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.

Nigeria: The Two Major Parties’ Presidential Candidates Face Off for the Next Eight Months

Nigeria will hold an open presidential election in February 2023; current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited. In the last two weeks, both of the two major parties have concluded their presidential primaries. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2015, selected former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (in office 1999-2007) as its nominee. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) selected former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu (in office 1999-2007) as its nominee. One might say this is the least surprising outcome, given the stature of both men and their longstanding, open ambition to be president. Atiku was the runner-up in 2019 against Buhari, and Tinubu was the main architect of the APC, which formed in 2013 as a vehicle for Buhari’s fourth run for the presidency, but also as a compromise between opposition politicians in the north (Buhari’s turf) and the southwest (Tinubu’s).

The official campaign period is from 28 September 2022 to 23 February 2023 but I would say that the real-life campaign is now in full swing.

Given the advantages of incumbency, I would put Tinubu as the early favorite to win. On the other hand, both of the major parties are fractious coalitions, and a rebellion by part or all of the electorate is a possibility, especially given that both Tinubu and Abubakar represent a political class – septuagenarian, wealthy, careerist, and often vague on policy prescriptions (by choice, not due to lack of awareness of possible policies) – that is inherently distant from the lives of most ordinary Nigerians. Complex expectations about rotational dynamics and ethnoreligious balancing also come into play; Tinubu is a southerner and Abubakar is a northerner, Tinubu is Yoruba whereas Abubakar is Fulani, although both are Muslims.

Biographies of both men are legion, but the profiles from the BBC – of Abubakar and of Tinubu – are a good place to start if you are not familiar with either or both of them.

Nigeria: Readings on the Upcoming All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Primary, May 29-30

Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), will hold its presidential primary on May 29-30. The APC candidate can be considered the frontrunner, at least at this early date, for the open 2023 presidential election (current President Muhammadu Buhari is term-limited). Watch out, reader – there’s a lot of speculation out there in the press! But here is some interesting commentary:

Vanguard, May 22: “Seven days to the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is palpable anxiety over the speculation that [former Lagos State Governor and southwestern powerbroker] Asiwaju Bola Tinubu may dump the ruling party at the federal level if the exercise, scheduled for May 29 and 30, is manipulated against him. Tinubu is one of the front runners in the contest for the APC presidential ticket ahead of the 2023 general elections.”

Punch, May 22: “All the presidential aspirants in the All Progressives Congress, except a former  Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, are open to the idea of the candidate of the party emerging through consensus, Sunday PUNCH can confirm. The consensus method will entail the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), anointing one of the aspirants, while the others simply step down for him as was done during the March 26 national convention of the APC, which produced Senator Abdullahi Adamu as the chairman.”

Daily Trust, May 23: “Daily Trust learnt that political leaders within the ruling APC in South West are mounting pressure on presidential aspirants from the zone to agree on a consensus candidate ahead of the primary so as to approach the convention venue from the position of strength…Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former Speaker of House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi as well as former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; the Senator representing Ondo North Senatorial District, Robert Ajayi Boroffice and Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, Nigeria, Pastor Tunde Bakare are the presidential aspirants from the South West.”

Vanguard, May 22: “Senate President and frontline presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Ahmad Lawan has refuted reports of him withdrawing from the presidential race to pursue another term in the senate.”

The Guardian, May 22: “In the APC, the deal initially seems to have been concluded that the presidential ticket of the ruling party will go to the South in line with an old, unwritten agreement put together when the party was formed in 2014 [sic, it was 2013]. This was why until about a week ago, all the aspirants in APC except Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello, were southerners. It is also the reason why all the big wigs in the South in all the three geo-political zones are in the race. However, the calculation changed when the APC failed in its determination to coerce or compel the opposition PDP to also follow suit. When it became apparent that PDP will not yield to the game of presenting an all-southern candidates election, the APC suddenly changed gear. And guess who was first used to send the clear signal that APC may also join the PDP in presenting a northerner as its candidate? The incumbent Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan.”

Premium Times, May 22: “Last week, statutory delegates in Kaduna State pledged their votes to the former governor of Lagos State, Mr Tinubu. Their governor, Nasir Elrufai, had asked the delegates who they would give their votes at the convention, and in a unanimous voice, they pledged to give them all to Mr Tinubu, who is also the national leader of the party. However, in the usual twist that has characterised the race, 48 hours after, Mr El-Rufai guided the same delegates to pledge their support to the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.”

BBC Pidgin has a useful breakdown (towards the end) of the delegates by region.

