By: Tolu Ogunlesi
As partisan, personal and religious rivalries grow, the two main parties are heading towards state elections that will be as closely fought as the presidential vote.
On 28 February 2015, two weeks after the hoopla of the presidential elections, Nigerians are due to elect governors and state assembly members.
For many, that vote could affect their lives much more than the presidential one: the performance of the state governments has varied widely, sometimes due to personality, sometimes due to party.
Support from governors will be critical for Jonathan in the Presidential elections
With a national opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), confronting the the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the first time since the return to civil rule in 1999, it will be a critical test of Nigeria’s political pluralism and the viability of its expensive and complex
The rhetoric is already heating up.
At what he billed as a mega-rally in Port Harcourt in October, Rivers State governor Rotimi Amaechi lashed out at President Goodluck Jonathan: “He [Jonathan] is not my brother […] my brother who delivers services for me.
“If the President says he is our brother, let him mention one project he has done for us.”
As one of the five governors from the PDP who defected to the opposition in 2013, Amaechi is taking on the fight of his political life.
Although he leaves office next year after two terms in power, he wants to ensure that Rivers State – which is the second richest after Lagos State – remains under opposition control.
Yet all the incoming governors next year will face a common obstacle in carrying out their ambitious programmes: falling oil prices.
After dropping to less than $50 a barrel in January 2015, oil prices are expected to continue falling as production from the US surges and oil producers ramp up output to compensate for falling revenue.
Apart from Lagos, with its sizeable tax base, none of Nigeria’s states could balance their books without the monthly allocations from central government, which are largely earned from crude sales.
This sharing out of revenue between the federal government, the 36 state governments and the 774 local governments is at the heart of the country’s politics.
Much of the debate at the constitutional conference in 2014 was about how revenue should be allocated, with northern states blocking demands from the oil producing states for further increases in their percentage of national revenue.
As the conference failed to resolve the matter, arguments over resources will colour the election campaign.
Support from incumbent governors in the ruling PDP for Jonathan in the presidential elections will be critical: they mobilise the local party organisations, and if they are popular that hugely helps the presidential candidate.
Many state governors completing their second and final terms are seeking election to the senate and so have remained loyal to the ruling party.
The future of the five PDP governors who defected to the opposition depends critically on the electoral performance of the APC.
Gubernatorial elections will take place in just 28 of the 36 states because legal disputes over results have altered the voting calendar in other states.
After its loss of five states last year, the PDP has been clawing back support with a combination of patronage and local political pressure.
‘Incumbency and Opportunity: forecasting Nigeria’s 2015 Elections’, a new study by Oxford University researchers Zainab Usman and Oliver Owen, describes a “rapidly changing dynamic […] as alliances continue to be built and reconfigured.”
The report also points to the existence of clear electoral patterns.
The incumbency advantage is real: the 10 governors – from all parties – seeking a second term are more likely to win than their opponents.
In the other 18 state contests, candidates from the ruling PDP will have an advantage, in money and logistics, over their opposition rivals.
Close contest expected
Balancing those factors with the voting trends from the 2011 elections, Usman and Owen conclude that the PDP and APC will end up with 17 states each.
They say the remaining two will be held by the Labour Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), both loosely allied to the PDP.
Populous and wealthy Lagos is the only south-western state that the PDP has never ruled
That points to a very close contest. Indeed, the researchers predict the presidential election could go to a second round.
To win in the first round, a candidate has to have a majority of all votes cast and win 25% of votes in two-thirds of the 36 states.
Bashir Yusuf, national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Movement, which broke away from the PDP, says the states to watch are Nasarawa, Bauchi, Katsina, Jigawa, Rivers, Oyo and Ogun.
One of the biggest battles will be in Rivers state in the Niger Delta, predicts Yusuf, because all the other states in this oil-producing region are firmly under control of the PDP.
Governor Amaechi is openly antagonistic towards President Jonathan and first lady Patience Jonathan, who comes from Rivers State and had tried to exert political and financial influence there.
The south-east is not expected to deliver any upsets. The PDP wants to win Imo, the one state it does not control there.
But Yusuf argues that the odd man out, Imo governor Rochas Okorocha – elected in 2011 as an APGA candidate but now a member of the APC – will have no problems keeping his state.
In the south-west, four of the five states support the APC, while the PDP is left with two, down from five in 2003.
Lagos is the only south-western state that the PDP has never ruled, and the party is keen to change that.
It is the most populous state and the financial centre of Nigeria’s $510bn economy.
Were Lagos State a country, it would be one of the 10 largest economies in Africa.
Since 1999, Lagos has belonged to the political camp of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who ruled as governor for two terms until 2007.
Tinubu’s decision to back his relatively unknown chief of staff as successor surprised everyone.
It turned out to be a master stroke, as governor Babatunde Fashola has run an impressive and popular administration.
In October, he commissioned the fourth state-backed power plant, which operates independently from the national power company, during his governorship.
It looks like the battle to succeed Fashola will be highly contentious.
Much has changed since 2007 when Tinubu anointed Fashola as his successor, and there has been a backlash against the perceived overbearing influence of Tinubu in the region.
In campaigning for the August 2014 governorship elections in Osun State, the PDP sought to portray incumbent governor Rauf Aregbesola as Tinubu’s “sidekick”.
Fashola is likely to want a say in who succeeds him as governor of Lagos State, and that may set him against Tinubu, who has assumed a godfather-like role in the country’s commercial capital.
Religious considerations are becoming more important in southern states.
Tensions are rising in the south-west, which is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
Aregbesola’s successful re-election bid was haunted by accusations that his policies were anti-Christian.
In Lagos State, Christians are insisting that, after 16 years of Muslim governors, it is time for a Christian in the seat.
Elsewhere, a group known as the Joint Muslim Forum is campaigning against the state government’s May 2014 ban on the wearing of hijab – the veil – in public schools.
The forum is pushing a ‘No Hijab, No Vote’ campaign. ●