What leads to an off-cycle election in Nigeria?

Dec 15, 2022|Stears Explains

Nigerians will elect governors and state house of assembly members on 11 March 2023, two weeks after the presidential and national assembly elections. However, while all states will be voting for national and state legislators, eight states have already conducted governorship elections since the last general elections in 2019. These governorship races are now considered off-cycle elections. 

So, what determines an off-cycle election in Nigeria?

What are off-cycle elections?

Off-cycle elections are primarily determined by their deviation from the general election cycle (marked by a quadrennial presidential election). Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 and has held general elections every four years since. But, for differing reasons, courts have overturned or changed some election results, which has affected the elected official's specified tenure. 

Currently, all off-cycle elections in Nigeria, especially when tied to contests managed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), are governorship contests. Section 180 (2) of the Nigerian Constitution specifies that a governor vacates the office four years from the date they first take the oath of office. 

In most cases, especially when an already serving governor wins at a tribunal or court, the term continues since they would have been sworn in during the originally determined date. 

However, this changes if the court’s decision leads to a new governor taking office—especially if this person belongs to a party different from the incumbent governor. As a result, this leads to a new swearing-in date to ensure that the term does not exceed or fall short of the four-year term specified in the constitution.

When are the current off-cycle elections in Nigeria?

There are currently eight off-cycle governorship elections in Nigeria. 

This trend started in 2006 in Anambra, when Peter Obi, then of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), was sworn in as governor after contesting the result of the 2003 general elections that favoured Chris Ngige, then of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Elections in the state have since followed that cycle and will next be held in 2026. 

The most disruption to the off-cycle governorship elections followed the 2007 races because the courts overturned several results. In Bayelsa and Kogi, the governors were temporarily replaced by the speakers of the house, before returning in elections held later in the year. Also following the 2007 elections were Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun, where the winning candidates were from different parties and started their terms after the relevant ruling. 

The most recent disruption to this cycle was after the 2019 elections when the Supreme Court overturned the result in Imo and declared a different candidate as the winner.

Can there be other types of off-cycle elections in Nigeria?

Governorship contests make up the bulk of most off-cycle elections because the constitution determines the term length from when the oath of office is taken. 

The other examples are largely local government elections, which fall under the purview of the state independent electoral commission and are not necessarily tied to the federal elections which INEC supervises. 

It is different for legislators because they are considered members of a singular body (the National Assembly), and not individuals when the term length is considered. Sections 64 (1) and 105 (1) determine that the respective legislative bodies stand dissolved at the expiration of four years from the first sitting. This avoids a situation where legislators have terms that span across different assemblies.

Where else?

  • On the 2019 Ballot – Afolabi Adekaiyaoja looked at the 2017 Anambra governorship election outcome and what it meant for the 2019 general elections.

  • The Anambra Puzzle – Chukwukah Ezeh writes on the 2006 electoral challenge that started the off-cycle elections in Nigeria.

  • Ekiti state elections: what can we learn about choosing a governor? – Adesola Afolabi looked at the recent off-cycle governorship elections in Ekiti State.

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