Nigeria 2023: Five Presidential Aspirants to Know

On February 25, 2023, Nigeria will hold presidential elections. Current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited and cannot run. The open presidential race will have major implications for the future of Nigeria and for West Africa and beyond.

Major politicians are starting to declare or at least strongly telegraph their candidacies, especially in advance of the presidential primary election for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), slated to be held on May 30-31 of this year, and the primary election for the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on May 28-29. The APC is expected to “zone” its candidate to southern Nigeria, as a power rotation after eight years of a northerner in the presidency.

Here are five names to know, including both APC and PDP candidates:

  1. Bola Tinubu: The Governor of Lagos State from 1999-2007, Tinubu has played a central role as a powerbroker in southwestern Nigeria and in national politics. He is widely considered the leading architect of the 2013 inter-party merger that created the present ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Tinubu declared on January 10: “I have the confidence, vision and capacity to rule, build on the foundation of Mr. President, and turn Nigeria better. I’ve done that before in Lagos State. You’ve seen that experience and the capacity to turn things around and that is what we are doing.”
  2. Yemi Osinbajo: Nigeria’s sitting Vice President since 2015, Osinbajo also hails from Lagos, where he was Tinubu’s Attorney General from 1999-2007. As Vice President, Osinbajo has often been particularly visible at moments when Buhari has been on extended medical leaves and my impression has been the Osinbajo travels internally within Nigeria more than Buhari does. Osinbajo announced his intention to run for president on April 11. He presented himself as a voice for ordinary Nigerians: “I’ve stood where you stand and sat where you sit. I know and I understand our hopes, aspirations and fears from a place of relatable proximity; and I believe that in those hopes and aspirations are the seeds for the great Nigeria that we all desire.” For whatever it’s worth, Tinubu is Muslim while Osinbajo is Christian; both belong to the APC.
  3. Rotimi Amaechi: Current Minister of Transportation and former Governor of Rivers State (2007-2015) in the Niger Delta, Amaechi is yet another APC aspirant for president. Announcing on April 9, Amaechi highlighted his long experience in elected and appointed positions. He said: “I pledge my heart, mind and soul to the task of building a Nigeria in which every child can go to school, every young person can find work or support to start a business, every citizen can travel safely around the country and sleep at night knowing that law and order prevails and every Nigerian feels included, heard, and respected.”
  4. Atiku Abubakar: Former Vice President (1999-2007) and runner-up in the 2019 presidential election, Abubakar is from Adamawa State in the northeast. He declared his candidacy on March 23, outlining a five-point agenda that emphasizes national unity, security, economic development, education, and the devolution of power to the states and local governments. As in 2019, Abubakar seeks to contest on the PDP ticket.
  5. Bukola Saraki: Member of a major political dynasty from Kwara State, Saraki served as Governor (2003-2011), Senator (2011-2019), and Senate President (2015-2019). The political landscape is shifting fast in advance of the PDP primary, but Saraki has recently been part of a four-candidate alliance advocating for a PDP unity candidate; the other members of the alliance are Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal (elected 2015, re-elected 2019), Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed (elected 2019), and the investment banker Mohammed Hayatu-Deen. Notably, many of the PDP’s top candidates are from the north, as is outgoing President Buhari.

BBC Pidgin has a list of the major APC aspirants and a separate list of the major PDP aspirants; both lists include a number of governors and former governors not mentioned above for reasons of concision.

Nigeria: In Edo State, an Off-Cycle PDP Victory Raises Questions for the APC

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.

On the Turmoil in Nigeria’s Ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)

On September 19, Edo State in Nigeria’s “South South” geopolitical zone will hold gubernatorial elections. The default political calendar in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is that national and state elections take place every four years starting from the Fourth Republic’s establishment in 1999, meaning that the next national and state elections are scheduled for 2023 – but a number of states’ gubernatorial cycles have moved to different calendars over the years due to court cases, re-run elections, impeachments, and other circumstances. Edo State is one of those; a 2008 court decision moved the calendar to its present cycle. This year’s gubernatorial contest in Edo has widened into and/or crystallized a fight over who will control Nigeria’s national ruling party, the All Progressives Congress or APC.

A key figure in this fight is Adams Oshiomhole. After a career in the labor movement, Oshiomhole entered politics, ran for governor in Edo in 2007, and won a 2008 court case contesting and overturning the results of the election. He served two four-year terms from 2008 to 2016. In June 2018, Oshiomhole became national chairman of the APC; he was suspended from that role in March 2020 for reasons stemming both from hyper-local politics in Edo and from the overall battle to control the party.

