The history of politics of Sokoto state, North western Nigeria, in the last two decades is the story of rivalry between two former Governors of the state, Attahiru Bafarawa and Aliyu Wamakko. Both have ruled the state as two- term Governors. Since leaving office, the rivalry has continued through proxies: the successive Governors, National and state Assembly members and political appointees whom they sponsor into office. In each election period, Bafarawa and Wamakko find themselves or their proxies in opposing corners of the political slugfest, alternating between the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The people of Sokoto state have been turned into a mass of ringside fans, cheering or booing, depending on who wins the duel or gets the sucker punch. And they are loving it because, according to some, it is “adding colour” to politics in the state.
Abdullahi Ahmad, a freelance journalist residing in the Runjin Sambo area of Sokoto metropolis, told a media house: “If you conduct a vox pop, I am sure you would find out that a lot of Sokoto people want (Attahiru) Bafarawa and Aliyu Wamakko to stay in the political scene forever. It may sound weird, but where would the glamour come from without them?”
“They have the money and they give it out,” Ahmad said. “They are ego-driven, which is good for their boys. In most of the cases, it is the two that decide who gets what seat in their political parties and because they have the money and connections, they continue being the top leaders.”
But as things stand at the moment, Wamakko has gained upper hand over Bafarawa in the political control of Sokoto state. In fact, Bafarawa no more seems to be the issue; the rivalry is now between Wamakko and his proxy, Governor Aminu Tambunwal who is only struggling to cope with Wamakko’s rising influence. Tambuwal almost lost his reelection in 2019, defeating Wamakko’s APC candidate by a slim margin. In the 2023 Governorship election, Wamakko’s candidate, Ahmed Aliyu floored that of Tambunwal, Umar Saidu. Wamakko’s APC won two out of the three Senatorial seats as well as eight out of eleven House of Representatives seats against Tambunwal’s PDP’s three seats. Wamakko also led APC to win majority seats in the State House of Assembly.
As one analyst put it, “Senator Wamakko has continued to be the indomitable and strong Iroko tree and absolutely the lone political tree that makes up a forest.
‘His influence and political landscape and horizon have continued to wax stronger and stronger, both within the state and across Nigeria, and beyond.”
With Wamakko and his party, APC, taking the driver’s seat as the ruling party in the state, his rising influence in the next four years, at least, can only soar higher.
Before the political war between Bafarawa and Wamakko both of them shared a mutual respect for each other. In the build-up to the 1999 general elections, the then All People’s Party (APP) in Sokoto needed a rich politician to match the influence of PDP which was dominated and financed by retired generals then. APP believed it also needed a civil servant with a good record of service to appeal to the electorate in the state who were mostly civil servants.
While Bafarawa, who had been in politics and business since about 1979, had the financial muscle and political connections, Wamakko was a civil servant who had retired as a director-general. The two got together with Bafarawa as the governorship candidate and Wamakko as running mate and won the election for APP. Life started smoothly between them.
But before long, irreconcilable differences set in. The division worsened despite efforts by political, traditional, religious and business leaders in the state to reconcile the Governor and his Deputy. Eventually, Wamakko, who got wind of the plan by the State House of Assembly to impeach him, resigned from office in 2006.
Meanwhile, Bafarawa continued to fight with Wamakko’s loyalists, many of them powerful party leaders. He eventually left the APP himself and floated the Democratic People’s Party (DPP). Although Wamakko had taken control of APP that had been abandoned by his erstwhile boss, he was persuaded by then President Olusegun Obasanjo and some party leaders to take the PDP governorship ticket instead. That was the beginning of Wamakko’s political ascendancy over his former boss in Sokoto state.
Bafarawa, who was rounding off his second term at the time, presented Maigari Dingyadi as the DPP candidate. But Wamakko, with then Water Resources Minister, Mukhtar Shagari, as his running mate, was declared winner of the 2007 election.
Again in 2012, Bafarawa sponsored Garba Ila Gada but they could not stop Wamakko’s reelection. In 2015, the rivals swapped parties with Bafarawa joining the PDP and Wamakko going to APC. The latter backed the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tambuwal, in the governorship election and he defeated Abdallah Wali of the PDP. The only time that Bafarawa had the upper hand against Wamakko was in 2019 when Tambuwal, seeking reelection under the PDP, defeated Wamakko’s trusted ally, Ahmed Aliyu, the candidate of APC.
