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Arresting dwindling fortunes of PDP in Southeast

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
02 April 2023   |   4:04 am
With the 2023 general elections done with, save for the few rescheduled supplementary elections, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the southeast region have been pondering the dwindling electoral misfortunes that have bedeviled the party in the zone.

Dr. Peter Mbah

With the 2023 general elections done with, save for the few rescheduled supplementary elections, members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the southeast region have been pondering the dwindling electoral misfortunes that have bedeviled the party in the zone.

This is against the backdrop of results of the just concluded elections that signposts the depth to which the party have fallen in terms of its grip on the region, a situation that progressively declined since 1999.

After six elections since 1999, the PDP, which was the dominant party in the zone, has continued to lose control, and is fast reclining into a political platform that can no longer win elections.

In 1999, when the current dispensation began, PDP took political control of the region, winning in the five states of Abia, Enugu, Imo, Anambra and Ebonyi. Presently, the party has almost lost the region to other political parties. From what appears like a gradual dislocation in elections since then, the party’s outing in the just concluded elections in March this year has brought it to the point of ridicule.

For now, except in Enugu where the party’s governorship win is still being contested, the party has lost control of the four other states in the zone. While Imo and Ebonyi States have gone to the All Progressives Congress (APC), Anambra has since gone to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Labour Party (LP) has taken Abia State. Statistics also show that currently, of the 129 seats in the House of Assembly in the zone, PDP won only 25 with the All Progressives Congress (APC) leading with 45 seats followed by newly-formed Labour Party (LP) with 32 seats.

How The Electoral Misfortunes Began
The downward trajectory of the PDP had begun with Anambra State after it won the election in 1999. The crisis that set in over the control of the party structure among the gladiators, and in the government of the state, led then by Chinwoke Mbadinuju, was carried into the 2003 general elections.

The gladiators, led by a self-acclaimed godfather, Chris Ubah, had through federal government support refused that Mbadinuju among others return to power. Instead of Mbadinuju, now Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige was drafted to run in the election of 2003.

Ngige was declared winner of the controversial election hotly contested with Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Obi, who did not agree with INEC’s declaration, had taken the matter to court.

Three years later, the court upturned the victory of Ngige and declared Obi the rightful winner of the election. He was therefore sworn-in as a governor from APGA in the state. That was the beginning of PDP’s end in the state.

The PDP attempted to recapture the state using the 2007 general elections. Its governorship candidate, Andy Ubah actually won the election and was sworn into office. Obi had however approached court to seek interpretation of his tenure. Again, the court ruled in his favour when it held that the election that brought Ubah to office shouldn’t have happened as there was no vacancy for the office of the governor. Ubah had only spent 17 days in office when the ruling came. He had to leave office.

Since then, recovering the state has become a herculean task for the PDP, just as it has continued to shed weight in every election in the state.

With the conclusion of the March 18 elections this year, the PDP managed to return two seats in the state House of Assembly that has 30 seats. It did not win any seat in the National Assembly election. The party had retained two seats at the senate after the 2019 elections.

Like in many other cases, the inability to resolve a lingering crisis of control of the soul of the party has continued to affect the performance of the PDP in the state; many of its members have also continued to join other political parties and gaining victory from there.

Losing Anambra state was shortly followed by Imo state. It had won power in 1999 and retained it till 2007. The crisis that set in could not allow the party to continue to hold the power in the state.

It was unable to resolve its crisis to elect a successor for Chief Achike Udenwa who was serving out his second term in office. In the election of that year, PDP could not present a candidate. Ikedi Ohakim who had contested the election from a lowly rated Peoples Progressives Alliance (PPA) had won the governorship seat. Since then, the party had not recovered the state. The effort it put up in 2019 leading to the victory of Emeka Ihedioha was cut short after one year as the court declared incumbent governor, Hope Uzodinna of the APC as the actual winner of the election.

Osita

In the just concluded elections for the State and National Assembly, of the eight House of Reps seats declared so far, PDP secured three while it lost the senate seats to the APC and LP. The 27 House of Assembly seats so far declared also went to the APC.