Two pieces of context are crucial before we go further:

  1. Term limits (two four-year terms for both presidents and governors) help to incentivize what is often called “godfatherism” in Nigeria, meaning a kind of clientalist politics where the “godfather” seeks to control key offices and decisions in one or more states. Term limits are not the only ingredient in godfatherism, but many ex-governors attempt to position themselves as godfathers after their terms end. Short of the presidency itself, there are few or perhaps no positions as important in Nigeria as being a governor – senators don’t typically have power equivalent to the power of governors, for example. So when governors leave office, they often hand pick a successor and attempt to dominate the office through a proxy. This almost never works for long, because inevitably the successor will butt heads with the predecessor. The falling outs can then have major political repercussions.
  2. The APC is a political coalition of several pre-existing parties; it coalesced in 2013, in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, when its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, scored the first successful presidential election upset in Nigeria’s history. The APC is ostensibly a center-left party but a lot of what has held it together so far is its success, rather than ideology, demography, or some other factor. In crude terms, the APC is an alliance between powerful northern politicians, especially in the north west and north east geopolitical zones, and powerful southwestern politicians; the east and “south south” have become mostly strongholds of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party or PDP, which is now Nigeria’s main opposition party. The picture in the sixth and final geopolitical zone, the North Central, is a bit more mixed.

Turning back to Edo, when Oshiomhole left office in 2016, he appears to have put himself strongly into the godfather role, at least according to his opponents. Oshiomhole was succeeded as governor by Godwin Obaseki, who came out of the financial sector and served in several key economic posts in Oshiomhole’s two administrations. Most accounts (example) suggest that Oshiomhole hand-picked Obaseki to succeed him – Obaseki’s team recently stated that in 2016, Oshiomhole not only picked Obaseki, he “compiled the list of those to be appointed commissioners in Edo in his sitting room in 2016. Asides [sic] from  picking the governor, he also picked his deputy and the [Secretary to the State Government].”

Then came the inevitable falling out. Tension, according to this report, surfaced quickly, having to do with control of personnel appointments and with the power and access given – or denied – to Oshiomhole’s people in Obaseki’s administration. Throughout the 2016-2020 period, Oshiomhole had a powerful weapon, and he eventually wielded it: blocking Obaseki’s re-election, at least on the APC ticket. On June 12, an APC screening committee in Edo disqualified Obaseki from participating in the gubernatorial primary; the official reason was alleged questions about Obaseki’s academic credentials, but most observers view Oshiomhole’s influence as the real deciding factor. Events then moved rapidly: the APC selected Osagie Ize-Iyamu as its candidate, and Obaseki defected to the PDP and became the PDP candidate. Here is a fun fact that will help you understand something about Nigerian politics if you are not familiar with it: in 2016, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu also competed for the Edo governorship, but at that time Obaseki was the APC candidate and Ize-Iyamu was the PDP candidate.

Meanwhile, Obaseki had political weapons to use against Oshiomhole. In November 2019, Oshiomhole’s home ward in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo passed a vote of no confidence in him. The state party then suspended him. Those moves provided the legal underpinning for eventually suspending Oshiomhole as National Chairman of the APC on the grounds that he is no longer a member in good standing of the party itself.

Now we need to bring another character into the story: Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State (1999-2007) and arguably the most successful “godfather” of the Fourth Republic – someone who has not only picked several successors in his home state and kept a remarkable influence over politics there, but whose influence extends throughout the southwest and to a real extent nationwide. Tinubu was perhaps the key architect of the APC, more influential in its coalescing even than Buhari himself. Tinubu also selected Buhari’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and Tinubu is likely a 2023 presidential aspirant (Buhari will be term limited).

The Edo fight has implicated Tinubu in numerous ways. The Nigerian press and the Obaseki camp have depicted Tinubu as a strong backer of Oshiomhole both within the national party and within the Oshiomhole-Obaseki power struggle. Tinubu and Oshiomhole have come in for strong criticism. Here is Vanguard:

Obaseki’s defection to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP followed earlier defections by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue, (July 2018); Abdulfatah Ahmed, of Kwara July 2018; and Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Sokoto, August 2018.

 

The defections coming on the heel of the loss of Zamfara, Bauchi and Adamawa States in the 2019 General Election have inevitably brought to fore the prospects of the party in the immediate future.

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.

