Red, Blue and Swing States




Over the years many curious young Nigerians have asked me, apparently after watching American political stories on CNN, that which are the Deep Red states in Nigeria, which are the Deep Blue states and which are the Swing states? 

Their questions remind me of the PRP intra-party rift in 1981, when the party’s President General, Malam Aminu Kano, said some party members [meaning Governors Muhammed Abubakar Rimi of Kano and Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa of Kaduna] had been swept away by santsi, a slippery slope. Rimi, who never missed the opportunity for a fight, replied that some party members [meaning the Leader] were stuck in tabo, i.e. sticky mud.

Thinking about the voting pattern of Nigerian states since 1999, it looks like a few were stuck in sticky political mud while most others have been on a slippery political slope. By my count, there are only three states in Nigeria that have never been ruled by PDP since 1999. Even at the peak of PDP’s power, when it ruled most states in the country, Lagos, Borno and Yobe never came under its rule at state level. Lagos has been an AD state all through; AD carried it into AC, into ACN and subsequently into APC. In 2003 when PDP captured five of six AD-controlled states, only Lagos escaped.  These three are the Deep Blue States of Nigeria.

Big lessons emerged out of that 2003 fiasco. AD rued the decision of most of its governors and party leaders not to field a candidate for president in solidarity with President Olusegun Obasanjo, a “shon of the shoil” who was installed in the presidency in 1999 mostly with Northern votes but upon whom huge chunks of the North had turned their backs on by 2003.  AD governors thought they had a deal. But as soon as he won his second term, Obasanjo told them to prepare to pack out, and two weeks later PDP governorship candidates captured five of six AD states.

It was said at the time that Bola Tinubu was the only AD governor who opposed the plan not to field a presidential candidate. His relationship with Obasanjo has been sour ever since. He was the only governor left to pick up the AD pieces, which marked the beginning of his rise to become the dominant political force in the West in subsequent years.

Apart from Lagos, Western states have been among the Swing States of Nigeria since 1999. Oyo State for example went from AD to PDP, back to APC and then back again to PDP.  There is reason to believe that Governor Seyi Makinde has missed the 2003 lessons learnt by his predecessor, the late Alhaji Lam Adesina, by joining the G-5 group of governors to repudiate their party’s presidential candidate. Now he is on very slippery political terrain.

Ogun returned to ACN in 2011. Ekiti did so after a protracted court fight after 2007, returned to PDP in 2014 and back to APC since 2018. Ondo went from AD to PDP in 2003, to LP in 2007 after a court fight, and back in APC since 2016. Osun too zigzagged from AD to PDP in 2003, back to ACN in 2011, on to APC and late last year, it revolved back to PDP.

Borno and Yobe on the other hand, have been in ANPP hands since 1999, which party carried them into APC. Good local leadership as well as Boko Haram had something to do with it, because of the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that the PDP-led Federal Government did not do enough to put down the insurgency. In 2015 Borno gave APC candidate Buhari 94% of its votes, the highest in Nigeria since PDP’s Rivers State score in 2003, when in some LGAs, every registered voter was said to have voted and everyone voted for PDP. Otherwise, we had not seen such sweeping popularity since 1979, when UPN’s Chief Obafemi Awolowo won many Western states with more than 90% of the vote.

The East is generally thought to be PDP territory. It swept all its five states in 1999 and held on to them most of the time since then. The region is part of the Red States of Nigeria, but not without some dents. APGA delivered the first dent in 2003, though it took a three-year court battle before its candidate Peter Obi got to occupy the Anambra governorship. The state has been in APGA’s hands ever since. The second big blow to PDP in the East was dealt by Orji Uzor Kalu’s PPA in 2007, when it grabbed the governorships of Imo and Abia states. The two governors were soon back in PDP’s fold through defection. Right now, APC controls two Eastern states, one [Ebonyi] through defection, the second [Imo] through a cantankerous Supreme Court ruling.