The party started losing ground in Ebonyi State when Governor Dave Umahi who won his reelection through its platform defected to the APC in 2020. Umahi did not move alone. He took all the members of the state House of Assembly alongside as well as willing chieftains of the PDP. The 2023 election provided opportunity for the PDP to reclaim the state. It lost in the governorship contest to the APC. It also lost the three senatorial seats of the state, while it has secured only two seats from the 22 out of the 24 House of Assembly seats so far declared in the state.

Sources stated that the crisis that arose from the conduct of the party primaries for the choice of its candidates was responsible for the poor performance in the polls.

The national leadership of the party had in response its loss in the election in the state recently suspended the former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, accusing him of interparty activities. It said that Anyim jettisoned the party for the APC candidates.

Anyim had, however, in response to his suspension from the party asserted that he had no regrets supporting the APC to win the governorship election, insisting that the leadership should rather hide their faces in shame for leading the party to defeat in the other elections.

He stated that in Ebonyi State, the National Working Committee (NWC) imposed a candidate from the sitting governor’s zone, contrary to the zoning formula of the state, stressing that every effort to let the NWC see reasons fell on deaf ears.

“On the day the party’s presidential rally was held in Ebonyi state, I told Dr Iyorchia Ayu I was boycotting the rally because I cannot support the candidate they imposed on Ebonyi State. Dr Ayu did nothing. He did not care even as I did not attend the Ebonyi rally. The NWC may wish to know that I am proud to have supported the APC governorship candidate to win the election because that conforms to the equitable formula in Ebonyi state. It is therefore my expectation that the NWC should reverse itself in the interest of the party,” Anyim had said.

In Abia State, the party had since 1999 held control until the last election, which it lost to the Labour Party. With the last election also, it lost the three senatorial seats to the LP, APC and APGA. It had occupied two before the elections. In the same vein, it won only one out of the eight House of Reps seats and 11 state House of Assembly seats from the state’s 24 seats.

Sources had also attributed the abysmal failure of the party in the election to crisis that arose from the conduct of its primary, attempt to alter the zoning arrangement as well as the alleged poor performance of the government of the state.

It was reported that key members of the party had left in protest after the primary in which the state governor, Okezie Ikpeazu insisted on retaining power in his Abia south on the argument that since the three zones have had their turn, the next round of rotation could begin from anywhere.

He was allegedly said to have railroaded the leadership of the party in the state into accepting his choice of Prof Eleazar Ikonne, who incidentally died before the elections. The death of Ikonne, which many saw as opportunity to remedy the looming decimation of the party was also bungled when the leadership nominated his replacement from his local council in Chief Okey Ahiwe. Incidentally, the dust raised by the exercise as well as that of the running mate to Ahiwe between Okey Igwe and Jasper Uche did not settle until the elections. Time was also not available for the party to rewrite its errors.

The other allegation against the party was its inability to use the votes given to it since 1999 to move the state forward. It was reported that the governors so far produced by the party in the state had held development down and rather paid attention to their personal interests; a development that led the yearning for change in leadership.

For Enugu state, providence and sheer luck have enabled PDP continue to hold the sway after the last elections. It managed to win in the hotly contested governorship election that set it against the LP, APC and APGA. But it is not yet joy in the party as it would need to scale the legal hurdles mounted by her opponents in the governorship election to truly claim control.

For the first time since 1999, however, it lost two out of the three senatorial seats and six of House of Reps seats in the state. Of the 24 House of Assembly seats, it garnered only 10, losing 14 to the LP. The party is also in court challenging some of the results declared by INEC in the state.

Unlike Abia, where zoning formula was the issue in the governorship election, the party in Enugu maintained the zoning mantra. It, however, failed in assuaging ill feelings that had arisen from its primaries after many of the members failed to fulfill promises. The inability of the leadership of the party to address allocation of offices for the members further deepened the hate within the fold to the extent that many of those who jettisoned it after primaries to other parties won their election.

The lack of coherence and coordination in its campaigns became a major factor that almost ruined it in the election. Openly, some of its stalwarts like former governor and Senator representing Enugu east senatorial zone, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani campaigned for other political parties while holding the ticket of the PDP. Although Nnamani failed in the election to retain his senatorial seat, his attitude to the party towards the election is hugely believed to have contributed to its failure in the state.

The matter between Nnamani and the PDP got to its crescendo when the party suspended and expelled him and went further to pull out of the senatorial election for Enugu east. It could therefore be said that PDP surrendered the position before the election.

