Governorship Elections: Lagos, Rivers and Eight Other States To Watch 

LP hopes to strengthen its political structure at the grassroots. But how much of a fight can the party actually put up against the APC and PDP in the ultimate turf wars?


A third force has arrived!

Over the last decade, Nigeria’s political landscape has been dominated by two behemoths. And for a decade longer, most Nigerians could hardly imagine any party but the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) calling the shots. Not even the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) came close, despite holding the fort in Anambra State.

In Anambra and seven other states, however, no battle cries for governorship seats will be heard… yet. With past election litigation dislodging Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi, Ondo, Osun, and the aforementioned southeastern subnational from the electoral cycle, the futures of 28 other states shall be determined this weekend.

For several of the over two dozen subnationals, the race to this Saturday’s governorship polls is shaping up to be the most competitive yet, particularly with the stratospheric rise of Mama-Papa-Pikin

The youth-charged Labour Party (LP) was downplayed in the lead-up to the presidential and National Assembly elections, repeatedly described by proponents of the Big Two as a flash in the pan with no real political structure. But against all the odds, the party broke through with a showing that perhaps shocked many a political veteran – and even some supporters.

READ ALSO: Peter Obi: Nigeria’s Surprise Presidential Challenger

With Peter Obi on the ballot, the party raked in 6,101,533 votes for a third-place finish. But if that does not appear all that groundbreaking, compare the figure with the party’s 2019 total of 5,074 ballots, which had the Muhammed Usman Zaki-fronted ticket in 30th place out of 73 political parties.

That’s a staggering 120,151 percent leap!

The “Obi effect” on the National Assembly was remarkable with upsets left and right that earned the LP six senatorial seats and 34 at the House of Representatives for some semblance of national spread: Abia, Anambra, Delta, Enugu, Kaduna, Lagos, Rivers, and the Federal Capital Territory.

Going into the governorship elections, many believe the playing field is now somewhat level as the one-time non-starter squares up to the Big Two.

LP hopes to strengthen its political structure at the grassroots. But how much of a fight can the party actually put up against the APC and PDP in the ultimate turf wars?

All Eyes On Sanwo-Olu

As far as political strongholds go, Lagos State might as well be synonymous with the APC, an enigma for which now-President-elect Bola Tinubu seems to get all the credit (and blame).

Since his ascension to the much-coveted office of Lagos State governor, the accountant has managed to keep his political party – through each iteration – at the helm. In 1999, his now defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD) secured the governorship seat. And the win was considered monumental simply because the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) all but swept the general elections at the federal and subnational levels.

As Tinubu’s influence grew, he perfected the art of shutting out the PDP and lesser-known political parties on the homefront, going on to cultivate a godfather persona. With the reputation came a long procession of political beneficiaries and successors, including Babatunde Fashola, Akinwunmi Ambode, and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who seeks re-election this weekend.

However, for a state once thought of as a political outlier, some have come to the conclusion that Lagos is now run by a one-party system in disguise.

These sentiments may have contributed to an unprecedented upset for the Obidient movement in Lagos last month, whereas the ruling party went on to retain presidential power with Tinubu’s victory.

Now, for the first time in 24 years, the APC may be facing other parties on equal footing in the race to lead Africa’s most populous city. With Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour (LP) and Abdul-Azeez Adeniran aka Jandor (PDP) on the ballot, the competition for Sanwo-Olu’s job may be the fiercest it has ever been.

Governorship Poll Or Presidential Rematch?

On May 29, Nyesom Wike steps aside after completing two consecutive terms as governor. But succeeding him may not be the stride to power it once was for the PDP in the state – particularly with Obi breathing new life into LP.

According to figures provided by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the presidential poll saw a surprising upset by the APC in Rivers with 231,591 votes, next to LP’s 175,071. Though the state had a history of healthy PDP wins, the governor’s party plummeted to third place, earning a dismal 88,468 votes – basically, half of the runner-up’s entire ballots.

The loss was preceded by a months-long feud between Wike and the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, following the former’s failure to attain the party’s ticket in the May 2022 primary. With President Muhammadu Buhari on the verge of completing his tenure, fellow northerner Atiku’s nomination was seen as a flagrant disregard for the PDP’s zoning arrangement as enshrined in its own constitution.

Unfazed by the prospect of four more years of a PDP-free Aso Villa, Wike joined forces with four other conscientious objectors – governors of Abia, Benue, Enugu and Oyo states – demanding the resignation of PDP National Chairman Iyorchia Ayu, another northerner at the helm.

By his own admission, the governor apparently achieved his endgame: the emergence of a southern successor to Buhari. 

