Postscript by Waziri Adio
At least 20 of the 28 governorship posts that are up for grabs on March 18th have a good chance of slipping out of the hands of the political parties in power in those states. This is a remarkable development because the unsafe seats constitute more than 70% of the governorship races at stake. Most governorship seats used to be safe for the governors or their anointed or for the candidates of the ruling parties. It seems not anymore. As Bob Dylan reminded us: ‘The times they are a-changin.’
It is tempting to put this down to the yet uninterrogated shifts of the current electoral cycle. There is a bit of that, but there is also much more. The enhanced competition in the coming governorship races is due mostly to local dynamics (remember, all politics is local), the performance/gamble by the incumbent governors, the sheer force of the personalities in the races, the not-well-acknowledged difference that the introduction of technology is making in our elections, and the increasing maturity of our politics.
By my reckoning, a flip from one party to the another is likely in the governorship contests in all the seven states of the North West, in all the three states of the South West that are not off-cycle, in three states in the South South, in three states in the North East, in two states in the South East, and in two states in the North Central. While the political actors in these states are soaked in tension and political neutrals and plurality advocates are enjoying the high-octane political theatre, the security forces need to be on high alert about potential threats to public order during and after the polls.
Today, I will focus on three of the more than 20 governorship races that I think will be keenly contested. I picked the three based on the multiple factors at play. The three are the gubernatorial races in Lagos, Adamawa, Benue states.
Lagos: Since 1999, Lagos State has been governed by the same party or its earlier incarnations (from Alliance for Democracy, AD, to Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, to All Progressives Congress, APC). But that is a charitable way of putting it. Another, and more popular, version is that Nigeria’s commercial capital has, for the past 24 years, remained under the thumb of one man, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who served as elected governor between 1999 and 2007 and has remained the state’s political godfather.
The victory of Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) in Lagos in the February 25th presidential election is classic urban revolt: a clear blow to Tinubu’s ego and his hold on Lagos. It has also created both a momentum and a belief that make vulnerable Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the incumbent governor of the state. Until that humbling verdict, APC’s grip on Lagos, even when increasingly challenged from one electoral cycle to another, appeared assured. Not anymore. As the axiom goes: a day can change a lot in politics.
Tinubu is not on the ballot on Saturday but he remains the major factor in the governorship election. The coalition of interests that humbled him in his fiefdom in the presidential election will be keen for a repeat performance to show that the first defeat was not a fluke and to complete the job of extricating the state from his grip. On his part, Tinubu (now the president-elect) will want to reassert himself as the political lord of Lagos. It is both a proxy battle and a grudge fight.
Beyond predicting that it is a going to be a keen contest between Tinubu and the political, ethnic, religious, class and demographic coalition that handed him a stinging rebuke in Lagos in the presidential poll, it is difficult to say how the pendulum will swing in Lagos on March 18th. For one, the vote against a Muslim-Muslim ticket avidly pushed by the pastors of some churches will not have the same resonance since Sanwo-Olu is a Christian.
Also, members of a certain opposition party that voted against the presidential flagbearer of their party are likely to vote differently in a local election. So the death of that party in Lagos politics is a bit exaggerated. Ethnicity, which ordinarily shouldn’t be a factor in a melting pot and a cosmopolitan space, has been injected directly and indirectly into the politics of Lagos by the different sides. Unfortunately, it is being crudely and heavily mobilised in the gubernatorial race. It is difficult to know how much impact this will have.
Ordinarily, all these should count in the keen contest expected in Lagos on Saturday: Sanwo-Olu’s achievements and missteps in office and the profiles and promises of his key competitors such as Mr. Olajide Adediran of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of LP and Mr. Funsho Doherty of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), who is, by a country mile, the most experienced and most credentialed of the challengers.
However, and sadly too, what the candidates bring to the table is likely to be drowned out by two things: the rematch of the derby between Tinubu and the anti-Tinubu forces and the heavy undercurrent of primordial politics that the main contending sides cannot fully absolve themselves of. The whole country will keep a close watch on how things turn out in Lagos State on Saturday. Whatever happens, this is certain: there will be future iteration of the Lagos derby.
Adamawa: Unlike Lagos, Adamawa State has a recent history of swinging between parties. It was a PDP state from 1999 to 2015 when it moved to APC. By 2019, the state was back under the PDP umbrella. Adamawa is the home state of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate in the February 25th presidential election. Atiku won handsomely in Adamawa, polling 417, 611 votes, and securing 57.12% of the votes cast, his highest haul by percentage nationwide. Tinubu managed to scrape 25% with 182, 881 votes. This is a sharp contrast to 2019 when Atiku barely got ahead of the line with 412, 266 votes to President Muhammadu Buhari’s 377, 488.
