In the Lagos governor race, a millennial seeks an upset
For fans of Nigerian opposition candidate Peter Obi, last month’s election results brought a moment of disappointment and anger as polls showing Obi ahead failed to materialize. International observers and domestic critics laid into the electoral process, pointing out “widespread failings” that have bruised public faith in the results.
Nevertheless, Obi still scored a historic achievement. With over 25% of the vote, he is one of the best performing candidates ever to run without the support of Nigeria’s major parties. He has opened a lane for his Labour Party as a real force in Nigerian politics, reflective of a continent-wide trend of political opposition movements steadily gaining ground.
And Obi won Lagos. While the Obi camp claims that fraud erased an even bigger blowout win in the city, Lagos was considered the home turf of declared presidential winner Bola Tinubu. He served as its governor for years.
Now, as long-shot attempts to bring about an election re-run are processed in the courts, attention will once again turn to Lagos. The state soon goes back to the polls to elect a governor. While the incumbent from Tinubu’s party is favored, supporters of Obi’s Labour are hoping to translate their surprise success in the city to a landmark gubernatorial win.
The Labour Party candidate here is unconventional in Nigerian politics, noted for its numerous geriatric personalities. Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, 40 years old (today is his birthday), is a millennial former anti-GMO and environmental activist who ran for Senate in 2019. Back then, the man known as GRV was a member of the PDP, and he lost in a narrow and bitter contest.
Now GRV is back, and seeking to become Nigeria’s youngest governor. Like many politicians of his generation, GRV is adept at reaching out to his base on social media, a necessity when communicating to a party full of young supporters. But even given Obi’s victory in the city, he’s facing an uphill path to victory.
The only polls taken for this election are from last year, and show GRV well behind APC governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, with just 4% of the vote. However, many anticipate that Labour could see a lift from Obi’s breakout performance.
Adrian Elimian, a student analyst and contributor to the excellent Africa Elects polling and news aggregator on Twitter, says “Obi’s win helps.” However, “there will probably be a turnout dropoff from those fearful or disillusioned from the general.”
“Obi's win also struck fear into the APC, they know that the loss of the Lagos governship would give an unprecedented opposition platform to the Labour Party.”
As with the recent national election, foul play is expected to characterize the conduct of the vote. Elimian explained that “extensive voter suppression” could work against GRV. But, he continued, underhanded tactics from the APC might signal “panic” in their camp. Moves to “threaten civil servants,” and dial up ethnic tensions by pointing out GRV’s partial Igbo heritage in a heavily Yoruba state, suggest that Sanwo-Olu feels a genuine threat from the Labour Party.
At the time of writing, the election has been postponed by a week, from March 11th to the 18th- a delay that is sure to draw ire from citizens who just endured a round of stalled results.
While the lack of recent polling creates a high degree of uncertainty, the other opposition party in Lagos, the PDP, may have been “eclipsed by Rhodes-Vivour as the main anti-APC candidate,” according to Elimian. Their candidate took on a famous Nollywood actress as his running mate.
Even taking uncertainty into account, though, the election stands as one to watch. Obi may not be headed to the presidency, but his youth-powered movement still has major opportunities ahead.