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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 April, 2003, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Nigeria's powerful new governors

By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online, Abuja

Wild street parties greeted the announcement that Ibrahim Shekarau had been elected governor of the northern Kano State.

Kano ANPP supporters
The ANPP bucked the trend in Kano
His supporters played drums and danced through the night, chanting slogans such as "We have been freed like the children of Israel from the hand of King Pharaoh."

Some pulled down the posters of incumbent governor Rabiu Kwankwaso, from the ruling People's Democratic Party.

Mr Shekarau is from the opposition All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP), which has done well in the Muslim-dominated north of Nigeria.

Part of his election platform was a pledge to strictly enforce Islamic or Sharia law in Kano, an ancient Muslim city.

But across Nigeria, in the elections for state governor as for the president, the law of the incumbents generally held true.

Of the 36 governors, only 11 lost their seats and two of those had switched party, so the ruling party in the state retained power.

And of the nine "regime changes", five came in the south-west as part of a general realignment of the region away from the Alliance for Democracy in favour of Mr Obasanjo's PDP.

Elsewhere, the PDP gained three states from the ANPP, while Kano was the only state lost by the ruling party.

Powerful role

State governors are extremely powerful in Nigeria's federal system of government.

"Their policies, positive or negative, affect people's lives more directly than those of the president," says Abubakar Siddique Mohammed, head of political science at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria.

"If Nigerians knew the powers of the state governors, they would not bother the federal government."

He told BBC News Online that most governors around the country, from all parties, had done little while in office.

Many observers feel that the election irregularities observed across the country may well have been the work of local party machineries, working for the state governors, rather than President Obasanjo's re-election campaign.

Defeated PDP candidates have also accused incumbent ANPP and AD governors of electoral fraud.

Mr Mohammed said that schools, water provision and most local roads are the responsibility of the states, which account for more than half of total government spending.

During the elections, most voters complained about such services but were demanding action from the new president.

On the vexed question of the distribution of oil money in oil-producing states, Mr Mohammed said that governors in the Niger Delta region had done nothing with all the money they had been given and had then mobilised their supporters to accuse the federal government of ignoring the region.

One explanation for the swing from the AD to the PDP in the south-west is that the region felt excluded from national influence - and money - when it was seen as an opposition stronghold.


But one area where governors have made a difference is implementing Sharia law in northern states.

Olusegun Obasanjo
President Olusegun Obasanjo

One source close to Kano's governor-elect said that Mr Shekarau would now move vigorously against alcohol and prostitution.

Until now, Kano's Christian minority in Sabon Gari (foreigners' town) has been exempt from Sharia law and pubs and taverns have remained open.

But the source said that these would now be closed down.

"We cannot have one law in one part of the state and another elsewhere," he said.

"If the pubs are not closed, the people still have access to alcohol and that is a problem."

Some Christians are fearful that harsh Sharia punishments such as amputations and stonings will also be introduced.

But Mr Shekarau's camp denies suggestions that enforcing stricter Sharia punishments could lead to a repeat of the clashes between Muslims and Christians, which claimed more than 100 lives in October 2001.

"There will not be any trouble. They (Christians) are less than 1% of the population and they are not indigenous here," my source said. Life certainly looks set to change for the people of Kano.

But Nigerians elsewhere can look forward to more of the same.

Mr Mohammed says the federal government should start standing up for itself and explain that many of the problems mostly keenly felt by Nigerians are the responsibility of their local leaders.

But that might mean antagonising those people who have helped secure their re-election.











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