As of present composition, the gubernatorial elections held in 28 of the 36 states of the federation are ongoing or deemed inconclusive by the INEC in about four states. The ruling All Progressives Congress has secured victory in 15 states, while the Peoples Democratic Party, in eight. The New Nigeria People’s Party has clinched one state, and the Labour Party, none. The accounts behind these triumphs and setbacks highlight the peaks and valleys of our democratic system, offering invaluable insights for the political parties involved.
Out of the eleven incumbent governors vying for re-election, seven belong to the ruling party. Although the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum (APC), achieved an unprecedented victory in the 2023 gubernatorial election, winning 87% of the total votes cast and defeating his main opponent by a staggering margin of 463,395 votes, his counterpart in Zamfara State suffered a defeat at the hands of a relatively unknown political newcomer, Dauda Lawal Dare, who represented the PDP and prevented the return of a declining authoritarian figure.
Except for Lagos State, where tensions between the Igbo and Yoruba communities nearly erupted into a large-scale intertribal conflict, the remaining APC governors seeking re-election, namely Muhammad Inuwa (Gombe), Mai Mala Buni (Yobe), AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq (Kwara), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), and Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa), weathered the storm, with some initially projected to lose in the pre-election surveys.
But PDP’s Governor Bala Mohammed fought the toughest battle to retain his seat as Bauchi State’s chief security officer for another term in last Saturday’s elections. He fought a gang of the state’s frontline elite, comprising two former governors, Ahmed Muazu and Isah Yuguda, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, to emerge victorious against their preferred Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar of the APC—and with his powerful new wife, Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, by his side.
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The only other state a PDP governor is struggling to retain his seat now is Adamawa, where Governor Ahmadu Fintiri has taken the lead in a closely-contested race declared inconclusive, and he’s committed to preventing the emergence of Nigeria’s first-ever elected female governor, Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed (Binani). In Oyo, Governor Seyi Makinde has survived against all odds, despite threats of payback by fellow partisans irked that he worked against the presidential aspiration of his party’s flag-bearer, Atiku Abubakar.
While APC’s performance in the governorship elections is spectacular and shows the party’s end is not in sight, the slim margins, especially in states where the PDP put up a good fight must be taken as a referendum on their performance. Governor Matawalle’s loss is a cautionary tale to amplify whatever the party sets out to achieve, and that must serve as a guidebook, along with the forces that precipitated APC’s losses in the states under their control.
But, then, APC has gained what it lost in the elections. It lost Plateau and gained Benue. It lost Zamfara, but gained Sokoto. APC’s worst loss is the strategic Kano State, where Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso has just reclaimed his long-lost high table as the godfather and prepared to chart his incursion into the northern political demography from a vantage position, in the fashion President Muhammadu Buhari did when he was the arrowhead of the Congress for Progressive Change from 2009 until its merger to form the APC in 2013.
If Kwankwaso, Peter Obi, and other opposition figures are to learn from the 2023 elections, the close contests in the states they lost narrowly aren’t the only pattern to study, but the electoral possibilities they could’ve witnessed if they had disabled their egos and form an alliance to challenge the ruling party. And if they intend to go back to the drawing board and study what propelled APC to victory in 2015, they may establish that entering an election season as divided fronts comes with such regrettable losses.
The close contests in Kaduna and Nasarawa states, for instance, could’ve transpired as instant losses for the APC if the opposition had been under one banner, and so would have the PDP, which has been in charge in Taraba State, lost their re-election bid to the NNPP if the oppositions there had also preferred an alliance to misguided attempts to test their popularity. But, then, to err and miscalculate is also democracy.
And as the APC set out to acknowledge their lessons from the elections, one state that must be given a front seat is Niger State, and that’s not because it’s the largest in the country. Niger State has always been a status quo-preserving place and, for the APC, a long-standing ally. Yet this alliance has come with more tears than smiles—for the people.
And after opting for the APC in the presidential election as it had in the previous election, Niger was the ruling party’s first unconditional victory. Even before INEC announced the results of the governorship race, the PDP candidate in the state, Isah Liman Kantigi, was already in the news calling to congratulate his main challenger, Mohammed Bago of the APC—and it’s a surprising twist in such a closely-contested race.
I had criticized Kantigi’s reputational challenge ahead of the election, but such sportsmanship was a redeeming virtue. He ran for office in what’s arguably the most difficult state to be in the opposition, because almost all potential allies are either in the pocket of the government or crave to be there, and breathed life into democracy in the state. Democracy in Niger State is chiefly a spending competition, and it’s unbearably so for those with no vast resources.
And that’s why one can’t help but recognize the roles of hard-fighting politicians like Senator David Umaru, the longest-running opposition figure of national acclaim in the state. He devoted his intellectual and material resources to opposing the PDP government and bankrolling the opposition even when selling out would’ve given him a seat at the table, until it finally paid off in 2015—when the APC struck gold.
With the APC’s triumphant third win in the presidential election at the helm, or the emergence of a second president-elect, comes a pressing obligation to heed the murmurs of its allies and the outcry of its critics. The voting trends both within and beyond their political strongholds constitute the foremost response that must be acknowledged to fulfill the pledge made in their manifesto, to renew the hope of a nation at a crossroads.
This piece was first published on March 22, 2023