A struggle has also occurred to determine who would become Acting National Chairman amid Oshiomhole’s suspension. Here, many observers feel that Tinubu and Buhari landed on opposite sides of the question, with Tinubu, via the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, seeming to support first Abiola Ajimobi (who died suddenly in late June) and then Prince Hilliard Etta for the position, while Buhari ultimately backed Victor Giadom – and dissolved the NWC. Tinubu and Oshiomhole have both publicly accepted (Pidgin) that decision, with Oshiomhole saying he is not going to pursue reinstatement as National Chairman. Buhari and Tinubu have worked to present a united front, but the president’s backing of Giadom has been widely seen as a rebuke of Tinubu. Meanwhile, as one article put it, “The forces working against Mr Oshiomhole are also majorly the same group of people committed to blocking Mr Tinubu’s presidential ambition.”

What next? An in-depth analysis of the Edo race contains this very blunt passage:

Obaseki certainly has the power of incumbency to his advantage. But in Nigeria, this is greatly limited when your party is not in control of the police, military and all other security services that are usually deployed to monitor elections and provide security. The governor’s incumbency advantage may be effectively neutralised by the federal might. As a matter of fact, Ize-Iyamu may even be the ultimate beneficiary of federal might if the lessons of history are factored in.

Off-season elections, like the ones about to hold in Edo and Ondo states, are usually an easier turf to deploy the full powers of the federal government in trying to sway outcomes.

Win or lose in Edo, Tinubu isn’t going anywhere, but obviously a win there would allow him to avoid the accusation that his ally (Oshiomhole) bungled everything.

At the level of the party as a whole, though, can the APC hold together? Political scientists like Carl LeVan, and Olly Owen and Zainab Usman, have written about the political settlements that held the PDP together for 16 years as Nigeria’s ruling party, settlements that then fell apart in the lead-up to 2015. If the APC is seen as representing an agglomeration of interests rather than a cohesive party, the question is whether the party will find a candidate for 2023 who preserves enough of the political settlement to allow the party to remain majoritarian. I’ll leave you with the aptly titled analysis “Pandemonium at the Alter” by Chidi Amuta, writing in This Day. An excerpt:

Now that the Buhari transition has been fast forwarded by three years, the internal contradictions of the party in power have surfaced to haunt the party as a party. Forget that governance and the common good at the national and most state levels will begin to take a back seat. The present skirmishes are merely rehearsals of the bloody wars that will be fought in the party to succeed Mr. Buhari. The factors and factions in contention counterbalance themselves and may cancel each other out at the expense of the party itself. The single most important feature of the party that will hasten its unraveling is perhaps the fact that its leading elite are persons of near equal age, resources and political gravity. The possibility that they will cancel each other out while entertaining the nation in the law courts remains the most interesting prospect in the political drama of the future of the APC.

[…]

The expectation that the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would fare better is unfounded. Sixteen years of institutional existence and power incumbency has not translated into either a superiority of organization or perspective. Even now as an opposition, the PDP has remained frozen at the level of abuse and personal insult. It has hardly risen to the occasion of positing a logical ideological or policy alternative to the ruling party. Its leadership has not grown neither has its internal democracy or party technocracy. It has remains at the same level of pedestrian and mundane opportunism and indiscriminate brandishing of titles and changing postures.

 

Nigeria: A Look at Lagos in the Lead-Up to the 2019 Elections

In earlier posts, I’ve surveyed gubernatorial politics in three Nigerian states – Osun, Kano, and Borno – in the lead-up to Nigeria’s 2019 general elections. Another crucial state is Lagos, the country’s most populous state, commercial hub, and crucial node in the national ruling coalition.

For a long time after Nigeria returned to multi-partyism in 1999, gubernatorial politics in Lagos was relatively straightforward. Former oil executive and career politician Bola Tinubu won the governorship in 1999 and served two terms, then handed off power to his hand-picked successor, his chief of staff (and current Federal Minister of Power, Works and Housing) Babatunde Fashola. After Fashola ran into term limits in 2015, Tinubu again selected the winning candidate: Akinwunmi Ambode, an accountant and career civil servant. The party names have changed during this period – Tinubu initially won on the Alliance for Democracy ticket, part of which then merged in 2006 into the Action Congress, which then merged in 2013 with other parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s current ruling party.

Now, however, things have gotten more complicated in Lagos, as the APC decided to switch horses. The party’s gubernatorial primary, held October 2, anointed Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the next candidate, sidelining Ambode. For his part, Tinubu endorsed Sanwo-Olu, speaking euphemistically about Ambode’s deviations from the “master plan”:

When I was elected governor in 1999, my administration faithfully implemented that plan. The government of my immediate successor, Tunde Fashola, also honoured this enlightened plan.

