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After the Nigerian presidential election, the struggle for Lagos intensifies

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Lagos, Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023....   -  
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Ben Curtis/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


Three weeks after the presidential election, Nigerians will vote on Saturday to elect their governors and all eyes are on Lagos, the economic capital and former stronghold of president-elect, Bola Tinubu.

For the first time in two decades, the bustling megacity of 20 million people could escape the influence of Mr. Tinubu, its historic "godfather," in favour of an opposition governor.

As a former governor of Lagos (1999-2007), Mr. Tinubu has immense wealth and influence that gave him the networks needed to lead Africa's most populous country, even though the opposition has denounced massive fraud in the February 25 election.

on Saturday, nigeria will elect the governors of 28 of the 36 states that make up the federal republic (the others have already been subject to by-elections) as well as local government representatives.

The fierce battle for Lagos, Nigeria's economic powerhouse with its gigantic port and thriving businesses, is attracting attention.

The megalopolis is the cradle of Afrobeats, a musical genre that is setting the world on fire with its stars such as Burna Boy and Tems, and of Nollywood, the second largest film industry in the world.

This "center of excellence", its nickname in Nigeria, is the stronghold of Bola Tinubu, who has had "the upper hand in the appointment of all governors since 2007", says Yusuf Omotayo, in the editorial of the political magazine The Republic.

The current governor of Lagos, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who ran for re-election on Saturday for a second term, is often referred to as Tinubu's "puppet" in the local press.

But Omotayo said Tinubu's stranglehold "could come to an end" on Saturday "as Lagos prepares for a historic election.

- "Warning" -

True, Bola Tinubu, 70, won the presidential election with the most votes nationwide.

But back home in Lagos, outsider candidate Peter Obi, 61, a youth favourite, came out on top with 10,000 more votes. The slight lead represents a symbolic victory for supporters of Mr. Obi and his Labour Party (LP), which has raised hopes of winning Lagos on March 18.

"It's a strong warning," said Olanipekun, a 28-year-old salesman, who believes that "the majority is hungry for better governance and now wants to change the poor political system that has been imposed on them for years.

This resident does not see the "transformation" of Lagos that Mr. Tinubu and Mr. Sanwo-Olu claim to have brought about, but rather the massive traffic jams in a city that is sorely lacking in public transportation and housing.

So without hesitation, this Peter Obi supporter will vote on Saturday. For if, according to him, Tinubu has not lost his grip on Lagos, there is a "chance" on Saturday to "turn the tide" and vote for another politician.

That man is Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, the LP's gubernatorial candidate; a 40-year-old architect from a prominent local family, who promises to put an "end to the monopolization of Lagos' resources by one man and his family," calling on young people "to come out massively to vote," he said in an interview with AFP.

- "Disgusted" -

During his campaign, Rhodes-Vivour recalled that he was part of a historic youth movement against police violence, dubbed "Endsars."

In October 2020, tens of thousands of Nigerians took to the streets to denounce the brutality of the security forces and demand better governance.

But the peaceful demonstrations were put down in blood by the authorities, notably at the Lekki toll plaza in Lagos, putting an end to the movement and traumatizing the youth, who had promised to punish the leaders at the ballot box.

Analysts say Endsars and his crackdown are largely responsible for the huge popularity of Obi, who is seen as younger and more upright, and who may favour the LP candidate on Saturday.

But to topple the Tinubu system in Lagos, the youth would still have to turn out to vote, while many say they are "disgusted" by the presidential election process, which largely lacked transparency.

Some young people interviewed by AFP said they will not go to vote. "What's the point? They cheated in the presidential election, they will cheat again on Saturday," said Damola, a 23-year-old student.

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