Abstract How do local politics shape national political competition in Africa? This article explores opposition party formation in Nigeria, where citizens voted out the People’s Democratic Party in 2015 after 16 years in power. Existing analyses attribute the victory of the All Progressives Congress to issues such as corruption, terrorism, and declining economic performance. Drawing upon field research in Abuja and Rivers, a key opposition state, this article argues that the institutional environment also played a role. Federalism provided the nascent All Progressives Congress with a partisan basis for subnational interest coordination. Rivers’ governor leveraged his authority over local governments to challenge the federal government, linking local struggles to broader states’ rights. The People’s Democratic Party unsuccessfully attempted to deter defections and subvert subnational challenges through court cases and other means. More than just a mechanism for resource distribution, representation, or conflict mediation, Nigeria’s federalism has emerged as an instrument of party organizing. Nigeria is typically considered a case of troubled federalism due to military rule, oil rents, colonial legacies, and recurring sectarian movements, many of them violent. But this portrait of failed fiscal federalism and frustrated representation has been changing since the transition to civilian rule in 1999. As opposition parties established regionalized centres of power, federalism facilitated coordination across states and challenges from the bottom up, as this article emphasizes. I argue that rather than making governors weak and dependent on the centre, as standard expectations of fiscal federalism suggest, statutorily guaranteed grants to states increased governors’ power because they provided relatively stable income. When the centre attempted to destabilize these revenue streams, state politicians recast the right to national revenue as a states’ rights issue rooted in federalism. Opposition states had also insured themselves against federal encroachment by pursuing regionalized economic development, borrowing money, and in several cases increasing tax collection. These efforts helped stabilize the nascent All Progressives Congress (APC), an opposition party that formed in 2013 with the consolidation of several opposition parties and defectors from the ruling party. The article first summarizes research on subnational regimes, noting a research revival on decentralization that promises to provide a missing link between local politics and political competition in Africa. I justify the focus on Nigeria by noting its lessons for Africa’s new oil exporters, the low opinion of its local governments, and variation in subnational government performance. The article then briefly introduces Nigeria and its federal system, before turning to a detailed analysis of Rivers State, a focal point for opposition in the 2015 elections and one of the most important oil-producing states. Through an analysis at three institutional levels – federal, state and local – I describe a ‘reciprocal retaliation’ game in which the governor used his constitutional powers over local governments to advance his party’s interests. At the same time, the centre used bureaucratic and political means to keep states in line, sometimes allying with local governments in order to subvert state government. ‘They went for an all-out war against me’, said Governor Rotimi Amaechi of these efforts.1 In linking local and state politics to national political shifts, the article provides a microanalytic perspective on party competition leading up to the defeat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015. More generally, it advances a dialog between emerging party research and comparative federalism. Introducing democratic and authoritarian subnational politics Existing explanations attribute the PDP’s historic victory to factors such as corruption, terrorism and economic decline as well as improved electoral administration.2 This study seeks to complement this research by exploring how institutions importantly shaped the context of political competition in 2015. Several related literatures are relevant. Some recent studies focus on subnational regimes, examining how states and provinces may be more or less democratic than the national government overall. Edward Gibson argues that strategic and institutional interaction by local politicians is paramount, ‘regardless of endogenous socioeconomic or cultural characteristics that propitiate local hegemony’.3 In his framework, political systems are comprised of political regimes (i.e. democratic or authoritarian) and territorial regimes that govern the interaction among various units of the state and specify their powers. Successful subnational dictators who maintain ‘boundary control’ are then challenged through either ‘party led transitions’, where the incumbent national party allies with local affiliates to defeat the regional ruler, or a ‘centre-led intervention’, which can include judicial or legislative interference, that achieves transition by also transforming the local rules of the game. In this framework, subnational regimes are therefore strategic actors whose democratic or authoritarian qualities are shaped by these interactions and tactics. Research on subnational authoritarianism has helped to disaggregate democracy since cross-national studies rely on metrics that only capture the overall picture, missing important localized variation that can shape the national picture. Subnational regimes are important in Africa amidst the persistence of rural political power. Though the focus of this article is not on subnational authoritarianism or democratization per se, Nigeria informs such research as state-level governments struggle to consolidate authority due to informal power brokers (known as ‘godfathers’), contested territoriality of political space, and weak courts and legislatures ill equipped to lead reform from the centre. Also, there has been a revival of research on decentralization, much of it revising the 1990s optimism that suggested bringing power ‘closer’ to the people would advance democracy. Decentralization is ‘one of the leading political reforms that developing countries have undertaken in the two decades since the end of the cold war’.4 One study called Africa the ‘surprise winner’ for decentralization.5 Parties are a principal institutional link between the national and local levels, and they have played a central role in determining the depth of decentralization reforms by shaping legislative-executive clashes over power and autonomy of subnational governments in cases such as Brazil and South Africa.6 Many of Africa’s democracies are dominated by hegemonic parties that paradoxically adopted decentralization because of the benefits it brings to supporters.7 The expansion of decentralization in countries such as Kenya and Uganda was often accompanied by constitutional changes that