But the APC’s southside victory is widely viewed as a machination of the governor’s political prowess that has no bearing on the party’s popularity in the state. That much is clear from the Rivers PDP leader’s frequent diatribes against APC standard-bearer Tonye Cole and his ally Rotimi Amaechi – Wike’s former principal.

The governor however seems to see value in Obi’s significant clout on his turf.

Despite Obi’s repeated attempts to counter identity politics, Wike addressed Igbo traders in Rivers last Saturday, arguing that the former PDP vice-presidential candidate was crucial to preventing three consecutive victories for the North in the presidential election: LP’s victory in states where the PDP was bound to win made that happen, according to Wike.

“In this election that we just did, Obi is my hero,” he confessed. But Obidients seem to take this as a positive sign of their party’s chances at this weekend’s poll.

With Wike’s power of incumbency, there is no ruling out the PDP’s Siminialaye Fubara, the candidate after his own heart. The former state accountant general who cuts an unassuming figure next to the outspoken governor.

Facing off against Fubara are APC’s Cole and LP’s Beatrice Itubo, a former Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Chairman in the state who happens to be the sole female contender in the race.

The Closing Gap

A long-time PDP stronghold, Kaduna State broke with conventions in the 2015 general elections that saw the emergence of President Buhari and loyalist turned governor Nasir El-Rufai. 

With 1,127,760 votes, the former head of state defeated then-President Gooduck Jonathan, who scored 484,085 votes. Similarly, El-Rufai recorded an almost identical win, garnering 1,117,635 votes as against PDP/Mukhtar Yero’s 485,833. 

In 2019, despite taking a bit of a dip from the previous year, Buhari secured 993,445 votes in the state to trounce runner-up Atiku’s 649,612 ballots. 

At the governorship poll, El-Rufai won. The APC stalwart bagged 1,045,427 votes for a fulfilled re-election bid, edging out Isa Ashiru of the PDP who gained 814,168 ballots.

The ever-closing gap culminated in a decisive PDP victory in Kaduna’s presidential contest this year, Atiku taking a meagre 554,360 votes to beat out Tinubu, who polled 399,293 votes. LP’s Obi came third with a total of 294,494, while Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) gained 92,969 votes.

Buoyed by the recent win, the umbrella party in Kaduna is bolstered to reclaim the mandate it lost eight years ago with Ashiru retaining the ticket. With two terms apiece as a member at the Kaduna State House of Assembly and the House of Representatives, the PDP candidate is one of the clear frontrunners.

LP contender Jonathan Asake also enters into the fray hot on the heels of an arguably impressive showing by his party at the presidential poll. As a former president of the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), he has his work cut out for him in the state’s northern majority.

However, incumbency is a factor that positions the APC as the one to beat, one could argue. But considering the mounting security challenges and allegations of human rights violations before the current administration, Sani Uba could be facing an uphill battle in his party’s bid to hold on to Government House.

A Stronghold Under Siege

The past two and a half decades are a clear indicator that Abia is a core PDP state.

The southeastern constituent was established in 1999 as a stronghold of the party, chipping in for Olusegun Obasanjo’s decisive victory as president and electing governorship nominee Orji Uzor Kalu over Ogbonnaya Onu of the All People’s Party (APP).

The 2003 elections were a close call for the party with Obasanjo’s presidential bid in Abia securing 386,748 votes next to the 260,899 garnered by Anambra native Odumegwu Ojukwu under APGA. With 540,983 votes, Kalu was re-elected with his closest rival, Enyinnaya Abaribe of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), securing 198,738 ballots.

For the first time, things took a different turn for the ruling party in 2007 when the governorship seat went the way of Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), thanks to nominee Theodore Orji defeating the PDP’s Onyema Ugochukwu. 

But a 2011 comeback at the hands of recent defector Orji attracted a towering PDP tally of 641,158 votes that all but obliterated the 49,421 total for APGA candidate Reagan Ufomba.

With the emergence of the newly amalgamated APC, the 2015 elections were an epoch during which the PDP witnessed a tidal wave of upsets across the country. However, Abia played its part in holding the line for then-President Jonathan with a win of 368,303 ballots that bested Buhari’s 13,394.

The party’s candidate Okezie Ikpeazu similarly secured victory over APGA’s Alex Otti and in 2019 repeated the feat against Uchechukwu Sampson Ogah of the APC. The same was the case for presidential hopeful Atiku, who went on to become the runner-up.

For a second there, the 2023 PDP governorship ticket was wrapped up in uncertainty. Seemingly in the nick of time, Okey Ahiwe won the party’s primary rerun last month, keeping alive the ruling party’s dream of a winning streak.

