Nigeria’s Top 10 Most Influential Political Actors-Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso

Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, candidate of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP), finished fourth out of 18 in Nigeria’s Presidential election of February 25, 2023. That must have been another disappointing outing for someone who was taking a shot at the presidency for the third time. But surely, his performance in the latest attempt was a bold statement on his rising political influence and capacity to launch a successful challenge for the trophy in the next couple of attempts.

For one, contesting in the main presidential election this time was a major improvement on his first two bids in 2015 and 2019 in which he could not scale through the primaries. For another, he now has total control of (some would say, ownership) his party, NNPP, whose platform he could effortlessly run on.

Thirdly, by the next one or two election cycles, when the successor to the incoming President would be expected to come from the North, Kwankwaso would have been the most experienced presidential material from the North. By then he would be expected to build on his gains in the 2023 presidential outing, especially his party’s near-total victory in his home state, Kano.

In the results of this year’s election, NNPP was the third runner-up, with 6% of the total votes cast and winning outright in one state, Kano, which has the highest voter population in the country. Kwankwaso’s NNPP also defeated the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the Governorship election in the state, produced two of the three Senators in the state and 19 House of Representatives seats. The party also won majority 26 out of 40 seats in the state House of Assembly.

Kwankwaso’s performance in the build-up to the 2023 general election and its outcome shows that the political ‘nomad’ has finally settled down. Previously, the former two-time Governor of Kano state had floated from PDP to APC then to PDP and recently out of PDP again. 

When Kwankwaso launched his party, NNPP, early in 2022, not many saw it as anything serious. Indeed, many considered the new party as a distraction from the serious business of politicking by the ruling APC and the opposition PDP. But they appeared to have forgotten Senator Kwankwaso’s previous political impact in Kano, the North West, and Nigeria as a whole. At the 2014 presidential primaries of the newly formed APC, he performed quite creditably well by coming second to Muhammadu Buhari. More significantly he performed better than former Vice President Abubakar Atiku who finished third in that contest. As one commentator put it shortly after he assumed leadership of NNPP, “Without a doubt, Kwankwaso is the single most important political figure in Kano, a fact he is now proving with the strides being made by his party in the state.

“The waves that the NNPP is making in Kano have got APC and PDP grandees as well as political observers in the country consulting the political tea leaves to fathom what this may portend. My own sense is that if this trend continues it may extend beyond Kano and into the entire north-west.”

Analysts attribute Kwankwaso’s rising influence in Kano, and the North in general, to several factors. The first is his track record as a two-time Governor of Kano state.

During his first stint as Governor (1999-2003), he constructed Kano’s first and only state university, the Kano state University of Science and Technology in Wudil, which endeared him to the Kano state polity.

In his second term (2011 to 2015), he established the North West University, Kano, the second state institution in Kano.

Also, Kwankwaso established 26 academic and manpower development training institutes that educated and empowered more than 360,000 young men and women. He is credited as the first Governor in Nigeria to provide primary school children with free school meals and uniforms. By the time he left the government in 2015, enrollment in schools had increased from 1 million in 2011 to over 3 million.

Another factor is the insecurity, rising levels of poverty and alienation and the general disillusionment felt by the people of the North West geopolitical zone against the President Buhari-led APC which has provided ready ammunition for Kwankwaso to capitalise on for his political gains.

Another reason is that happenings in the country especially the targeting of northerners and their businesses for destruction as well as the threatening utterances of southern groups on the power equation in the country created the growing feeling in the North West that it would be politically suicidal to vote a southerner as president in 2023. It is normal under the circumstances for Kwankwaso to project himself as the defender of northern interest and thus garner the sympathy of the voters.

An analyst, writing ahead of the party primaries said: “These projections will begin to take shape after the conclusion of the primaries of the two major parties. Those northerners who feel aggrieved at the outcome will look upon NNPP as a default option and will most likely work against the APC and PDP. In the likely event of this happening, Kwankwaso’s profile as the gatekeeper of northern votes will accord him the chance of either determining who becomes the president in 2023 or may even become the president.”

Such was the impact Kwankwaso made in the campaign for the recent presidential election that pundits and pollsters were compelled to extend their analyses and projections from the traditional Top Three to Top Four contenders to accommodate him. For instance, shortly before the presidential election, this magazine said of Kwankwaso: “However, in spite of his large national political stature, Kwanwaso is running on the platform of a party, NNPP, that is relatively unknown in many parts of the country. This has given him the image of a presidential candidate that can boast of winning only in his home state. But the significance of that image is massive when that one state is Kano, the state whose voter population is the highest in the country. As a matter of fact, in recent presidential elections, Kano was able to deliver votes larger than those of many states put together. Thus, if Kwankwaso, the “home boy” is able to snap the Kano state votes, some from neighbouring northwestern states and springs surprises elsewhere, who knows.

“It is apparently on the basis of this calculation that many polls and projections tag him along with Tinubu, Atiku and Obi and placing him at the rear of the Top Four. In fact, in the February 25 Presidential election, Kwanwaso is like the underdog with the potentials of a lion.”