Where state government remained true to that blueprint, positive things happened. During my tenure and Governor Fashola’s, Lagos state recorded improvements in all aspects of our collective existence.

I make no pretence that the master plan is perfect. It can always be fine-tuned.

However, whenever a government departed from this plan without compelling reason, the state and its people have borne the painful consequence of the improper departure.

In other words, it sounds like Tinubu felt Ambode was bucking his authority. Following Sanwo-Olu’s victory, moreover, Tinubu urged the Lagos APC to stay united and look ahead to 2019: “You don’t bring the roof down. You don’t bring the house down. Safeguard the foundation. The exercise you have witnessed today is a prelude; it is good for the general election of the party.”

The splits in Lagos reportedly brought some tensions, however, between Tinubu and the presidency. Nigeria’s Sun wrote that initially, Ambode felt he had some chance to defy Tinubu and win the primary:

He was emboldened to challenge the age-long power establishment in the state through words of encouragement from the Presidency and some notable Yoruba traditional rulers and leaders. Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, never hid their preference for Ambode’s second term and had put pressure on Tinubu to allow the governor re-contest. This remained their position until last Monday when Ambode addressed a world press conference, where he lost his cool, accusing his challenger in the race, Sanwo-Olu, of fraud and mental illness. This, presidency sources revealed, forced the Villa to soft-pedal on their support for him.

So far, Ambode himself has fallen back into line. Initially, some observers expected him to do as frustrated/ambitious politicians in other states have done and leave the APC, but his public statements have turned conciliatory, as he tells audiences “you can therefore be rest assured of the continued sustenance of this programme by an All Progressives Congress-controlled government in Lagos State.”

Or has he? More recent reports have bubbled with rumors that Ambode is still thinking of defecting, and that APC leaders are considering a drastic move – impeaching him. The threat may motivate him to finish out the rest of his term quietly and not defect.

All of this seems like a demonstration of Tinubu’s continued power, but it also exposes some potential fault lines in the southwest. I’ve argued before that Buhari is not fundamentally threatened by the recent defections of northerners such as Bukola Saraki and Rabiu Kwankwaso to the former ruling People’s Democratic Party – but that Buhari would be threatened if he lost the support of the more or less solid southwest. Perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, Buhari is scheduled to be in Lagos today. In any case, it will be crucial to watch what happens in Lagos and the surrounding states between now and February.

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.

More on the Economic Vision of Nigeria’s All Progressives Congress

As observers try to anticipate the economic policies of Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC), I’ve repeatedly mentioned APC bigwig Bola Tinubu’s November 2014 op-ed “Slump in Oil Prices: A Progressive Way Out.” That piece advocates running deficits and decoupling the naira from the dollar in order to fund massive, job-creating infrastructure projects. I don’t want to naively assume that an op-ed will become a blueprint for policy once the messiness of governing begins, but I wanted to flag a recent speech by Tinubu where he reiterated many of the same ideas. In a convocation address last week, Tinubu said:

A progressive government must turn its face from the austerity policies of the outgoing administrative that tried to manage poverty, but not end it. Such policies serve only to deepen and prolong the hardship of the average person. Such policies would lock us in a room without hope or safe exit. We dare not go in.

In response to the downturn in private sector activity, a progressive government must exercise the creative boldness to generate economic growth, productive and equal opportunity. Under the circumstances that now confront us, government must use fiscal and monetary policy to enlarge the economic space by embarking on ambitious infrastructural development, housing and agricultural programs.

These programs will provide jobs directly. Moreover, the enhancement of our infrastructural base and sharpening of our productive capacity that results from these programs will initiate multiple rounds of job creation. This is how economic growth and employment are sustained over the long term.

This is what the APC manifesto pledged to you. This is what an APC government will seek to deliver.

So again, Tinubu comes out against austerity and in favor of using infrastructure projects to create jobs. The APC’s political survival may ultimately depend on its ability to alleviate poverty, so it will important to see whether and how these ideas translate into policies and projects after Buhari’s inauguration on May 29.

The speech, and the reference to the manifesto, bring up another important point. The trope of “African politics is not about issues” is so deeply entrenched in international media coverage that you can frequently watch Western journalists reflexively assume that Buhari and the APC have only vague policies, despite evidence to the contrary. Thus, at the link above, we read that “in lieu of a detailed policy platform from Mr. Buhari, who was short on specifics during his campaign, his vow to defeat Boko Haram amounts to a national security strategy, while fighting corruption has become an economic one.” Tinubu’s speeches and op-eds could of course include more details (as could all pronouncements by politicians!), and the manifesto is by turns general and specific, but the idea that Buhari has no economic vision beyond fighting corruption is demonstrably false.