But with last month’s presidential poll came Abia PDP’s second major scare in 16 years. Obi scored 327,095 votes to beat out Atiku whose tally came to 22,676.

So, it’s not hard to imagine LP’s Alex Otti is energised to take on frontrunner Ahiwe and Action Peoples Party (APP) candidate Mascot Uzor Kalu, brother to former Governor Kalu.

Talk about a showdown. 


Ready To Rumble

Back in 1999, the PDP dominated Kano State at the presidential poll with Obasanjo on the ticket. But as it turns out, Buhari proved to be the gambit needed to clinch the state.

With the retired general’s presence on the 2003 ballot under ANPP, Obasanjo was defeated four-fold. Again in 2007, he triumphed as the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) candidate, defeating fellow Katsina native and overall victor Yar’Adua of the PDP. But Buhari’s personal best did not come until 2015, when he scored close to two million votes as the APC’s candidate.

However, while the trend of Kano’s presidential polls tells one story, its governorship elections are something else entirely. In fact, arguably no other state has gone through as many tonal shifts as Kano’s internal political structure has.

On the governorship front, the northwestern cosmopolis began the Fourth Republic under the leadership of PDP’s Rabiu Kwankwaso between 1999 and 2003. Then Ibrahim Shekarau of ANPP unseated the incumbent in 2003 to become a two-term governor. 

In 2011, Kwankwaso returned to office under the PDP, serving until 2015. After leaving the PDP to help kick-start the APC, he steered his former deputy Abdullahi Ganduje’s campaign to success in 2015. 

Since then, a long feud has set in, prompting Kwankwaso’s brief return to the PDP and culminating in his political resurgence as the leader of the little-known NNPP.

Much like LP’s revival on the national stage, Kwankwaso took Kano by storm in last month’s presidential election, scoring 997,279 votes – the highest for anyone other than Buhari!

With two-thirds of the state’s senatorial seats and a solid 18 House of Representatives slots under its belt, the NNPP is perhaps the frontrunner going into the governorship elections this weekend. That puts ticket-holder Abba Kabir on our radar, next to current Deputy Governor Nasiru Gawuna (APC), and Sadiq Aminu Wali (PDP).

New Players, Same Struggle

Seyi Makinde has his sights set on re-election as Oyo State governor. And if he succeeds, the PDP candidate will become the first to replicate the achievement, after the late Abiola Ajimobi, who was first elected in 2011 under the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – one third of the APC as we know it today.

None of Makinde’s other predecessors succeeded in serving a second term: Dr. Lam Adesina was elected in 1999 under the AD and held office until 2003 when PDP’s Rashidi Ladoja defeated him. 

An internal dispute led to Ladoja’s inevitable impeachment in January 2006, which opened the door for his deputy Christopher Alao-Akala’s takeover. Following a lengthy court battle all the way up to the Supreme Court, Ladoja was reinstated in December 2006. But Ladoja’s travails were far from over as the erstwhile governor failed to obtain the party’s ticket to contest the 2007 election.

That privilege went to Alao-Akala, who went on to win the election but the late police retiree could not defeat Ajimobi in 2011.

Governor Makinde is the clear frontrunner. But there are hurdles for him to overcome, chief among which is the APC, a formidable opponent given his predecessor’s historic two-term tenure.

The challenge is perhaps made even more knotty, considering his rumoured support for APC’s Tinubu – a fallout of his gameplay to counter a potential PDP/Atiku conquest in the southwestern stronghold. 

The tactic worked. But rival Teslim Folarin would certainly hope the purported clash of interests on Makinde’s part helps his own chances.

Three-Horse Race

For the longest time, rocky Plateau State was the PDP’s impenetrable fortress, both at the federal and state levels. But that seemed to change when the APC entered the picture in 2015.

Still, as much of the country united in their overwhelming show of support for Buhari, Plateau held its ground for the Jonathan-fronted PDP.

At the governorship polls, however, the party’s 16-year streak came to a deflating end with two-term governor Jonah Jang. Former Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly Simon Lalong won the day as the APC candidate and secured a second term in 2019.

The curtain falls on Lalong’s tenure on May 29, which means new contenders will battle it out for an outcome that could go one of three ways.

With 466,272 votes, LP bolted to victory at Plateau’s presidential poll, while the ruling party’s tally added up to 307,195. The PDP was in third place with 243,808 votes. 

The mild result of the APC in the just concluded presidential primary has left the party seeming like the underdog in the key battleground state of the Middle Belt. Suddenly, the party’s candidate Nentawe Yilwatda is in what looks to be a tough fight opposite Patrick Dakum (LP) and Caleb Mutfwang (PDP).

