Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Nigeria's state elections

If the country doesn't fall apart or succumb to a military coup, Nigeria's state governors will be more important than ever. Alex Thurston of Georgetown University, writing in The Washington Post, tells us some about them.

Don’t ignore Nigeria’s gubernatorial elections
Nigeria’s presidential election, scheduled for Feb. 14, offers a dramatic rematch between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari…

Yet Nigeria’s 36 governors also have considerable sway. They allocate federally disbursed revenue and shape policy on development and security in their states…

With the campaign in full swing, one hears three diverging arguments about the parties. A pro-Jonathan argument casts the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as a force for positive transformation, particularly in terms of Nigeria’s economic performance and infrastructural development. Pro-opposition narratives depict Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) as a progressive alternative to PDP rule, a way out of austerity, endemic corruption and insecurity. The third perspective presents the race as a struggle between “godfathers” – behind-the-scenes power brokers – with little difference between the parties…

Among the open gubernatorial races, three states to watch are Lagos, Kano and Rivers. All have huge populations and economic might. Lagos’s government estimates that the state has 21 million inhabitants – a credible claim, and one that would make Lagos (the state capital) Africa’s most populous city. Not only does Lagos state have more people than many African countries, its gross domestic product (estimated at $91 billion by the current administration) dwarfs even Kenya’s ($55 billion). Kano, the second most populous state with over 10 million residents, is the commercial center of northern Nigeria. Rivers is a key state in the oil-producing Niger Delta. The capital of Rivers is Port Harcourt, a major industrial city.

All three states currently have APC governors. Lagos is an APC stronghold… A key APC leader is former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu, whose former Attorney General Yemi Osinbajo is Buhari’s running mate. Tinubu and current Gov. Babatunde Fashola have received international acclaim for their governance model, which emphasizes tax collection and service delivery in contrast to the model of distributing oil rents, the preferred policy at the national level and in most other states…

If the APC loses Lagos’s governorship this year, it will be a sign either that things went terribly wrong for the APC’s campaign or that massive fraud occurred. In either case, it would bode poorly for the APC’s continued existence as a viable national party…

In Kano, state politics are more competitive…

Kano’s election could be close… Additionally, Kano is a laboratory for the experiment in Islamic law… The winner may also have to calm an angry city: When Jonathan won reelection in 2011 and northern cities rose up in protest, Kano saw some of the most violent riots…

Rivers was the site of another defection from the PDP. Outgoing Gov. Rotimi Amaechi joined… in leaving the PDP in 2013… The Niger Delta is Jonathan’s home territory; it provided some of his largest margins of victory in 2011. As the APC battles to hold Rivers and Jonathan seeks to repeat his blowout victories in the region, Rivers could see more bloodshed…

Nigeria’s term-limited governors will not retire into obscurity… Many former governors remain active as businessmen, politicians and “godfathers.” But 2015 will transfer many governors’ seats to new occupants. Regardless of whether Jonathan or Buhari wins, Nigeria’s deck of politicians will be reshuffled, and the new governors will play a strong role in shaping the country’s trajectory through 2019.

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