Nigeria’s State Elections Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Nigeria will hold state elections. Although the victory of Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential vote of March 28-29 has rightly attracted major attention, it is important not to forget about the state contests, which will have a significant impact on the lives of Nigerian citizens – recall that the populations of some Nigerian states (Lagos, Kano) exceed the populations of many entire African countries.

I’ll mention two pieces I’ve written that hopefully shed some light on state-level dynamics. My backgrounder (.pdf) on the elections, written for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discusses Lagos, Kano, Plateau, and Rivers (pp. 12-15). A follow-up post for the Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage blog discusses Lagos, Kano, and Rivers. Both pieces were written before the six-week electoral delay announced in February, but I think much of the analysis still applies. At a basic level, the most important thing to highlight is that many of Nigeria’s governors are term-limited, so the races in many states are open and will produce new officeholders.

To narrow down my list of key states even further, I will be watching Lagos and Rivers the most carefully. Lagos is a stronghold of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Buhari’s party, and both the outgoing governor and his predecessor are major APC figures. I would be surprised if the APC, in the person of its nominee Akinwunmi Ambode, does not hold the state. Yet the race in Lagos recently had a moment of tension when the Oba of Lagos, a ceremonial hereditary ruler, reportedly made threatening comments regarding any Igbos who might not vote for the APC candidate (the Oba later denied the threat). Lagos is a historically Yoruba area, and Ambode (as well as many other APC leaders in southwestern Nigeria, and the Oba too for that matter) are Yoruba. Ambode distanced himself from the Oba’s comments. The Yoruba and the Igbo are, respectively, the second and third largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. The point is this: just as Buhari is now expected to negotiate a politics of inclusivity as Nigeria’s incoming president, the victor in Lagos will face pressure to show inclusivity in a mega-city populated heavily by immigrants.

Rivers currently has an APC governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party or PDP, the party of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2013. Amaechi is term-limited, and the gubernatorial election will in some sense represent a contest of wills and resources between Amaechi and Jonathan’s wife Patience, who is also from Rivers. There is significant potential for violence in Rivers. During the presidential vote, Rivers was the site of protests by the APC, which alleged that the PDP had committed massive fraud. Electoral authorities, however, accepted the result from Rivers, which like the rest of the South South and South East zones voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan according to official results. The APC has asked for the removal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Rivers, charging that she will not administer the gubernatorial election there fairly. Rivers heads into the weekend, in other words, facing considerable tension.

Which states are you watching?

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