bolstered subnational power. This research informs our understanding of political competition that shapes national-level outcomes in Africa and questions whether and how fragmenting political power benefits elites or advances broad participation. Case study and research design Nigeria is a critical case for advancing our understanding of subnational institutional development and for exploring linkages among democratization, federalism and party systems suggested by the literature. At the time of the 2015 elections, Nigeria had experienced the steepest decline in satisfaction with democracy on the continent, plummeting from 84 percent satisfaction in 2000 to 29 percent in 2014.8 The defeat of Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP in presidential, national legislative and nearly two-thirds of the gubernatorial polls marked the first time since the 1999 transition to civilian rule that an incumbent political party was successfully challenged. Since party turnover is empirically associated with democratic consolidation,9 defeat of Africa’s largest political party delivered a hopeful message about democracy on the continent. Rather than analyzing voting behaviour or how (or whether) parties captured salient issues, this article explores party development through politicians’ incentives and the tools at their disposal, focusing on how elites at different levels leverage their authority over local power centres to advance broader party building and electoral goals. Nigeria is one of the few formally federal systems on the continent, and local government responsiveness ranks lower there than anywhere else.10 The choice of Nigeria is comparatively important for several other reasons. First, countries with new oil discoveries such as Ghana, Sierra Leone and Uganda have to grapple with influxes of new natural resource revenue streams and trying to avoid corruption associated with the ‘oil curse’. In distributing this revenue from the centre to subnational governments, Nigeria has adopted technocratic formulae meant to insulate oil income from political manipulation, price shocks, and short time horizons. Its limited success with each of these goals thus offers important lessons for Africa’s new oil exporters. Second, federalism in Africa often serves as a conflict resolution tool.11 In Nigeria such tools include state creation, regional autonomy, and fiscal management. The post-independence years (1960–1966) of violent elections, a contentious national census, a national strike, and ethnic pogroms had pushed the nation toward civil war as Igbos in the east threatened secession. Following the counter-coup that brought him to power, General Yakubu Gowon created eight new states in 1967: ‘I wanted to remove the fear of domination, to break the regions so that they are not as big and strong as to wish to stand on their own’.12 Serious, violent, regionalized frustrations continue to plague Nigeria. A dozen northern state legislatures in 1999–2000 departed from a constitutional compromise extending back to the colonial era by passing legislation applying Islamic law to criminal, rather than merely civil code, prompting riots in religiously mixed states. Since 2009, a violent Islamic insurgency in the northeast commonly known as Boko Haram (meaning ‘western education is sinful’ in Hausa) has waged a violent campaign for harsh, conservative religious rule. The federal government is considering massive investment alongside small but important measures of autonomy, such as religious education and instruction in minority languages, to diffuse frustrations. Third, fiscal federalism addressed – and sometimes fuelled – frustrations in the oil-producing Niger Delta. But since subnational units are entitled to money, the creation of new Local Government Areas (LGAs) and states during a series of military regimes (1966–1979 and 1983–1999) generated recurring demands for new subnational units.13 For Niger Delta rebel movements, discussed below, their primary goal was (or is) arguably ‘resource control’. Among other things, this refers to an increase in ‘derivation formula’ that would return a larger share of federal revenue to the state where it originates. In general, Nigeria’s fiscal federalism is meant to limit discretionary authority over resource allocations. This is important because if revenue is indeed an entitlement, then revenue dependence does not necessarily promote political dependence, a prevailing assumption in federalism research.14 It also means in Nigeria that deviation from that entitlement breaches a social contract. Fourth, some states go to great lengths to raise internally generated revenue, and the subnational variation is sometimes understated. Lagos State leads by far with internally generated revenue accounting for 53 percent of its 2013 revenue. But it was not alone: its neighbour Ogun generated 31 percent, the northern state of Kano recorded nearly 35 percent, and Rivers raised 25.5 percent of its revenue internally. The average in 2013 was 12.7 percent (with a standard deviation of 1.0).15 But with entitlements to federal grants, why would governors even bother to raise revenue? Lagos has a huge coastal commercial base, but it also has a long history of opposition. Governor Bola Tinubu (1999–2007) and his successor Babatunde Fashola (2007–2015) challenged federal government on wage increases, states’ rights to offshore oil revenues, and a broad range of issues. Internally generated revenue provides a measure of political insulation or risk insurance from the centre, a goal that the opposition governor in Edo made explicit prior to the elections.16 From a research design point of view, focusing on one country – especially one with 36 states and 774 local governments constant over two decades – limits unit of analysis problems that can arise in cross-national research, where country size and subnational units vary. This approach can lead to ecological fallacies if one makes inferences about local politics based on national or state-level observations. As an alternative, the research here explores a single case in order to develop a multi-layered understanding of opposition organizing at different scales. This generates a narrative from the ground up that embeds discrete, local concerns within larger repertoires of institutional politics and electoral competition. The next section analyses linkages among electoral politics, fiscal federalism, and the party system in Rivers State, one of the most important oil-producing states and the locus of troubled elections in 2015. Drawing upon field research conducted in 2014 and 2015, I explain how its opposition governor and the federal government engaged in a game of ‘reciprocal retaliation’ across three tiers of government. Both sides operated in dubious legal terrain, with the courts unable to decisively resolve disputes over party leadership, government finances, and local authority. The struggle has important implications for the broader state of democracy in Nigeria. The PDP, which won the governorship in 2015, may in fact adopt some of the tactics as its predecessor, once again positioning state politics in Rivers to have an outsized impact on electoral competitiveness at the national level. More generally, the article demonstrates an important feature of Nigeria’s institutional environment: as local politics energized a states’ rights movement, federalism emerged as a tool for opposition party coordination. The Rivers State rebellions The sheer size of Nigeria’s federal system – 160 million people in 36 states whose governors manage billions of dollars each year – might suggest that larger federal frames of politics would eclipse local squabbles. Yet in 2013, local government in Rivers State took on a disproportionately important role in national politics. