The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held the presidency and many governorships in Nigeria from 1999, when the country returned to civilian rule under the Fourth Republic, and 2015, when current President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeated a PDP incumbent. Since 2015, the PDP has been Nigeria’s main opposition party, registering its strongest performances (both at the presidential and gubernatorial levels) in what Nigerians call the South East and South South geopolitical zones. When Buhari was re-elected in 2019, the PDP swept those zones and took two states each in the North Central and North East zones. With a few exceptions, the 2019 election map was essentially a diagonal line drawn across the country, with the APC taking almost everything north and west of that line and the PDP taking everything south and east of the line (see the map at the link).
Nigeria’s main election cycle for federal and state elections occurs every four years, but some gubernatorial elections have moved to different four-year cycles because of the cumulative impacts of past court decisions and re-run elections. One such state is Edo, at the western edge of the South South geopolitical zone – right next to the South West zone, a core APC stronghold. Edo held its gubernatorial election on September 19.
As with many other Nigerian elections and especially gubernatorial elections, party proved fluid and complex, and intra-party power struggles mattered, at some moments, more than inter-party struggles. Thus in Edo you have the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, winning re-election, but as the candidate of a different party than the one he came to power with. In other words, Obaseki won in 2020 as the PDP’s candidate after originally winning in 2016 as the APC’s candidate. His margin of victory was decisive – nearly 80,000 votes out of roughly 530,000 votes cast for him and his APC rival.
The background to this outcome involves intra-APC power struggles at the level of both Edo State and Nigeria as a whole. Key players include the APC power broker, ex-Lagos State Governor, and likely 2023 presidential aspirant Bola Tinubu, as well as ex-Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole (in office 2008-2016). To summarize what I wrote here, the initial “godfather-godson” relationship between Oshiomhole and Obaseki, his chosen successor, deteriorated completely by 2019 – and that falling-out intersected with national-level infighting within the APC, resulting in Oshiomhole eventually being stripped of his National Chairmanship in a series of maneuvers beginning in March 2020. Meanwhile, Obaseki was blocked from the APC primary in Edo State, allegedly due to Oshiomhole’s influence, and so Obaseki defected to the PDP. As all this was going on, many Nigerian observers felt that, as I summarized back in July, “The situation in Edo is now becoming a test of Tinubu’s influence as well, and a loss for the APC in September would be seen by many as damaging Tinubu personally.”
So now we will see what the damage is, especially to his standing within the APC and to his 2023 prospects. This Day has a quick (and perhaps slightly PDP-leaning) tour of “winners and losers” from the election. The paper places Tinubu firmly in the losers’ camp for what the paper says is many Edo voters’ resentment at Tinubu’s perceived political overreach in their state. Interestingly, though, the paper places President Buhari among the winners:
The successful conclusion of the 2020 Edo governorship election is a big plus for President Muhammadu Buhari, both locally and internationally. For ensuring that a level playing field was provided for the conduct of the election, even his ardent critics are persuaded to acknowledge this gracious deed. To his credit, the much feared deployment of an amorphous ‘federal might’ by the main opposition party was absent.
Questions for Tinubu, then, are (1) whether this loss is part of a pattern of political mismanagement (even before the election, some observers were connecting the APC’s problems in Edo to the party’s gubernatorial losses in 2019 and to earlier defections of sitting governors from the APC to the PDP), or whether this is just part of the ebb and flow of Nigerian politics, where party-switching is common if not routine; (2) whether Tinubu faces limits to his reception as a national, rather than merely southwestern, political leader; and (3) how his relationship with the president evolves from here, and how much that matters for 2023. On the other hand, This Day also muses about whether the PDP victory in Edo is simply a return to a norm of PDP control there and across the South South zone – so perhaps there are limits to what one should extrapolate from a single election.