ABUJA— After losing the gubernatorial race in southern Ondo State, Nigeria’s ruling party is divided. Ondo ruling party leaders are calling for an investigation into allegations of fraud while President Goodluck Jonathan says the election is a sign of a deepening culture of democracy.
Under the surface of every local election in Nigeria these days is the same struggle: the race to line up support for the 2015 presidential elections.
This struggle is most poignant in the south, where President Goodluck Jonathan is from and enjoys the most support. It is also the region he can’t afford to lose, if he runs again.
Ovie Joseph is a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party and a former party official. At his home in Delta State, he says southerners are losing their enthusiasm for the president, which is why the ruling party didn’t win the gubernatorial elections.
“We thought, from the way things [were] going, ‘He’s going to be the Messiah and take us to the Promised Land.’ But the way things are looking, we are disappointed,” stated Joseph.
Incumbent Governor Olusegun Mimiko, a member of the Labor Party, a small group with little popularity in most of the country, won last weekend's election with more than 46 percent of the vote. This comes after July elections in Edo State, also in the south, won by the main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria.
Yesterday, Governor Mimiko formally accepted the office and praised the president for what he said were peaceful, fair elections.
Isitoiah Ozoemene, a political science lecturer at the College of Education in Delta State says the Action Congress of Nigeria party could have won in Ondo if it had put forth a candidate perceived as a local, like the governor.
“The reason being that you are more acquainted with the people. You understand their environment. You are part of their culture," Ozoemene stated. "You know what they want. And so people relate to you because they know you one-on-one.”
Since the election, the ruling party has split in its reaction. Here in the capital, President Goodluck Jonathan put out a statement congratulating the governor and pledging his support.
He also praised election officials, saying their work under his administration is strengthening Nigeria’s democracy.
But in Ondo State, party officials aren’t so cheerful. Campaign leaders say election materials or staff didn’t reach many areas, and security was lax in the countryside and promised to challenge the results.
Action Congress of Nigeria leaders were more reserved in their reaction, saying they were investigating the results and will announce their position in the coming days.
Hilary Uguru contributed to this report from the Niger Delta