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi abandoned the PDP along with four other governors,17 57 members of the 360-seat federal House of Representatives, and 22 out of 109 Senators.18 They joined All Progressives Congress (APC), a merger of the four biggest opposition parties (Action Congress of Nigeria, Congress for Progressive Change, All Nigeria Peoples Party, and All Progressives Grand Alliance) and a disgruntled faction of PDP. For the ruling party the decampments brought campaign problems as well as a practical question concerning whether it still controlled majorities in the National Assembly. To deter further defections, the PDP took several steps. First, its national leadership suspended errant members and went to court to claim that after an election, an office is held by the party not by the individual. Second, according to PDP members in the National Assembly as well as APC Governor Amaechi, the federal government withheld grants designated for Rivers State under revenue allocation system. Third, the federally controlled police sided with the PDP in a series of highly publicized incidents. A fourth tactic involved the judicature – challenging the governor over his judicial picks and litigating cases against Rivers APC in Abuja’s courts. Finally, the PDP government used administrative powers to revise geographical boundaries of several oil wells whose state ownership had long been contested. By contrast the APC needed to encourage defections and maximize the credibility of its promises. Governor Amaechi borrowed money to keep government coffers full and appointed several ‘caretaker’ committees to run Local Government Areas, giving his rival’s constituency special attention. He also cast a power struggle over the State Assembly as a symbol of federal government encroachment on states’ rights, with the National Assembly at one point weighing in Rivers’ favour. Effectively, his government reframed the PDP’s efforts to punish him as a broader struggle over federalism. A series of confrontations in Rivers State illustrates how the two parties pursued these contrasting goals of party discipline and party recruitment across three tiers of Nigeria’s federal system – federal, state, and local government areas – and how a single local government area acquired broader symbolic significance for partisan organizing. The analysis that follows explains the overall importance of Rivers State among Nigeria’s 36 states, summarizes the origins of differences within the state PDP, and elaborates on the tools each side deployed in a game of ‘reciprocal retaliation’. When General Gowon created new states in 1967, he emphasized that the Niger Delta presented a sticky problem because there were so many ethnic minorities determined to avoid domination by larger groups. This area includes contemporary Rivers State, where oil began flowing in the 1950s. By the early 1970s, the first oil boom generated huge revenues, increasing minority demands for subnational control over natural resources. Concerns over environmental degradation and political disenfranchisement grew in the 1990s when Sani Abacha’s military regime hanged the playwright and minority rights activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Like Gowon, Abacha responded to this resentment by creating more states, carving Bayelsa State out of Rivers in 1996. By 1999, civil society concerns about human rights violations, even after the end of military rule, aligned with some radical youth calls for resistance. Open armed rebellion broke out in 2004, and by 2006, militant groups such as the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta were taking foreign oil workers hostage. The year 2006 also heralded Nigeria’s greatest post-transition crisis, when President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted to modify the constitution to stay in office for a third term. The stealth effort sowed seeds of discord that APC defectors would later reap. Rivers’ governor, Peter Odili, who had been a close ally of Obasanjo and a rising star in the PDP, allegedly funded opposition to the third term. Rotimi Amaechi, who was then Speaker of the State Assembly, declined to testify in PDP proceedings against his ally Odili. In 2007 when Odili sought the vice presidential slot, his candidacy was railroaded and he never appeared on the PDP primary’s ballot. A senior politician in the Rivers’ PDP describes this as retaliation for opposing the third term, and is probably how Amaechi emerged as the candidate.19 Amaechi was lucky enough to take office during an oil boom. Local governments saw a quadrupling of their budgets between 1999 and 2007; Rivers alone had an annual budget of US$1.3 billion with only 5.1 million people.20 When Amaechi won a second term in 2011, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and other Niger Delta militants had mostly disarmed through an amnesty programme, a de-escalation generally reflected in Figure 1. Soon thereafter, Amaechi decided to run for chair of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, an important voice for all 36 governors that advances a states’ rights agenda. According to an APC spokesperson, though, ‘the president felt that Amaechi was not his candidate, and could not be the chairman of the Governor’s Forum,’ leading to a leadership fight.21 The dispute began when the federal government set out to create a sovereign wealth fund that would deduct money from the states’ monthly revenue allocation. When Amaechi aligned himself firmly with Nigerian Governors’ Forum governors opposed to the plan, he infuriated President Jonathan.22 When the president’s preferred candidate, Plateau State Governor Jonathan Jang lost the vote 16–19, Jonathan for a period attempted to recognize Jang as chair. From Governor Amaechi’s perspective, the PDP leadership dug in deeper against him after this embarrassing loss. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Deaths in Rivers State Source: Nigeriawatch.com (Accessed 20 January 2015). Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Deaths in Rivers State Source: Nigeriawatch.com (Accessed 20 January 2015). Significant changes in fiscal federalism deepened the rift between Jonathan and Amaechi, and drove a wedge between the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the Federal Government. The National Boundary Commission declared that certain offshore oil fields no longer belonged to Rivers and instead fell within the boundaries of Bayelsa, the president’s home state and already an historical sore spot for Rivers since Bayelsa used to be part of it. ‘Federal government wakes up one morning and says this [oil] well, which belongs to Rivers State, has been allocated to Bayelsa State’, the Rivers State Assembly’s deputy speaker, Leyi Kwanee, sarcastically commented.23 From Governor Amaechi’s perspective the federal bureaucracy seemed to wage a war of fiscal attrition: ‘President Jonathan introduced a very dangerous system, where if you oppose the president, then they take your oil wells’.24 Fuelling the national PDP’s concerns about Amaechi were rumours that he nursed ambitions for higher office. ‘Amaechi wants to be VP [vice president]’, insisted a Rivers-based journalist.25 Other journalists were more sceptical, noting ‘Amaechi said many times that he has no presidential ambitions’, suggesting further that posters for an Amaechi presidential campaign were printed by state assembly members who sought his impeachment’.26 Yet another said, ‘I do not think he has openly come out to talk about his ambition’.27 In sum, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum was concerned about oil revenue being diverted from the revenue allocation system into sovereign wealth funds, while Amaechi as the new chair of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum opposed the loss of Rivers’ oil fields through National Boundary Commission’s redrawn maps. The PDP sought to advance federal government’s prerogatives, including establishment of sovereign wealth funds. More narrowly, President Jonathan may have wanted to neutralize Amaechi as a potential rival in the 2015 election, though this seems unlikely. As the rift between the PDP and Amaechi widened, the struggle moved to control over the state PDP’s leadership and the governor opened up a new front in a single local government area: Obio-Akpor. Rivers’ battle over PDP leadership in the courts, the state assembly, and the streets In April 2013 a high court judge in the federal capital, Abuja, removed Godspower Ake, a close ally of Governor Amaechi as head of the Rivers State PDP. President Jonathan’s loyalists immediately replaced him with Felix Obuah. The judge effectively claimed jurisdiction to interfere in the party leadership of a state hundreds of miles away from Abuja, an assertion that reversed the courts’ previous reluctance to interfere in the internal affairs of parties. Amaechi insists that only a Federal High Court Judge might have such jurisdiction, calling Justice Isaq Bello’s decision ‘judicial impunity’.28 Then, in the first of at least six interventions into the controversy, the state police commissioner (who is under federal control) announced that he would only recognize Obuah as the state’s PDP chair. The perception of bias was reinforced after Obuah set up the Grassroot Development Initiative as a parallel PDP structure. According to news accounts and interviews with witnesses, the police would protect the Grassroot Development Initiative’s rallies but disrupt gatherings by the Save Rivers Movement, Amaechi’s own grassroots wing.29 ‘From this point on’, said one report, ‘Governor Amaechi and his political allies and followers became strangers in a party that had provided them with a platform for a long time’.30 Amaechi won another term as chair of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum in May; three days later the PDP’s national leadership suspended him from the party. To retaliate, Amaechi turned to allies in the State Assembly. After all, said a PDP politician, ‘you can’t serve in the assembly unless you are picked by the governor’.31 The Assembly suspended the entire local government of Obio-Akpor, an important local government area because it was home for Nyesom Wike, President Jonathan’s second in command in the Federal Ministry of Education. Alleging corruption, the Assembly appointed a caretaker committee the next day. Wike was furious, not only because he had served as the local government chair from 1998 to 2007, but he had run Amaechi’s previous re-election campaign.32 ‘I have never seen in a democratic state, where the local government is suspended, the vice chairman is suspended, all of the legislators are also suspended’, complained Wike’s chosen successor as council chair, Prince Timothy Nsirim.33 The state police commissioner intervened in the PDP dispute for a second time when the police refused to let the caretaker committee enter the local government area offices. The Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition called the police blockade ‘a barbarous setback for democratic ideals’.34 In May a federal high court in Port Harcourt ordered the police away. From there events are murky but they backed off and immediately returned, apparently due to an explosion. This was ‘disobedient of the court order’, said the director of Port Harcourt-based Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, claiming ‘the police used that explosion as an excuse, as a threat’.35 Figure 2 illustrates escalations of violence in Obio-Akpor coinciding with Amaechi’s election in 2007 and re-election in 2011. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Deaths in Obio-Akpor local government area Source: Nigeriawatch.com (Accessed 20 January 2015). Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Deaths in Obio-Akpor local government area Source: Nigeriawatch.com (Accessed 20 January 2015). It was some further violence, this time on the floor of the State House of Assembly, that led the police to intervene for a third time in party politics. Obuah, still recognized by the police and the president as head of the state PDP, suspended the 27 Amaechi loyalists in the state Assembly from the party unless they agreed to lift the suspension on Obio-Akpor’s council. In June, the president’s wife, who is from Rivers State, proclaimed her support for Wike and Obuah. The following month, the five remaining members of the State Assembly attempted to impeach the Speaker of the State House, replacing him with Evans Bipi, who called First Lady Patience Jonathan ‘Jesus Christ on Earth’.36 Alerted to a new plot against the governor, Amaechi’s allies rushed to convene the State Assembly. The police intervened for a fourth time when they shut down the building, locking the elected representatives out. ‘We cannot access the complex because the federal government has assigned the police to take over the place’, complained the Deputy Speaker.37 The National Assembly reacted by invoking rarely used constitutional authority to take over the State Assembly. Those seeking to impeach Amaechi then won a court case to re-open it. The police then allowed the five