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Nigeria elects its governors, powerful “godfathers” of a country in crisis


They are the “godfathers” of the Nigerian federal system. The governors of 28 of the 36 states that make up Africa’s most populous country are to be appointed on Saturday March 18, after a ballot that promises to be tricky for the majority. A first major challenge for Bola Tinubu, the elected president of Nigeria, victorious candidate of the Congress of Progressives (APC) and himself a former governor of Lagos.

At the head of regions as vast and populated as some countries, these local barons have their hands on enormous resources and have a great influence on the appointments, both locally and nationally. The practice of “sponsorship” is at the heart of the Nigerian political machine and, before winning the presidential election, Bola Tinubu was the most famous godfather from the country.

Governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, he worked for the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 and has always chosen his successors himself. So far at least. Because it was Peter Obi, the popular Labor Party (LP) candidate, who came out on top in Lagos State during the presidential election.

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Since then, attention has been on the Labor Party’s candidate for governor in this region, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour – aka GRV – a 40-year-old, dynamic-looking architect who promises more transparency and investment in transport, health or education. Facing him, the outgoing governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu highlights his record, and of course, his closeness to the traditional chiefs and the elected president.

A “totally redesigned” electoral map

The stakes are high in a federated state with more than 20 million inhabitants and which ranks among the top ten African economic powers in terms of GDP. The tight campaign has fueled tensions between the Yoruba – Bola Tinubu’s community – and the Igbo – Peter Obi’s ethnic group. The director of the LP campaign denounced this Tuesday, March 14 the maneuvers of “desperate politicians”. “The truth is that more Yorubas than Igbos voted for our candidate (…) because people want better governance and free Lagos from the grip [de politiciens qui se comportent comme] an organized crime syndicate” can we read in the press release of the LP.

The opposition hopes in any case to confirm its scores for the presidential election in certain key regions during the ballot on Saturday. Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) recorded a breakthrough in the north-west of the country (Kaduna, Katsina), hitherto acquired in the Congress of Progressives. Elsewhere, the state of Kano, the second most populous in the country, could fall into the hands of the New Nigerian People’s Party (NNPP) of Rabiu Kwankwaso, which obtained an overwhelming majority in this region during the presidential election. It is not excluded either that the federal capital Abuja rocks, it, in the labor camp.

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“The electoral map has been completely redrawn” the day after these extremely disputed general elections (presidential and legislative), notes Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Development and Democracy (CDD) in Abuja. Although the APC retains a majority of seats in the Senate and the National Assembly, “there has never been such a diversity of political parties in Parliament”, she enthuses. Several governors at the end of their mandate who sought to enter the Senate to end their career there saw their project thwarted by the voters. “Local politics is much more nuanced than national politics. Citizens did not hesitate to express their anger against certain personalities,” notes Idayat Hassan.

Logistic challenge

However, the opposition – which disputes the results of the presidential election – denounces the shortcomings of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC). The latter had however promised that the new electronic machines (BVAS) deployed in more than 176,000 polling stations would guarantee the transparency of the ballot. In the end, the facial and digital identification of voters has sometimes experienced failures. “By closing its dedicated site at the crucial moment and then delaying posting the results, the INEC did not respect its own rules and put itself outside the law” even says lawyer and activist Abdul Aminu Mahmud.

A woman votes for the governorship of Lagos State on Saturday March 18.

By way of justification, the federal government’s cybersecurity agency indicated on March 7 that it had “blocked more than 200 computer attacks on election day. The next day, those grew exponentially to 1.2 million and we blocked them all.” But these shortcomings have only reinforced the suspicions of Nigerians, who were already 78% not “not to trust” to INEC before the general elections.

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Faced with logistical challenges, the Electoral Commission decided to postpone the gubernatorial elections for a week – when these were normally scheduled to take place on March 11. A time needed to download the data contained in the BVAS and reconfigure them before the next vote. “The problem is that this once again shows the glaring lack of preparation of the INEC” sighs lawyer Aminu Abdul Mahmud. On the contrary, Idayat Hassan hopes that this delay may allow “to organize credible elections and restore the confidence of voters”. The February 25 general elections were marred by voter apathy, as only 27% of registered voters turned out to vote – or 25 million people out of Nigeria’s more than 215 million people.