Nigerians vote in governors’ polls as ruling party struggles to regain lost ground in key states

Lagos, Nigeria

Nigerians began voting in delayed polls for governors on Saturday, weeks after a contentious and contested presidential election – amid reports of election violence and disenfranchisement of voters.

A party official was shot and killed in Lagos on Saturday during elections for new Nigerian state governors.

“From all over Lagos we are getting distressing reports of voter intimidation, voter suppression. One of our officers was shot dead and he died,” Labor candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, candidate for Governor of Lagos State, said in a video statement.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) spokesman Festus Okoye told CNN, “We are collating and collecting reports from different states in the federation before we can make a decision.”

Reports of disenfranchisement continued on Saturday, as around 6,000 residents of Victoria Garden City in Lagos said their polling station had been moved outside their closed compound without notice and claimed that poll workers had left before a single resident had voted.

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.

“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 rejected Tinubu’s victory and is challenging 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.

Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivor, Labor Party governor candidate in Lagos state, attends 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 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 are seeking to oust 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.

A wall is decorated with campaign posters of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Lagos gubernatorial candidate Abdul-Azeez Olajide Adediran (Jandor) and his running mate Funke Akindele in Lagos on March 7, 2023.

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 trust 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.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, candidate for Governor of Lagos from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is seen in Lagos on January 24, 2023.

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 investigating 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 disqualified. to be expelled from the region.

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).

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