By Olalekan Adigun
After the hotly contested general election earlier this year, the stage is now set for the first rounds of off-cycle elections with the gubernatorial elections coming up in Kogi and Bayelsa states. The elections are significant for some reasons: First, the stakes are high for the two leading parties in the election. This is because, of Nigeria’s 36 states, both parties nearly share the political landscape equally with the All Progressive Congress (APC) in control of 19 states against Peoples Democratic Party(PDP)’s 16. The All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) has been in control of Anambra since 2006. Secondly, the ruling APC lost five states – Oyo, Imo, Zamfara, Adamawa and Bauchi – in the last governorship elections against PDP’s 2 – Kwara and Gombe states. While APC may not want to lose further grounds by suffering a defeat from PDP in the two states, the PDP will intend to use that to consolidate on its sub-national stronghold in anticipation of the 2023 presidential election. The party has lost out in the last two campaign seasons to the APC. Thirdly, both parties stand good chances to win one or both states to strengthen their bases or make firm political claims. In this piece, we shall be analysing the likely issues that will shape the turnouts and outcomes of these elections that both factions may be giving everything to win – or not to lose!
Before we go ahead, we need to say that the author relied on data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for all electoral figures, open-source datasets, and newspaper reports on violence and other election-related issues. In addition to these, we relied on some studies conducted recently in sub-Saharan African elections and elsewhere. These data have little or no predictive capabilities but we are tempted to engage in prognosis –the obvious limitations in our methodology - nonetheless.
Some useful numbers
The elections in both states show that both parties stand nearly equal chances – in terms of electoral strengths, organisation, and mobilisation capacities - going by the numbers. In Kogi, the APC (incumbent) presented Yahya Bello and PDP (challenger) presented Musa Wada. Electorally, the APC won 2 Senators to PDP’s 0. Of the 9 House of Representatives seats in the state, the APC won 4 against PDP’s 5. According to the INEC, the state has a registered 1,646,350 voters for the 2019 elections and 33.87% of voters turned out to vote in the last presidential election.
In Bayelsa, the numbers are not significantly different from Kogi. But, they can be reversed for both parties which make things interesting. the APC (challenger) presented David Lyon and PDP (incumbent) presented Douye Diri. In the last election, the PDP won 2 Senators to APC’s 1. The PDP won all 5 House of Representatives seats in the state. Data from INEC shows that there are 923,182 registered voters from Bayelsa and 35.87% of them turned out to vote in the last election.
Having seen these numbers, we go on to look at the factors and issues that may shape the outcomes and turnouts.
Candidates’ support and popularity
Two University of Minho scholars Rodrigo Martins and Francisco Veiga in 2014 carried out a study to determine if incumbents benefit from low turnout using evidence from case studies of 10 national elections conducted in Portugal from 1979 to 2005. Their study reveals that incumbent candidates and parties tend to lose popularity and support due to key domestic micro and macroeconomic variables, arising from serious economic crises which could either make voters cheer or jeer the government or its party at the polls. Therefore, high turnouts in elections are of no advantage to incumbents either seeking re-elections for themselves or their parties. While the Martins and Veiga study may have been carried out in a completely different political climate from Nigeria, their evidence may still be relevant to us especially in Kogi and Bayelsa.
The level of support candidates have – especially for high-stake elections like Bayelsa and Kogi – tends to boost voter turnout. The turnouts tend to be low if the leading actors in the election are uninspiring. By candidates’ support, we mean major endorsements, media coverage, and grassroots outreach.
In Kogi, Bello, who became the APC candidate after Abubakar Audu suddenly died after almost won the November 2015 gubernatorial election, has so many things to prove including demonstrating his popularity and wide acceptability to his party and in all strata of the state’s political landscape. Late Audu’s formidable political group reportedly boosted his campaign with their endorsement. He also seems to enjoy the full backings of the cross-sectional interests within his party, APC. The case of Musa Wada of the PDP is slightly different. It is not yet clear how he is managing intra-party disputes that greeted his party primaries. His Igala root – which is the largest voting bloc in the state – may boost his chances against the incumbent who is Ebira. The recent impeachment of deputy governor Simon Achuba, with whom Governor Bello has had an estranged relationship may also have pitched Igalas against Ebiras. To check or possibly minimize his losses in Igala land, the governor hurriedly replaced with him with his Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja. The votes of Okuns of Kogi West – the least populous in the state – may prove to be decisive in the outcome of the election. The Okuns have extra motivation and stake in the election because they will also be voting in a Senatorial re-run after the Courts nullified the election of Senator Dino Melaye. This may increase the turnouts for the Okuns and could be very emphatic in determining the outcome of the governorship election.
