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The making of Nigeria’s first female governor

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Her Excellency, Dr. Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, will be making history as she takes steps towards possibly becoming the first female Executive Governor of a state in Nigeria. The intent to seek the nomination of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as its gubernatorial candidate for the March 2023 general elections is, however, not coming as a surprise.

Governor Nasir Ahmad El-Rufa’i of Kaduna state had done everything to prepare her and the eight million odd citizens of the state for this moment. To date, she is simply the best and the last aspirant among the Governor’s First Eleven or members of his Transitional Governance Team to declare her aspiration.

Since assuming office as the first freely elected female deputy governor in Northern Nigeria on 29th May 2019, the University of Maiduguri trained medical doctor and registered Public Health Physician decidedly took on and delivered the daunting duties of a democratic Governor. On 15 October 2019, as acting governor, she presented the Kaduna State Government’s 2020 Budget of Renewal to the State House of Assembly.

Dr. Hadiza’s leadership acumen really came to the fore with her appointment in 2020 to Chair the State Standing Committee on COVID-19 and soon thereafter as Acting Governor for the four weeks when her principal became one of the first prominent patients of the pandemic and had to go into isolation.

Similarly, the physician-turned-politician has been seamlessly deputizing and serially acting on behalf of the governor on several occasions. Apart from heading the State Executive Council whenever El Rufai was not around, she concurrently chaired both the Human Capital Development Council and the Procurement Monitoring Council, two out of the five innovative strategic instruments of the state government. With the restructuring done and the putting on hold of the Procurement Monitoring Council, Dr. Sabuwa now chairs the Infrastructure Development Council.

One little-known fact is that the Deputy Governor’s current position came with the endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari. The Commander-in-Chief was said to have been impressed by the records of her over two decades of public service both at the Federal Capital Territory and her state of origin where her last job was Executive Secretary of the Kaduna State Primary Healthcare Board.

Historically, her aspiration and possible ascension to the highest executive office in the state signifies a fulfilment of the struggles of the iconic champions of human and women’s rights produced by Kaduna State – Hajiya Gambo Sawaba and Laila Dogonyaro. It would also be both a departure from the era of male-domination of the political stage and a significant paradigm shift.

Even more importantly, Dr. Hadiza’s envisaged election as the next governor of Kaduna State would simultaneously satisfy the long-standing agitation for power-shift to Southern Kaduna, to women and to the youths. It will be like killing three political birds with a single ballot!

At just 55 years of age, she also has sufficient stamina and strength of mind to stand up to strong challenges most likely to be posed by those who prefer a return to the status quo of the plundering of the public purse for private gains.

The stiffest opposition to Dr. Hadiza Balarabe’s anticipated courageous declaration should be expected. For instance, will the majority Hausa-Fulani and other large ethnic groups elect a member of the tiny Numana ethnic group from the remote Sanga Local Government Area on account of experience and merit? The outcome either way can only deepen the country’s still nascent democracy. After all, Kaduna State is often described as a mini-Nigeria, with its motley share of multi-ethnic and multi-religious conservative and progressive elements.

The bottom-line is that Kaduna State as the nation’s acclaimed Centre of Learning deserves to be governed only by its best and brightest. It is the only way in which the modest legacies of the last seven years can be consolidated, and the blessed state taken to the next level as the greatest among equals in the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Abubakar writes from Kaduna.