Gombe is one of the two states in the North East under the control of the PDP. The second is Taraba, but beyond the control, this is the region where the PDP presidential candidate comes from, hence making the voting pattern interesting.
Four other states in the North East: Adamawa, Borno, Bauchi and Yobe, are under the control of the APC.
However, while Atiku may like to get an upper hand in all the states, analysts believe that his interest in winning overwhelmingly in Taraba and Gombe, and to a greater extent in Adamawa, his state of origin, cannot be overemphasised.
In Gombe for instance, the PDP has been the ruling party for a record 16 years without interruption. The party came to power in 2003 when Danjuma Goje wrested power from late Gov. Abubakar Habu Hashidu of the defunct ANPP, and since then, it continued to hold sway.
There was a time in the state that all political office holders: the governor, three senators, six House of Representatives members, 24 state legislators, 11 local government chairmen and 114 councilors were from the PDP.
Virtually all the development projects in the state: roads, three universities, colleges of nursing and midwifery and legal and Islamic studies, a polytechnic, airport, among several others, were constructed during PDP administration.
As such, despite stiff opposition in the North over the emergence of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as PDP presidential candidate against the interest of the region in 2011, the party was able to get more than the required 25 per cent votes from Gombe State.
Jonathan scored 290,347 votes against Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC then, who got 459,898.
Also, in 2015, despite the APC ‘tsunami’ that swept northern states, the PDP was able to retain the governorship seat two weeks after people of the state massively voted for President Buhari of the APC.
During the 2015 presidential polls, the state was divided along ethnic and religious lines, hence Jonathan got only 96,873 votes while Buhari scored 361,245.
However, for the 2019 elections, both Atiku and Buhari are from the same ethnic and religious faith, and therefore, the election is expected to be a keen contest.
There are 1,394, 856 registered voters as released by INEC with 94,372 uncollected PVCs in Gombe State.
Prior to the coming of the APC-led administration in 2015, people of the state; being neighbours to Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where insurgency was at its peak, were living under perpetual fear of Boko Haram attacks.
However, with the relative peace now in the zone, people of Gombe State are solidly behind the APC presidential candidate who they see as a messiah.
Also, almost all the major political actors in the state are now in the APC and have pledged to work for Buhari’s victory. The latest to defect is the Director General of the PDP Campaign Council in the state, Alhaji Bala Bello Tinka.
However, the people of the North East have been yearning to take a shot at the presidency considering that since the country’s first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, from Bauchi State, the closest the zone got to the presidency, was when Atiku served as vice president during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure.
As such, the PDP promoters are exploiting that opportunity by reminding people of Gombe not to allow the chance of producing a president slip away from them.
Also, apart from the relative peace being enjoyed in the state, people cannot point to a single physical development project initiated by the APC government and executed in the state.
There are also people who are disappointed by Buhari’s performance in the last four years. Therefore, these groups may throw their weight behind Atiku.
However, Dr. Babayo Sule, a political analyst, said the 2019 presidential election in Gombe would not produce much surprise because of some considerable factors.
“Analytically, the final result may look around 60 per cent in favour of President Buhari and 40 per cent tilting towards Atiku,” he said.
“This is because the North East where Gombe belongs to has become a traditional stronghold of President Buhari owing to his performance in terms of minimising the menace of Boko Haram and continuation of work on the abandoned construction of the Trunk A highways from Gombe to Yola and in other parts of the North East,” he said.
He added that, “The president is also enjoying the power of incumbency which is a decisive factor in Nigerian elections and has unrepentant followers in Gombe like other parts of the North who see the president as a man of integrity that they cannot afford to replace for now. These are the factors that will lead to a slight victory presumably.”
On the other hand, Dr. Babayo said Atiku would surely give President Buhari a good fight in Gombe owing to his belonging to the North East because the voting behaviour in Nigeria historically displayed sentiments of region, religion and ethnicity.
“Emotion can play on psychology of many voters in Gombe to sway towards voting for Atiku in this regard,” he said.
“Also, Gombe is one of the power houses of PDP in the North entirely and the incumbency factor of the state government can fetch many votes for Atiku. Besides, the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Sen. Usman Bayero Nafada, who is a strong contender, can influence his loyalists to vote for Atiku as he expressed his unalloyed support to his party’s presidential candidate during the BBC Hausa Service debate in Gombe. Additionally, Atiku’s moneybag can offer him potential for securing many votes in the state,” he said.
Furthermore, during the campaigns of Atiku and Buhari, who are the only presidential candidates so far to visit the state, the Pantami Township Stadium was filled to capacity with the number of supporters outside the stadium outnumbering those inside.
Thus, it is believed that the two leading presidential candidates may likely split the 1,394,856 registered voters in the state.