Nigeria: Six Important New Governors

Nigeria got a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, on May 29, but also a large slate of new governors (many incumbents from the last cycle faced term limits). Here are six key figures. I almost wrote “newcomers,” but all of them have previously held major state or federal offices. Five of these governors belong to the current ruling party, the All Progressives Congress or APC; one belongs to the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party or PDP.

  1. Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos): Lagos is the most populous state in Nigeria and the country’s main commercial center. Ambode represents continuity with Lagos’ previous two governors, Babatunde Fashola (2007-2015) and Bola Tinubu (1999-2007), both of whom are influential APC leaders, especially Tinubu. An accountant by training, Ambode served as Tinubu’s accountant general. He has pledged to reduce government expenses but has also said he will not be “reinventing the wheel.” His official biography is here.
  2. Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano): Kano is the most populous state in northern Nigeria, the second most populous state overall, and the major commercial hub of the north. Like Ambode in Lagos, Ganduje represents continuity in Kano, having served as deputy to his predecessor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who has moved on to the Senate. Ganduje and Kwankwaso belong to the APC, in which Kwankwaso may prove to be an important northern voice, and perhaps Ganduje as well. Kwankwaso has left Ganduje with a debt liability of $1.9 billion (379 billion naira). Ganduje has pledged to increase government revenues and boost security in the state, which has sometimes been a target for Boko Haram.
  3. Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna): Kaduna is a northern state with both economic and political importance, including for its tragic and divisive history of inter-communal conflicts. Nasir El-Rufai, a former cabinet minister (for the Federal Capital Territory) and current APC leader, defeated a PDP incumbent. El-Rufai has already won acclaim for halving his and his deputy’s salaries. However, his inauguration was marked by an incident where young protesters threw rocks and other objects at the Emir of Zaria and the state’s chief judge, “accus[ing] them of colluding with the previous administration of Governor Ramalan Yero to plunder the resources of the state.” The inauguration unrest is a reminder of the difficulties El-Rufai may face in promoting unity and peace in Kaduna.
  4. Simon Lalong (Plateau): Plateau is another northern state with complex histories of inter-communal conflict. Lalong, a former Plateau State House of Assembly Speaker who now belongs to the APC, defeated the PDP’s candidate in an open race. Lalong has begun making appointments, which will be closely scrutinized for how they do or do not represent the state’s diversity.
  5. Nyesom Wike (Rivers): Rivers is a key state in the oil-producing Niger Delta region and home to Port Harcourt, a regional economic center. Wike, of the PDP, has wrested Rivers back from the APC. Former Governor Rotimi Amaechi defected from the PDP to the APC in 2013, but was unable to pass power to his chosen successor. A lawyer by training, Wike was Amaechi’s chief of staff during the latter’s first term (2007-2011), but chose to remain with the PDP. As governor, Wike will have the challenge of ruling a politically turbulent state during a time of uncertainty, especially given that the amnesty for former Niger Delta militants may end this year, or be transformed into a new program. Wike will also have the opportunity to play a major role in rebuilding and reshaping the PDP, which has preserved a major base in the Delta and elsewhere in the southeastern part of Nigeria.
  6. Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto): Tambuwal, who defected from the PDP to the APC in October 2014, was most recently Speaker of the House in the National Assembly. One of the most prominent northern politicians, he is now governor of a state with political, economic, and symbolic importance – the state is the seat of the Sultan of Sokoto, Nigeria’s pre-eminent hereditary Muslim ruler. Tambuwal has emphasized the theme of continuity with his predecessor, the APC’s Aliyu Wamakko, but has also promised redoubled efforts on job creation, agricultural development, attracting investment, and building infrastructure. Tambuwal will remain a major leader in the APC: rumors already circulate of a struggle between him and Tinubu to choose the next Speaker.

Three Perspectives on Nigeria’s Presidential Elections

Nigeria will hold presidential elections on Saturday, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against former military ruler and four-time opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Here are three perspectives on the election – one from a Nigerian analyst, one from the Jonathan campaign, and one from APC.

