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Nigeria Ready For Saturday State Ballots

FILE: In a previous Gubernatorial Election, officials count ballot papers at the end of voting in one of the polling station in Lagos, Nigeria. Taken April 11, 2015.
FILE: In a previous Gubernatorial Election, officials count ballot papers at the end of voting in one of the polling station in Lagos, Nigeria. Taken April 11, 2015.

LAGOS - Lagos was key to Bola Tinubu's victory last month in Nigeria's presidential election, but the megacity could on Saturday cause a stir by voting for an opposition governor as Nigeria elects state leaders.

Three weeks after 25 million people voted in presidential elections that are being contested by the two main opposition parties over fraud allegations, Nigerians are once again set to cast a ballot.

This time, Africa's most populous country will be voting for governors in 28 of the 36 states of the federation - the other states having already conducted by-elections - as well as for representatives in state assemblies.

The "centre of excellence" as Lagos is known in Nigeria, is Bola Tinubu's fiefdom. The president-elect was governor of the state, which includes Lagos city from 1999 to 2007.

The "godfather of Lagos", as he is known, has established the political influence that led him to the presidency on the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket.

"Since 2007, Tinubu has had a hand in the emergence of all the governors of Lagos," journalist Yusuf Omotayo wrote in the Nigerian magazine The Republic. That includes the current governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is running for a second term.

Sanwo-Olu has sometimes been dismissed as a "puppet" by local media. According to Omotayo however, the influence long exerted by Tinubu could show its limits on Saturday "as Lagos gears up for a historic governorship election."

While Tinubu, 70, may have won the largest number of votes nationwide in the February 25 presidential election, he lost his home state of Lagos to opposition candidate Peter Obi.

The 61-year-old outsider from southeast Nigeria is popular with young people, a large pool of voters that contributed to him getting 10,000 more votes than Tinubu in Lagos.

Obi's supporters and his Labour Party (LP) are now hoping they can win the gubernatorial election on March 18.

Others are putting their hopes on the LP candidate Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, a 40-year-old architect from one of the most influential families in Lagos and who promises to be different from previous governors.

His administration would end the "state capture" of "resources to one man (and) his family," Rhodes-Vivour told AFP. "The resources of the state must be used to uplift and benefit the people of Lagos."

During his campaign, the energetic Rhodes-Vivour often mentioned his participation in the #EndSARS protests of 2020, when young people took to the streets against police brutality and for better governance.

The movement came to a brutal halt in October 2020 when police and soldiers shot at peaceful protesters at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos.

Many were traumatised by the crackdown and vowed to take their anger to the polls in 2023.

For analysts, that event and the way it was handled by the government largely explain the support Obi received from Nigeria's youth.

Whether that popularity will translate at the governorship level and end Tinubu's powerful influence in the state remains to be seen.

A decisive factor will be turnout, which could be low considering many young people are disappointed by the way the presidential elections were conducted.

"Go vote? What's the point?" said 23-year-old student Damola. "It was a rigged election on the 25th, they'll manipulate the results on Saturday."

The electoral commission has denied claims that the presidential election was rigged but has recognised technical glitches, including the slow uploading of electronic results.