Atiku/Obi rally in Owerri: Any hope for PDP in Southeast?
If the level of mobilisation and attendance at the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Southeast presidential zonal rally, held in Owerri, Imo State capital, penultimate Tuesday, are anything to go by, then the party and its candidates in the February 16 presidential election should go to sleep and not worry about the zone.
The attendance was massive, as party faithful trooped from all parts of the zone to the Dan Anyiam Stadium venue in their number. It was signposted by the presence of the party’s big wigs in the zone, led by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and the three governors produced by the party in the zone— David Umahi of Ebonyi State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu State) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia State). There were also party chieftains from Anambra State, led by Chief Chris Uba, who is the party’s Senatorial candidate for Anambra south and that of the host state, led by the gubernatorial candidate, Chief Emeka Ihedioha.
Aside party leadership, the presence of Senate President Bukola Saraki, the party’s national chairman, Uche Secondus and several other party leaders from various states added colour to the event.It was a rally that actually defied predictions of book makers, who relied on the alleged disagreement among the party leadership in the zone over emergence of Mr. Peter Obi as running mate to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and the inability of the state governors earlier billed to host the event, who backed out at the last minute, to predict that it would be poorly attended.
On two occasions, the rally fixed for Awka, Anambra State capital, the home state of Peter Obi could not hold. This was barely after the three governors allegedly declined to host the event under the guise that they lacked the necessary funds to do so. The governors were said to be responsible for their state rallies. Owerri, seen by many as PDP’s weakest link in the zone, was said to be the last option.Sources also said the state was considered for hosting the mega event to shore up support for the candidates to see if the party could recover the state it lost in 2007 to the opposition.
Fears over the rally were heightened, when there was rumour two days earlier that a meeting of the zone’s governors with Ekweremadu to plan its hosting was scuttled midway, as the leaders rushed to Abuja for a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. Earlier, Ekweremadu debunked speculations of rift existing among southeast leaders over Peter Obi. He said the zone would deliver Atiku/Obi to show its commitment to PDP.
The Owerri rally was the first time PDP eggheads in the zone spoke publicly in support of Atiku’s aspiration since he chose Obi as his running mate. This arose from allegations that they were not carried along or consulted before arriving at the choice.While many of them accused Obi of not being a “party man,” others said he was not part of the struggle to recover the party from the hawks that wanted to devour it, soon after it lost the 2015 presidential election.
For these reasons and more, a cold reception had attended Obi’s nomination; leading to several meetings aimed at addressing the situation and making the members work together. The Owerri rally was, therefore, instructive as it clearly underscored how far the messages of fence mending were able to impact members, especially the combatants.
But notwithstanding the intimidating attendance at the rally, several questions are being asked: Was the event strong enough to score the zone high as working together for PDP’s victory in the coming elections or was it a mere show? Did the three governors attend because they are prepared to deliver the Atiku/Obi ticket or basically because the rally offered them opportunity to receive their flags as the party’s governorship candidates?
Pundits believe that more of such rallies should be replicated in the states, especially where the party is in control to drive home the message.
This is based on the feelings that considerable damage had been done to PDP’s reputation in the zone through the struggles that emanated from Obi’s nomination.It is not clear whether anything had been done, especially in PDP-controlled states to consolidate on the gains of the rally. Sources indicate that there is more work for the party.
For instance, since the rally, the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari had toured the states of the zone to canvass for votes.He has been to Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi, where large crowds turned out at his rallies. Indeed, reports had it that at Ebonyi, the people endorsed his reelection and that of Umahi.
All this notwithstanding, Chief Austin Umahi, the party’s Zonal Chairman, who fired the first salvo at the rally, assured Atiku and Obi of the zone’s votes “because an investment in you is a worthy investment, which we are sure will yield dividends.”Umahi noted that the candidature of Atiku/Obi was that of Ndigbo, as the zone had waited for several years to return to the nucleus of power in the country, stressing that he was convinced the expected moment had come.
On his part, Ekweremadu said: “Our zeal is to make a resounding statement to the rest of the regions on February 16, 2019, that the votes coming from this region shall be unprecedented. It is our time to show our displeasure with the ruling party over exclusion of our zone. We are part of this country and never again shall we find ourselves in this situation.”The three governors also took turn to express support for the Presidency project. They debunked reports that they were not in support of the party’s choice of Presidential candidates, alluding that such was concoctions from the opposition to score cheap political points.
Obi followed suit, when he said: “Atiku and PDP are the correct place to vote, because they are ready to create jobs and restructure Nigeria.” He added that with Atiku, the Nigerian environment would be good again for Ndigbo to do their businesses.A PDP House of Reps candidate for Dunukofia, Njikoka and Aniocha Federal constituency, Anambra State in the 2015 election, Chris Okoye said the “exceptional outing in Owerri is an indication that the party is back to reckoning, as it signified that whatever differences that existed before now had been resolved.”
He explained that the rally’s success had cleared all doubts surrounding the support of party leaders in the zone over the choice of Obi, stressing that “should such happen in Owerri, which is way below other states in the zone in terms of strength, then PDP will do better than it did in previous elections.”
Reminded that Anambra State, which is Obi’s base, appears to be singing a different tune, Okoye said: “The thinking of Anambra government is not the thinking of Anambra people, who know they have a son in Peter Obi, and having come this far, will not abandon him. It does not matter if the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) state government is supporting its party’s presidential candidate. But even at that, when you look at it holistically, you will also realise that APGA may be heading for a dead-end, going by the outcome of the primaries it conducted in states.”
Of worry, however, is the depletion of the party’s membership strength since the 2015 general elections won by APC. Some notable leaders in the zone, who were instrumental to the bulk votes acquired by PDP in the election, have either defected to the ruling APC or other political parties.Sources said given the political reach, experience and financial muscle of these politicians, PDP must work extra hard if it hopes to surpass its 2015 record.
A PDP chieftain in Enugu State, Chief Ugochukwu Agballah, conceded that notable politicians have left PDP for APC in the zone. He, however, said it would not affect the party’s chances in the coming elections, “as the common ground, which we have achieved and the quality of candidates we have presented to Nigerians speak of the party’s readiness for leadership.“We know the reasons some of them left for the ruling party. In 2015, no Igbo person was on the ballot in the frontline political parties. But now, we have our own on the ballot and he happens to be a good material.
“On the other hand, those that left have got a difficult task in their hands, which is how to market the product they have presented to Ndigbo. They will have to work even harder to convince our people why they should vote for their candidates. That being the case, it leaves us with a better option. The success of Obi is also their success.“I also want to tell you that a few zones that give bulk votes, including the Southeast will determine the outcome of this election. Marginal votes don’t win election like what obtains in the Southwest.
“The dynamics in the North have changed. Nigeria has always run on geopolitical balancing. It is the Buhari administration that scattered this.”
Agballah explained that the PDP rallies in Anambra and Enugu States were used to strengthen the party, adding that Ohanaeze’s endorsement of the party’s presidential candidates had further boosted its chances.