  • Zainab Usman: “A changing demographic – 70% of the over 170 million Nigerians are under the age of 30 – has laid bare the ruling party’s dismal record in economic and human development. After more than a decade of sustained economic growth, the number of people living under $1.25 a day poverty line according to World Bank figures, hardly budged from 61.8% in 2004 to 62% in 2010. The PDP’s intimidation of party members, elections manipulation and militaristic political culture are also becoming obsolete…It is within this context that the APC emerged as an alternative platform for reconciling competing elite interests, and whose victory would herald the most unprecedented generational power shift in Nigeria since the civil war in the 1960s. Paradoxically the very forces that give the APC its best shot of unseating the PDP undermine its populist-progressive credentials. Key members including former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and the defacto leader of South-West politics Bola Tinubu are beneficiaries of the current system. To cap it all, the APC’s presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari was a military ruler in the 1980s.”
  • Former Governor Peter Obi, currently Deputy Director-General of Jonathan’s campaign: “Clearly, President Jonathan has achieved more in economic develop­ment than any of his predecessors. All sectors have been positively affected since 2011, when he came into of­fice. The rebasing of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ranked the nation’s economy 1st in Africa and 26th glob­ally; from third and 46th respectively. It also showed that the economy has been more widely diversified than before. It will bear repetition to be reminded that Nigeria successfully hosted a World Economic Forum in 2014, Foreign Di­rect Investments were boosted from US$24.9 million as at 2007 to over US$35 billion by 2014; and virtually all quoted companies doubled in size, assets and profit. The marvels in the road sector show that the Jonathan ad­ministration has rendered over 25,000 kilometres of federal road motorable, from barely 5,000 kilometres as at 2011; work is on-going for a second bridge over the River Niger and on the Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue; Onitsha now has a port and the dredg­ing of the River Niger is opening up our inland waterways; Nigerian Railways has been resuscitated from a 30-year-old coma, with over 3,500 kilometres of lines now operational. In the meantime, 22 airports have been remodelled to meet international standards. He is si­multaneously constructing five interna­tional terminals, as has never witnessed anywhere in the world, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.”
  • Outgoing Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (APC): “As far as roads are concerned, and they are critical to the economic development and prosperity of our people for the movement of people, goods and services, the record of performance offered by the Federal Government is that they have constructed 25,000 kilometers of road. How true that is, is to be measured by the complaints of PDP Governors themselves, who say Federal roads in their States have been neglected. How bogus this is, is the realization that the distance between Lagos and London is approximately 5,025 kilometers. Has the PDP Federal Government constructed roads that go the distance of Lagos to London five times? Is it possible to do this by a Government that has never had a capital budget of up to 40% in 6 six years?”

Quick Guide to Nigeria’s Gubernatorial Elections This Week

This post gives an overview of what will happen in Nigeria’s state elections this week. These gubernatorial elections will conclude a three-stage electoral process that began with legislative elections on April 9 and continued with presidential elections on April 16.

Details About Dates

Today, Nigerians in 29 of the country’s 36 states will cast votes for state governors. On Thursday, voters in Kaduna and Bauchi States will do the same (the elections in these two states were postponed due to the violence that followed last week’s presidential elections). In the remaining five states – Bayelsa, Cross River, Adamawa, Kogi and Sokoto – elections will not take place this week “because the elections that brought the governors of the states in 2007 were flawed and new elections and governors were the results.” Courts and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are currently reviewing the situations in those five states.

Details About Candidates and Parties

According to Wikipedia’s list of Nigerian state governors, of the 31 states holding elections this week, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) holds the governors’ seats in 21. The PDP also has governors in all five of the states not holding elections. The remaining ten governorships are held between the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which controls Edo, Ekiti, Lagos, and Osun; the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), which controls Borno, Kano, and Yobe; the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which controls Abia and Anambra; and the Labour Party (LP), which controls Ondo.

Again according to Wikipedia, only six governors are hitting their two-term limit and are therefore ineligible to run again. That means that many incumbents are running this year. One important incumbent candidate to watch is Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (ACN), who is seeking – and is likely to win – another mandate to continue his reforms in Nigeria’s largest city. One important open race to watch is the contest in Kano, home to the largest city in Northern Nigeria. Governors’ races in the North will test the strength of a new party, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and will help determine the fate of the ANPP, from which the CPC split. For more on Kano, including struggles within the CPC, see here. Finally, it is worth watching the ACN, which did very well in legislative elections earlier this month. Will the ACN be able to extend its victories in Nigeria’s South West?

