The recently held governorship and House of Assembly elections caused upset in some states, DIRISU YAKUBU examines the issues that made some governing parties lose the governorship election to the opposition
Election cycles offer voters the opportunity to make bold statements in the choice of their leaders at every layer of government. In advanced and emerging democracies, leaders had been made to taste the bitter pill, especially when the electorate through the ballot ditch politicians they rate poorly in terms of performance. In such instances, they opt for those they believe would do better if given the opportunity.
The 2023 general elections mirrored this timeless narrative as some incumbent state governments failed in their bids to ensure their parties remain in charge of governments. Like it happened in 2019 when the governing party, the All Progressives Congress, and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, failed to retain some states, a combination of factors played out in 2023 to cause major electoral upset in Sokoto, Zamfara, Benue, Plateau and Abia states.
Outgoing Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal, failed to make his popularity count in the March 18 governorship election. Appointed as the Director-General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council after stepping down during the presidential primary for the eventual winner of the party’s primary, Atiku Abubakar; the governor was expected to deliver on the state. He narrowly won the state for Atiku Abubakar in the February 25 election but lost the governorship election to the APC, whose candidate, Ahmed Aliyu, polled a total of 453,661votes to emerge as the winner of the election. For a man reputed as a leading opposition voice in the North-West and the country, Tambuwal and PDP’s poor outing in Sokoto where the PDP candidate, Saidu Umar, scored 404,632 votes, has generated a lot of debate in the past few days.
Tambuwal’s stewardship in the course of eight years was said to be largely impressive given the successes recorded in the areas of education, health care delivery, small and medium scale enterprises as well as agriculture. The former Speaker of the House of Representatives empowered many subsistence farmers, particularly those involved in the cultivation of onions and vegetable crops. The state Medical and Diagnostic Centre initiated and completed by the Tambuwal-led administration is also said to be one of the best tertiary health institutions in the country.
The governor attributed the PDP’s loss to the APC to alleged manipulation of the process by the APC. He accused the APC of harassing PDP supporters during the governorship election.
He said, “The party is not unmindful of the ordeal that its teeming members were subjected to deliberately by the leadership of the APC. This situation was plotted deliberately by appointment of the minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Dingyadi, as the Director General of the APC campaign council in the state. We witnessed unprecedented misuse of security to arrest, harass and intimidate our members towards undermining their freedom to exercise their franchise of voting for their preferred party.”
He added that the party was already in possession of incidents of “disturbing violation of the Electoral Act and appropriate measures will be taken to address the anomaly to ensure that the rights of voters are upheld.”
He also condemned the killing that marred the exercise, leading to the death of three innocent citizens in Shagari; the killing of the son of a PDP supporter, late Armiyau Mada, in Tudun Wada area of the state. A businesswoman in Katami was purportedly robbed of over three hundred bags of grains. “The list of those who suffer harassment, intimidation and loss of property in different parts of the state are disturbingly alarming,” he added.
While many supporters of the PDP believed that the governor had performed well in the last eight years for his party to be retained in power, it would seem the majority of the voters felt differently, which made them vote for the APC.
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje’s APC got consumed by the Kwankwasiyya hurricane which swept across the state during the presidential and governorship elections. The APC governorship candidate and Ganjuje’s anointed, Nasiru Gawuna’s 890,705 votes were not enough to stop the New Nigeria People’s Party, whose candidate, Yusuf Abba, polled 1,019,602 votes to emerge as the governor-elect of Kano State.
Many residents of the state said Ganduje did his best in his eight years but that the influence of the NNPP presidential candidate and leader of the party, Rabiu Kwankwaso, was too much of a force to contend with. Earlier on, the former governor defeated APC’s Bola Tinubu, PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and Labour Party’s Peter Obi in the presidential election. While many argued that the NNPP only won Kano State in the presidential election, it is believed that the party has an overwhelming influence in the state.
A clergy with the Catholic Church, Fr Hyacinth Alia, of the APC complemented the electoral defeat suffered by the PDP in Benue State, The state governor, Samuel Ortom, who failed both in his bid to represent the Benue North-West senatorial district in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, while his political ally, Titus Uba, could not succeed him in office.
PDP’s loss in Benue is seen by many as a reflection of Ortom’s performance. Commended by many for openly criticising the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), over the way he handled the incessant killing of Benue people, especially farmers, by those suspected to be herdsmen; it would seem the governor did not impress the electorate in the state enough to win his senatorial election or for his party to retain power.
Reports of non-payment of pensions and gratuities coupled with infrastructural deficit in the state, in addition to the feud with the PDP National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, seemed to have made the state an easy win for the APC.
Speaking earlier with our correspondent, Timothy Osadolor, the Deputy National Youth Leader of the PDP attributed the fate that befell the party to the G-5 rebellion of which Ortom was a key participant.
