Nigerians are returning to the polls today to choose governors across 28 states and members of the state legislative assemblies across the federation. The subnational elections are taking place three weeks after the presidential and National Assembly elections, which resulted in the APC winning the presidency and majority seats in the bicameral federal legislature.
While the opposition LP, which has been energised by the Obidient Movement, will be looking at consolidating its gains from the last federal elections, the PDP is battling to reclaim its traditional base in Southern Nigeria from LP and snatch seats from the APC in Northern Nigeria to stand a chance of survival as a major party.
In the South-east, governorship elections are being held in only Abia, Ebonyi, and Enugu states today, while Anambra and Imo have off-cycle elections later. The region was a traditional PDP base. But the sweeping influence of Peter Obi and his Obidient Movement appears to have taken the shine off PDP in the region. The near-total votes received by the LP in the presidential election in the region might, though, be a result of the so-called Obi Tsunami. As Mr Obi is no longer on the ballot, PDP would hope voters return to favour them today.
However, LP would need to sweep the polls in the region to strengthen its structure as Nigeria’s next big opposition or a formidable ruling party in case it is able to upturn Bola Tinubu of APC’s presidential victory through the judiciary.
In Abia State, LP has a fairly strong candidate, Alex Otti, contesting against Okey Ahiwe of PDP, who only joined the race in February following the passing of Uche Ikonne. Mr Ahiwe was a Chief of Staff to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who lost his senatorial bid to the LP and is scarcely able to showcase achievements needed to persuade the voting population to vote for the PDP. Expectations are not high that the APC and APGA take a win in Abia.
However, in Enugu, APGA’s Frank Nweke Jr has enjoyed a strong following including interests from the Obidient Movement. Mr Nweke was an Obasanjo-era information minister and is largely thought to be a clear-headed and forward-looking decent politician. He may spring a surprise if LP voters do not go en bloc behind their own candidate Chijioke Edeoga. Ruling PDP’s Peter Mbah is also a strong contender but APC’s Uchenna Nnaji does not appear to be a match for any of the other top contenders.
In Ebonyi, if APC will retain the governorship seat, it must be a function of Governor Dave Umahi’s strength, which rests on his modest performance. He won his senatorial bid despite the Obi Tsunami which swept through the region.
South-south is another region which had traditionally supported the PDP until the last presidential election when the party only struggled to win two – Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom – of the six states. However, LP would struggle to reenact the 25 March performance in the region. In Rivers and Delta, particularly, a tough battle is expected for the soul of these oil-abundant states between APC, PDP, and LP. In Cross River, it is either PDP reclaims what it lost when Governor Ben Ayade defected to APC or LP takes the state. APC scarcely stands a chance after its leader Mr Ayade lost his senatorial bid.
Lagos State has been the most interesting scene. PDP’s Olajide ‘Jandor’ Adediran, who was riding high early in the campaign has now been displaced by LP’s Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, GRV, to stand as APC’s Governor Babajide Sanwoolu’s main challenger. LP defeated APC in the last presidential election in what was the biggest upset of that race.
The contest in Nigeria’s commercial capital has been largely reduced to an ethnic debate, relegating ideas to the background. GRV enjoys the strong backing of the Igbo residents, who had previously backed PDP, while APC appeals largely to the Yoruba population to help it retain the control of a rich state its leader and president-elect Mr Tinubu has controlled since 1999. The risk of violence is high in the election.
Elsewhere in the South-west, PDP’s Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State is facing a front of politicians, including his former allies working for APC’s Teslim Folarin. He is able to pay workers regularly, a departure from the days of salary debts under the previous APC administration of late Abiola Ajimobi, thus endearing himself to civil servants. Mr Makinde is believed to be popular among the masses of the state, although his failure to support the PDP presidential candidate meant his party lost woefully not only in the presidential election but also in national assembly elections in the state. His reelection bid is, however, helped by the presence of Accord’s Adebayo Adelabu in the race. Mr Adelabu is believed to have caused a split in the APC. Although Mr Makinde faces accusations of contract irregularities and his loyalist Mukaila ‘Auxiliary’ Lamidi has reignited a reign of public transporters’ violence, while local government administration has been enfeebled, Mr Folarin’s campaign failed to capitalise on these flaws to turn the people against the governor. Yet it is a close contest and Mr Makinde would thank his luck to survive the opposition battle which also now includes old horse Rashidi Ladoja, a former governor.
In Ogun, too, an array of politicians including former Governor Ibikunle Amosun are opposed to Governor Dapo Abiodun’s reelection bid. It is a battle between Mr Abiodun of APC and PDP’s Ladi Adebutu.
In the North, except in Kano State, where Rabiu Kwankwaso’s NNPP is a favourite judging from the party’s performance in the last federal elections, it is between PDP and APC across the states. In the central states of Nasarawa and Plateau, LP won in the presidential election but it is uncertain whether the party’s governorship campaigns in the states are able to inspire public support as did Mr Obi. In Kaduna, where LP had nearly 300 thousand votes largely from the Christian-dominated Southern Kaduna, the party is expected to have a fine run again today but it remains to be seen if that would be enough to win.
In Kebbi State, PDP looks good to win the state again as it did in the federal elections when even APC’s Governor Atiku Bagudu lost his senatorial bid. In Zamfara, it seems an easy call for Governor Bello Muhammed of APC after his party was able to bring together its leading figures, including ex-Governor Abdulaziz Yari and a former senator, Kabiru Marafa. In other places across the North-west, namely Sokoto, Jigawa and Katsina, a close contest is expected between APC and PDP.
In the North-east, PDP is expected to retain Taraba and Adamawa, the home state of party leader and presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar. Borno and Yobe are expected to be retained by APC for the dearth of quality opposition and judging from their traditional voting patterns. In Gombe, PDP won in the presidential election but it is uncertain if that was not because of regional solidarity with Mr Abubakar. In Bauchi, PDP’s Governor Bala Mohammed is battling cracks in his own party, yielding a big advantage to APC’s Sadique Abubakar.
The outcomes of the governorship elections across the states will determine the landscape of Nigerian party politics in the years ahead.