Nigerians began voting in delayed polls for the governorship on Saturday, weeks after a controversial and contentious presidential election — amid reports of electoral violence and disenfranchisement of voters.
A party official was shot dead in Lagos on Saturday during the elections for the new governors of Nigeria.
“From all over Lagos we are receiving disturbing reports of voter intimidation and suppression. One of our agents was shot and he is dead,” Labor candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, candidate for governor of Lagos State, said in a video statement.
Independent spokesperson for the National Electoral Commission (INEC), Festus Okoye, told CNN: “We collect and compile reports from the various states of the federation before we can make a decision.”
Reports of the disenfranchisement continued on Saturday, as some 6,000 residents of Lagos’ Victoria Garden City said their polling place had been moved outside their gated complex without notice and claimed election staff left before a single resident had cast a vote.
The gubernatorial race will be decided in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states as the ruling party scrambles to regain lost ground in key states.
But all eyes will be on the exciting battle for control of the wealthy state of Lagos.
“This may be the most competitive gubernatorial election in Lagos State,” political analyst Sam Amadi told CNN. As president-elect, his influence may have grown in Lagos, but the Obidients are strong,” Amadi said, speaking of supporters of Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi.
Obi caused shockwaves when it emerged that he defeated President-elect Bola Tinubu in his hometown of Lagos, but came third in the presidential poll.
Obi has rejected Tinubu’s victory and is contesting the results in court.
The February 25 presidential election was widely criticized for widespread delays, outbreaks of violence and attempts to suppress voters.
Several observers, including the European Union, also said the election fell short of expectations and was “opaque”.
The battle for Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub and one of Africa’s largest cities, has typically 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 handpicked every governor of Lagos since he left office in 2007.
Tinubu’s firm grip on Lagos politics now faces an unprecedented threat in Obi’s Third Power Labor Party, after losing at home.
Obi is the first opposition presidential candidate to win in Lagos.
Amadi says his popularity with young people could be the game changer in the Lagos gubernatorial poll.
“They (Obidients) won Lagos in the last (presidential) poll, but feel cheated and oppressed. So maybe we’ll see a fiercer fight. It depends on how motivated and sad the Obidients are feeling right now,’ he said.
Fifteen candidates are seeking to unseat incumbent Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, who is seeking a second term. But only two are seen as a real threat to his re-election.
Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour of the Labor Party, considered a long shot only a few weeks ago, is now riding Obi’s wave and has gained momentum after his party’s surprise victory in Tinubu’s stronghold,
Azeez Olajide Adediran of the People’s Democratic Party, also known as Jandor, is another strong contender seeking to secure the Lagos seat for his party for the first time.
Adediran’s party has ranked second in every vote for governor in Lagos since returning to civilian rule in 1999.
Both men tell CNN they are confident of victory. “For the first time, PDP is going to take Lagos, and I will be the governor,” says Adediran. “People are very tired… the streets of Lagos are hungry for fresh air and that’s what we stand for,” he added.
Rhodes-Vivour told CNN it’s time to free Lagos from “state conquest,” and he’s 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 driven by the people and works for the people, as opposed to state conquest; that idea, its time has come and no matter what they do, they can’t stop it. That’s where the confidence comes from.”
Governor Sanwo-Olu has asked voters to re-elect him because of his performance, which he says he has delivered “significant progress” to Lagos, including its commendable handling of the COVID pandemic.
But the governor has failed to pacify angry young people accuse him of playing a role in the shooting of peaceful protesters protesting police brutality in 2020 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 government poll will be a contest between keeping or driving out the old guard.
“Lagos is a battle between status quo and change,” said Amadi.
“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 as PDP has been dismantled in Southern Nigeria and has no enthusiasm factor in Lagos,” said Amadi.
“Sanwo-Olu has been unspectacular but is believed to have performed well in some aspects to keep Lagos afloat. He could survive Saturday’s popular uprising… but beware of a shock like APC’s scare tactics and loss of confidence in the integrity of INEC not demotivate young voters,” he added.
In addition to attempts at voter suppression, a widespread loss of confidence the electoral body’s ability to conduct credible elections has eroded voters’ confidence in the democratic process.
Only 26% of Nigeria’s more than 93 million registered voters turned out to vote in the last election. This was much lower than the 2019 poll, when a third of registered voters ended up voting.
David Ayodele of citizens’ group EiE Nigeria tells CNN that the February 25 elections have “expanded the trust gap between the (elections) commission and the voters”.
Ayodele urged the election body to redeem itself in the weekend’s poll by “appointing and prosecuting INEC officials caught tampering with the election process.”
Last month, Lagos police authorities said they were investigating an audio clip in which two men were heard threatening residents of a local community to vote for candidates from the ruling APC or risk being evicted from the area.
The polls will open at 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).