He stated, “The compromised chalice, literally, he got from the outgoing governor of Rivers State (Nyesom Wike) caused his defeat. More importantly was his failure to address the myriads of infrastructural challenges facing his people. The election that Ortom lost was a way of saying, ‘to hell with bad governance.’
“On the list of PDP gover nors, Ortom sits atop of the least performing. There is no PDP chieftain who is not aware that Governor Ortom was a fantastic failure. Even his dear friend and principal (Wike) sometime ago faulted him for not paying salaries. This was the situation until it was convenient for them to become friends because they wanted to take on Ayu and Atiku.
“He did himself a disservice by not giving quality service to the people of Benue State. He did himself a disservice by fueling and instigating infighting in his party and openly campaigning for another party forgetting that he was on the ballot. We warned him that the voyage he embarked on with Wike would consume him and now, it has come to pass,” he said.
In the governorship election, Alia of the APC scored 473,933 votes to defeat his PDP counterpart, Titus Uba, whose 223,913 votes could only fetch him the second place.
Governor Simon Lalong wore two caps going into the general election. As a sitting governor, he was also the Director-General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council. The governor was expected to win for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu even as the party looked up to him to provide the leadership needed to retain the state.
Some of his supporters are of the view that Lalong’s battle with security challenges affected his performance, while some in the opposition argued that the insecurity challenges in the state was nothing compared to some states in the North-West where insecurity was worse and the governors were able to retain their states for their parties. They blamed the APC’s loss on performance. Lalong ultimately failed to lead Nentawa Yilwatda, the APC governorship candidate, to victory. He lost to his PDP counterpart, Caleb Mutfwang. Three weeks earlier, Obi had defeated APC’s Tinubu in Lalong’s Plateau, leaving pundits to question his popularity among his people.
A member of the G-5 and Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, held series of meetings within and outside the country with his colleagues on how to proceed on their dissatisfaction with the PDP leadership and Atiku Abubakar for failing to kick out Ayu as the chairman after Atiku secured the party’s presidential ticket.
Rumoured to have worked for Obi against Atiku, Ikpeazu’s quest to transit from governorship to being a senator suffered a huge setback as he lost to Enyinnaya Abaribe of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. About three weeks later, the same fate befell him and his party after the Independent National Electoral Commission declared LP’s Alex Otti as the winner of the state governorship election. Ikpeazu had picked his immediate past Chief of Staff, Okey Ahiwe, as the PDP governorship candidate following the death of Prof Uche Ikonne in January this year. While Otti’s victory can partly be attributed to the Peter Obi factor, even though Otti was also a strong candidate; Ikpeazu was largely seen as a non-performer. The sorry state of Aba had been one of the metrics people used to assess his administration.
The failure of Governor Bello Matawalle to win his re-election at the poll is perhaps a surprise to many. Many people had expressed surprise when he dumped the party that gave him victory and opted for the APC. He did not only join the APC, the PDP he left complained on several occasions that the governor was harassing its members.
In 2019, INEC declared the APC governorship candidate, Muktar Idris, winner of the governorship election with 534,541 votes to defeat PDP’s Matawalle, who only polled 189,452 votes. But in ruling on the suit challenging the eligibility of the APC to field candidates in the election owing to its primaries that violated the party’s guidelines, the Supreme Court’s five-member panel of justices, in a unanimous judgment, voided all votes cast for the APC and effectively sacked its candidates who were declared winners in the February 23 and March 16 general elections in the state. The apex court ruled that the party had no candidates in the elections, as it failed to conduct primaries in accordance with its own rules and as required by law.
The panel, chaired by the then Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Tanko Muhammad, in the judgment, delivered by Justice Paul Adamu Galinji, ordered candidates of other political parties that came second to take over as the duly elected candidates. That was how Matawalle became governor. In a curious twist however, the governor dumped the PDP on June 29, 2021 for the APC on whose platform he sought re-election a week ago. He however lost to Dauda Lawal of the PDP who polled 377, 726 votes to defeat him. The governor was captured in a video recorded years ago when he said God should punish him if he ever left the PDP. Some people have said his loss was the answer to his prayer.
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, the immediate past National Secretary of the PDP, Senator Ibrahim Tsauri, said this of the outgoing Zamfara State governor, “God gave him power when he least expected it but he turned around to reject the platform God used to honour him. I don’t know if his loss was due to non-performance, but I know that a lot of Zamfara people betrayed him by opting to vote for the PDP.
“Recall that he once said at a public function that if he ever leaves the PDP, God should not give him what he wants. Now his prayer has been answered. People jubilated when INEC declared the result of the governorship election, not because they hate Matawalle but because God was and is still at work.”
Describing himself as a good friend of the outgoing governor, Tsauri said he pleaded with Matawalle not to leave the PDP, but that his counsel was ignored. “As a friend to Governor Matawalle, I will advise him to return to the PDP because PDP is his political family. He made a mistake but there is no need to regret it. He should as a matter of urgency return to his political party. That is my honest advice to him,” he added.