Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 happened within the global context of a wave of democratization that saw many autocratic regimes end and electoral democracies begin. Critical domestic circumstances that included the sudden death of military head of state, General Sani Abacha (1993-98), and a resurgent pro-democracy movement created a crucial opening for Nigeria to begin the journey to political transformation. The current democratic dispensation is in its fourth electoral cycle and a culture of citizen engagement has begun to take root. Despite the numerous challenges confronting the institutionalization of a strong democratic ethos, particularly in relation to the conduct of credible and violence-free elections, election management and citizen participation in the electoral process have improved over the years.
Following the conduct of the March 28, 2015 national elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), won the presidential vote, as well as 64 of 109 senate seats and 214 of 360 House of Representatives seats in the National Assembly. As a result of this outcome, the incoming APC-led federal government will enjoy a majority in the legislative arm of government.
There are some likely implications of the APC’s victory in the Presidential and National Assembly election on the upcoming Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections scheduled for April 11, 2015. Nigeria’s electoral history has shown that voters in state-level elections are often inclined to voting for the governing political party at the national level. There is the likelihood that the APC’s success at the recent polls will trigger a chain of similar results in the upcoming elections. So far the dominance of the APC at the national level and its potential impact on voting patterns at the state level has created a crisis of confidence within the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) which could result in more fraught competition between both major political parties that may lead to possible electoral conflict.
Following the logistical and technical challenges experienced during the March 28 national elections, INEC has assured Nigerians that it has addressed the causes of these problems and is fully ready to manage the Governorship and House of Assembly elections. Furthermore, the security agencies have also assured Nigerians of their preparedness to ensure a peaceful election.
Where the Governorship and House of Assembly Elections will hold?
While governorship elections will be held in 29 states, State Houses of Assembly elections will take place in 36 states, both on April 11, 2015.
The staggered elections in the 7 states highlighted in white above is as a result of court rulings that upturned election victories after the 2007 general elections and changed their governorship election cycles.
Governorship Elections and Party Performance (1999-2011)
An analysis of voting patterns and outcomes of governorship elections in Nigeria over the past four electoral cycles reveals that the PDP has maintained a consistent lead. The PDP has successfully won more than 20 states in each of the elections from 1999 to 2011. Fig. 1 below shows that in 1999, PDP won governorship elections in 21 (58.3%) out of 36 states of the federation. The number of states governed by the PDP peaked at 28 (77.8%) in 2003, but began to decrease in 2007 to 24 (66.7%) and then 23 (63.4%) in the 2011 elections.
A look at geographical spread of political parties’ performance at governorship elections also reveals that between 1999 and 2011, PDP maintained the broadest spread. Fig. 2 shows that the PDP won landslide in all states of the South-South and South-East geo-political zones in 1999 and had 3 states each in North-Central and North-East as well as 4 states in the North-West.
Although, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) won elections in all the states of the South-West in 1999 as shown in Fig. 2, the PDP was able defeat the AD in five of the six states of that zone in 2003. In the same election, the PDP won all six states in the North-Central and made significant gains in the North-East; winning Bauchi but losing Kano state (North-West) to the All Nigeria Peoples’ Party (ANPP).
As the governing party recorded a remarkable performance during governorship elections between 1999 and 2011, similar successes were recorded during state houses of assembly elections.
The dominance of the PDP in state-level politics since 1999 was linked to the party’s control of political power at the national level. Following its recent defeat in the keenly contested 2015 presidential elections, there seems to be an important shift in public opinion and support away from the PDP which could mean a stronger inclination among Nigerian voters to cast their ballots for the APC during the governorship and state houses of assembly elections in April 11, 2015. The ongoing mass defection of PDP members across state chapters of the party to the APC is indicative of an internal crisis of confidence and an attempt by some politicians to benefit from the bandwagon effect of the APC’s recent national victory on voting patterns in the upcoming state elections.
Electoral Conflicts and 2015 Governorship and State House of Assembly Elections
Since 1999, most states in Nigeria have witnessed varying degrees of electoral conflict. In a recent report by the Nigeria Human Rights Commission (NHRC) following the March 28, 2015 national elections, it was revealed that several cases of violence and security breaches led to the death of over 50 people. According to the report, acts of violence resulting in fatalities were reported in Akwa Ibom, Borno, Bauchi, Edo, Gombe, Lagos, Osun, Rivers, and Yobe States . This aligns with CDD’s 2015 Elections and the Geography of Electoral Conflicts, which highlighted these patterns and trends. Following the March 28 elections, the following states are further highlighted as potential flashpoints:
South West: Ekiti and Lagos States
In Lagos state, competition between the APC and PDP is at an all time high as evidenced in the unexpected close results of the presidential elections. This has brought to the fore latent ethnic tensions.
In Ekiti state, the political crisis in the State House of Assembly has degenerated into violence and this is expected to spill over into the forthcoming state House of Assembly election.
South-South: Rivers and Akwa Ibom States
The current fierce political feud between APC and PDP supporters has the likelihood of triggering conflict during the state elections.
North-Central: Nasarawa and Benue States
In Nasarawa state, party competition and ethno-religious tensions are key indicators of the likelihood of political violence during the election.
The party competition between APC and PDP and the mass defection of PDP members to APC in Benue state is indicative of the high stakes in the election. By INEC’s own account, Benue state witnessed the highest level of election-related destruction on March 28 resulting in the loss of 200 card readers, two INEC offices and the death of one of its staff.
North West: Kaduna State
Party rivalry between APC and PDP in Kaduna state is very intense. There have been several instances of clashes during the campaigns highlighting the extremely volatile nature of politics in the state. Any election-related violence may trigger already existing ethno-religious tensions.