Abubakar Sani Bello ‘Abu Lolo’: The Face Of Change in Niger State By Ahmed Rufai
On May 29th 2015 history was made in Niger State as Abubakar Sani Bello was sworn in as Governor by Justice Fati Lami Abubakar the Chief Judge of the state and also his mother-in-law, the first time for that to happen in Nigeria. He also became the first opposition candidate to hold the seat in the state in the 4th republic. Niger state has been a PDP ruled state for the past 16 years and up till a month before the March 2015 election it seemed like it would remain that way but dedication, hard work, good fortune and luck changed all that.
Born on the 17th of December 1967, Abubakar is the first son of Col. Sani Bello a former military governor of Kano state, billionaire and astute business man. Abubakar attended St. Louis Primary School Kano from 1974-1979, after which he went to the Nigerian Military School (NMS) Zaria from 1980-1985. He then gained admission into the University of Maiduguri from 1986-1991 where he graduated with a Bsc. in Economics.
Not very much is known about Abubakar’s public life but close associates describe him as a person of integrity, unassuming humility, a visionary, smart, honest and of unblemished character. He is happily married with children to Dr Amina Bello, the first daughter of former Head of State Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar.
Abubakar’s political life began when he served under the immediate former Governor of Niger state Babangida Aliyu as a commissioner of Investment, Commerce and Co-operatives, however his tenure was short-lived (2009-2010) as he resigned. He is quoted to have said in an interview: ‘I think what made me pull out then (from his appointment) was mostly personal. We are people with different characters, ideas and beliefs. In a nutshell I found it difficult to blend’. He then went back to running his businesses.
The zoning formula (agreed upon by the three Senatorial districts in 1998) being used to determine which zone produces the next Governor of the state conceded the slot to Niger North under which Abubakar’s home city of Kontagora falls under, which gave him a chance to further his political ambition.
With the backing of his ambition by his father Col. Sani Bello and Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar his father-in-law who are both very influential and respected in the state, Abubakar declared his interest to contest for the Gubernatorial seat and chose APC as his party platform citing the loss of confidence in the leadership of the PDP and the under development of the state caused by the party as his main reasons for contesting and choice of party.
There were a lot of hurdles standing in his way such as being in the newly formed opposition party (APC) whose popularity as of then was just rising, but still under the shadows of the PDP in Niger state. He was also a relatively unknown figure considering he has spent more time living in Kaduna than his native Niger state. Many also cited his lack of experience in leadership and public administration (issues which I also have my reservations about).
However, over the months leading to the elections, Abubakar campaigned passionately and aggressively while remaining relentless of his pursuit. His posters littered every nook and cranny of the state and many cars were branded with his image and party logo. His popularity soared and with that, the official Abu Lolo band wagon had kicked off.
At the National APC primaries in December 2014, Abubakar had a smooth and convincing win for the APC ticket, polling 3,829 votes to defeat Senator Musa Ibrahim who had 61 votes.
As the weeks to the election drew closer the Niger State Deputy Governor Musa Ibeto who had a strained relationship with the then former Governor Aliyu, decamped to the APC during a Presidential campaign rally when General Muhammadu Buhari visited Minna. It was a huge blow for the PDP to lose its deputy governor in a state it controlled. The move was of good fortune for Abubakar’s ambition as it further strengthened his position in Niger state as Ibeto decamped with thousands of followers and prominent members of Babangida Aliyu’s government.
Further luck came towards Abubakar’s APC as the ‘APC SAK’ (APC from top to bottom) terminology used by GMB at a campaign rally in Kano came to play in Niger state influencing the voters in a Tsunami-esque manner to sweep the polls in favour of the APC. For the first time in the state’s history since the return of democracy in 1999, an opposition party won all the Senatorial seats, while also winning the presidential battle. The wind of change had blown favour upon the APC and humiliation for the PDP and with that a renewed hope for Abubakar’s quest to be governor. Two weeks later at the polls, the same wind of change blew in Abubakar into the seat of the number one citizen of Niger state, while APC also swept the state house of assembly.
The real challenge however starts after May 29 for ‘Abubakar Sani Bello ‘Abu Lolo’: The face of change in Niger State’ if he is to take Niger to the heights it deserves. Abubakar in his election campaigns stated that his major focus when elected Governor will be issues which affect the ordinary man: Education, Healthcare and Youth empowerment but hasn’t presented a detailed manifesto and a road map on how he intends to deliver his campaign promises and I believe he needs to make that available for the sake of transparency and for the people be able to hold him accountable to his promises.
‘With great power comes great responsibility’, and so a daunting task lies ahead for Abubakar in the governing and development of Niger state and how he intends to go about it is very intriguing considering his lack of extensive leadership and beaurecratic experience. Compared to his predecessor who had a rich CV and wealth of experience before the job, Niger seems to be on a back track but ironically not much has been able to be achieved, which raises the question whether experience is a prerequisite for success?. That also gives Abubakar the benefit of the doubt for the job. Abubakar has ran successful businesses in various sectors for over 20 years, so if that is any indication of his abilities then Niger state might just be in good hands. How well he performs and if the gamble will pay, only time can tell, but Nigerlites are definitely happy with the choice of Abubakar Sani Bello ‘Abu Lolo’ of the APC as their Governor and they look forward to seeing changes in the fortunes of the sleeping giant known as Niger state.