News Coverage

News organizations are focusing on issues of electoral violence and are looking at what the elections of governors mean for ordinary people. On the topic of violence, see reports from CNN and Reuters. Violence is gaining even more attention with yesterday’s bombing in Borno State, the stronghold of the Muslim rebel group Boko Haram. AP reports on violence against poll workers.

Turning to the significance of the gubernatorial contests, the BBC highlights the proximity of governors to ordinary people: “For many Nigerians, governors – who control big budgets in the oil-producing country – represent the closest embodiment of power many ever see in African’s most populous nation of some 150 million people.”

Business Day argues that governors are symbols of both failure and hope:

The State level represents the most important sub-national level, and it is generally acknowledged that if governors had performed even at 50 percent since 1999, Nigeria would have seen some measure of economic progress. But for most States, governors come and go and the people are left wondering what is the whole purpose and essence of their office. In the same vein, the members of State assemblies have not lived up to the expectation. They are supposed to be a constructive check on the governors but in most cases, they are appendages of the executive.

Nigerians, when they go to the polls tomorrow, are hoping to elect new governors that will transform their lives through the building and repairing of infrastructure in the states, the support of agricuture and industry, provide platform for the improvement of education and health.

The hopes and frustrations that accompany these elections only increase the importance of the vote. US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, in an interview with VOA, says how the gubernatorial elections conclude in Nigeria will help determine the success of this entire electoral season.


I expect there will be a lot of news today, so please leave a comment and let us know what you’re hearing. And definitely let me know if I’ve made any mistakes above – there are a lot of details to keep track of. Most of all, I wish Nigerians a safe and successful vote today.

Nigerian Elections: More Results and a Few Hypotheses

Since I posted some results from Nigeria’s legislative elections on Monday, the Nigeria Elections Coalition has updated its site with more numbers and has helpfully organized them into charts. Looking at the current count for the Senate will let us advance some hypotheses to explain the voting patterns:

Senate Elections (86 results out of 109 total seats):

People’s Democratic Party (PDP, currently holds the presidency and legislative majorities): 55

Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN): 13

All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP): 7

Congress for Progressive Change (CPC): 6

Others: 5

The results for the House of Representatives are broadly similar, except that so far the ANPP has no seats.

Looking at the results, a few questions come to mind:

  1. Are we seeing an intensification of “regionalization”? Throughout postcolonial Nigerian history, major parties have tended to have strong regional bases. Since 1999, the PDP has enjoyed national dominance, though regional politics certainly continued. What observers are calling a freer vote than past elections, though, may be allowing underlying regional divisions to emerge more starkly: thus the ACN’s gains are concentrated in the South West, its stronghold, while the Northern-based ANPP and CPC are winning seats in the North. Going forward, Nigeria could see regional rivalries become more open.
  2. Are we seeing the popularity of “progressive” politics? The ACN’s victories may represent a form of regionalism, but they may also reflect the popularity of ACN’s celebrity Governor Babatunde Fashola. Fashola has made a number of reforms in Lagos State. The ACN also generated excitement by nominating former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu as its presidential candidate (though note that this article says Fashola outshines Ribadu). Of the opposition parties, the ACN has won the most seats in this election, but other parties are attempting to claim the progressive mantle as well – recall what CPC stands for. Opposition victories, then, may speak to a widespread desire for reform that to some extent transcends regionalism.
  3. Are we seeing triumphs of personality over party? Perhaps we miss part of the story if we look only at how the parties do: maybe individual politicians are winning based on their own skills, networks, and campaigns. After all, many expect President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) to win re-election, and in fact to outperform his party, despite defeats for the PDP in the legislative races. The governors’ races should shed some more light on this question.

All of these are just hypotheses, and I hope commenters will let me know where logic or evidence refutes them.

As we puzzle over results, the presidential vote is fast approaching. Will the ACN and the CPC join forces in an effort to beat Jonathan? Will the elections go to a second round? This weekend promises to be exciting in Nigeria. Whoever wins, hopefully the elections will go smoothly and peacefully.