All four consecutive elections between 2007 and 2019 have been proxy wars between Bafarawa and Wamakko, not necessarily about the candidates. Political discussions have always revolved around the duo and the successes or failures were not duly credited to the candidates but to their godfathers.
When Tambuwal emerged as the winner of the 2019 general elections by a slim margin, hundreds of supporters thronged Bafarawa’s residence to congratulate him. It was a fight into which he put everything to win.
Wamakko, on the other hand, took the defeat of his candidate personally and sponsored a long legal battle until Tambuwal’s reelection was confirmed by the courts.This made Bafarawa the de facto winner.
For the 2023 governorship election, While Wamakko fielded Ahmed Aliyu, who contested against Tambuwal in 2019, Bafarawa, through Governor Tambuwal, settled for the immediate former Secretary to the State Government, Umar Saidu. Bafarawa’s eldest son, Sagir Bafarawa, was made Saidu’s running mate.
Though it did not seem to be an issue in his party, Bafarawa’s hands were visible in the calculations that led to the emergence of Saidu and his son as the PDP candidates.
On his part, however, Wamakko angered many leaders in his own party, including a sitting senator and a former minister, by influencing the emergence of Aliyu again as the party’s gubernatorial candidate. This led to the defection of some prominent APC members to PDP in June 2022.
But the state Chairman of APC, Alhaji Isa Sadiq Achida, said that, by their departure, the ‘’battle line has been drawn, between the APC and the masses of Sokoto State on the one hand, and the selfish political mercenaries and their pay masters on the other.”
As the outcome of the elections showed, Wamakko’s APC won the battle and, as the popular saying goes, the rest is now history.
Analysts and his loyalists attribute Wamakko’s success and growing political influence to the kind of politics he plays, one that is generousity and development-driven. One analyst wrote: “The Sokoto educational and health revolution can be attributed to Wamakko’s commitment and foresight to transform the lives of people in the state. The eight years of Wamakko as Governor has brought enviable record of service delivery. Wamakko’s passion for sound and qualitative education led to the establishment of Sokoto State University. Besides, the huge investment in primary and secondary education had increased pupils/student enrolment. Courtesy of Wamakko’s selfless leadership, Sokoto State has become a reference in development of education not only within the Northern region but also the country at large.”
Another said: “Wamakko is more generous than Bafarawa but he also has his own allies working for him. Wamakko attends funeral prayers, weddings and what have you.”
Yet another testimony: “Senator Wamakko is a grassroots politician and down-to-earth philanthropist. His house is a mecca of sorts. As a listening leader, he is accessible and ready to assist his people anytime.”
Aliyu Wamakko was born on March 1, 1953 in Wamakko, Sokoto State. He spent five years (1968-1972) at the Sokoto Teachers’ College. After graduation, he worked as a teacher from 1973-1977 before being admitted to the University of Pittsburgh in the United States. He graduated with a B.Sc. in August 1980. On his return to Nigeria, he taught at Sokoto Teachers College.
Wamakko took a job as Principal Assistant Secretary of Zurmi Local Government Area (LGA), and later got promoted to Acting Secretary. He worked at Kaura Namoda LGA, and was appointed Chairman of the Sokoto LGA from 1986-1987. He became General Manager, Hotel Management and Tourism Board, Sokoto. In March 1992, he was promoted to Director-General, Careers and Special Services, Governor’s Office, Sokoto, in March 1992. He was elected Deputy Governor of Sokoto State under Governor Attahiru Bafarawa in 1999, on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). He was re-elected Deputy Governor for a second term in April 2003. He resigned as Deputy Governor of Sokoto State on March 15, 2006.
Wamakko ran successfully for Governor of Sokoto State on the PDP platform, and assumed office on 29 May 2007. Following an appeal, his election was annulled in April 2008 on the basis that he had still been a member of ANPP when he won the PDP nomination. Abdullahi Balarabe Salame was appointed Acting Governor (11 April – 28 May, 2008) while a re-run was arranged. It was said that the contest was not so much between Wamakko and Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi of the DPP, as between Wamakko and his predecessor, Attahiru Bafarawa, founder of DPP. Wamakko regained his seat in the May 2008 re-run.