In this electoral cycle, Atiku clearly enjoyed the homeboy advantage in Adamawa politics (where incidentally he was elected governor in 1999 but gave up the position to contest and serve as Vice President). Atiku is not negatively perceived as running Adamawa as his fiefdom and his recent performance at the presidential poll should be a boon to the PDP gubernatorial candidate and the incumbent governor, Alhaji Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri. But things are a bit complicated in the state known as the Land of Beauty.
Fintiri, a former speaker of Adamawa’s House of Assembly who also served as acting governor of the state for three months in 2014, is facing a stiff challenge from Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed, the governorship candidate of APC. Senator Aishatu Binani, as she is more popularly known, was a member of the House of Representatives between 2011 and 2015 and has been the senator representing Adamawa Central Senatorial District since 2019. She is well resourced, amiable and popular, which puts her in good stead against Fintiri who many people in Adamawa are said not to be too hot on. Some of these people reportedly include ranking politicians in Fintiri’s PDP.
There is a good chance that Senator Binani may become the first elected female governor in Nigeria. Incidentally, it was in neighbouring Taraba State that another woman came very close to achieving that feat. In 2015, late Senator Aisha Alhassan, popularly known as Mama Taraba, gave Arc. Ishaku Darius a good run in the election which was inconclusive at first and stretched into a re-run. Senator Alhassan challenged Darius’s victory at the election tribunal and was actually declared the winner by the tribunal but the decision was not sustained on appeal. There are some who still believe that Mama Taraba actually won but was not favoured by ethnic and religious factors in Taraba which do not apply in Senator Binani’s case in Adamawa. With increasing decline in female representation in Nigerian politics, the keen contest in Adamawa has both political and gender implications. It is a race to watch.
Benue: Of the three states discussed here today, Benue is the most probable to flip. Tinubu defeated Obi by a mere 2,096 in the presidential poll while Atiku came a distant third. Tinubu secured this narrow but surprising victory on account of the soaring popularity of APC’s gubernatorial candidate, Fr. Hyacinth Alia, a Catholic priest, said to have been recruited by Senator George Akume, a former governor of the state and Tinubu’s ally. Fr. Alia, a force of nature in the current electoral cycle in Benue, ironically secured victory for a Muslim-Muslim ticket in a predominantly Christian northern state where religion was expected to be the major deciding factor.
The gubernatorial contest is likely to be a straight fight between Alia and Hon. Titus Uba, the current speaker of the Benue House of Assembly and candidate of the ruling PDP. The remarkable showing by LP in the presidential poll is likely to be overshadowed by local issues in the governorship election. Governor Samuel Ortom is unlikely to vote or campaign for LP this time. Even Obi, LP’s presidential candidate, refused to ask for support for Hon. Hernam Hembe, LP’s governorship candidate in Benue. Also, if religion is available to be mobilised this time around, it can only be in the priest’s favour.
The APC candidate has survived three primaries within his own party. On Saturday, he will be up against the power of incumbency and some elements within his party. If he is able to pull it off, he would not only be returning Benue to the APC fold (Ortom was elected under APC in 2015) but would also become the second Catholic priest to be elected the governor of Benue State. The first was late Rev. Moses Adasu, who became the governor of the state in 1992 under the banner of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The governorship contests in the three states highlighted here are by no means the only interesting races or the only ones that will be keenly contested or likely to be flipped. It will be exciting to see the effect of the Obi/LP momentum in the governorship races in Enugu State (where Obi polled 94% of the votes cast) and Abia State (where LP has a very strong candidate and secured 88% of the votes cast). Also of interest will be the governorship races in the K-states (Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, and Kebbi) of the North West where the opposition parties won the presidential poll despite APC being the ruling party in the states. Sokoto State, where PDP, has been hanging by a thread, should also be of interest.
There is Delta State where Senator Ovie Omo-Agege of APC, with backing from an unusual quarter, looks poised to give Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori of the incumbent PDP a good run for his money. And then, there is Oyo State where Mr. Seyi Makinde, the only G-5 governor up for re-election, has a major battle on his hands especially from the APC that he did not actively work against on 25th February. For sure, the political map of the states will be redrawn next weekend. What is not clear now is by how much.