The 2019 Gubernatorial Polls – Key States to Watch

Following the Presidential and National Assembly elections of 23rd February 2019, there has been a measure of relief across different quarters. Of course, there have been torrents of reactions and crossfires pouring in from candidates and party stalwarts and faithfuls regarding the outcome of the elections but nonetheless, the general focus has now been narrowed down to the Gubernatorial and States’ House of Assembly elections slated for 9th March 2019.

Of Nigeria’s 36 States, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conduct Gubernatorial elections in 29 States. The 7 states excluded from the Gubernatorial elections are Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun and Kogi. The House of Assembly elections would however be conducted simultaneously across the 36 States and the FCT

A curious case would be how the victory of the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari of the APC would influence voter’s choices for the Gubernatorial and House of Assembly candidates. Given the history of election violence in Nigeria as well, it is also worth considering whether the violence which marred the Presidential elections in some quarters would cause voter apathy at the Gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections. This is especially so in places like Lagos State where the pockets of electoral violence recorded took an ethnic undertone.

While winners of the Gubernatorial elections for certain states may easily be predicted based on established patterns of its resident voters, the voting pattern from the Presidential elections cautions unpredictability. This is because the Presidential elections in certain states may have been influenced by slightly different factors. States which were hitherto governed by opposition parties may cast their votes to reflect an alignment with the federal status to receive ‘favours’ from the centre.

As the other half of the elections draw near, our eyes are on the following states for political thrillers:

Lagos State

With its large number of registered voters, Lagos has been an APC stronghold since the inception of the party. In fact, it was Lagos voters who formed the bulk of South-West votes that won President Muhammadu Buhari the 2015 Presidential election. The voting pattern for the 2019 Presidential election however questions if APC is losing its stronghold in Lagos since it went from 792,460 votes (55.24%) in 2015 elections to 580,825 votes (53.31%) in the just concluded elections. Also, the level of violence which were recorded in some parts of the state and ethnic-related hostilities which allegedly served as a conduit to sway voters to lean towards to the APC raises questions as to expected voters’ turnout for the Gubernatorial elections. The alleged violence has potentials to spin voters’ reaction either towards apathy or renewed zeal to vote out the ruling party.

Kwara State

For years, the Saraki dynasty held sway in Kwara state, Nigeria, with its indigenes’ loyalty submitted to members of this politically-influential, irrespective of their political leanings. 2019 however heralded an end to the family’s stronghold in the state as sitting Senate President, Bukola Saraki lost out in his re-election bid to the Senate. The conflicting speculations as to the cause of Saraki’s loss in the state casts clouds of uncertainty as to likely inclinations of voters for the Gubernatorial elections. Whatever influenced the voters’ choices, APC seems to still have Kwara state as its stronghold since the other two senatorial seats were swept up by the party and President Muhammadu Buhari defeated the PDP Presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar in the just concluded presidential elections by gathering the highest number of votes in the State.

Imo State

The tenure of the extant governor of Imo State was often smeared with outcries of poor administration, with many vowing to vote out the ruling APC at the polls come 9th March 2019. This renewed ambition by Imo residents was shown in the just concluded Presidential elections which saw PDP again sweeping up wins in 24 local governments in Imo state to defeat APC, even though Imo State is currently controlled by APC. To compound the current challenges, the sitting Governor and Senator-elect, Rochas Okorocha appears to desire a monarchial system in the state as he is currently willing to do anything to have his brother in-law, Uche Nwosu succeed him as Governor of Imo state. What this means for APC is that not only do they have to compete with their greatest rival, PDP, they also have an internal crisis of one of them endorsing the candidate of another party.

Ahead of the Saturday polls, fears are being expressed that being the only APC stronghold in South-East Nigeria, APC will likely do anything possible to retain their power in the State. Indeed, the recent suspension of Governor Okorocha by the national leadership of the APC on grounds of anti-party activities is proof that APC is not here to play. Whether APC can achieve the desired win in Imo is highly doubtful seeing as it has so much of its own internal crisis to deal with.

Sokoto State

The defection of Governor Aminu Tambuwal from the APC where he won his first governorship bid, to his current party, PDP suggests that the upcoming Sokoto state Gubernatorial elections would be a riveting watch. While the sitting Governor banks on his popularity and assumed love from most of the people, the just concluded Presidential and National Assembly elections that saw APC retain a stronghold in the State suggests a second term win for the governor will not be easy in any way. Also, former governor and estranged political godfather of Governor Tambuwal, Aliyu Wamako, is sponsoring the current APC governorship aspirant, and Wamako, a sitting senator also enjoys measures of popularity among the electorate. Wamako has in fact previously boasted at an APC rally that he would unseat the current governor. The popularity of both men, cum their parties would surely be put to test at the polls come Saturday.

Ogun State

In a Nigerian fashioned Game of Thrones, the Ogun state gubernatorial elections would make a fascinating watch as a faction of APC fights to retain power in the party while its incumbent governor attempts to install his preferred candidate – the flagbearer of the APM as his successor. The fascination of this election lies in the fact that Governor Amosun, the incumbent, will be working against his own party (under which he recently clinched a Senatorial seat) to achieve this objective. This attitude by Governor Amosun is predicated on the fact that he had a fallout with the party leaders and the ruckus between the governor and APC has caused his suspension from the party. Seeing that APM is a fairly young party, and mainly rests on Amosun to deliver it, the question the votes at the polls come Saturday will answer is; Is Ibikunle Amosun capable of delivering when he’s most needed?

Kenechi Obele is an Associate with the Intel and Comms team at Taxaide.