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As Attention Turns to Governors  

As Attention Turns to Governors  


In some quarters the dust is yet to settle from the presidential and National Assembly elections of February 25 but this week, most national attention turns to the governorship and state assembly elections due to hold on Saturday, March 16. The polls suffered a week’s delay from last Saturday because a court initially stopped INEC from reconfiguring its BVAS machines, which must be done before they can be used for a new round of elections. By the time the Appeal Court discharged the order, there wasn’t enough time to reconfigure them, hence the postponement. A week’s delay is a small inconvenience for a voter but it is a massive cost for candidates and political parties, not to mention more anxiety, more stress, more travel and many more sleepless nights.

The National Order of Protocol may state differently but in Nigerian national politics and in the psyche of most Nigerians, the most important position after President and Vice President is state governor. There is only one president and only one vice president at a time, but there are 36 state governors, hence a politician has 36 times more chance of becoming a governor than of becoming a president. Some states are much bigger than others, some are more populous than others, some are more cosmopolitan, some are wealthier, some are ethnically and religiously more diverse while some states have a more impossible terrain than other states. In none of them, however, is it easy to become a governor.

By this time last year, thousands of politicians all over the country wanted to become state governors but the number is now down to a few hundred. There is a good reason why anyone wants to become governor, not all of them altruistic. A governor controls the Treasury and key appointments in a state. Even though there are Financial Regulations governing state finances, these are mostly observed in the breach these days. Hence, we see some state governors looming larger than life on the national scene and splashing money all around. Only some old timers will remember this: in April 1980, the Secretary to the Federal Government [SFG, today known as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF] met at the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi together with Secretaries to the Government of the then 19 states. They issued a communique afterwards, declaring that a governor has no private business, that every trip and every function a governor undertakes is official. What this means in practice is that every step of a governor would be financed from the Treasury. No wonder that many people want to be governors.

While it is never easy to become a governor, things become a bit easier when many incumbent governors are retiring at the end of the constitutionally stipulated two terms in office. Eight states do not now vote with the rest, and instead hold what we call off-season elections. These are Anambra, Imo, Bayelsa, Edo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Kogi, all caused over the years by court rulings which led to a late tenure take-off and a distortion of the election cycle. Of the 28 states that are due to vote for governors this Saturday, incumbent governors are departing in 17 states but 11 others are standing for re-election in Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Kwara, Zamfara, Gombe, Nasarawa, Yobe, Borno, Adamawa and Bauchi states.

What does that say for the chances of various contenders? The six governors that delivered their states to their parties in the presidential poll are feeling slightly at ease. The first observable lesson in Nigerian politics is that it is not easy to defeat an incumbent governor. In the 1983 elections, only five sitting governors were defeated, namely Muhammadu Goni of Borno, Adamu Attah of Kwara, Bola Ige of Oyo, Jim Nwobodo of old Anambra and Ambrose Alli of Bendel. The “defeat” of Ondo’s Michael Ajasin was reversed at the Supreme Court. One governor, Abba Musa Rimi of Kaduna did not contest while another governor, Clement Isong of Cross River, was edged out in NPN primaries. Some governors, including Abubakar Rimi of Kano and Abubakar Barde of Gongola, had stepped aside before the election and handed over to their deputies because FEDECO said a governor could not run on the platform of a different party. By the time the courts struck down the rule, Rimi and Barde had quit and Goni was about to.

In 2003 too, one governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju of Anambra, was forced out at his party’s primaries [by the overwhelming President Obasanjo]. Three opposition ANPP governors were defeated in Kwara, Kogi and Gombe while five AD governors were swept away in Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti. At play in all these cases was a mixture of “federal might” and serious political miscalculation by AD, which did not field a presidential candidate against Obasanjo but thought it had a deal to re-elect its governors. In the event, only Bola Tinubu of Lagos survived.

Things are a little bit trickier for the incumbent governors who did not deliver their states to their respective parties during the presidential election. Does that portend danger to them? Yes and no. Parties that “captured” opponent-controlled states in the presidential election will naturally feel buoyed up. This is especially the case in the South East, where Labour Party defeated PDP, APC and APGA in all the states they control in the region [though Anambra’s Governor Soludo is not up for re-election], and also in Edo and Delta. LP also “captured” APC-controlled Lagos, Plateau, Nasarawa and Cross River states. PDP on the other hand is very happy that it “captured” APC-controlled Kebbi, Kaduna, Katsina, Yobe and Gombe states, while APC retaliated in Oyo, Benue and Rivers states. NNPP on the other hand is mighty delighted that it defeated APC in Kano in the presidential election. Some of its leaders therefore smell victory in the state this Saturday. Not so fast.

Flip flop is fast becoming a new norm in Nigerian politics. Voters in many parts of Nigeria have learnt that presidential election issues are very different from those in the governorship election. The fact that a party wins a state in a presidential election is no guarantee at all that it will again triumph there in the governorship election. There are several examples in the recent past to suggest this. One of the most telling was in Kano State in 2011. Although the state joined the Northern bandwagon and massively voted for CPC candidate Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election, it turned around and elected PDP’s Rabi’u Kwankwaso as governor. APC candidate Nasiru Gawuna must be planning for a historical repeat performance in 2023.

Probably the most interesting contest this Saturday is in Lagos. After its presidential election loss there, APC is pulling all stops to ensure the re-election of Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu. It shouldn’t be all that hard because LP won by only 10,000 votes on February 25th. The first APC card is to hold up Sanwo-olu’s dynamic record of accomplishment. The second strategy is to fracture the alleged Igbo ethnic/Pentecostal alliance by whipping up Yoruba ethnic sentiments of “preventing the loss of Lagos.” A third strategy will be to deploy the enormous tool of Asiwaju Tinubu’s victory on February 25 and the power of his impending presidency.

A governor that appears to be imperiled is Oyo’s Seyi Makinde. By supporting Tinubu in the presidential poll, a repeat of 2003 could be in the offing. Three of his G-5 colleagues have already suffered badly at the polls. Benue’s Ortom, Enugu’s Ugwuanyi and Abia’s Ikpeazu all lost their senatorial races to APC and LP. Only G-5 leader Nyesom Wike managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat by delivering Rivers to Tinubu in presidential polls and yet winning legislative seats for PDP. While Borno’s Governor Babagana Zulum is a virtual shoo-in, incumbent APC governors in Yobe and Nasarawa are likely to secure re-election despite their party’s loss in the presidential election, on the strength of their personal records and their states’ electoral history.

Of the 28 states that will vote for governors this Saturday, incumbents are not on the ballot in 17 states. These are Kebbi, Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Niger, Taraba, Benue, Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia, Cross River, Delta, Akwa Ibom and Rivers. Every departing incumbent however had a hand in anointing his party’s governorship candidate and will fight tooth and nail to get his anointed person elected. I suspect that many of them will succeed, in spite of presidential election results, while some will not.

A lot of national attention will also be trained on Adamawa State, where the first serious female contender since Taraba’s Mrs. Aisha Alhassan in 2015 is gunning to be governor. Mrs. Aishatu Dahiru Binani is a very popular contender but has at least two big stumbling blocks in her path. Adamawa is Atiku Abubakar’s home state, which he won easily on February 25, and her PDP opponent Ahmadu Fintiri is an incumbent. Presidential election loss may however have weakened Atiku’s hold on the state. Binani could yet become the first elected female state governor in Nigeria’s history.

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