Nigerians vote in gubernatorial election as ruling party seeks to regain lost ground in key states

Nigerians went to the polls on Saturday in a delayed gubernatorial election, weeks after a contested and contested presidential election – after election violence and voter loss.

A party official was shot and killed in Lagos on Saturday during Nigeria’s new state governorship elections.

“We are getting distressing reports from all over Lagos of voter intimidation and voter suppression. One of our agents was shot and killed,” Labor party candidate for governor of Lagos state, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, said in a video statement.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) spokesman Festus Okoye told CNN: “We are raising and gathering reports from the various states of the federation before we can make a decision.”

Reports of disenfranchisement continued on Saturday as about 6,000 residents of Victoria Garden City, Lagos, said their polling station had been moved outside their gated compound without notice, claiming election staff left before any resident had cast their vote.

The governorship race will be decided in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states as the ruling party tries to regain lost ground in key states.

But all eyes are on the tight race for control of the country’s wealthy Lagos state.

“This may be the most competitive gubernatorial election in Lagos State,” political analyst Sam Amadi tells CNN. “Many have tried to turn Lagos upside down in the past but failed because of Bola Tinubu’s entrenched power. As president-elect, his influence may have grown in Lagos, but the Obidents are strong.” , Amadi says, speaking of supporters of Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi.

Obi caused shockwaves when it emerged that he beat President-elect Bola Tinubu in his Lagos home turf but came third in the presidential election.

Obi has rejected Tinubu’s victory and is contesting the results in the courts.

The February 25 presidential election was widely criticized for widespread delays, outbreaks of violence and attempts at voter suppression.

Several observers, including the European Union, also said the election fell short of expectations and “lacked transparency”.

The Battle for Lagos

The battle for Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub and one of Africa’s largest cities, has typically been a two-party contest that the opposition has never won.

This is partly because of political godfather and kingmaker Bola Tinubu, who is said to have chosen every Lagos governor since he left office in 2007.

Tinubu’s firm grip on Lagos politics now faces an unprecedented threat after Obi’s third-place finish in the Labor Party after losing on home turf.

Lagos State Labor Party gubernatorial candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour watches a meeting with members of his campaign team at his office in Lagos, Nigeria on March 3, 2023.

Obi is the first opposition presidential candidate to win in Lagos.

Amadi says his popularity among the youths could be a game changer in the Lagos gubernatorial poll.

“They (Obidients) won Lagos in the last (presidential) poll but feel cheated and suppressed. So we may see a more heated fight. It depends on how motivated and aggrieved the Obidients feel now,” he said.

The Peter Obi effect

Fifteen candidates are vying to unseat incumbent governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the ruling All Progressives Congress who is seeking a second term. But only two are considered a real threat to his reelection.

Just a few weeks ago, Labor’s Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour is now riding the waves of Obi and has gained momentum following his party’s surprise victory in Tinubu’s stronghold.

The Peoples Democratic Party’s Azeez Olajide Adediran, also known as Jandor, is another strong contender who is aiming to win the Lagos seat for his party for the first time.

Adedirani’s party has come second in every gubernatorial poll in Lagos since the return of civilian rule in 1999.

Both men tell CNN they are confident of victory. “For the first time PDP is taking over Lagos and I am going to be the governor,” says Adediran. “People are really tired… the streets of Lagos need some fresh air and that is what we represent,” he adds.

Campaign posters of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Lagos governorship candidate Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adedirani (Jandor) and candidate Funke Akindele adorn a wall in Lagos on March 7, 2023.

Rhodes-Vivour told CNN that the time has come to liberate Lagos from “state capture” and he is next in line to rule the state.

“I am the next governor of Lagos State,” he declared. “You can’t stop an idea whose time has come. The idea of ​​a new Lagos… that is people-powered and works for the people instead of state capture; that idea, its time has come and no matter what they do, they can’t stop it. From there trust will come.”

Governor Sanwo-Olu has asked the electorate to re-elect him because of his achievements which he mentions he has brought with him. “significant progress” for Lagos, including his commendable handling of the COVID pandemic.

The Lagos governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Babajide Sanwo-Olu will be seen in Lagos on January 24, 2023.

But the governor has failed to pacify the angry youth blame him for participating in the 2020 shooting of peaceful protesters against police brutality by Nigerian soldiers.

Sanwo-Olu admitted to CNN at the time that footage showed uniformed soldiers shooting at peaceful protesters, but recently denied ordering the shooting.

Analyst Amadi tells CNN that the Lagos gubernatorial poll is a contest between retaining or ousting the old guard.

“Lagos is a battle between the status quo and change,” Amadi said.

“Incumbent Sanwo-Olu has a good chance of keeping his job. However, he faces a serious challenge from Gbadebo (Rhodes-Vivour) who has the momentum (of the Obi wave). Jandor (Adediran) is left behind because the PDP had been dismantled in southern Nigeria and has no there is excitement in Lagos,” Amadi said.

“Sanwo-Olu has not been spectacular but is believed to have done well in some quarters in keeping Lagos alive. He may survive Saturday’s popular uprising…but beware of the upset APC intimidation and loss of confidence. INEC’s integrity must not undermine young voters,” he added .

Trust in the democratic process has weakened

In addition to attempts at voter suppression, widespread loss of confidence the election commission’s ability to organize credible elections has weakened voters’ confidence in the democratic process.

Only 26% of Nigeria’s over 93 million registered voters turned out to vote in the last election. This was far less than the 2019 poll, when a third of registered voters ended up voting.

David Ayodele of the NGO EiE Nigeria tells CNN that the February 25 election “deepened the trust gap between the (electoral) commission and the electorate.”

Ayodele called on the electoral body to redeem itself in the weekend poll by “naming and prosecuting INEC officials who were caught tampering with the electoral process”.

Last month, police officials in Lagos said they were investigating an audio clip in which two men were heard threatening residents of the local community to vote for candidates of the ruling APC or risk being evicted from the area.

Polls open Saturday at 8:30 a.m. local time (3:30 a.m. ET) and are expected to close at 2:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. ET).

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