incumbency factor, Aisha Binani has more support than Governor Umar Fintiri across the segments and the divides in Adamawa State, because of her open-handedness,” Boboye Abba, a Yola-based public analyst, told PREMIUM TIMES when asked to preview the poll.

Atiku Abubakar
Atiku Abubakar

“Wherever she went before the presidential election, her teeming supporters always showed her love and open support. If she asked them to vote for the APC from president down to the governor, the crowd would reply ‘No! For president, we will vote for Atiku Abubakar but in the state, we will vote for Binani’. It showed that those who voted for Atiku in the presidential election may not vote for Fintiri in the governorship election, but for Binani.

“Attendance at her campaign rallies was more than that of her rivals, the incumbent governor cannot pull her kind of crowd. Because Fintiri does not give out welfare despite being the serving governor, that is why people like Binani,” Mr Abba said.

Binani has long sponsored economic empowerment and skills acquisition programmes across the state targeted at the less-privileged who are mostly women, the elderly and youth. This seems to be paying for her in the governorship race.

Her messages at a typical campaign stop usually go like this: ‘I am here before my parents, my grandparents, my sisters and my younger ones. I am your daughter, who is here before you to respectfully seek for your kind support in the forthcoming governorship election. I want you to give me your mandate. And by the grace of God the Almighty, I will not disappoint you in any way. I will be your servant, not a ruler, I am ready to work for my land.’

Possible Religious Barrier

But the woman has faced strong pushback from conservative sections of the society in the state on account of her gender. A running campaign against Binani by some clerics on social media was allegedly sponsored by the PDP state government to discourage voters, especially Muslims, from casting their votes for her.

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Although Islamic clerics in the state are divided on her ambition, Mrs Binani’s quest for the leadership of the state is the subject of debate. Her supporters argue in her favour that the Islamic system of government is different from the democratic system under which Binani is aspiring for political power. They also note that the state is not a monolithic Muslim society, but a secular state where the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides the laws, rather than the Quran. In this case, they argue that leadership by a woman is not forbidden.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Could Adamawa produce Nigeria’s first elected female governor?

The debate got so intense that the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) stepped in and warned electronic media in Adamawa State against airing anything that has to do with it. In spite of the warnings, experience indicates that on Friday, the day before the election, sponsored Islamic clerics will in their preaching at Jumaat services discourage giving the leadership of the state to a woman. However, her supporters will also use their pulpits to canvass support for Binani.

Apart from the hostile Islamic clerics, Binani is also facing a challenge from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state. Like their Islamic counterparts, Christian leaders are also divided over her governorship ambition. The youth wing of CAN initially endorsed Binani but was forced by the state leadership of the association to withdraw the endorsement. The state leadership of CAN is believed to enjoy a close relationship with Mr Fintiri.


Another issue that may influence the election is ethnicity. Adamawa has many ethnic groups. While the incumbent governor is a Kilba, one of the many minority groups in the state, Binani is Fulani, the dominant ethnic group in the state.

“If the governorship election is going to be decided by ethnicity, they (minority groups) may team up against Binani who is Fulani. Most of them see the Fulani as a dominant ethnic group, who occupies many areas and is spread across the state with ‘Fulfulde’, the common language, widely spoken in the state,” Jibrilla Jallo, an indigene of the state, explained.

Former Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako. [Photo credit: OlaitanAjiboye]
Former Adamawa State governor, Murtala Nyako. [Photo credit: OlaitanAjiboye]

Mr Fintiri has been accused of playing the ethnicity card and allegedly rallying the others against the Fulani in contests for power in the state. The governor was quoted after taking the oath of office of governor in 2019, as saying, “I have come to break the jinx that seemed to be unbreakable, and I am here to break the calabash containing cow milk in the state”. That statement has been given different interpretations but many take it as a jibe at the Fulani.

However, one thing that may haunt Mr Fintiri in the election is the memory of the role he played in the impeachment of Governor Murtala Nyako in 2014 when he was the Speaker of the state House of Assembly. Mr Nyako is a Fulani and many members of the ethnic group see Mr Fintiri as a tribalist.

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Cultural beliefs

Although Islamic belief in northern Nigeria does not give much power to women, some of the ancient kingdoms were ruled by women before the advent of Islam. Queen Amina of Zazzau and Queen Daurama of Daura were prominent cases in the history of Hausa land. Some of her supporters thus see Binani as one of the great women God has chosen above the men to lead and govern their people, especially after the men had failed in their leadership of the society. These people are now yearning for women to be given a chance to show their capability in political leadership.

Binani also enjoys the support of a large segment of the traditional institution in the state. This has been attributed to her good personal relationship with the traditional rulers and regular assistance to them. In contrast, Mr Fintiri’s relationship with the first-class chiefs and emirs is said to be sour due to what one of his critics described as “the governor’s high-handedness and arrogance toward the traditional rulers”. The governor had threatened to remove some traditional rulers and has been accused of not carrying the traditional institution along in governance.

Civil Servants

Mr Fintiri is also not very popular among the state’s civil servants despite paying their salaries regularly. Unemployment is a big problem in the state that can also count against him in the election. He has failed to implement skills acquisition schemes for the teeming unemployed youth across the state since he came to power.

“Even the developmental projects said to have been executed by the Fintiri’s government are all within the state capital. Other areas of the state have been left undeveloped. But he did a lot in the state capital, he constructed flyovers, bridges and major roads. So he brought the developments that were not there in the past”, a resident said.

Gender influence

Many women in the state are also gearing for one of their own to be governor and many of them have promised to give Binani “the votes of the millennium”. She enjoys the support of women in the state because of her generosity and sponsorship of many women empowerment programmes that have direct impacts on their welfare.

But some political pundits believe that the election will be characterised by vote buying by both sides.

After losing the 25 February polls, the spokesperson of the APC in the state, Muhammad Abdullahi, said this Saturday will be different. He said the people of Adamawa voted massively for Atiku Abubakar because he is from the state.

“But in the governorship election, most of those who voted for the PDP in the presidential and the National Assembly elections will now vote for the APC’s candidate, Aisha Binani. And the majority of women in the state are in her support, saying this is the time they will have a woman as a governor in the state”, Mr Abdullahi said.

He stated further that the APC and other political parties in the state, including the Labour Party (LP) and the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), have also agreed to work together for Binani in the election.

But the state chairman of the PDP, Attahiru Shehu, is confident that Mr Fintiri will be reelected because his government has done a lot for the citizens of Adamawa State.

“We seized power from an incumbent government in 2019. We told the citizens of Adamawa State that we would work for them, they gave us their mandates and we have executed projects across the state. We did employment across the civil service. Even though we cannot satisfy everybody in the state, we are doing our best,” Mr Shehu added.

In the last National assembly elections, APC got one senate seat and one in the House of Representatives while PDP got two senate seats and seven seats in the House of Representatives. If that pattern of voting is sustained on Saturday, Northern Nigeria and indeed the whole of the country may wait longer for its first elected woman governor.

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