Nasir El Rufai, the immediate former governor of Kaduna State, said elders from the southern part of the state humiliated his deputies who were from the zone.
Mr El Rufai also explained how he decided to pick a Muslim woman from the zone as his running mate.
Mr El Rufai made the statement while delivering a keynote address during the book launch and retirement event in honour of Ishaq Akintola, the founder of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) on Saturday.
Kaduna is divided into three senatorial zones. While residents of Kaduna North and Central are predominantly Muslim, residents of Southern Kaduna are mainly Christians.
Muslim governors of the state traditionally have Christian deputies from Southern Kaduna.
Mr El Rufai, who served for two terms from 2015 to 2023, said in the first tenure, he picked his long-term friend, Barbanas Bala, a southern Kaduna Christian, ”but was almost frustrated out of office in the first two years”.
He said some unamed southern Kaduna elders were angry with him for not accepting a list of prospective deputy governor candidates from people he called “self-appointed, so-called Southern Kaduna Christian elders”.
He also said Mr Bala was hated for coming from a minority ethnic group, Moroa, and not the Atyap, Bajju, Jaba or Kagoro which led to some of them calling Mr Bala a “sellout”.
“Nothing prepared either Bantex or I for the viciousness with which he was treated by the constituency he was meant to be represented by his presence on the governorship ticket. He offered thrice to resign from office within our first two years in office. Bantex therefore barely made it to the end of our first term, psychologically battered by the hostility and hobbled by a resurgence of ill-health… Bantex lost his bid to represent the Kaduna South Senatorial District in the 2019 election. We lost him a year or so later,” he said.
The former federal capital territory minister said what happened to Mr Bala made him change his mind in selecting a running mate in 2019.
He said the decision to have a southern Kaduna Christian as a deputy governor in the state has not led to the desired unity and progress.
He said he decided to settle for a Muslim Southern Kaduna woman, Hadiza Balarabe, but the hostilities didn’t cease.
“For the 2019 election, my choice of running mate followed the established pattern, except in two particulars: gender and religion. Dr Hadiza Balarabe is from a minority ethnic group (Gwantu) in southern Kaduna, but she is a woman and a Muslim.
“Her choice met with the usual hostility from the same persons that had so battered and demoralised Bantex, my first deputy. But it demonstrated that not everyone who mouths diversity and inclusion is actually interested in those values. The first woman to be elected as deputy governor from the far north of Nigeria was not seen as a pathfinder, a breakthrough for gender and a reaffirmation of the possibility of democracy to elect persons from minority and excluded groups. Only one marker of identity seemed to matter in such quarters. But the fact that Bantex had that marker – religion – had saved neither him nor I from opprobrium,” he said.
Mr El Rufai said that despite being of the same faith as Mrs Balarabe, their administration was dedicated to the equality of all people of the state.
“Dr Hadiza Balarabe and I ran a government dedicated to the equality of persons, resolutely pursuing the policy of common citizenship. Despite sharing the same faith, we were bound by the injunctions of our Islamic faith, our oaths of office and our societal values to exercise our duties with fairness and justice. Electing persons of the same faith is neither a threat to the rights of others nor a blow to inclusion: it may only have highlighted other identities that tend to be excluded, as we did in Kaduna State.
“If we want our citizens to invest in common causes, to work in mutual endeavours for progress, to build a society of merit, hard work and fairness, we must deemphasise religion and region, and their vicious twin ethnicity, in making political decisions and choices. Let us build a society centred around citizens, who can live and pursue livelihoods everywhere, with constitutional rights that apply to all,” he added.
Mr El Rufai faced criticism, especially from the southern Kaduna part when he settled for Mrs Balarabe as his running mate in 2019.
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