By William Wallis in London
Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic party has regained control of a state in the opposition-dominated south west in a vote that foretells the struggle for the leadership that lies ahead of general elections due next February.
Ayodele Fayose, a controversial former governor whose tenure from 2003 to 2006, coincided with a rash of politically motivated violence in Ekiti state, won a landslide victory in the governorship elections, defeating opposition incumbent Kayode Fayemi by two to one.
Political analysts described the result as a wake-up call for the opposition All Progressives Congress, which needs to retain dominance in the Yoruba-speaking south west of the country to have a chance of unseating President Goodluck Jonathan if he runs, as expected, in next year’s vote.
The PDP has muscled its way to victory in four general elections since 1999 when the military handed power back to civilians. But the party’s majority in the national assembly, and among 36 state governors, has been whittled away by recent defections, raising hopes among government opponents that the coalition that came together last year to form the APC could force an unprecedented transfer of power.
yesterday result in Ekiti state shows the PDP’s capacity to win remains intact despite public anger at high level corruption scandals and widespread criticism of Mr Jonathan’s handling of an Islamist insurgency ravaging the predominately Muslim north of Africa’s biggest economy.
The south west of the country is a vital electoral battleground, with the PDP under pressure to win a good proportion of the vote if it is to counter opposition to Mr Jonathan, a southern Christian, in the north. Victory in Ekiti gives the PDP control of two of the six south western states.
Mr Fayemi, who is celebrated among pro-democracy activists for his role in opposing former dictator Sani Abacha during the 1990s, bowed out gracefully on Sunday. But he said that: “Incidences of brazen harassment, intimidation and allied infractions on fundamental human rights . . . would be documented and communicated to the appropriate authorities.”
Saturday’s polls took place outside the usual electoral schedule because of a court battle that saw Mr Fayemi take office in 2010 after overturning disputed results. The vote was a warning for the conduct of elections next year.
James Entwistle, US ambassador to Nigeria, said that a free and peaceful election would help demonstrate the credibility of the electoral system, adding that Washington was watching with “great interest.” A tense run-up saw the state flooded with soldiers and police, who prevented some politicians from campaigning on Mr Fayemi’s behalf. But election observers said the poll had proceeded peacefully with a large voter turnout.
“There was massive security, which raised a lot of concern for us but on voting day they took a back seat and we didn’t observe that they were intimidating voters or interfering with the electoral process,” said Clement Nwankwo, who was observing the elections for a platform of 60 civil society groups.
Mr Fayemi’s governorship had been celebrated among civil society activists as a sign that a new breed of politician with an agenda for development could make headway in a political system where control of patronage and security networks is paramount.
But some observers said he lacked the common touch, had failed to appease local kingmakers and faced a determined opponent in Mr Fayose.
“This has been a protest against that and for a challenger who has a reputation for being on the streets with voters, and who has an understanding of grassroots politics, and of sharing money at different levels,” said Mr Nwankwo.
Culled from Financial Times of London