Previewing Postponed Polls: Nigeria's State Elections

Following a week delay, on 18 March voters in 17 states will head to the polls to elect new governors regardless of the outcome. In the remaining 11 governorship races incumbents will be on the ballot. In addition to these 28 gubernatorial contests, all of Nigeria’s states will conduct state house of assembly elections. Credible polls are vital but will be challenged by the threat of violence, logistical obstacles linked to insecurity and cash and fuel scarcity, and decreased trust in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) following the delays and technical issues that undermined the polls on 25 February.


This Centre for Democracy and Development report provides analysis of six key themes likely to shape statelevel elections in Nigeria, previews how the contests might unfold in 14 states and offers some initial projections as to factors that will likely determine the outcome and credibility of the polls.


The six themes identified are identity, insecurity, institutional preparedness, intra and inter-party disputes, voter participation and the question of personalities versus parties. It contends that whilst identity politics is sometimes more visible at the national level, state politics is arguably its main domain with candidate selection requiring careful consideration of one, or a combination of, ethnicity, religion and senatorial district zone depending on the state. Analysis of the 25 February polls also illustrates the important role of personalities over political agenda, as presidential backing for a candidate in a state did not always translate down the ballot. Fractious party primaries leading to intra-party disputes and the fact that 60% of contests will not have a sitting governor on the ticket, will also fuel strong inter-party competition in a number of states.


The frustration expressed by Nigerians at the conduct of the INEC during the 25 February elections could impact on the polls. The timely arrival of materials, improved functionality of technology and quick action against electoral officials caught being engaged in malpractice will be critical in countering suggestions that INEC is subject to the whims and caprices of some state governments. Wider insecurity, and election-specific disruptions, portends dangers for the ability to conduct credible elections and increases the likelihood of inconclusive results and the need for supplementary elections. Citizen participation may be impacted by these two factors, with the continued scarcity of fuel and naira increasing the risk that those who do are incentivised to do so.


Rivers, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Sokoto are key states to watch but there will also be closely contested races in Cross River, Delta, Enugu and Zamfara, whilst Adamawa could see the election of Nigeria’s first female governor. The southeast geo-political zone represents the best chance for the Labour Party to build on the gains made during the 25 February polls.


Our analysis enables us to make some predictions on how the elections will unfold. Closely contested races will likely increase election-related violence; INEC staff will be targets of intimidation and co-option from politically aligned actors; with efforts to manipulate voting processes most likely to target voter suppression in strongholds of political opponents through ballot box snatching and the destruction of election materials.


Based on the most recent off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun, turnout could be higher than the 29% recorded for the general election but there will be significant variation between states and geopolitical zones with the competitiveness of the race and insecurity risks being defining factors. Caution must also be exercised in reading too much into presidential performance in a state when seeking to ascertain the credibility of the governorship outcome. Our analysis of the National Assembly results shows important variation in who voters cast ballots for across the three races. This is especially key as misinformation and disinformation that amplifies divisive identity rhetoric at the state level will continue to be a feature of the electoral environment.

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