Voting during Nigeria’s 2015 elections. Photo credit: Flickr/Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung
(CC BY-SA 2.0)

KEY FACTS
Freedom House Rating

Partly Free
Government Type
Federal Presidential Republic
Population
214 million
UPCOMING ELECTIONS
Edo State Gubernatorial Election
September 19, 2020
Ondo State Gubernatorial Election
October 10, 2020
General Elections
February/March 2023 (due)
PAST ELECTIONS
Kogi and Bayelsa State Gubernatorial Elections
November 16, 2019
General Elections
February 23, 2019

Nigeria’s Edo and Ondo states will hold gubernatorial elections this year.

Each of Nigeria’s 36 states has a semi-autonomous government and elects its own State House of Assembly and governor. While many of these elections took place at the same time as Nigeria’s general elections in 2019 (that is to say, 29 states elected governors then), Edo State and Ondo State are scheduled to elect governors in 2020 – Edo on September 19 and Ondo on October 10. The decision to hold the elections during the COVID-19 pandemic was not without controversy.

Political Context

Nigeria, the “Giant of Africa,” as Nigerians call the continent’s most populous country, has a history of military coups, and since the return to civilian rule, vote-rigging and violence have plagued elections. While the 2015 polls – which handed the opposition its first-ever victory – were considered credible, international and Nigerian observers found that the 2019 polls fell short, with low turnout, fraud, and violence. The country is in the midst of several security crises.

The two main political parties are the “sort-of-right” People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and “sort-of-left” All Progressives Congress (APC), plus a plethora of smaller parties. Historically, PDP has been strong in Christian areas and in the south, while APC has been strong in the mostly-Muslim north. Nigeria is about half Christian and half Muslim, and there is some religious conflict, but religion is not the only driver of conflict in the country.

There is a handshake agreement that the presidency will rotate between the north and the south every eight years, regardless of which party wins; thus, for the 2019 election, both major parties chose candidates from the north. PDP nominated Atiku Abubakar to challenge APC incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, who won narrowly. APC also won a majority in the legislature. However, Atiku has challenged his defeat in court, alleging electoral fraud. A tribunal rejected his complaint, and he ultimately lost his appeal.

Debates Over Federalism Continue

Debates over federalism played a major role in Nigeria’s February 2019 general elections. Atiku advocated for a greater devolution of powers to state governments, a proposal that Buhari categorically opposed. Political power is currently highly centralized, but many argue that it is dysfunctional.

In November 2019, two states held gubernatorial results, the oil-rich Bayelsa in the Niger Delta and Kogi in the restive Middle Belt. APC won in both states – a major coup in Bayelsa, historically a PDP stronghold – but PDP rejected the results, and litigation continues.  Following the November 2019 gubernatorial elections, APC holds 19 of Nigeria’s 36 governorships and PDP holds 16 (Anambra State in the south has a governor from the smaller All Progressives Grand Alliance party).

Edo State Gubernatorial Election: September 19, 2020

The current governor of Edo, Godwin Obaseki, first elected in 2016 as a member of the APC, is seeking re-election. However, ahead of this year’s elections, APC disqualified him from participating in the party’s gubernatorial primary. As a result, he defected to the PDP and announced that he would seek re-election as the PDP candidate. Litigation ensued as other PDP hopefuls sought to bar him from running in the party’s primary. The situation is ongoing. APC won a majority in the State House of Assembly during the 2019 general elections.

Ondo State Gubernatorial Election: October 10, 2020

Incumbent Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu is seeking re-election. Although he initially ran unsuccessfully in 2012 as a candidate for the smaller party Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), he ultimately won in 2016 on the APC ticket, following a controversial primary.

Curated News and Analysis

James Kwen, Business Day Nigeria (May 22, 2020): INEC approves policy on conducting elections in Covid-19 ahead of Edo, Ondo polls

Human Rights Watch (June 10, 2019): Nigeria: Widespread Violence Ushers in President’s New Term

John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations (March 18, 2019): Nigeria’s Election Disappoints

John Mukum Mbaku, Brookings Institution (March 1, 2019): The 2019 Nigerian elections and Buhari’s second chance to provide peace, prosperity, and security

Updated June 24, 2020

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