As part of our coverage for the elections in Nigeria, this piece reviews parties’ outlook for the all-important gubernatorial elections. Along with the overall summary, we are releasing our final state-by-state ratings for the gubernatorial races.
Key races to watch
As seen during the events of the presidential election, governors play a key role in political party strength in Nigeria, whether it be by endorsing certain candidates or allegedly manipulating elections to favor a contender. However, these officials also serve in their more obvious roles as subnational leaders with significant influence. For these reasons, parties are fighting hard to win these gubernatorial races in the wake of a unprecedented presidential election that challenged the hegemony of the APC and PDP. But there are a few gubernatorial elections that have taken greater significance than most of their counterparts:
Like in many other aspects of Nigerian life, Lagos is taking centre stage in the state elections on 18 March. Home to its titular megacity, Lagos State has the nation’s commercial capital and the vast revenue streams that accompany it. Although it spent over two decades as a stronghold of president-elect Bola Tinubu, times have changed and Peter Obi narrowly won the state in the presidential race using a broad coalition of differing voter bases. Now, three weeks later, the Labour Party is hoping that the Obi coalition can deliver the state for its gubernatorial nominee—Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour. However, Tinubu and his APC is putting up a strong fight for incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu; using threats to civil servants, appropriated government agencies, and a coordinated ethnic bigotry campaign targeting non-Yoruba residents and attacking Rhodes-Vivour for his half-Igbo heritage. Despite the last minute APC push, there are concerns that the party will also resort to voter suppression tactics purportedly used during the presidential election after an influential APC member threatened non-APC supporters in a viral video and various traditional rulers suddenly proclaimed the Oro festival in their domains.
These seemingly frantic moves by the APC appear to come from an understanding of the far-reaching impacts of a hypothetical Rhodes-Vivour victory. Aside from the embarrassment of losing his home state twice in three weeks, no one in the world knows better than Tinubu how problematic an opposition Lagos governor can be for the federal government. Tinubu’s stint as Lagos governor from 1999 to 2007 was all in opposition, and he became a powerful de facto opposition leader through constant disputes with the president and the ruling party. Rhodes-Vivour could be a consistent thorn in the side of the incoming Tinubu administration and himself could become a potential presidential contender. For the LP, the race is of similar importance as a Rhodes-Vivour victory would guarantee the Labour Party an opposition voice against Tinubu with a platform that simply cannot be ignored by media coverage. We have Lagos State rated as a Tossup.
The gubernatorial election in Kano State has a lot of similarities to the Lagosian race: an incumbent APC is struggling to hold onto the governorship of one of the nation’s largest states when confronted with a prominent candidate from a formerly minor party. However, unlike Lagos, the APC is facing the NNPP in Kano.
Although it spent over two decades voting for Muhammadu Buhari (APC), former Kano Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso won the state in the presidential race by a significant margin. Even though Kwankwaso expectedly fell well short of winning nationwide, his impressive Kano performance should bode well for his son-in-law and NNPP gubernatorial nominee Abba Kabir Yusuf but the tense environment in Kano State could change things. Violent clashes throughout the campaign have left dozens killed or wounded while attacks on the federal election day led to the arrests of an APC House of Representatives member for culpable homicide and a NNPP House of Representatives member-elect for brandishing an illegal firearm. Fears of further violence and electoral malpractice could prevent some Kano residents from voting. We have Kano State rated as Likely NNPP.
Aside from Lagos and Kano, there are 26 other gubernatorial elections on Saturday. A couple to look out for include: Adamawa State—APC nominee Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed could become Nigeria’s first elected woman governor if she can unseat PDP incumbent Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, Benue State—the nomination of a suspended Catholic priest and an unpopular PDP incumbent appears to have revived the state APC here, Enugu State—a fascinating four-way race between the APC, APGA, LP, and PDP is challenging PDP hegemony in this southeastern state, and Rivers State—outgoing influential Governor Nyesom Wike is trying to install his hand-picked successor after a very contentious and disputed presidential election along with many more.