March 19, 2019

Governorship Elections: 8 battleground states to watch

Governorship Elections: 8 battleground states to watch

Nigerians go to the polls again tomorrow to elect governors and state assembly members after the presidential and national assembly elections a fortnight ago.

With hundreds of sought-after posts up for grabs and many races laced with communal tensions and bitter personal rivalries, the elections promise to be fiercely fought.

The election faces significant dangers of disruption, some familiar, others recent and more worrying.

The elections are often blighted by violence in large part because they are high-stakes battles for the huge rewards of public office, and in many states also for control of power and revenues between rival ethnic and religious identity groups.

That said, while problems are possible almost nationwide, concerns appear particularly high in six states, namely Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Kwara.


Akwa Ibom, like Rivers, is emerging as a major battleground in the APC-PDP battle for revenue.

It receives the most federal money of any state, and it is widely believed to be a pillar of PDP finances.

A second factor is the partisan rancour in the state, aggravated by the split between PDP Governor Udom Emmanuel and his predecessor Godswill Akpabio, as well as the struggle for control of the state House of Assembly.

Emmanuel, a key figure in Akpabio’s state cabinet, was his anointed heir in 2015.

Soon after he assumed office, however, their relationship began to sour.

Some attribute the falling-out to Emmanuel’s alleged reluctance to complete some projects started by Akpabio; others say it was a dispute over control of the state machinery.

The PDP alleges that the APC orchestrated the crisis, deliberately stoking violence to provide the federal government with justification for declaring a state of emergency.


A number of factors make Kaduna a likely hotspot as the governorship polls draw near, including increasing communal strife and political feuding.

Violent incidents in Kaduna – pitting ethnic rivals against one another, Christians against Muslims, herders against farmers, and bandits against community vigilantes – have killed more than a hundred since the beginning of 2018.

Tensions generated by these incidents are running high and could turn ugly around the elections.

While 36 candidates are running for the governorship, the race appears to be largely between the incumbent APC governor, Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, and the PDP candidate, Isa Ashiru.

Also Read: Elections fallout – Why the common people must heal and reunite

El-Rufai’s policies and governing style have alienated key members of his party in the state, essentially splitting the party into three factions.

His feud with the state’s three senators in the National Assembly led two of them to defect – Suleiman Hunkuyi to the PDP and Shehu Sani to the People’s Redemption Party.

The contest between these incumbents and El-Rufai’s preferred APC senate candidates could become violent if their supporters clash ahead of the polls.

El-Rufai’s selection of a fellow Muslim, Hadiza Abubakar Balarabe, as his running mate, has heightened tensions further.

This choice is a departure from long-running tradition whereby governors choose their deputies from the other main religious group.

It is also controversial because Balarabe hails from southern Kaduna, a part of the state that is predominantly Christian, and where many view his action as a deliberate affront to Christians.

The governor has defended his action, arguing that he chose Balarabe strictly on her merits, as she was the best of the 32 people proposed for the job, that he had President Buhari’s approval and that the governorship is not a religious office but a means of serving the people.

But critics, mostly but not exclusively Christians, view this choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket as insensitive, especially since religious tensions are already high.

Christians fear that the ticket if it succeeds, could create the impression that they are inconsequential in the state’s politics and thus set a dangerous precedent.

However noble the governor’s intentions may have been, his choice has further polarised the electorate along sectarian lines, heightening the risk of election-day disturbances.


Kano, with an estimated 11 million people, is Nigeria’s second-most populous state after Lagos. And with over five million registered voters (again, second only to Lagos), it is an electoral prize in itself.

Kano is currently under an APC government. The risks of violence around the 2019 elections stem from both national and state politics.

Potential violence lies in the feud between the previous APC governor, now a PDP senator, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, and his former deputy and successor Ganduje, running for a second term on the APC ticket.

While in office from 1999 to 2003 and again from 2011 to 2015, Kwankwaso and his deputy worked harmoniously together. But after Ganduje took over, their relationship deteriorated.

Sources in the state say the two parted ways over control of the state apparatus, just like Emmanuel and Akpabio in Akwa Ibom state: Kwankwaso wanted to retain some authority, and Ganduje brooked no interference.

Over the last two years, the squabble intensified, resulting in several clashes between their respective supporters – known in the local Hausa language as the Kwankwasiyya and the Gandujiyya.

Kwankwaso, now based in Abuja, has been unable to hold meetings, rallies or other public events in the state. His campaign called off a planned January 2018 visit when police said they could not guarantee order after one of Ganduje’s men, Commissioner for Special Duties Abdullahi Sunusi, was seen on video urging Gandujiyya to “stone” Kwankwaso if they ever saw him in Kano.

Kwankwaso’s defection (along with his supporters) to the PDP has drawn the battle lines even more sharply. He is backing a PDP candidate, Abba Kabiru Yusuf, for governor.

Though the Kwankwasiyya were weakened when some members switched to the APC on 25 November, they could still clash with Gandujiyya during the campaign.


