As APC’s flagbearer for the 2023 gubernatorial elections in Adamawa State, Aisha Binani stands the chance to become the country’s first elected female governor.
Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, popularly known as Aisha Binani, is a senator of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) representing the Adamawa Central senatorial district in the 9th Assembly. In 2022, she confounded pundits and political stalwarts alike when she emerged as APC gubernatorial candidate in Adamawa State, beating established ‘big men’ including the former head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Nuhu Ribadu, and former governor of Adamawa (2015-2019) Muhammadu Jibrilla Bindow, at the primary election. If Binani wins at the 18 March polls, she will become Nigeria’s first elected female governor.
In Nigeria’s history, only two women have served as governor. Virginia Etiaba served as acting governor in Anambra State between 03 November 2006 to 07 February 2007 when her principal, Peter Obi was impeached and later reinstated. Similarly, in 2020, Hadiza Balarabe, the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State served as the acting governor for 25 days when Governor Nasir El-Rufai contracted COVID-19. As the APC’s flagbearer for the 2023 gubernatorial elections in Adamawa State, Binani stands the chance to become the country’s first elected female governor.
BINANI: THE UNDERDOG
Binani was arguably the underdog of APC’s primary elections in the state in May 2022. Most observers expected her to abandon her ambitions to recontest her senatorial seat which they considered a more realistic and suitable pursuit, and many party members and political commentators were surprised by the results of the primaries, having underestimated the reach of her political impact and support.
Binani has been on the political scene since 2011 when she was elected to the 7th Assembly as a member of the House of Representatives representing the Yola North/Yola South/Girei in Yola under the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). After that, she failed to secure a senatorial position under the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) in 2015, and in 2019 contested for the Adamawa Central Senatorial seat under the APC and won. She is one of the seven female senators in the upper house of the 9th Assembly, where she also serves as the chairman of the senate committee on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Binani’s legacy in Adamawa is based on connections built with its residents, especially women. From delivering on constituency and senatorial district projects—which include the provision of solar street lights, to the extensive philanthropic activities beyond her legislative mandate, Binani is known as an ally of the common person. Her popularity has been sustained by efforts to support the livelihoods of women and youth across the state, by implementing capacity-building workshops, providing vocational equipment and seed capital, fertilizer distribution, monthly food and cash provisions to widows and orphans, and, one of the most referenced—the distribution of 75,000 school bags to children in 2015.
Through these interventions, she has established a relationship largely built on trust and goodwill with residents of the state. Leveraging this and maintaining a close hold on female delegates was a crucial part of her strategy to secure victory at the primaries and clinch the gubernatorial ticket. The impact of this win led the incumbent governor, Ahmadu Fintiri, to drop his deputy governor Chief Crowther Seth for a female running mate, Professor Kaletapwa Farauta, in the upcoming elections.
Her ascent to the pinnacle of state politics is not disconnected from her vast financial resources. One of the biggest barriers to women’s participation in politics is their access to money, as Ayisha Osori deftly explains ‘money is the lifeblood of our political process’. Over the years, Binani has been able to fund her political and philanthropic endeavours through her family’s wealth—her husband Professor Ahmed Moddibo, a former Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, is believed to be one of the richest men in the state. She also owns several businesses and has allegedly benefitted from securing various procurement and production contracts in the education sector. This access has undoubtedly played a role in her emergence as a gubernatorial candidate, allowing her to compete equally in terms of the tactics deployed by her male counterparts to secure the delegates’ votes at the primaries. Some reports indicate that she gifted female delegates refrigerators ahead of the primaries and others also note that her affiliates were arrested at the primaries with large sums of cash.
Though armed with financial resources, Binani has had to navigate the politicking and internal manipulation of big party personalities, including First Lady Aisha Buhari—an indigene of Adamawa state—who rallied against her candidacy. In May 2022, Binani won the APC Adamawa governorship primary with 430 votes, defeating five male aspirants including Ribadu, the runner-up with 288 votes, who filed a suit seeking the nullification of the exercise and requesting Binani’s disqualification hinged on allegations of vote buying, over-voting and delegate inducement.
In October 2022, the Federal High Court in Yola acceded and nullified the primaries. The First Lady encouraged Senator Binani to accept the ruling of the court and concede to joining the ticket as Ribadu’s deputy governor. Mrs Buhari is said to have noted that there were lessons to be learnt from the South West’s gradual approach to obtaining gender inclusion. However, the senator challenged the ruling at the Appeal Court and was reinstated as the governorship candidate in November.
Adamawa State has consistently voted for PDP in most presidential and gubernatorial elections. With Finitri an incumbent PDP governor contesting for a second term, Binani’s chances are especially slim. However, her journey up until the election on 18 March has ignited a shift in the dynamics of women’s candidacy in Nigeria.
Binani has arguably succeeded where many other elected female Nigerian leaders have not, by refusing to neglect the women who enabled her ascension and by making women a focal point of her politics. From all indications, women will continue to be central to Binani’s governance and campaign strategies. The question that remains is whether this shift can usher in a new vanguard in women’s political representation, one in which female representation in Nigeria’s highest offices translates to tangible improvements in women’s quality of life⎈
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