Even though the Kogi election looks on the surface like a straight fight between APC’s Bello and PDP’s Wada or Igala versus Ebira, it is nearly a different scenario in the case of Bayelsa. This is because, unlike Kogi, Bayelsa is monolithic Ijaw. Also, the APC selected David Lyon, a businessman with largely unknown political profile against PDP’s Douye Diri (who hails from Kolokuma/Opokuma Local Government Area) a veteran politician and former Senator. Even though Lyon may be largely unknown to many outside the state, his candidacy is boosted by the support and endorsement of the immediate past governor of the state and political heavyweight, Chief Timipre Sylva, who is the minister of state for petroleum resources. Also, the fact that Lyon is from Southern Ijaw Local Government – the state’s largest voting bloc – and projected APC’s stronghold may be to his advantage. In addition to the support of political bigwigs for both candidates in the state, the battle is fast appearing more like a proxy war between the current governor, Seriake Dickson, and former president Goodluck Jonathan over the battle for control of the state’s PDP structure. That APC deputy governorship candidate, Senator Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, could win the Bayelsa East Senatorial election in February fuels the fact that the former president may be backing the APC in the governorship election.
It appears both candidates are not managing post-primaries crises in their parties well enough. There have been reports of one of the contestants in the APC primary, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has gone to court to challenge the victory of Lyon in what looks like a repeat of the party’s fiasco in neighbouring Rivers state. The PDP’s also seems to have lost its internal cohesion to Governor Dickson personally taking control of the gubernatorial campaign.
In both states, the leading actors have herculean tasks outdoing each other. The key endorsements, coverage, and grassroots mobilisations will determine the outcome.
Violence, voter intimidation, and thuggery
Oxford professor, Paul Collier, and his colleague Pedro Vicente in a field experiment from the Nigerian 2007 presidential election argued, in 2014, that violence can be used to deter voters from exercising their rights. They also argued the use of violence may not always be to reduce turnouts in the beneficiary’s – incumbent or challenger – strongholds, but in the areas the beneficiaries may not be too sure of winning, especially in the swing areas. In the two gubernatorial elections, it is our view that both leading parties are equally capable to deploy violence for electoral purposes.
The campaigns of both the APC and PDP in these states have been intense and relatively peaceful so far. Even at that, there have been reports of violence such as the attack on PDP candidate’s convoy and the free for all violence which ended the PDP primary in Kogi. In Bayelsa there have been reports of violence where some thugs attacked APC members during a rally in Sagbama which killed 1 person and injuring 2 others.
As the election day draws near, the camps in both states have accused each other of trying to rig the elections by cloning the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and importing thugs from neighbouring states in bids to influence the outcomes of the election. A Yenogoa-based non-governmental organisation, Kimpact Development Initiative (KDI), recently raised the alarm that 7 out of 8 local government areas in Bayelsa are prone to violence as a result of the rise in hate-filled campaigns and speeches in the run-up to the governorship election.
The heightened tensions and rising profile of actor-inspired violence mean the elections may not be decided by the first ballot. Violence may be a reason for possible postponement or rerun in one or both states – especially for Bayelsa state.
The seems to be strong evidence of the influence of socio-economic factors like corruption, unemployment, and poverty on electoral outcomes and voter turnouts. One of the strongest evidence of this is vote buying that have characterised Nigerian elections and its reportage in recent times. In a country with urban and rural poverty at 47% and 59.5% respectively according to Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHDI) 2017 report, Nigeria has one of the highest incidents of poverty in the world. The World Poverty Clock report alerted that Nigeria has more people living in extreme poverty “than any other country in the world” as at June 2018, which is projected to increase to “3 people per minute” by 2030. This means that currently over 86.9 million or nearly 50% of the country’s estimated 180 million population living below the poverty line of $1.90 per day. With the prevalence of acute poverty in the country, it becomes easy for leading parties to weaponise poverty and unemployment with corruption in a situation where many people susceptible to selling their vote for immediate gratification.
The socio-economic outlooks of Kogi and Bayelsa states are very similar. Both states are owing several month’s arrears in workers’ salaries, pensions, and other benefits. The recent unemployment figures published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that unemployment rates in Kogi and Bayelsa states are respectively 19.7% and 32.6%. Also, OPHDI database puts the intensity of poverty figures for both states at 43.2% and 41.4% respectively. The database also shows that both states have inequality of 0.076 and 0.066.
