Nigerians began voting in delayed gubernatorial elections on Saturday, weeks after a controversial and disputed presidential election, amid reports of electoral violence and voter disenfranchisement.
A party official was shot dead in Lagos on Saturday during elections for Nigeria’s new state governors.
“From all over Lagos we get worrying reports of voter intimidation, voter suppression. One of our officers was shot and is dead,” Labor candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, who is running for governor of Lagos state, said in a video statement.
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) spokesman Festus Okoye told CNN: “We are collecting and collating reports from the different states of 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 out of its gated compound without warning and claimed polling staff left before they a single resident cast their vote.
The gubernatorial race will be decided in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states as the ruling party struggles to make up lost ground in key states.
But all eyes will be on the tense contest 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 improve Lagos in the past and have failed due to the rooted power of Bola Tinubu. As president-elect, his influence may have grown in Lagos, but the Obidients are strong,” says Amadi, speaking of supporters of Labor Party presidential candidate Peter Obi.
Obi caused a shock when news broke that he beat president-elect Bola Tinubu in his home territory of Lagos, but came third in the presidential poll.
Obi has rejected Tinubu’s victory and is challenging the results in court.
The February 25 presidential election was heavily criticized for widespread delays, outbreaks of violence and attempted voter suppression.
Several observers, including the European Union, also said the elections fell short of expectations and “lacked transparency.”
The battle for Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub and one of Africa’s largest cities, has typically been a two-party 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 of Lagos since he left office in 2007.
Tinubu’s firm grip on Lagos politics now faces an unprecedented threat from Obi’s third-force Labor Party after losing at home.
Obi is the first opposition presidential candidate to win in Lagos.
Amadi says his popularity among young people could be a game changer in the Lagos governor’s poll.
“They (Obidients) won Lagos in the last (presidential) election but they feel cheated and repressed. So we could see a more vehement fight. It depends on how motivated and aggrieved the Obidients now feel,” 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 weeks ago, Labor’s Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour is now riding Obi’s wave and has gained momentum following his party’s surprise victory at Tinubu stronghold,
Azeez Olajide Adediran of the Popular Democratic Party, also known as Jandor, is another strong contender who is bidding to win the Lagos seat for his party for the first time.
Adediran’s party has won second place in every gubernatorial vote in Lagos since the return to civilian rule in 1999.
Both men told CNN they are confident of victory. “For the first time, the PPD will take Lagos and I will be the governor,” says Adediran. “People are really tired…the streets of Lagos are longing for a breath of fresh air and that’s what we stand for,” he adds.
Rhodes-Vivour told CNN the time has come to free Lagos from “state capture,” and he is next in line to run the state.
“I am the next governor of Lagos state,” he declared. “You cannot stop an idea whose time has come. The idea of a new Lagos… that is driven by the people and works for the people instead of state capture; that idea, its time has come and no matter what you do, you can’t stop it. That’s where the confidence comes from.”
Governor Sanwo-Olu has asked voters to re-elect him because of his achievements, which he says have brought him “significant progress” to Lagos, including his commendable handling of the COVID pandemic.
But the governor has failed to appease the angry youth who accuse him of playing a role in the 2020 shooting of peaceful protesters against police brutality by Nigerian soldiers.
Sanwo-Olu admitted to CNN at the time that the footage showed uniformed soldiers firing on peaceful protesters, but recently denied ordering the shooting.
Analyst Amadi tells CNN the gubernatorial election in Lagos will be a contest between retaining or driving out the old guard.
“Lagos is a struggle between the status quo and change,” Amadi said.
“The current Sanwo-Olu has a good chance of keeping his position. But he faces a serious challenge from Gbadebo (Rhodes-Vivour) who has the momentum (of the Obi wave). Jandor (Adediran) was left behind because the PDP had been dismantled in southern Nigeria and does not have a buzz factor in Lagos,” Amadi said.
“Sanwo-Olu hasn’t been spectacular, but he is believed to have performed well in some respects to keep Lagos going. It may survive the popular revolt on Saturday… but beware the shock if APC’s scaremongering and loss of confidence in INEC’s integrity do not demotivate young voters,” he added.
In addition to voter suppression attempts, a wide Loss of confidence on the electoral management body’s ability to conduct credible elections has eroded the electorate’s 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 survey when a third of registered voters ended up voting.
David Ayodele of the EiE Nigeria civic group tells CNN that the February 25 election “deepened the trust deficit between the (electoral) commission and the electorates.”
Ayodele urged the electoral body to redeem itself in the weekend poll by “naming and prosecuting INEC officials who were caught manipulating the electoral process.”
Last month, Lagos police authorities said they were investigating an audio clip showing two men threatening residents of a local community into voting for the ruling APC’s candidates or risk eviction from the area. .
Polls will open beginning 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).