Five Recommendations to the USG on Engaging the Buhari Administration

Yesterday, after a hard-fought election, Nigerian President Gooduck Jonathan conceded to General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military and four-time presidential candidate. Buhari will take office May 29. His party is the All Progressives Congress or APC.

Nigeria is by many measures (population, economy, cultural production, etc.) the most important country in Africa, and it is a key partner for the United States. Under Jonathan, the U.S.-Nigeria relationship has been strained at times. Buhari’s presidency will offer an opportunity for a fresh start.

The issues the two countries can work on together are obvious – countering Boko Haram, strengthening democratic institutions and economic development, etc. But just as important as the substance of the partnership will be its form. Jonathan often seemed isolated behind a wall of sycophants, which made him difficult to reach – not that the U.S. has major leverage over Nigeria in any event, but it’s even harder to have influence when you don’t have a strong relationship. Here are a few basic suggestions about how to get off on the right foot with Buhari and his administration:

  1. Treat Buhari as an equal. Don’t start the conversation with a list of “asks” or “advice” that are in reality just demands. Talk to Buhari the way you would expect a foreign leader to talk to the United States. Send someone very senior (cabinet rank at least) to his inauguration. And President Obama should visit Nigeria at some point in 2015 or 2016. In light of this election and this historic transition, the old justifications for not visiting (worries about seeming to endorse the incumbent, tolerate corruption, etc.) no longer seem strong enough to warrant ignoring Nigeria.
  2. Engage Vice President-elect Yemi Osinbajo early and often. Buhari’s allies in the South West played a major role in his election – perhaps even making the difference between 2011 and 2015. Osinbajo will be that southwestern cohort’s most senior formal representative in Buhari’s government. As an accomplished politician in his own right (he was Lagos Attorney General from 1999-2007) and an influential Christian leader, he will likely play a stronger role in Buhari’s government than outgoing Vice President Namadi Sambo played in Jonathan’s. If I were a US policymaker, I would figure out what issues Osinbajo cares about and stay in touch with him about them. In other words, don’t just call him when you have an ask – cultivate a real relationship, and not just an ad hoc one managed by the Embassy in Abuja. A congratulatory phone call from Vice President Biden would be a good way to start.
  3. Keep in close touch with Bola Tinubu. If Osinbajo is the southwest’s formal representative in the next government, former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu was the campaign’s mastermind and will likely remain the APC’s informal leader. As such, he will likely have an influential voice in shaping the government’s decisions, especially with an eye to politics and 2019. This relationship, too, is worth cultivating and maintaining. A quarterly call from Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield to Tinubu would give Washington a strong line to the new administration’s political nerve center.
  4. Bring all the governors to Washington. It’s not just about engaging the federal government – sub-national actors, especially state governors, are hugely influential in Nigeria, including on security and development issues. In March 2014, the U.S. Institute of Peace brought most of the northern Nigerian state governors to Washington for a symposium and for meetings around town, including with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Given that many of the governors elected on April 11 will be new faces (due to term limits), it would be wise to repeat the endeavor, and this time by inviting all thirty-six governors.
  5. Continue to think long-term about Boko Haram. The final weeks of the presidential campaign saw some military progress against Boko Haram, although the effort was marred by the murky quality of some information (making it unclear whether some towns had really been recaptured or not) and by the complaints of Nigeria’s neighbors that Nigerian forces were not coordinating with them effectively. Hopefully Jonathan will sustain the gains and improve the regional coordination in his final weeks in office, and then Buhari will consolidate the progress and address any remaining problems of coordination after he is inaugurated. Even in this best case scenario, however, long-term challenges will remain: preventing Boko Haram from regrouping, prosecuting and/or reintegrating its fighters, holding security forces accountable for abuses, addressing joblessness and underdevelopment in the northeast, etc. There is even a danger that a moment of euphoria over recapturing territory could divert attention away from these long-term issues and encourage a premature declaration of victory. Washington should give the new administration time to breathe, but should from time to time respectfully remind them that the goal is not just to defeat Boko Haram, but also to prevent it – or anything like it – from re-emerging in the years to come. As I said above, though, a conversation like that can only happen if deep relationships are cultivated from the start.