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.

A Fiercely Fought Gubernatorial Election in Osun, Southwestern Nigeria

On 22 September, voters in the southwestern Nigerian state of Osun cast ballots for governor. Due to the impact of long-ago court decisions, the two southwestern states of Ekiti and Osun now conduct regular off-cycle elections in Nigeria, with gubernatorial votes falling a few months before presidential elections. As such, the gubernatorial contests in these states provide opportunities for major parties to duke it out and do a test run of the presidential election (there are other off-cycle elections too).

In Ekiti in July, the All Progressives Congress (APC) won back a governorship it had lost in 2014 to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The APC has been the ruling party at the national level since 2015, which the PDP was the national ruling party from 1999-2015. In Ekiti, ex-governor Kayode Fayemi defeated Deputy Governor Kolapo Olusola Eleka; incumbent Governor Ayo Fayose was term-limited.

In Osun, the APC and the PDP were again the two main contenders. As in Ekiti, the incumbent governor, Rauf Aregbesola, was term-limited, although in Osun’s case the incumbent was APC rather than PDP. The two candidates, then, are Gboyega Oyetola (APC), the current governor’s chief of staff, and Ademola Adeleke (PDP), current senator for Osun West.

The 22 September vote proved too close for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to call. According to INEC’s official statement, problems of various sorts affected seven polling units and prevented nearly 3,500 voters from casting ballots. Among those who did vote, the margin between the two candidates was 353. INEC will now re-run the election on 27 September (tomorrow) in the affected polling units.

The margin was in favor of the PDP, and that party has accused INEC of maneuvering to support the APC.

What happens Thursday, then, will have national ramifications, as Osun becomes a battle not just over state-level control but over the independence and credibility of INEC.

Africa Blog Roundup: Violence in Kenya, Theater in Somalia, Pensions in Nigeria, and More

The World Policy Journal recently interviewed UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. The interview touches on Libya and the Sahel, especially Mali.

Keith Somerville on Kenya:

In the last six weeks there have been a number of violent clashes in areas of Kenya where the existing political, social and religious structures are contested or fail to meet the subsistence or security needs of the local populations.  Many derive from long-lasting grievances, which periodically reach the pitch of violence, but usually simmer just below the surface. As soon as elections approach, the actions of politicians (both local and national) are frequently the trigger for violence.

One of the conflicts Somerville discusses took place in the Tana River region. Human Rights Watch recently wrote about the violence there as well.

Baobab on the current state of Somalia’s National Theater, which reopened in March only to become the target of a suicide bombing shortly thereafter:

In late August the theatre manager, Abdiduh Yusuf Hassan, announced that the first stage of renovations was complete and shows would begin again in a few weeks. The first production is scheduled to be “Somalia’s Got Talent”, presenting a brighter face for a country so scarred by conflict.

But violence is never far below the surface in Somalia. On September 20th, two suicide bombers attacked “The Village” cafe opposite the theatre, where journalists and MPs are known to mingle, killing at least 14 people. The Village has been a bright spot in Mogadsihu’s re-emergence, and if businesses like that start closing, other ventures may not be far behind.

G. Pascal Zachary on changing presentations of Africa in the media: “That the New York Times, in its influential ‘Lens’ blog on visual journalism, is featuring the work of Peter DiCampo, highlights the sea-change in attitudes on the part of the mainstream media towards even the possibility of African normalcy.”

Amb. John Campbell on how institutions define Africa – and what analytical and policy consequences those choices bring.

Think Africa Press on social pension programs in Ekiti and Osun States, Nigeria.

The State Department’s Dipnote on “community-led conservation” in Namibia.

And last but not least, is it ethical for scholars to cite wikileaked cables?

Nigerian Courts Overturn Elections in Ekiti and Delta States

Nigeria’s national elections in 2007 were considered deeply flawed by most international observers. The contest was not an election, former US Ambassador John Campbell said afterward, but an “election-like event.” Observers alleged fraud not only in the presidential results, but also in the results of state elections around the country. The shadow of 2007 looms over next year’s elections, which President Goodluck Jonathan has promised will be free and fair.

Cases attempting to resolve allegations from 2007 have worked their way through Nigerian courts for the last three years. Two concluded in the last month, and in both instances courts overturned the elections of sitting governors from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in favor of opposition challengers. These outcomes, the latest in a string of approximately a dozen overturned PDP victories, testify both to the problems Nigerian democracy has (how did the system deny seats to rightful winners for three years?) and to a potential for accountability in Nigeria that is rare in today’s world.

The first of the two cases occurred in Ekiti State in Nigeria’s south west. On October 15th, a court installed Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria as governor, annulling the election of his rival Segun Oni of the PDP. As I said above, this is not the first time a court has overturned a gubernatorial election since 2007, but it is one of the most significant legal defeats for the PDP since President Jonathan took over earlier this year. For this reason, and because it comes so close to next year’s presidential election, Fayemi’s victory has special significance. Professor Richard Joseph explains:

[One] important sign that Jonathan’s promise of electoral fairness is being heeded was the October 15 decision of a panel of Appeals Court judges that Dr. Kayode Fayemi was the duly elected governor of Ekiti State in southwest Nigeria. Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party had been responsible for invidious acts perpetrated to block Fayemi at every turn. Fayemi was promptly inaugurated as governor on October 16 to begin a four-year term, thereby joining “progressive” governors in two neighboring states, Ondo and Edo, who also “retrieved” their mandate thanks to judicial action. Some of the tendrils of developmental governance in Nigeria are acquiring sturdy roots and stalks.

The second of the two cases I am discussing here concluded just yesterday in Delta State, where a court “nullified the election of Delta state governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) whose term had been due to end next May, and ordered a fresh vote within 90 days.” Uduaghan may win the re-run, as other ousted PDP governors have, but the nullification reinforces the message courts are sending: the law applies to all parties equally.

Many observers of these decisions have mixed, or even negative, feelings about them. Reuters in its articles on Ekiti and Delta emphasizes the doubts these rulings cast on the integrity of the 2007 elections and the potential credibility of the vote in 2011. An editorial in the Nigerian newspaper 234 Next argues that the election re-run in Delta could decrease, rather than increase, accountability:

By only now getting around to pronouncing on the legality of that election, after Mr. Uduaghan had occupied the post nearly all of the four years allowed by the constitution, proves the adage that justice delayed is most certainly justice denied.

Unlike in other states, such as Edo and, most recently, Ekiti, where other candidates were declared the rightful winners, Mr. Uduaghan is free to run for governor all over again, as if his three and a half years never happened. In effect, Mr. Uduaghan could quite possible preside over the affairs of that benighted state for three terms, for a total of 11 years and 6 months. Where is the justice?

These points are valid. But the nullifications still represent a remarkable and rare legal decision. Many electoral outcomes around the world are disputed every year; few are overturned by courts. In the United States, for example, when courts intervene in elections it is usually to settle them – typically in favor of the projected or announced winner – and not to overturn them. Rarer still is the idea that an election could be overturned long after it occurred. Tragic it may be that a rightful winner waits a long time to take his or her seat, but is it a bad thing that the door to a legal challenge can remain open for years?

The decisions in Ekiti and Delta States highlight the ongoing problems resulting from the 2007 elections in Nigeria. But they also suggest that an independent judiciary is attempting to hold politicians accountable, however long it may take.