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Nigeria election: The big 2019 governorship races

By Eromo Egbejule, Marshall Van Valen
Posted on Wednesday, 9 January 2019 15:27, updated on Friday, 8 March 2019 11:43

Supporters of Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, of the People's Democratic Party and Ogun State governor aspirant, Ladi Adebutu, attend an election campaign rally at the Tafawa Balewa Square, in Lagos, Nigeria, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Sunday Alamba/AP/SIPA

Here are the men in the spotlight for governorship elections in five crucial geopolitical zones in Nigeria: the North East, South South, North West, South West and Middle Belt

Nyesom Wike
Power of the PDP purse

The defeat of the PDP in the 2015 elections and the subsequent defection of many of its heavyweights left a gaping hole in the party’s finances and a leadership deficit. Enter Rivers State governor Nyesom Wike, first a friend then a foe of his predecessor, Rotimi Amaechi, who is now director of President Buhari’s campaign. Wike became a kingmaker in the run-up to the PDP primaries unsuccessfully lobbying for his friend and fellow governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto to be its presidential candidate. He is seeking re-election in the face of a divided opposition.

Babagana Umara Zulum
Ready to rebuild the north

The governing All Progressives Congress (APC) easily won the presidential vote in Borno State in 2015, so there is not much doubt that APC gubernatorial candidate Babagana Umara Zulum will win control of the state at the forefront of the conflict with the Islamist militants of Boko Haram. Current governor Kashim Shettima, who is stepping down to run for the Senate, picked Zulum as his successor. Shettima praised his management as commissioner for reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement and said he never used the position for personal enrichment. With the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) split in the state after a fractious primary and President Buhari popular for a more robust security response, Zulum looks like he will get the chance to have a bigger impact on how the state begins to rebuild.

Umar Ganduje
Bribe claims and ballot boxes

President Buhari is relying on a high turnout in the north and is counting on Kano State to mobilise for the governing APC. Kano State governor Umar Ganduje was the target of an October campaign that promised 15 videos showing him taking bribes from contractors and stuffing the cash in his babanriga. The former deputy governor has threatened to sue the local media that published the videos and denies he took bribes. The APC is not looking to ditch Ganduje because Kano has the highest number of registered voters in Nigeria and is home to the popular former governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, who is a member of the opposition PDP.

Babajide Sanwo-Olu
Lagos upstart

Lagos State, the country’s richest, is a crucial stronghold for the APC. Current governor Akinwunmi Ambode lost the backing of APC grandees including Lagos godfather Bola Tinubu, and after a nasty campaign ceded the 2018 APC primary to Lagos State public servant and former banker Babajide Sanwo-Olu. He is promising to turn a page on the top-down policies of his predecessors, which led to the the eviction of poor communities to make way for new property developments, telling local media in October that he will be “a listening governor”. Announcing his run, Sanwo-Olu said he will “revamp the environment that has become a cause of serious anxiety to Lagosians and relieve Lagos of the persistent gridlocks that have made our lives brutish and nasty”. He faces Jimi Agbaje, the PDP candidate who lost against Ambode in 2015.

Samuel Ioraer Ortom
Nomads and conflict

The Benue State governor is one of the politicians known for going where the opportunities are. After serving as then president Goodluck Jonathan’s industry minister, he abandoned the PDP and won a run for governor on the APC ticket in 2015. He is now running for re-election as a member of the PDP. He has been one of the most critical voices about the government’s handling of the herder-farmer conflicts in the Middle Belt, which became Nigeria’s most deadly conflict in 2018. He says that senior federal government officials worsened the conflict and that the APC is using government anti-corruption bodies for partisan gains. Benue is a crucial swing state that backed the PDP in the presidency in 2011 and switched to the APC in 2015.

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