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Nigeria’s Off-Cycle Governors’ Races

Much like our coverage of the main stretch of Nigerian elections in February and March, this piece will review the outlook for the 11 November gubernatorial elections. Along with the context, we are releasing our state-by-state ratings for the three gubernatorial races in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi states.


On the return to democracy in 1999, all 36 gubernatorial elections in Nigeria were scheduled for the month after presidential elections. However, for several states, past court decisions that overturned elections lead to delayed inaugurations that changed their electoral calendars. Court rulings in 2008, 2020, and 2007 cause gubernatorial elections to be held several months later than typical in Bayelsa, Imo, and Kogi, respectively and last year, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared that all three states’ 2023 elections would be held on the same day: 11 November 2023.

With that background on why these elections exist, we can examine the context that the elections are taking place in as President Bola Tinubu’s first few months has been rocky amid continued electoral controversies and contentious policy initiatives. For these three states, election season never ended as campaigning for the primary then general elections started immediately after the February and March races. Known for heavily-contested and at times violent elections, we will look at each state’s race and release our predictive ratings.

Update: Unfortunately, the feared electoral manipulation noted in each state’s individual summaries below appears to have occurred; while the Bayelsa State election appears to mainly be straightforward, the elections in Kogi and Imo states have prompted comparisons with the notoriously rigged elections administered by corrupt INEC Chairman Maurice Iwu in the late 2000s. In Imo State, the PDP nominee’s convoy was attacked and the collation center LP agent was beaten when he attempted to contest results – it has been reported that much of the state was unable to vote but pre-filled “results sheets” were submitted anyway as journalists compare the race to Equatoguinean sham elections. Those pre-filled results sheets also were present in Kogi State, with INEC already suspending voting in affected areas. We believe that it is important to note these events, both to contextualize our coverage and to avoid the appearance of validating flawed elections.

Bayelsa State

2019 Result: Lyon (APC)+41.91% (Lyon later disqualified)

Major candidates: former Governor Timipre Sylva (APC); incumbent Governor Douye Diri (PDP)

Total Registered Voters (2023): 1,058,174

YIAGA Election Manipulation Risk Index: Moderate Risk

Summary: In 2019, Bayelsa โ€” a riverine state in the Niger Delta โ€” broke with two decades of PDP loyalty to vote for APC nominee David Lyon. However, the immensely controversial election was later changed by court ruling, not due to the electoral manipulation accusations but instead due to a discrepancy in the certificates of Lyon’s running mate. Hours before he was supposed to be inaugurated, Lyon and his running mate were disqualified over the issue and Douye Diri, the PDP runner-up, became governor instead. Diri has been a fairly low-profile governor, mainly entering national news for feuding with his predecessor and praising the brutal 1990s-era dictator Sani Abacha. In the February and March elections, the PDP won at each level โ€” presidential, senatorial, federal House, and state legislative. For this election, Diri is up against former Governor Timipre Sylva (APC) with the race’s main dividing lines based on region and connections to various local powerbrokers. Additionally, there are the common themes of “federal might” โ€” the term for presidentially-directed electoral manipulation using federal funds and the military โ€” and violence, which are also major themes in Imo and Kogi.

Rating: LEAN PDP โ€” Due to Diri’s incumbency advantage and a divided state APC, the incumbent is favoured in Bayelsa. On the topic of potential electoral irregularities, the deployment of “federal might” could definitely favor Sylva but it is difficult to predict its impact before an election.

Imo State

2019 Result: Election annulled, Uzodimma (APC) declared winner

Major candidates: incumbent Governor Hope Uzodimma (APC); former Senator Athan Achonu (LP); former Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP)

Total Registered Voters (2023): 2,423,788

YIAGA Election Manipulation Risk Index: High Risk

Summary: The 2019 gubernatorial election in the southeastern Imo State was a confusing, drawn-out affair as initial results showed the PDP’s Emeka Ihedioha winning with 38%. Although the election was contested, Ihedioha was inaugurated in May 2019 and served as Governor until an immensely controversial Supreme Court ruling in January 2020 awarded the election win (and Governor’s office) to the APC’s Hope Uzodimma. These court-ordered winner changes are not atypical in Nigeria, but this ruling was certainly different because Uzodimma was not the runner-up in the election: he came fourth. The ruling and its bizarre justifications led Uzodimma to be mockingly deemed a “Supreme Court Governor” by critics pointing out that the electorate opted for three others ahead of him in 2019. Regardless, Uzodimma has governed for nearly four years, but with the controversies that put him in office following him throughout the term as he lacks a popular mandate and insecurity has greatly worsened in the state since 2020. Unfortunately, Uzodimma appears to have resorted to underhanded tactics to hold power, overseeing the arrests or beatings of opponents along with systematic election manipulation during the February and March elections. In this election, Uzodimma is up against two former senators โ€” Athan Achonu (LP) and Samuel Anyanwu (PDP) โ€” with the race’s main dividing lines based on region but also noting the wave of LP support in the region due to popular presidential candidate Peter Obi. Unfortunately, few believe that campaign issues or support bases will ultimately determine the results as the state government booked every hotel room in the state capitol to prevent election observers from finding accommodation and continued insecurity makes it unlikely that people will be able to vote in affected areas.

Rating: LEAN APC โ€” Due to Uzodimma’s clear willingness to impose APC candidates upon his state and a divided opposition, the incumbent is favoured in Imo. If not for the clear prelude to electoral malpractices, Achonu may have had the edge as the LP is generally popular across the South-East.

Kogi State

2019 Result: Bello (APC)+35.45

Major candidates: former state Auditor-General Ahmed Usman Ododo (APC); former Senator Dino Melaye (PDP); Murtala Ajaka (SDP)

Total Registered Voters (2023): 1,932,591

YIAGA Election Manipulation Risk Index: Moderate Risk

Summary: In 2019, Kogi โ€” a diverse state in the North-Central โ€” elected incumbent Governor Yahaya Bello to second term in office. An immensely controversial governor, the election was no different as there were extensive electoral manipulation accusations (including Bello โ€œwinningโ€ a LGA with over 110,000 votes compared to less than 200 votes for his main opponents) but unlike Bayelsa or Imo, its election was not overturned by court ruling. Now Bello is term-limited and is attempting to help his hand-picked successor into office. The imposition of APC nominee Ahmed Usman Ododo in the party primary, coupled with regional and ethnic factors, has provided an opening for Murtala Ajaka of the SDP. Ajaka, an APC defector with a strong eastern base, is leading in the sole poll but needs to overcome Bello’s party machine to defeat Ododo. In the February and March elections, the APC won at each level in large part due to blatant malpractice like APC officials personally ripping ballots cast for opposition candidates. Ethnic and regional divides along with APC infighting could prevent the worst of this manipulation but the common themes of “federal might” and outright violence remain key in the state.

Rating: LEAN APC โ€” Much like in Imo State, Bello has shown a clear willingness to impose APC candidates upon his state and the APC is facing a divided opposition, thus the party is favoured in Kogi. If not for likely electoral malpractice, Ajaka may have had the edge due to his strong base in the state’s populous east.

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