Is it possible Plateau can produce the first LP governor of the Obi era? Only a few days till we find out.

Enemies Within

Previous governors of Ogun State have had the good fortune of serving all eight years of the constitutionally allowed maximum in office – everyone besides Olusegun Osoba (AD), who became the first governor of the state upon Nigeria’s final return to democratic rule in 1999.

After Osoba was then-PDP candidate Gbenga Daniel, taking office in 2003 and getting re-elected in 2007. Then Ibikunle Amosun (ACN) ascended to the coveted seat in 2011 and returned as an APC member in 2015.

As his tenure was winding down in 2019, Dapo Abiodun stepped up to claim the APC ticket. But the then-sitting governor had his own candidate: Adekunle Akinlade. The supposed chosen one, however, failed to deliver at the party’s governorship primary, coming a distant fourth.

Amosun was diametrically opposed to Abiodun’s emergence, choosing instead to support Akinlade as the latter defected to the much more obscure Allied Peoples Movement (APM), making for awkward campaign rallies. While Amosun won a seat at the Senate under the APC, Abiodun turned out to be his successor.

But the rivalry rages on.

With Abiodun seeking re-election, his predecessor has yet again joined forces with the opposition – this time, African Democratic Congress (ADC) candidate and insurance executive Biyi Otegbeye. Another challenger of note is Ladi Adebutu (PDP), a House of Representatives member during the Third Republic.

One wonders whether a home run is in the offing for Abiodun.


Ortom’s Last Stand?

What might Governor Samuel Ortom do differently, if given the chance to do over his 2023 election campaign, one wonders. 

His tenure began with an epoch-making turn in the 2015 governorship election, becoming the first non-PDP winner in the state. One defection later and he appears to be in a more precarious position than when he began as governor.

In the final year of his administration, a series of rather unfortunate cul-de-sacs have played out, beginning with Atiku’s emergence as PDP presidential candidate in May 2022. The nomination was a source of concern for more than a few in the party, particularly those in the southern region who felt cheated. 

For Ortom, it didn’t matter that he is also from the North. He considered it immoral to support the rightful nominee, knowing that an Atiku presidency at present could mean the South having to wait another eight years before getting its next decent shot. 

So, he teamed up with his contemporaries from Rivers, Oyo, Abia, and Enugu to fight the alleged illegality. Projecting themselves as the conscience of the party, they called themselves the G5. Their objective? The resignation of PDP Chairman Iyorchia Ayu, who also happens to be from Benue in the North-Central region. Without this, they would not align with the party on Atiku’s ambition to become president.

While the campaign of abstention took hold, Ortom trudged on with his senatorial bid. Declaring his support for the LP presidential candidate, he told supporters that he would gladly sacrifice his ambition if it would help Obi become president. Unfortunately, neither he nor Obi was successful in Ortom’s domain or at the federal level. Victory was the APC’s in every regard.

So, as it stands, the governorship election may be Ortom’s final chance at redemption. PDP standard-bearer Titus Uba has earned the governor’s stamp of approval, but he will have Hyacinth Alia (APC) and Herman Hembe (LP) to contend against.

It (Always) Takes Two

Last but not the least is Katsina, where no one but the PDP and APC has stood a chance in a governorship race, and the home state of two of Nigeria’s presidents – the late Yar’Adua and incumbent Buhari – incidentally emerging from both sides of the aisle.

As the ruling party, the APC’s waning popularity in the Home of Hospitality must be a troubling sign, given this is the birthplace of the sitting president.

This year, with Tinubu on the presidential ballot, the party scored a total of 482,283 votes, edged out by the PDP/Atiku polling 489,045 votes. That’s a far cry from the totals of 1,232,133 and 1,345,441 for Buhari in 2019 and 2015, respectively, against the humble collections of rivals Atiku (308,056) and Jonathan (98,937).

Previous governorship elections also showed the APC to be in healthy form. In 2019, the party amassed 1,178,864 votes for Aminu Masari, sidelining Garba Lado of the PDP whose votes came to 488,621. Before that, the 2015 poll ended in a more modest win for APC/Masari polling 943,085 votes; runner-up Musa Nashuni (PDP) got a total of 476,768.

This time around, the APC’s fight is even more dire, it would seem, given the PDP candidate it is up against: Garba Lado.

A brother to Yar’Adua by marriage, Lado is a former House of Representatives member who joined active politics at the behest of the late president’s second term in 2003. His familial ties to the beloved Yar’Adua dynasty is nothing to overlook.

Lado will be challenged by Dikko Radda (APC), a doctorate degree holder and former local government chairman who has the backing of Masari and Buhari.

With connections this strong, the next governor of Katsina State is anyone’s guess.