insurgent members access to the Assembly. Their effort to convene the Assembly without Amaechi’s allies precipitated a physical struggle over the parliamentary mace. A bi-partisan group of intellectuals from across Nigeria declared, ‘The House of Assembly’s sanctity has been desecrated. The defilement of the constitutional order in Rivers State portends ominous danger for the rest of the country’.38 Neither Amaechi and his local allies nor Wike and the national PDP emerged from the fracas holding the moral high ground. State governments have some power to suspend local governments, but appointing a caretaker council in Obio-Akpor after the thinnest veneer of due process antagonized Wike and the national PDP. The federal government has the power to order police to uphold court orders and ensure public safety, but police in Rivers repeatedly sided with Wike and the national PDP (and arguably the First Lady too, who ordered police to intervene in Obio-Akpor as well as her home local government area).39 The courts as meditators of federalism In the years after the 1999 transition, courts mediated a broad range of inter-governmental disputes, clarifying the contours of Nigeria’s federalism by variously deciding for or against the federal government, thereby affirming judicial independence.40 This proved more difficult in Rivers, since reciprocal retaliation impacted administration of the judicature itself and generated competing decisions and contests over jurisdiction. In August 2013 Governor Amaechi appointed Justice Peter Agumagu acting chief judge. The PDP argued that he was not on the National Judicial Council approved list of potential appointees. The NJC supposedly wrote to judges in the state asking them not to recognize Agumagu as acting chief judge.41 In September, the federal police intervened for a fifth time in Rivers, forcing their way into the state judicial complex in order to let the PDP’s preferred appointee sit; the state government called the incident an ‘illegality supervised by the Commissioner of Police’.42 Similar ambiguities plagued the struggle over the Obio-Akbor local government chairmanship and in the state assembly. Nsirim and the PDP took the governor to the Rivers State High Court, winning a judgment in November 2013 declaring the caretaker committee ‘unconstitutional, wrongful, null and void’, along with the State Assembly’s motion to suspend it. The court further ordered an injunction against any further interference.43 Nsirim remained in the local government offices, but Governor Amaechi and the Assembly refused to recognize his authority. ‘Each state law determines what a governor can do’, says Amaechi. ‘In Rivers, the State gives you authority to remove, suspend, or dissolve a council’.44 The Deputy Speaker of the State Assembly agrees.45 To be fair, the court cases present a morass but the federal court’s earlier decision would typically surpass a state court order. The Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law agrees local government councils are answerable to the State Assembly under the law. But it also notes that appointing a caretaker council ‘at the speed of light’ denied the chair due process, and should have triggered a chain of succession rather than removal of the whole council.46 A few weeks after Nsirim’s case, the courts turned their attention to the stalemate at State House of Assembly. Rivers State High Court ruled that Evans Bipi (the First Lady’s ally) had no authority to assume the Assembly’s speakership.47 The police, in their sixth intervention into the party dispute and in apparent defiance of the court order, continued to bar the 27 members loyal to Governor Amaechi from entering State House. Judicial non-interference would have been consistent with court decisions dating back to Nigeria’s Second Republic (1979–1983), when the governor of Kaduna State asked the courts to stop impeachment proceedings against him. The courts declined, citing Section 170 of the 1979 Constitution prohibiting the courts from interfering in the Houses of Assembly. The 1999 constitution (Section 188) contains the same ‘ouster clause’ that courts have interpreted similarly, for example declining to interfere in impeachment of the deputy governor of Abia State. But the decision rejecting Evans Bipi’s speakership in Rivers seems more in line with cases since 1999 that have ever so slightly lifted the bar on courts’ involvement in state party politics. For example, an attempt by members of the Oyo State House of Assembly to impeach the governor in 2005 was overturned on procedural grounds (ultimately by the Supreme Court) because the proceedings took place in a hotel, and an attempt by Plateau State Assembly to impeach the governor in 2006 was overturned because they failed to get the necessary two thirds of the votes.48 In 2014, the governor of Nasarawa State was impeached by 20 PDP votes against four APC votes in the State Assembly. As in Rivers, minority members there tried to seize the parliamentary mace in order to convene the Assembly and delay proceedings. That impeachment effort also ultimately failed.49 Therefore, courts generally upheld the autonomy of assemblies under the principle of separation of powers, but they gave parties some latitude by interpreting a key constitutional clause to suggest that once a politician is elected, his or her seat belongs to the party. This effectively weakened the link between voters and candidates and set limits on an elected politician’s freedom of association. These constitutional issues arose in Rivers as disputes involving the PDP expulsion of eighteen politicians in August 2013 wound their way through the courts, embedding state politics within the larger national tussle over defections. When governors, Senators and members of the House defected (later in August 2013), it put PDP’s control of the National Assembly at stake and raised a constitutional challenge to a party’s authority to discipline its members. Just prior to formally announcing they had switched parties, the defecting politicians sought to comply with obscure constitutional provisions (Section 68(g) requiring the formation of a faction or a merger following a party ‘division’) before joining another party. The provisions are meant to promote party discipline, but they also facilitated PDP dominance in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 elections by raising the political costs of defection. Decamping members therefore declared themselves ‘New PDP’. The members in the House and Senate wrote to the National Assembly leadership in December 2013, announcing ‘we have merged with the APC according to section 68 of the 1999 Constitution’, and then sued the leadership to not declare their seats vacant, since they constituted a faction. To show the ‘old’ PDP it was serious, APC members in the National Assembly threatened to vote against the federal budget. In April 2014, New PDP suffered a setback when it lost its case before a Federal High Court in