Niger Delta has been a Red States zone as a solid PDP base since 1999, with three important dents. One followed the 2007 election, when ACN’s Adams Oshiomhole grabbed the governorship of Edo after a court battle. It was daylight robbery because the REC called for a break in the counting, chased reporters away and then surreptitiously announced PDP’s candidate Oserheimen Osunbor as the winner. The second dent was in Cross River, when the bombastic Governor Ben Ayade defected to APC, while the third big dent was in Bayelsa, where APC won the governorship in an off-season election, only for its candidate to be disqualified by the courts because of his running mate’s untidy papers. Delta, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa and Taraba have been the Deep Red states since 1999, never ruled by any party other than PDP.

For most of this Republic, Middle Belt was a Red States zone as solid PDP territory. Except Kwara, which ANPP captured in 1999, it swung to PDP in 2003, went to APC by defection in 2013, has remained there ever since. Kogi also started off as ANPP territory in 1999. PDP snatched it in 2003, it reverted to APC in 2015 and has remained there, however ratatata. Neighbouring Benue was a Red PDP State from 1999 to 2015 until APC snatched it. It went back to PDP through defection, with a complicated picture this year because its governor is a frontliner in rejecting his party’s presidential candidate, without providing an alternative.  

To Benue’s North, Nasarawa was a Red State from 1999 to 2011. Umaru Tanko Al-Makura made it a CPC Blue State in 2011, from where it went to APC and has been there ever since. Its former parent state, Plateau, was solid Red State from 1999 to 2015, when it joined the APC Blue States, where it still is. Niger State was also a PDP Red State from 1999 to 2015, when it became an APC Blue State.

Swinging has been the name of the political game in the North West since 1999. ANPP captured four of the zone’s seven states for the Blue corner in 1999 while PDP put three in the Red corner. Kaduna was a PDP Red State until 2015 when APC moved it to the Blue corner. Kano went from a Red State in 1999 to a Blue ANPP state in 2003, returned to Red in 2011, went over to APC Blue by defection in 2014 and has remained there ever since. It is the only state with a three-horse Red, Blue and Pink governorship race in 2023. To Kano’s west, Katsina was a Red State from 1999 to 2015 when it moved to APC Blue corner. Jigawa started as ANPP Blue, became PDP Red in 2007 and has been APC Blue since 2015.

In the extreme Northwest corner, zigzag has been the name of the game. All three states of Sokoto, Kebbi and Zamfara started off as ANPP Blue states in 1999. The first two became Red in 2007, Sokoto became Blue by defection in 2014, and became Red again by defection in 2017. Kebbi swung back to APC Blue in 2015. Zamfara was briefly Red due to the governor’s defection in 2009, returned to Blue in 2011, became Red by tragic accident in 2019, before the governor again defected to Blue.

Many North East states also did political zigzag. Bauchi started off as Red in 1999, became ANPP Blue in 2007, returned to Red through defection in 2008, became APC Blue again in 2015, only to become Red again in 2019. Its spin off state, Gombe, started as ANPP Blue in 1999, became PDP Red in 2003, and returned to APC Blue in 2015. Adamawa was solidly Red from 1999 until Governor Murtala Nyako took it to Blue in 2014, but it became Red again in 2019. Taraba is the only North East state that has been Deep Red since 1999.

Apart from PDP Red and ANPP/AD/AC/ACN/CPC/APC Blue,   only APGA Green, PPA Crimson and LP Cherry have ever captured some states since 1999. The most successful of them is APGA, which has ruled Anambra since 2006 and also ruled Imo from 2011 until Governor Rochas Okorocha defected to APC in 2014. Kalu’s PPA ruled Imo and Abia for only a few months in 2007 and lost them to defection, while Labour Party ruled Ondo State for nearly two terms until Governor Mimiko returned it to Red. I think the swingiest swing state was Imo which, since 1999 alternated seven times between four different parties—PDP, PPA, PDP, APGA, APC, PDP and back again to APC. You can imagine the stress on Imo’s politicians, civil servants, businessmen and traditional rulers.

This slippery-slope zigzagging tells us that all but a few states in Nigeria are American-style swing states. They adroitly swing like a gibbon in the forest. Political parties, prepare for some more swings this year.

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