Nigerians will vote in delayed gubernatorial polls on Saturday, weeks after a contentious and contested presidential election.
The gubernatorial race will be decided in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states as the ruling party struggles to regain lost ground in key states.
But all eyes will be on the tense struggle for control of wealthy Lagos State, which analysts say will be the “most competitive” in the state’s history.
“This may be the most competitive gubernatorial election in Lagos State,” political analyst Sam Amadi told CNN.
“Many tried to overthrow Lagos in the past and failed because of the entrenched power of Bola Tinubu. As an elected president, his influence may have increased in Lagos, but the Obidients are strong,” Amadi said, speaking to supporters of Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi.
Obi sent shockwaves when it emerged he had beaten President-elect Bola Tinubu in his home turf in Lagos but came third in the presidential poll.
Obi has rejected Tinubu victory and challenges the results in court.
The February 25 presidential elections have been widely criticized for widespread delays, outbreaks of violence and attempted voter suppression.
Several observers, including the European Union, also said the election fell short of expectations and “lacks transparency”.
The battle for Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub and one of Africa’s largest cities, has generally been a two-way race that has never been won by the opposition.
This is partly attributed to political godfather and kingmaker, Bola Tinubu, who is said to have hand-picked every governor in Lagos since his departure in 2007.
Tinubu’s firm grip on Lagos politics now faces an unprecedented threat in Obi’s Labor third force, having lost at home.
Obi is the first opposition presidential candidate to win in Lagos.
Amadi says his popularity with young people could be a game-changer in the Lagos gubernatorial ballot.
“They (Obidients) won Lagos in the last (presidential) poll but feel cheated and suppressed. So we might see a more heated fight. It depends on how motivated and aggrieved Obidients feel now,” he said.
Fifteen candidates seek to overthrow incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, who is seeking a second term. But only two are seen as real threats to his re-election.
Considered a long shot just a few weeks ago, Labor’s Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour is now riding Obi’s wave and gaining momentum after his party’s surprise victory in Tinubu stronghold,
Azeez Olajide Adediran of the People’s Democratic Party, also known as Jandor, is another strong contender who is aiming to land his party’s seat in Lagos for the first time.
Adediran’s party has come second in every gubernatorial vote in Lagos since the return to civilian rule in 1999.
Both men told CNN they were confident of victory. “For the first time, PDP is going to take Lagos, and I’m going to be the governor,” Adediran says. “People are really tired…the streets of Lagos are yearning for a breath of fresh air and that’s what we stand for,” he added.
Rhodes-Vivour told CNN that the time to free Lagos from “state capture” had come, and that he was next to rule the state.
“I am the next Governor of Lagos State,” he said. “You can’t stop an idea whose time has come. The idea of a new Lagos… that is powered by the people and works for the people, as opposed to state capture; this idea, its time has come and no matter what they do, they can’t stop it. This is where confidence comes from. »
Governor Sanwo-Olu asked voters to re-elect him because of his achievements, which he said brought “significant progress” in Lagos, including his commendable handling of the COVID pandemic.
But the governor failed to appease the angry youths who accuse him to play a role in the shooting of peaceful protesters speaking out against police brutality in 2020 by Nigerian soldiers.
Sanwo-Olu admitted to CNN at the time that footage showed uniformed soldiers firing at peaceful protesters but recently denied ordering the shot.
Analyst Amadi told CNN the gubernatorial ballot in Lagos will be a contest between keeping or kicking out the old guard.
“Lagos is a fight between status quo and change,” Amadi said.
“The incumbent Sanwo-Olu has a good chance of keeping his job. But he faces a serious challenge from Gbadebo (Rhodes-Vivour) who has the momentum (of the Obi wave). Jandor (Adediran) is left behind because PDP has been dismantled in Southern Nigeria and has no enthusiasm factor in Lagos,” Amadi said.
“Sanwo-Olu hasn’t been spectacular but is believed to have performed well in some aspects of Lagos’ holdover. He may survive the popular uprising on Saturday…but beware of the surprise if the alarmism of the APC and the loss of confidence in the integrity of INEC does not demotivate young voters,” he added.
In addition to attempts at voter suppression, a vast loss of trustworthy in the ability of the electorate to organize credible elections has eroded the confidence of the electorate in the democratic process.
Only 26% of the more than 93 million registered voters in Nigeria turned out to vote in the last elections. That figure was far lower than the 2019 poll, when a third of registered voters ended up voting.
David Ayodele of the civic group EiE Nigeria, told CNN that the February 25 elections “have deepened the trust gap between the (electoral) commission and the voters”.
Ayodele urged the electorate to redeem themselves in the weekend ballot by “naming and prosecuting INEC officials who were caught tampering with the electoral process”.
Last month, police authorities in Lagos said they were iinvestigate an audio clip, in which two men were heard threatening residents of a local community to vote for the ruling APC candidates or risk being expelled from the area.
Polls will open from 8:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET) on Saturday and are expected to close at 2:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. ET).