Towards Restoring PDP In Southeast
With the continuous slide of the PDP, especially with the recently held elections, would the party ever be able to reclaim the southeast? What does it need to do to regain the confidence of the electorate, especially with the deepened intrusion of the APC and LP in the region?

A source stated that the party may go into oblivion in the region should the candidate of the LP, Peter Obi succeed in his matter in court over the last presidential election, stressing that it had failed to reciprocate the support of the people of the region.

Former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Joe Nworgu, in a recent interview, stated that the level of support the PDP enjoyed in the region was not seen anywhere in the country, but regretted that the zone had nothing to show for the several years of support.

He stated that the Ohanaeze Ndigbo was at the forefront of that effort to ensure support for the party in the zone when on several occasions it adopted the presidential candidate of the PDP as Igbo candidate and rallied the people to vote massively for the party.

Wabara

“For 16 years, the support was not reciprocated. You can never point at a single project, which the PDP government attracted or executed in the region. So, how can you be running to the same people at every election for support? One day, they will be bound to say no, let us try another person or another party,” he stated.

But a chieftain of the party, Chief Jerry Ukandu, stated that the PDP could reclaim the southeast. He, however, added that for the party to do so, it should be ready to deal with characters that have constituted a clog in its wheel of progress.

“Some of the members act above the constitution of the party. There is no justice and fairness. Why will allocation of offices depend on the amount of resources at the disposal of the person? Take for instance, the tickets given to some members to contest in the last elections when it was obvious that such tickets negated the zoning arrangement in those areas? Does that make the party to grow? These are issues we need to sit down and address any time we decide to do a review of our participation,” he said.

He added that PDP would have demonstrated that it was a party for all should it revisit the zoning formula and move the presidency of 2023 to the southeast region. He said the party bungled the opportunity to make the region an integral part of it when it jettisoned its rotation clause and threw the contest open, thereby encouraging former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar to vie for and win the ticket.

“That was why the campaigns of the party in the region were poorly attended. Southeast showed before the elections that they have rejected PDP and that was because the party did not reckon with them. Since we have a reward system, we can begin to address those issues that will make the people of the region embrace the party again. Thankfully, we still won some seats in the National and State Assemblies; these seats could be a rallying point for us as we try to refocus the party. Many of those who lost in the elections to the Peter Obi tsunami are still around and will be willing to work for the party to regain prominence in the region,” he said.

The former National auditor of the party, Chief Ray Nnaji shared similar sentiments when he said that, despite the continuously abysmal failure, “PDP still has a strong appeal in the southeast.”

Nnaji, a lawyer, noted that most formidable members that started the party in the region have not left it, adding that they could be used as rallying point to recover the party for the greater good of the people.

He said: “I know that Labour Party is today the party to beat in this region, but that is because of one man and that desire of the southeast to achieve presidency. If this desire is not met this time around and the man is not on the ballot, it will mean the people trying an alternative. What we have today as LP are members of the PDP. They have not abandoned ship. They went to vote for a single individual. That was why the results changed in some cases after the presidential election. All we need to do is to sit down and rethink the elections, rethink the challenges and come up with an implementable strategy that will work for the party.

“One thing we must know is that the party is supreme in all cases concerning her members. That is why I supported the sanction placed on some members who think they could behave anyhow in the party. A political party should be able to use its constitutional powers to call members to order; when that is not done, the party loses steam.

“I was in the forefront of ensuring that the former governor of Enugu state, Chimaroke Nnamani was sanctioned because it was obvious that he was using his position to kill the party that he has benefitted from. I threatened to go to the court against the party if nothing was done against him. I am happy that the party lived up to expectation. That is what it ought to be. Discipline is required to bring the confidence of the PDP back in the Southeast. Anytime we try to sacrifice it, we will be making a huge mistake, which will in the long run hunts us,” he said.

Nnaji, who noted that it would have been more disastrous if the party had not won any governorship seat in the region, explained that the responsibility to rebuild the PDP rests squarely on the Enugu governor-elect, Peter Mbah and the few senators elected from the zone.

“If they can provide good leadership using their office in the next four years, it will go a long way in restoring the love of the party in the people. They will want to vote them again. That is all that we need to make PDP relevant again in the southeast,” he added.