Nigeria: Notes on the Ekiti and Osun Gubernatorial Elections

Two southwestern Nigerian states, Ekiti and Osun, hold gubernatorial elections at a critical point in the political calendar, namely some 6-9 months before presidential, legislative, and (most – 30 of 36) gubernatorial elections. Ekiti and Osun are not the only states to hold off-cycle gubernatorial elections, as various court cases, re-run elections, impeachments, and other factors have moved six states’ gubernatorial elections from the main, four-year political cycle to their own, four-year cycles. Ekiti and Osun have become particularly important since 2014 because of the political shift that occurred in Nigeria from approximately 2013-2015 after the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), whose presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari won election in 2015 (after running three times previously under other parties’ banners) and then won re-election in 2019. The APC is in crude terms a coalition between the north and the southwest. Political parties’ performance – i.e., the performance of the APC and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP, which held the presidency 1999-2015 and is now Nigeria’s main opposition party) – in the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections can give some indication of where the southwest might go in the presidential elections the following year.

Despite all that, I wouldn’t call Ekiti and Osun “bellwether” states – I’m not sure such a thing exists in Nigeria. The gubernatorial results do tend to roughly presage the presidential results in those particular states, though, whether because the gubernatorial results reflect the voters’ feelings about the parties overall, or because incumbents can assist in tipping elections to make sure their party’s presidential candidate wins.

In 2014, an APC incumbent lost Ekiti while another APC incumbent held Osun. Buhari went on to lose Ekiti and win Osun in the 2015 presidential elections.

In 2018, an APC challenger (and former governor) took Ekiti back from the PDP, although he won by fewer than 20,000 votes out of over 400,000 cast. Meanwhile, the APC held Osun, but after a tumultuous and hotly contested process that saw a re-run election after the initial outcome, a PDP victory, was tossed out. The following year, Buhari won both Ekiti and Osun, although his margin in Osun was very small, roughly 10,000 votes.

In 2022, the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections both concluded recently – Ekiti on June 18 and Osun on July 16. In Ekiti, the APC candidate won ( Abiodun Oyebanji, who now succeeds term-limited APC Governor Kayode Fayemi) with 53% of the vote as the PDP and another party, the Social Democratic Party, split the rest of the vote – the Social Democrats actually placed second. In Osun, the 2022 election was a rematch of the 2018 election, but with a different outcome – this time, the PDP’s Ademola Adeleke defeated incumbent APC Governor Gboyega Oyetola.

The Ekiti and Osun elections also offer, each cycle, some idea of how Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is performing. You can read a laudatory take on INEC’s performance in Ekiti here. The author notes, “For the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria, INEC  transmitted results electronically, and the Ekiti election was the first to be conducted after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Electoral Act 2022 into law.” The same author has written a separate analysis of the Osun election and the APC’s loss, attributing it to tensions between Oyetola and his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola, as well as to “the pain of the 2018 Osun governorship election – many still believe Adeleke was robbed of his mandate during the last election in the state.”

In any case, if the pattern from 2014-2015 and 2018-2019 holds, the APC and its presidential candidate, the veteran southwestern politician Bola Tinubu, could expect to win Ekiti but not Osun. More broadly, the APC does not have to sweep the southwest to win the entire election, but it does have win big there and in the north, in my view, to win its third presidential election in a row. The rivalry between Oyetola and Aregbesola is just one small example of how many personalities, interests, and decisions Tinubu will have to juggle in the coming months.

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