8 August 2014

Nigeria 2015 - Momentum Swings Back Towards the PDP

analysis

Through governorship elections and some clever politicking, the ruling People's Democratic Party seems to wresting the initiative back from the All Progressives Congress.

Last year, the coming together of a handful of opposition parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) sent shockwaves through Nigeria's political landscape.

Several members of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which has managed to stay in power very comfortably since 1999, defected to the new party, and all the momentum seemed to be with the APC.

Over the past few months, however, the PDP seems to have been the party seizing the initative. With 6 months still to go before the 2015 elections, much can still change, but the impetus appears to be back with the ruling PDP.

We take a look around some key battlegrounds:

The South-West

Ekiti

The APC's stronghold in Ekiti state weakened considerably this June, when the ruling APC governor, Kayode Fayemi, lost the gubernatorial election to his PDP rival, Ayodele Fayose.

Fayose won with an overwhelming majority as the incumbent lost in every single local government area. Fayemi accepted the crushing defeat and was praised across the country for his political sportsmanship.

The APC leadership, however, criticised him for not consulting with them before conceding defeat and presented a petition contesting the results, while Fayemi also later raised concerns with the poll himself.

This challenge is unlikely to have any serious impact, especially since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was largely commended for its conduct.

Those who were critical of the election pointed to the heavy security presence, which was arguably necessary but may also have amounted to voter intimidation. A particular complaint of the APC was that security personnel prevented key representatives from travelling around the state to help mobilise voters.

Aside from these accusations as well as claims that the PDP resorted to money politics, it must be conceded that Fayose, a self-styled "friend of the common man" - albeit one who is currently on trial for corruption - was popular with many voters. By contrast, although Fayemi was considered to have worked hard to sanitise many areas of the public sector, the hardships caused by some of his policies did not endear him to everyone.

Osun

A battle similar to that in Ekiti is currently playing out in Osun state where gubernatorial elections are set to be held on 9 August. Here again, a strong PDP challenger will go head-to-head with an APC incumbent.

Governor Rauf Aregbesola has boasted that he will win the elections because he is a man of the people, perhaps a reference to the fact that Fayose was, by contrast, considered elitist.

After Ekiti, there are concerns the PDP will resort to similar heavy-handed tactics, though it should be remembered that while there was a heavy security presence in the June poll, there were no allegations of blatant rigging.

Again, voters may be incentivised by the distribution of food, but this does not take away from the fact that these elections are ultimately tests of the candidates' popularity. Fayemi failed in Ekiti. We will soon see if his APC counterpart Aregbesola succeeds in Osun.

Lagos

Lagos state is Nigeria's most populous with an estimated 21 million inhabitants and is the country's commercial nerve centre. It is also a bastion of the APC though that will not stop the PDP making a strong play for it in next year's gubernatorial elections.

Within the APC, murmurings of discontent with party strongman Bola Tinubu have been growing louder. Tinubu, the Lagos state governor, has been accused of ruling the party in his home state as if it were his personal fiefdom and of imposing his choice of candidates for important positions against the wishes of the majority.

Nonetheless, the APC is so well-entrenched in Lagos that only a very strong candidate from the PDP will be able to make inroads into its support base.

So far, the figure expected to lead the PDP's play for the Lagos gubernatorial seat is businessman Jimi Agbaje. Considering the dynamics of Lagos, a consensus candidate may not emerge easily and we can expect both party primaries to be hotly contested.

The North-East

Adamawa

In Adamawa state, one of three states in the North-East under emergency rule since May 2013, a slightly different but no less rancorous version of the power tussle between the PDP and APC has played out. And with the APC state governor Murtala Nyako being impeached by state legislators last month, it is the PDP that has come out on top.

Nyako was one of the five governors that defected from the PDP to APC last year and who, in a controversial memo to northern governors earlier this year, accused President Goodluck Jonathan's administration of facilitating a "genocide" over its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Nyako's impeachment followed a report by a panel of investigation which indicted the governor and his deputy, both members of the APC, on charges of corruption.

The deputy governor resigned in the wake of the allegations before Nyako was impeached, leaving the Speaker of the House, a member of PDP, to be sworn in as acting governor.

Notwithstanding the validity of the charges against Nyako, his removal could be perceived as part of a plan by the PDP to get rid of APC governors in various states and hand over the state administration to PDP loyalists ahead of the general election. The easiest targets are states in which the PDP has a majority in the state house of assembly, as was the case in Adamawa.

Indeed, a similar attempt took place recently in Nasarawa state, where 20 PDP lawmakers pushed for APC governor Tanko Al-Makura to be impeached on charges of misconduct and misappropriation.

In this case, no allegations were levelled at deputy governor Damishi Barau, giving rise to the suspicion that the PDP-aligned official was being supported to take over the governorship. This attempt at impeachment fell flat a couple of days ago, however, as the probe panel dismissed Al-Makura's charges.

Other regions

South-South

The PDP is at home in the South-South and the APC will struggle to keep the two states it has won in the region. Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State is dealing with a hostile house of assembly that has made impeachment threats, while Rivers state governor Rotmi Amaechi's running battle with the presidency is well publicised.

Both are serving their second terms in office and cannot stand for re-election, meaning that at least in Rivers state the APC will need to come up with a strong candidate around which the party can rally ahead of next year's elections. This will not be an easy feat in such a multi-interest party.

Kano

In Kano state, Governor Musa Kwankwaso defected from the ruling PDP to the APC last year and has various skirmishes with the presidency ever since.

The latest of these regarded his confirmation of Sanusi Lamido, the former Central Bank governor who was suspended by President Jonathan in February, as the Emir of Kano.

It should be recalled that Kwankwaso's decampment to the APC led Ibrahim Shekarau, a popular former Kano governor and APC strongman to go the other way, defecting to the PDP.

Shekarau's move was considered a coup for the PDP and his recent appointment as education minister was widely considered to be his reward.

The PDP may already be shopping for a governorship candidate to challenge Kwankwaso, and the recent withdrawal of the N446.3 billion ($2.7 billion) money-laundering charge against Mohammed Abacha, son of late military dictator Sani Abacha, has led to speculation that he is being primed.

A version of this article originally appeared as an AfricaPractice Africa InDepth report.

Dawn Dimowo is a political analyst and communications consultant at africapractice based in Abuja, Nigeria. She a public policy and stakeholder engagement expert and a qualified lawyer with Nigerian and international experience.

She worked formerly at the Office of Legal Affairs of the International Criminal Police Organization INTERPOL and more recently with a Nigerian government agency in Abuja.

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