By Zainab Suleiman Okino
n the basis of his robust political campaign and seeming overwhelming acceptance by delegates, it is looking more likely that the Chairman of Blueprint Newspapers Limited and frontline governorship aspirant of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Niger State, Alhaji Mohammed Idris Malagi, is set to pick the APC governorship ticket in the primary election holding on Friday. Though his entrance into the tortuous marathon governorship race in 2019 was seen as jumping the gun, and too early, however, in a little over two years of his political journey, the reality began to dawn on many other aspirants within the ruling APC that they had missed the bus, as the effect of Malagi’s early start is beginning to manifest to his advantage.
To this extent, not a few stakeholders joined forces to undermine his rising profile as a major political force to reckon with in the state. In a shift of the political calculation and established order in the state, the media entrepreneur proved doubters wrong by engaging in what is regarded as the widest political consultations ever embarked upon by any politician in Niger State.
He traversed the length and breadth of the state, meeting people across various strata of the society, young and old, men and women, rich and poor, privileged and indigent, in a bid to sell his vision of a greater Niger State using his unique blend of wholesale and retail political strategies.
The Other Aspirants to Watch
On the face value, Malagi appears to be running against some of the more adept and entrenched players in the game, but his meteoric rise to prominence showed his mastery of the game so quickly that he, like the skilled underdog in a chess game, now has what it takes to beat other aspirants to the APC ticket come May 20.
Among the aspirants is Alhaji Ahmed Ketso, who is the current Deputy Governor of the state. He is believed to be one of the top contenders for the number one position in the 2023 governorship election. However, his campaign has been rather tame and lacks the imprimatur of the state government, perhaps in a show of neutrality by the incumbent governor, Abubakar Sani Bello.
Another top contender is Honourable Umar Bago, the member representing Chanchaga Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, who is now attempting to make an unlikely history by switching his political constituency from Chanchaga, which he currently represents, to Bida in a daring political move that has been roundly rejected by many of the key stakeholders from the Bida area.
There is also Engr. Sani Ndanusa, who is from Bida and a former Minister of Youths, Sports and Social Development under the late President Yar’Adua. He left the People’s Democratic Party for the APC in 2018 and it is left to be seen how much influence he wields in the APC in Niger State where he is still seen as a recent convert.
Concerns for Malagi
While the positives appear to weigh far more than any real concerns about the Malagi campaign so far, it is not out of place to point at insinuations about him being a newcomer in politics; the fact that he resides in Abuja and his deep pocket as some of the points the Malagi campaign has had to contend with from his opponents.
Converting Challenges to Opportunities
Although the 2023 governorship position has been zoned to Niger South senatorial district, which has eight local government areas, namely Agaie, Bida, Edati, Gbako, Katcha, Lapai, Lavun and Mokwa, Malagi’s Gbako local government as well as Lavun and Edati have been thumbed to produce the next governor of the state in view of a micro-zoning arrangement that has worked for the political and social co-existence of the predominantly Nupe-speaking areas of Niger State.
Also, Malagi’s tag as an underdog has helped him to navigate critical stages of the campaign, before now largely unnoticed by his opponents who also have unenviable baggage of being former or preset political office holders who now have so much to deny and so little to show as evidence of performance in their previous or current assignments to the people of Niger State.
Chances of Malagi as APC Candidate
As evident from the groundswell of support and acceptance in all his consultations and meetings with delegates and stakeholders of the party across local government areas in the state, there is a clear connection between Malagi and the people of Niger State. There is also no denying the fact of Malagi’s amiability and sophistication, yet, down to earth and connected to the grassroots, while identifying with all in good and bad times and even at vulnerable moments.
In an unpublished opinion poll late last year, a cross-section of respondents drawn from former political office holders who are statutory delegates in the two major political parties in Niger State, it was revealed that the majority of them would rather vote for a non-career politician who is not bedeviled by political brigandage, baggage, vengeance or sectional interest irrespective of the political platform.
Luckily for Malagi, his affable, likable and charming but calm personality, which belies his resolute, hardworking and intellectual soundness, are key personal propositions with which he is selling his vision of a greater Niger State to the people of the state. These are the key enablers of his blend of wholesale and retail political strategies that have earned Malagi massive acceptance across political, religious and ethnic divides in the state.
From Agaie to Zungeru, the Malagi campaign has recorded resounding successes in its engagement with stakeholders who are already looking forward to the general election in the state. For example, traditional rulers in Bida, Kutigi, Lapai, Borgu, Kontagora and Rijau, which is Malagi’s second home having had his secondary education at Government Secondary School Rijau, the endorsement has been in unison with a royal accord to bless the Malagi governorship bid as one ordained by God in the best interest of the good people of Niger State.
Appeal to all Categories of Voters
For the 56-year-old Malagi, the youth and women are critical to the transformation agenda of his campaign to create a greater Niger State by unlocking opportunities for development in education, agriculture, tourism, science, technology and innovation. He is a firm believer in a mix of youthful energy and the wisdom of elders, having been mentored by some of the great men in the public relations and media industry, and then becoming the founder and chief executive officer of a major public relations consultancy and a publishing company at quite a young age in 1996.
As an employer of labour, Malagi abhors discrimination against anyone and he has been widely recognised as an equal opportunity employer by many who have had the privilege of working with him. He is also unbiased towards women/homemakers, who form the fulcrum of his support base.
His ability to work round the clock, managing over 100 employees and thousands of stakeholders across more than five companies fully or partly owned by him in some of the critical sectors of the Nigerian economy would, no doubt, come in handy in the task of governing one of Nigeria’s emerging frontline states.
A Loyal Party Man
Since his entry into the governorship contest in Niger State, Malagi has demonstrated unimpeachable loyalty to the party of the moment, the APC, in the state. It was in furtherance of his unwavering commitment to the party that Malagi recently visited the newly elected state executive council of the party in the state during which he donated 31 buses and the sum of N43 million to ease administrative inconveniences of the entire party structure in the state.
Malagi has also ensured that all his personal humanitarian interventions in the state are done through the political party structure in the state. To this end, his support for the Internally Displaced Persons in the state with food items and COVID-19 relief materials in support of indigent citizens of the state have all enhanced the affinity of the people of Niger State to the Malagi brand, and his governorship aspiration ahead of the 2023 general elections.
* Zainab Suleiman Okino is the Chairman of the Editorial Board, Blueprint newspapers. She can be reached through email@example.com