For the 2019 elections, the first risk of violence stems from the deterioration of security in parts of the state. Over the last two years, clashes have escalated between Fulani herders and Berom and Irigwe farmers.

On 12 November, the Committee on Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), set up by the state government five months prior, reported that recent attacks in the state have killed over 1,800 people and displaced more than 50,000 in Jos North, Jos South, Bassa, Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Bokkos local government areas.

The raw feelings left by these killings could lead to renewed clashes around the elections.

The state is also expected to witness a ferocious gubernatorial contest involving 22 candidates, but basically setting the APC incumbent, Simon Lalong, against a PDP senator, Jeremiah Useni.

Among “indigenes”, Lalong’s refusal to introduce laws banning herders from letting their livestock graze on farmland has cast him as a Fulani “sympathiser”, diminishing his support among mostly Christian farmers (such laws are on the books in other states on the fault line, such as Benue).

Senator Useni, 75, a retired army general from the small “indigenous” ethnic group, Tarok, is rallying all “indigenes” to oust Lalong.

Jos North local government area, which recorded incidents of electoral violence in 2002, 2008 and 2011, is a particular flashpoint.

Locals allege that many young men from Tilden Fulani, a city in neighbouring Bauchi state, came to register for the elections in Jos North, in order to tilt the balance in the Fulani’s favour.

Those who consider themselves “indigenes” are threatening to block “outsiders” from casting votes.

If they follow through with this threat, the result will be bloodshed.


Adamawa, in north-eastern Nigeria, is one of the country’s most diverse states, with about 70 ethnic groups split among the Muslim majority and largely Christian minorities.

From 2012 to 2015, the Boko Haram insurgency spilt over into Adamawa from Borno state, posing a serious challenge to the 2015 elections in the north east of the state.

Since then, the insurgents have been virtually pushed out, yet the 2019 elections here could still be violent, because of the state’s symbolic importance, escalating the farmer-herder conflict and growing problem with armed youth gangs.

At the state level, the escalation of the herder-farmer conflict, particularly since late 2017, adds to risks of electoral violence.

Over the last year, Numan, Demsa and Lamorde local government areas have witnessed recurrent confrontations between Fulani herders and mostly Bachama farmers, with hundreds killed, numerous villages destroyed and tens of thousands displaced, both within Adamawa and to neighbouring Gombe state.

The displacement and prevailing insecurity could depress turnout in some areas. Worse, since the herders are predominantly Fulani and Muslim while farmers are ethnically diverse and in many cases Christian, the conflict has aggravated intercommunal tension across the state.

There is a danger that politicians from all parties may whip up ethno-religious hostility to advance their partisan or even personal objectives.

A further risk arises from the activities of youth gangs, known locally as the Shila Boys.

As during previous elections, politicians may recruit gang members – along with other unemployed youths – to intimidate opponents.

In one incident before the gubernatorial primaries in October, a band of youths attacked a meeting of an APC faction that had been pushing for direct primaries, wounding several persons and damaging vehicles.

A senatorial aspirant, Ibrahim Waziri, alleged that the attackers were working for Governor Mohammed Bindow, which the governor’s aides denied.

The state may witness more such violence around the elections.


In Lagos State, both APC and PDP candidates are locked in last-minute politicking aimed at neutralising the capacity of each other at tomorrow’s election.

The APC has Babajide Sanwo- Olu as its candidate while the PDP has Jimi Agbaje.

The Igbo, seen as the second largest voting bloc aside the Yoruba, have proven hard-nuts to crack, usually voting for the opposition, the PDP.

APC National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is working hard to turn the tide, with Sanwo-Olu already securing endorsements of Lagos State Chapter Ohaneze Ndigbo and the Igbo Conscience (TIC) which is being led by Lagos APC Publicity Secretary Joe Igbokwe, among other prominent personalities.

The PDP, on the other hand, has been buoyed by the figure it polled at the February 23 presidential election even as it vowed to resist any planned disruption of voting in its strongholds.


The APC in Kwara State which won all the National Assembly seats has received the support of the Labour Party for tomorrow’s election.

Senate President Bukola Saraki who has lost his bid to go back to the Senate is said to be solidly behind the candidature of PDP’s candidate, Abdulrazaq Atunwa.

But reactions in the state shows that a lot of forces and alliances are working against the Senate president which many accused of impoverishing of the state and hell-bent on retiring him from politics.


In Ogun State, major political parties have been locked up in last minutes alliances ahead of tomorrow’s election.

Just yesterday, a faction of the PDP adopted the governorship candidate Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Adekunle Akinlade as its candidate who is being supported by Governor Ibikunle Amosun.

Former Ogun State Governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, has equally directed his supporters to vote for APC’s Dapo Abiodun.

While both APC and APM had benefited from last minutes alliances, Buruji Kashamu of the PDP is going into the poll banking on Ogun East as his strongholds.

However, the battle between APC and Amosun’s sponsored APM is raising fears of possible violence.



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