Abuja that ruled there was no faction in the PDP, arguing that they owe their election to the party rather than voters.50 The courts thus upheld rules that increase politicians’ dependence on the party. Many politicians also faced dependence on local ‘godfathers’ in order to get elected in the first place. ‘When you are elected, you are sponsored by a godfather’, the State Assembly’s deputy speaker affirmed.51 ‘Godfatherism plays a major role’, said another source, ‘no matter how good you are you need somebody in the party to speak for you’.52 In Rivers, Wike had emerged as a godfather in Obio-Akpor, and his appointment to the federal cabinet along with his ties to the First Lady expanded his influence. ‘Most governors see themselves as owners of the party at the state level. That is not right – the party belongs to the people’, said Austin Opara, who served as Deputy Speaker in the National Assembly under the PDP.53 However, the reciprocal bonds between patron (godfather) and client (politician) very often weakened after the election, as occurred with politicians in states such as Abia, Edo, and Kwara.54 Amaechi too had trouble maintaining his role as such a power broker. Opposition emergence and political escalation The APC survived the legal challenges to its existence. By offering a viable alternative to the PDP, it lowered the risks of defection for disgruntled PDP members frustrated by the party’s efforts to control candidate selection through national leadership or local godfathers. ‘With the emergence of the APC there is an alternative and PDP is beginning to wake up to that’ says Rivers’ deputy speaker.55 ‘I was a strong and important member of PDP’, says Governor Amaechi, but suspensions drove him and others out of the party.56 The PDP then appears to have responded with the ultimate weapon: fiscal federalism. Amaechi and other APC politicians claim that statutory allocations from the centre were withheld, and Rivers State therefore had to borrow money. This is difficult to confirm with certainty, especially since the website of the Accountant General of the Federation had been hacked at the time of this writing. However, Rivers’ domestic debt did in fact increase from 91.7 billion naira in 2014 to nearly 135 billion naira in 2015, according to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office. Amaechi’s assertion is also supported by an unlikely source: a senior PDP member of the House, Austin Opara, who confirmed that Rivers’ funds were suspended. ‘Where there is crisis, the revenues are kept in escrow account’.57 Deviations from statutory allocations are unusual but with precedent. In AG Cross Rivers vs AG Federation & Other, the Supreme Court ordered withheld monies to be paid to Cross Rivers State in 1999, and in 2004 the Supreme Court decided in AG Lagos v. AG Federation that the president cannot withhold funds from any tier of government. Yet the Obasanjo administration continued to do so, attempting to re-litigate the apex Court’s order to repay funds.58 ‘Violations of Court orders were a pervasive feature of Nigerian politics at both federal and subnational levels during the 1999–2007 period’, concluded a study on the topic.59 These earlier cases centred on legitimate questions of the federal governments’ powers though, so the alleged withholding from Rivers (if true) for more bluntly partisan reasons was a notable difference and a tactic that did not help the PDP’s record in national politics. The PDP endorsed Jonathan for president but its primaries for state offices in Rivers were plagued by familiar problems of federal meddling and party divisions resembling those that led the New PDP faction to break off in the first place. A core issue for the PDP concerned party provisions for rotation of power. At the national level, PDP elites in 1999 agreed to alternate the presidency between north and south, an informal practice known as ‘power shift’. Jonathan’s presidency violated the principle when he became president in 2010 following the death in office of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a northerner. The party also practices power shift at the state and local government levels. In Rivers State this has emphasized divisions primarily between upland ethnic groups including the Ikwerre, and riverine groups from the south, including Ogonis, Kalabaris, and eastern Ijaws. Since Governor Amaechi is from the upland region, Ogonis insisted in 2014 it was the riverine people’s ‘turn’ to rule. At the same time, Ijaws (who disproportionately constitute the ranks of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and other militant groups) were also upset. When the First Lady threw weight of the presidency behind Nyseom Wike’s nomination for the governorship, leading PDP elites (including former Governor Peter Odili) from Rivers therefore balked since he is an Ikwerre. In effect, by imposing Wike as the gubernatorial candidate, national PDP elites had violated the party’s principle of rotation. ‘That is the origin of the crisis’, according to another Rivers gubernatorial candidate. ‘He [Wike] ended up being a minister and being used in the fight against Amaechi’.60 Since PDP chair Godspower Ake had sought to honour rotation, national PDP leaders had to remove him. But in the process they alienated Governor Amaechi from their party, as well as those who remained in the PDP but who wanted to implement rotation. Again, a local issue – power shift – impacted national party politics. It is significant that the APC has left power shift and rotational principles out of the party’s constitution. The spokesperson for New PDP, who went on to serve as the APC’s spokesperson for Rivers, argues that it unduly eliminates qualified politicians from the pool of candidates. ‘We believe in power shift in terms of class, within elites in terms of merit’, said Governor Amaechi. The point of rotation as conceived during the 1999 transition ‘was to serve the elites in power.’ Of the alternation between north and south, he says, ‘I don’t know whether it’s fundamental now’.61 Conclusion The APC decided on Muhammadu Buhari for its candidate even though the former military dictator had run for president unsuccessfully in 2003, 2007 and 2011. What accounts for the swift rise of the APC and Buhari’s decisive victory in 2015? Research on the election has focused on how corruption, economic performance, or terrorism impacted the electoral outcome. This article explored how institutions, and not just issues, shaped the APC’s fortunes. Federalism in Nigeria provides federal, state and local politicians with a range of tools to shape political competition. There is more to Nigeria’s federalism than the central government’s constitutional powers or its short, controlling purse strings. States push back against the centre, as Rivers State did in the years following Governor Amaechi’s break with the PDP. As the ruling PDP saw a cohesive opposition emerging, it used political, legal and constitutionally questionably tools to deter defections. On at least six occasions, police interventions in Rivers State helped the PDP and undermined the APC. This apparent bias (in effect if not in intent) played out elsewhere in the country, with a leading human rights organization concluding that ‘The Federal government has been very partisan in its use of the Police, Military and the DSS [Department of State Security]’.62 This article also provided evidence from both PDP leadership and from Governor Amaechi (after he defected) that the Federal Government withheld revenue allocations to Rivers State. This is not without precedent, as several Supreme Court cases about inter-governmental relations suggest, but it would imply a dangerous shift if grants are prone to explicit partisan control. The APC, in order to encourage defections, practiced its own bare-knuckled strategies. Governor Amaechi used the tools of reciprocal retaliation at his disposal: he challenged the PDP over its preferred judicial nominees and punished local governments by establishing caretaker chairmen. Yet even with defections en masse from the ruling party, APC’s promises still had to seem credible. For this, Amaechi managed to leverage his leadership role in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, make Rivers a symbol of opposition and a mechanism of subnational coordination, and limit the financial pain from withheld revenue allocation grants by taking out commercial loans. This article demonstrated how politicians’ incentives for defection are embedded within subnational institutions and their constitutional authorities in a federal system. The struggle over Obio-Akpor Local Government featured in a larger struggle between state, federal government and ruling party, and it helps elucidate why PDP’s longstanding strategy of imposing discipline from above faltered. First, frustration within the PDP over corrupt primaries, the influence of godfathers, and complications related to rotating offices based on ethno-regional politics contributed to mass defections. Such decampments have not been unusual historically,63 but the PDP’s willingness to allow Jonathan to become president in 2010 when it was the North’s ‘turn’ to rule revealed the shallowness, or the declining relevancy of rotation. This played out in the Rivers State primaries, where the PDP backed a candidate allied with the presidency; local struggles over power shift in the PDP’s Rivers State primaries rippled upward as Obio-Akpor emerged as a metaphor for suppressing the opposition and more generally as an attack on states’ rights. Second, coalitions of states working across party lines had fought the federal government for states’ rights. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum played an important role in such struggles, and contributed to a rift between the PDP and the Rivers’ governor, Amaechi, who chaired the NGF when it raised objections to federal financing of sovereign wealth funds. This horizontal organizing across states, rather than the ‘centre-led’ effort anticipated by Gibson, was crucial leading up to 2015. Third, when the APC arose from a merger of several parties, several important features distinguished it from previous attempts at opposition formation. For starters, with Amaechi as chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, it provided a partisan basis for coordinating states’ rights. This differs from ‘centre-led’ reform envisioned by Gibson since this partisan mechanism helped harness decentralized democratic demands. By further providing a viable alternative for potential defectors, it gave politicians a new rationale for cultivating a national reputation; identification with the APC provided protection against a hegemonic PDP. Courts issued conflicting decisions that failed to resolve ongoing constitutional questions about freedom of association and party formation, suggesting that internal party governance will remain contested and ripe for future research. Fourth, rather than making states weak and dependent, statutorily guaranteed federal grants grew significantly with the rise in oil prices, emboldening governors. But they were unable to establish Gibson’s notion of ‘boundary control’ with so much political power either held informally by godfathers or fragmented and subject to capture. If Wike and the national PDP could not undermine state autonomy legally or financially, Nigeria’s decentralized political power increased options for establishing local allies or making literal disputes over boundaries by challenging Rivers’ ownership of oil wells. The persistence of godfathers in Nigeria also highlights why caution is warranted in the wave of administrative and political decentralization that swept Africa, since such reforms could empower undemocratic actors at either the national or subnational level rather than bringing government ‘closer to the people’. If the APC’s retaliation paid off at the national level in 2015, as it was swept into the presidency, the National Assembly, and 22 out of 36 governorships, it arguably backfired at home. Wike won the governorship, though there were significant problems with the election.64 While the PDP’s loss of the presidency is one critical test of Nigeria’s democratic development, it will also be important to see if the reciprocal retaliation game is over. Wike may very well adopt his old adversary’s tactics. Likewise for the APC in Abuja: the current Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, was the Lagos State attorney general in the celebrated Supreme Court case for states’ rights in 2004 mentioned earlier. Where you ‘stand’ on an issue may depend on where you sit after all. Footnotes 1. Interview, Rotimi Amaechi, Governor, Rivers State, Port Harcourt, 16 April 2014. 2. Peter M. Lewis and Darren Kew, ‘Nigeria’s hopeful election’, Journal of Democracy 26, 3 (2015), pp. 94–109; Olly Owen and Zainab Usman, ‘Briefing: Why Goodluck Jonathan lost the Nigerian presidential election of 2015’, African Affairs 114, 456 (2015), pp. 455–471. 3. Edward Gibson, Boundary control: Subnational authoritarianism in federal democracies (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2012), p. 33. 4. James S. Wunsch, ‘Decentralization: Theoretical, conceptual, and analytical issues’, in J. Tyler Dickovick and James S. Wunsch (eds), Decentralization in Africa: the paradox of state strength (Lynne Rienner, Boulder, 2014), p. 1. 5. The Hunger Project, ‘State of participatory democracy’ (The Hunger Project, Washington, DC, 2015), p. 4. 6. J. Tyler Dickovick, Decentralization and recentralization in the developing world: Comparative studies from Africa and Latin America (Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 2011). 7. Rachel Riedl and J. Tyler Dickovick, ‘Party systems and decentralization in Africa’, Studies in Comparative International Development 49, 3 (2014), pp. 321–342. 