Had this author been a consultant for one or both challengers in these states, he may have presented the data above as evidence that they should easily win the election. Unfortunately, things do not always work that way. And the reason for this is simple: the evidence in support for why economically discontented people still troop out to vote despite their present economic predicaments is largely inconclusive. Two economists, Barry Burden of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Amber Wichowsky of the Marquette University did a study in 2014 as to the motivation of economically discontented voters. They found out that it is not true that unemployed people withdraw from voting. They observed that unemployment “bring out more voters.” They argued that economic discontents make people more likely “…to select candidates based on economic performance” rather than their current state. But, based on another study by Lauren Tracey of the Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria in 2016 among young South Africans, she observed that socio-economic discontents may not so much that count for why potential voters are apathetic, but that the politicians have failed to engage them to participate effectively in the electoral process by including issues seeking to address unemployment on the political agenda.
In the Kogi and Bayelsa election, socio-economic discontents may be a factor in determining the turnouts, but with the decisive influence of money for buying votes, they may not play too much role in deciding the outcomes. In any case, huge turnouts as a result of socio-economic factors – especially on issues like workers’ salaries and job creation - may be huge disadvantages for the incumbents in both states.
Incumbency: opportunities and the risks
Kogi is located in the North-Central geopolitical zone – a region with 6 states where APC has 5 APC governors compared to PDP’s 1. Bayelsa state, on the other hand, is located in South-South geopolitical zone where PDP has 5 governors compared to APC’s 1. This simply means that the PDP has about 17% (1 out of 6) chance of winning a governorship election in North Central and APC has about 17% (1 out of 6) chance of winning a governorship election in South-South. Mathematically, both challengers have slim chances going by the numbers. On the surface, we can safely predict comfortable victories for the incumbent parties in both states going by these numbers.
Let us look at other interesting numbers. In the South-South, there have been 34 gubernatorial elections since 1999, there have been only two cases of incumbent party’s (or candidates’) losses – PDP’s loss to the Action Congress (AC) candidate Adams Oshiomhole in 2008 and PDP’s candidate, Nyelsome Wike reclaiming River state from the Rotimi Amaechi-led APC in 2015. The PDP won all the four recent gubernatorial elections in Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Delta, and Rivers states. There will be no governorship election in Edo state until 2020. This means that, mathematically, a challenging party has just about 6% chance of unseating an incumbent in a governorship election the South-South. There is nearly 0% chance of electorally defeating a governor seeking re-election in this region because there has been no record of such ever happening.
In the North-Central, there have been 35 gubernatorial elections since 1999, there have been 8 different cases of incumbent parties or candidates’ losses. Of the cases, Kwara (Ahamed Lawal, 2003), Nassarawa (Aliyu Doma, 2011), and Kogi (Abubakar Audu, 2003; Idris Wada, 2015) saw sitting governors lose their seats to their challengers. This means that a challenging party has about 23% chance of winning a governorship election in the North Central and there is nearly 11.4% chance of a challenging candidate electorally unseating a governor seeking re-election in this region.
While there has been no record of incumbent losing their seats in Bayelsa (save Timipre Sylva who was forced out of office by political machinations in 2012), Kogi state alone has recorded two incumbent governors’ losses to their challengers in 2003 and 2015. This means that the risk of an incumbent governor or party losing his or her seat in Kogi is higher than Bayelsa.
From the figures above, we can see clearly that an incumbent candidate or party stands the lesser risk of losing in the South-South region put together, Bayelsa inclusive. While, in the North-Central, the challengers seem to have between 11-24% chances of unseating the incumbents. Interestingly, in the South-South, only Timipre Sylva alone was politically muscled out of re-contesting an election in 2011. Also, in Kogi, there are higher mathematical chances of about 40% (2 out of 5 election cycles) of a challenger defeating an incumbent.
Both the APC and PDP candidates may fancy their chances in both states because they stand a nearly equal chance of winning one each. However, the risk factors for APC losing in both states are higher than PDP. The resurgent of the Bayelsa APC may be good enough if it will translate to effective mobilisation for voters to exercise their civic duties. The strong grassroots support for PDP may prove too strong for the APC candidate in Bayelsa. Due to the closeness of the chances of the candidates, violent incidents inspired by both parties’ supporters are expected to be on the rise few days to the election.
Verdict: Other things being equal, both elections are “anyone’s race”. We project a voter turnout of over 40-45% which will be so good for the challengers’ parties due to unfavourable socio-economic climate in both states. Also, a less than 40-45% voter turnout is a strong possibility and will be favourable to the incumbents. But, in both cases the factors tilt towards PDP winning by one point in Kogi and APC in a neck-to-neck position in Bayelsa but PDP is slightly favoured to win. Both elections may be decided on the second rounds -due to violence - with this being a strong possibility in Kogi.
Olalekan Waheed Adigun is the Lead Research Officer at VTrackerNG.org, a project that tracks social/political violence in Nigeria. He is the author of the book WITNESSING THE CHANGE. He is also a PhD candidate at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. He can be reached on +2347081901080 or email: email@example.com. He tweets from @MrLekanAdigun
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