It would not be unrealistic to project that Kwankwaso could deploy his rising influence and electoral gains in Kano and Northwest to actualize his presidential ambition in the next couple of election cycles.

Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was born on 21 October 1956 in Kano. He attended Kwankwaso Primary School, Gwarzo Boarding Senior Primary School, Wudil Craft School and Kano Technical College before proceeding to Kaduna Polytechnic where he did both his National Diploma and Higher National Diploma. Kwankwaso was an active student leader during his school days and was an elected official of the Kano State Students Association. He also did his postgraduate studies in the United Kingdom from 1982 to 1983 at the Middlesex Polytechnic; and Loughborough University of Technology where he received a master’s degree in water engineering in 1985. He also bagged his PhD in Water Engineering at Sharda University India, in 2022.

Kwankwaso joined the Kano State Water Resources and Engineering Construction Agency in 1975. He served there for seventeen years in various capacities and rose through the ranks to become the Principal Water Engineer.

Kwankwaso made his entry into politics in 1992 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

The same year, he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives representing Madobi Federal Constituency. His subsequent election as Deputy Speaker in the House brought him to the limelight of national politics. During the 1995 Constitutional Conference, Kwankwaso was elected as one of the delegates from Kano, as a member of the Peoples Democratic Movement led by Yar’adua. He later joined the Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN) in the political transition programme of General Sani Abacha.

Kwankwaso joined PDP in 1998 under the platform of People’s Democratic Movement in Kano led by Mallam Musa Gwadabe, Senator Hamisu Musa and Alhaji Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila. In 1999, he contested the PDP primaries alongside Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Mukthari Zimit, Alhaji Kabiru Rabiu. The Santsi/P.S.P were behind the candidature of Abdullahi Umar Ganduje but they lost to Kwankwaso in the primaries.

Kwankwaso was elected and served his first term as the Governor of Kano State from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2003. His first tenure as the Governor of Kano State was very eventful because of several other groups who were opposed to his high-handed governorship and his attempt at supporting Yoruba President Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2003, he lost re-election to his rival Malam Ibrahim Shekarau.

Kwankwaso was re-elected as Governor of Kano State for the second time from May 29, 2011 to May 29, 2015. During this time, he set out to rejig the political structure of Kwankwassiya: building roads, hospitals and schools and sending residents to study abroad. In August 2013, Kwankwaso was amongst seven serving Governors who formed the G-7 faction within the PDP. In November 2013, Kwankwaso, alongside five members of the G-7, defected to the new opposition party, APC.

In October 2014, Kwankwaso used his large political following in Kano to contest the APC presidential primaries held in Lagos with the results: Muhammadu Buhari, 3,430 votes, Kwankwaso, 974; Atiku Abubakar, 954; Rochas Okorocha, 400; and Sam Nda-Isiah, 10 votes. Coming in second, Kwankwaso endorsed the winner Muhammadu Buhari.

Earlier, from 2003 to 2007, Kwankwaso was appointed as Minister of Defence in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second cabinet, replacing General Theophilus Danjuma.

In 2007, Kwankwaso resigned his ministerial position to contest the Kano State governorship election but he lost because he had been indicted by a Government White Paper. Alhaji Ahmed Garba Bichi later replaced him as the governorship candidate of the party. After losing the bid from his party to contest the 2007 elections, he was appointed as the Special Envoy to Somalia and Darfur by President Olusegun Obasanjo; and was later appointed by President Umaru Yar’Adua as a Board Member of the Niger Delta Development Commission, a position he resigned from in 2010.

Kwankwaso represented Kano Central Senatorial District at the Senate of Nigeria for one term from May 2015 to May 2019.

In July 2018, Kwankwaso alongside fourteen serving senators of the APC defected to PDP and in October 2018, he contested the PDP presidential primaries. At the presidential primaries held in Rivers state, amongst twelve presidential aspirants, Kwankwaso came in fourth behind Atiku Abubakar with 1,532 votes, Aminu Tambuwal with 693 votes, Bukola Saraki with 317 votes and Kwankwaso with 158 votes. Kwankwaso later endorsed the winner, Atiku Abubakar, and refused to seek re-election into the senate, with Ibrahim Shekarau replacing him. Kwankwaso campaigned heavily for his son-in-law, Abba Kabir Yusuf, to emerge as the Governor in Kano State. The election was later declared inconclusive with the incumbent, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, winning after the rerun.

On February 22, 2022, Kwankwaso set up the National Movement as a political movement against the staying power of the two major political parties, APC and PDP. He co-opted the New Nigeria Peoples Party as the political wing of the movement and became the national leader of the party on March 30, 2022.

After leaving office as Governor, Kwankwaso launched the Kwankwasiyya Development Foundation (KDF), an initiative designed to help the people of Kano state and across Nigeria. Through the foundation, Kwankwaso supported many young people to further their education with continued financial assistance.