8. Afrobarometer, ‘Survey: Round 1’ (1999–2001); Afrobarometer, ‘Survey: Round 2’ (2002–2003); Afrobarometer, ‘Survey: Round 3’ (2005–2006); Afrobarometer, ‘Survey: Round 4’ (2008–2010); Afrobarometer, ‘Survey: Round 5’ (2011–2013); Afrobarometer, ‘Survey: Round 6’ (2014–2015). 9. Devra Moehler and Staffan Lindberg, ‘Narrowing the legitimacy gap: Turnovers as a cause of democratic consolidation’, Journal of Politics 71, 4 (2009), pp. 1448–1466. 10. Michael Bratton, ‘Citizen perceptions of local government responsiveness in Sub-Saharan Africa’, Afrobarometer Working Paper 119, 2010, <http://afrobarometer.org/sites/default/files/publications/Working%20paper/AfropaperNo119.pdf> (5 January 2015). 11. Francis Mading Deng, Daniel J. Deng, David K. Deng, and Vanessa Jiménez, Identity, diversity, and constitutionalism in Africa (United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC, 2008). 12. Interview, Yakubu Gowon, Former Head of State and retired general, Abuja, 16 March 2010. 13. Pita Agbese, ‘Federalism and the minority question in Nigeria’, in Aaron Gana and Sam Egwu (eds), Federalism in Africa: The imperative of democratic development (Africa World Press Trenton, NJ, 2004), pp. 237–261. 14. Arend Lijphart, Patterns of democracy: Government forms and performance in thirty-six countries (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012). 15. Central Bank of Nigeria, ‘Annual Report 2014’ (Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja, 2014), p. 348. 16. Jethro Ibileke, ‘Eyeing independence’, The News, Lagos, 21 April 2014, p. 30. 17. The other governors were Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano, Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara, and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa. 18. Chuks Okocha, Muhammad Bello, Omololu Ogunmade and Onwuka Nzeshi, ‘57 House Members Cross Over to New PDP’, This Day, 4 September 2013, <http://www.thisdaylive.com> (5 September 2013). 19. Telephone interviews, Tonye Princewell, candidate for governor of Rivers State, 13–14 April 2014. 20. Human Rights Watch, ‘Chop fine: The human rights impact of local government corruption and mismanagement in Rivers State, Nigeria’ (Human Rights Watch, New York, 2007). 21. Interview, Chukwumeka Eze, Communications Director, Rivers State APC, Port Harcourt, 15 April 2014. 22. Interview, name withheld, journalist, Abuja, 13 April 2014. 23. Interview, Leyi Kwanee, Deputy Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, Port Harcourt, 15 April 2014. 24. Interview, Rotimi Amaechi. 25. Interview, Bisi Oyeniyi, Rivers State Bureau Chief, The Nation Newspaper, 16 April 2014. 26. Interview, name withheld, journalist. 27. Interview, Opaka Dokubu, Rivers State Chair, National Union of Journalists, Port Harcourt, 14 April 2014. 28. Interview, Rotimi Amaechi. 29. Okafor Ofiebor, ‘Split in Rivers PDP’, The News, 21 April 2014, pp. 44–5; Interview, Chukwudi Akasike, Senior Correspondent, The Punch, Port Harcourt, 16 April 2014. 30. Bolaji Ogundele, ‘Rivers of crises’, Nigerian Tribune, 18 January 2014, <http://www.tribune.com.ng/news2013/index.php/en/politics/item/31158-rivers-of-crises.html> (19 January 2014). 31. Interview, Toyne Princewell. 32. This appointment was supposedly in return for not running for Senate. Channels Television, ‘Amaechi’s defection to APC is root of Rivers State crisis’, 3 February 2014, <http://www.channelstv.com/home/2014/02/03/amaechis-defection-to-apc-is-root-of-rivers-state-crisis-wike/> (4 February 2014). 33. Interview, Prince Timothy Nsirim, Local Government Chair, Obio-Akpor, 14 April 2014. 34. Press Release, Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition, 3 May 2014. 35. Interview, Anyakwee Nsirimovu, Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Port Harcourt, 15 April 2014. 36. Jimita Onoyume, ‘Rivers State in 2013: Flood of crises,’ Vanguard, 2 January 2014, <http://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/01/rivers-state-2013flood-crises/> (3 January 2014). 37. Interview, Leyi Kwanee. 38. Press release by N-Katalyst, ‘On the attack on democracy in Rivers State’, 11 July 2013. 39. Press release by Human Rights Alliance, ‘The seige on Rivers State’, 12 May 2013. 40. Rotimi Suberu, ‘The Supreme Court and federalism in Nigeria’, Journal of Modern African Studies 46, 3 (2008), pp. 451–85. 41. Ogundele, ‘Rivers of crises.’ 42. Jimita Onoyume, ‘Police storm judiciary complex’, Vanguard, 24 September 2014, <https://www.vanguardngr.com/2014/09/police-storm-rivers-judiciary-complex/> (5 January 2015). 43. Prince Timothy Nsirim, Solomon, Abeleke, Henry Odum, and the PDP versus the Governor of Rivers State, et al. Suit No. PHC/876/2013. 44. Interview, Rotimi Amaechi. 45. Interview, Leyi Kwwanee. 46. Interview, Anyakwee Nsirimovu. 47. Ernest Chinwo, ‘Tension in Rivers as anti-Amaechi lawmakers prepare to sit’, This Day, 17 December 2013, <http://www.thisdaylive.com> (18 December 2013). 48. Elijah Taiwo, ‘The judiciary and democracy in Nigeria: An independent messenger?’, in John A. A. Ayoade and Adeoye Akinsanya (eds), Nigeria’s critical election, 2011 (Lexington Book, Lanham, 2013), pp. 249–82. 49. ‘Politician of the Year 2014 – Alhaji Tanko Al-Makura’, Leadership, 9 December 2014, <http://leadership.ng/2014_award/politician-year-2014-alhaji-tanko-al-makura> (5 January 2015). 50. Eric Ikhilae, ‘Why court must stop Mark, Tambuwal, by 79 Defectors’, The Nation, 18 February 2014, <http://thenationonlineng.net/why-court-must-stop-mark-tambuwal-by-79-defectors/> (5 January 2015); Bayo Bernard, ‘Walking a tight rope’ The Source, 14 April 2014, pp. 26–7. 51. Interview, Leyi Kwanee. 52. Interview, Opaka Dokubu. 53. Telephone interview, Austin Opara, Honourable Member, National Assembly, 18 April 2014. 54. Interview, Chukwudi Akasike; Emmanuel Ojo and Ebenezer Lawal, ‘Godfather politics’, in Ayoade and Akinsanya, Nigeria’s critical election, pp. 185–202. 55. Interview, Leyi Kwanee. 56. Interview, Rotimi Amaechi. 57. Interview, Austin Opara. 58. Lillian Okenwa and Shaka Momodu, ‘LG Funds: Supreme Court strikes out FG’s suit’, This Day, 28 January 2005, p. 1. 59. Suberu, ‘The Supreme Court and federalism’, p. 482. 60. Interview, Toyne Princewell. 61. Interview, Rotimi Amaechi. 62. CLEEN Foundation, ‘2015 Election security threat assessment’ (CLEEN Foundation Report No. 8, Lagos), p. 23. 63. Joseph Yinka Fashagba, ‘Party switching in the Senate under Nigeria’s Fourth Republic’, The Journal of Legislative Studies 20, 4 (2014), pp. 516–541. 64. Independent Election Monitoring Group, ‘Preliminary report on gubernatorial and State Assembly elections’ (Independent Election Monitoring Group, Rivers State, 2015); Unsigned article, ‘Irregularities in Rivers, Akwa Imbom states’, The News, 30 March 2015, <http://thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2015/03/irregularities-in-rivers-akwa-ibom-states-election-monitoring-chief/> (1 April 2015). © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal African Society, all rights reserved.
African Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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