The All Progressives Congress (APC) won 20 of the 29 states that held elections for governorships and assemblies on 11 April.
While most of the remaining seven states were won by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in by-elections last year, the APC has broadly repeated its victory in the presidential polls.
This swing to the APC has confirmed considerable dissatisfaction with PDP incumbents and a discernible desire for inclusion in the new political mainstream.
Over the next four years, incoming state administrations will be spending nearly half of the national budget to develop services and infrastructure under a new federal government that has promised greater devolution of powers.
The APC’s gubernatorial landslide raises the question of whether the Lagos success story can be repeated. However, the gubernatorial polls will sustain tensions in the Niger Delta
SWINGS AND STRONGHOLDS
The APC retained control of major urban centres, besides winning eight states previously run by the PDP.
The margin of the APC win in its Lagos powerbase was the narrowest since its predecessor Alliance for Democracy party won the state for the first time in 1999. Turnout was only 27%. Communities not strictly ‘indigenous’ to the state, along with Yoruba nationalist activists, felt alienated from the party and supported the PDP. The APC won mainly by capturing block votes (1.2 million) from the vast Alimosho local government area.
The result signals continuity for the government’s reform and service-delivery orientation, but also shows the increasing discontent of those who feel marginal to that renaissance.
The APC’s Nasir el-Rufai won Kaduna by a landslide, but he has a difficult task ahead as the former capital and manufacturing hub of northern Nigeria is economically degraded and divided by conflict.
El-Rufai’s success on local development as Minister for the Federal Central Territory (Abuja) under former President Obasanjo raises hopes that he can repeat this local revitalisation.
The PDP’s loss of states such as Benue and Plateau in the Middle Belt, formerly a PDP heartland, shows disillusionment with President Goodluck Jonathan, but also a backlash at state governors who personally monopolised power.
Local rivalries and balances of power were also tipped by voters’ tendency to swing behind the national mainstream. However, many places also saw poor turnout compared to significant voting efforts for the presidential polls and local candidates did not reproduce the same degree of excitement.
Niger Delta states bucked the national trend with polls marred by violence and rigging. As in the presidential polls, the worst incidents took place in Rivers state. Former education minister Nyesom Wike, a close associate of the Jonathan family, defeated APC Governor Rotimi Amaechi in a highly problematic poll which reportedly saw high levels of violence and alleged voting irregularities. Rivers State House of Assembly will now feature several notorious former militants. The election season is likely to sustain renewed tensions.
Elections were similarly controversial in Imo, Abia and Taraba and the electoral commission has called for re-runs later in April. In many other states, it remains to be seen whether losing contestants can muster enough evidence to overturn declared results at tribunals.
Comment: The gubernatorial polls serve as a reminder that despite success at the presidential polls, election administration is still problematic. The use of thugs to deter voters highlights the centrality of election security, which is a tricky issue for the security forces to tackle in 29 states simultaneously.
The shift to majority APC-controlled states boosts the prospects for greater national and local policy coordination, which has been notoriously bad in previous years. Federal government complains that states take no notice of central initiatives unless it suits them, while states complain that national government implements federal projects in states without coordinating with local authorities.
A more substantive potential shift entail renewed debate on greater constitutional devolution. Nigeria’s constitution lists certain powers as exclusive to federal government. State governments hold some ‘residual’ powers but most other powers are ‘concurrent’: they are managed jointly but with the federal government taking the lead. These areas include health, education, agriculture, roads and housing.
When in control of state governments and in opposition nationally, the APC long lobbied for more powers to be transferred from the ‘concurrent’ list to the ‘residual’. The APC’s manifesto promised a review of the distribution of powers. Many states seek control over planning of rail and waterway transport, as well as more controversial powers such as policing.
The APC now controls the national legislature, making constitutional amendments possible. However, the process would be cumbersome and will not be an immediate priority.
Regardless of constitutional shifts, resource constraints will be a prominent issue for federal states. The constitution obliges government to share oil revenues between central, state and local authorities in a pre-ordained formula. While the formula will not change, the levels of those revenues as a whole are rapidly falling.
Governance improvements at state level will depend on local authorities’ capacity to generate internal revenue through taxing citizens and business, and bond financing. Bond markets will only find states creditworthy if it is clear they are able to repay. There will, therefore, be a limit to the funding that state governments will be able to access commercially. Using governance reforms to leverage donor support provides another option for those without statutory revenue powers.
Declining national oil revenues will expose the reality of a two-speed country, in which some states compete successfully on the national and international stage, while others struggle to escape backwater status. There is a gulf between coastal, urbanised, infrastructure- and human capital-rich states such as Lagos; and, landlocked, small, poorer states such as Ebonyi. States such as Ebonyi may never achieve ‘escape velocity’ no matter how much governance reform is undertaken.
However, new and dynamic governments in many important regional centres will enhance the possibilities for broad-based development and may give Nigeria a more cohesive national economy, connecting investors, producers, and consumers within the country and outside its borders.
CONCLUSION AND PROGNOSIS
APC control of major urban centres should provide an opportunity for local development to take place in closer coordination with national policy goals. If campaign promises on devolution of powers are kept, states may also gain greater control of policy and spending priorities. Declining national oil revenues will spur states to take more responsibility for local development, but will also expose the differing ability of states to raise internal revenue.
• The PDP will have to re-grow its party from a much-reduced regional powerbase in the south-south and south-east of the country.
• Problematic elections in PDP states may sow the seeds for continued localised instability and security problems.
• In the longer term, more dynamic state governments may spearhead a more localised infrastructure boom less reliant on central planning.
• Whether the APC can meet the high bar set by Lagos elsewhere will depend on the quality of its candidates locally.
• Better governance at the state level will in many cases depend on resources.