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How Southeast voted in Presidential/NASS elections

By From Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
10 March 2019   |   4:12 am
Those who wanted a change in the voting pattern of Southeast people were disappointed on February 23, when the Presidential and National Assembly elections returned...

Orji Uzor Kalu

Those who wanted a change in the voting pattern of Southeast people were disappointed on February 23, when the Presidential and National Assembly elections returned the states in the zone to an almost familiar voting terrain.

Voting in elections in the Southeast is almost predictable. This is because there is a tendency for politicians in power and those who call the shots in the states to determine where the people go.
Southeast is predominantly a zone dominated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

From the inception of civil rule in 1999 when the zone massively voted the PDP, almost every other election has favoured the PDP. The first effort to weaken PDP’s stronghold in the zone came in 2006, when the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) took over in Anambra State through Mr. Peter Obi. PDP is yet to recover the state till date.

Imo followed suit in 2011. PDP lost control of the state to the APGA with the incumbent governor, Rochas Okorocha, who later defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC). Presently, the incursions have left PDP with three states in the zone, APC and APGA with a state each.

The political trend of 2019 showed that the presidential contest in the zone was between the ruling APC at the centre and PDP. APC had come into the election as party in power and knowing how entrenched the PDP is in the area, was not vying to win but to amass the 25% votes requirement to be declared winner in the election. The PDP on the hand was contesting for the first time as opposition party at the Federal level. It also came into the election to assert the control it has on the zone since its inception in 1998.

At the conclusion of the process however, results indicated that PDP still dominates the political space of the southeast.  The official results declared by the INEC showed that the party won the five states of the zone. In Abia State, the PDP secured 219,698 votes, its rival the APC scored 85,058 votes. In Enugu, PDP scored 355,553 and APC 54,423 votes. In Ebonyi, PDP 258,573 and APC 90,726 votes. In Anambra State PDP 524,738 and APC 33,293 votes and Imo state PDP 334,923 and APC 140,463 votes.

The election may have been concluded, won and lost. What is however not lost on the people and has continued to elicit reactions since the results were declared was the bold effort of the APC that culminated in the party snatching over 25% votes in some states of the zone. Could this be an indication that the PDP has lessen its grip on the zone, despite producing the vice presidential candidate or has the APC been accepted as alternative in the zone? Is it true that the 25% votes were allowed to fulfill a bargain allegedly entered with the APC in the zone before the election?

The results showed that APC scored over 25% votes in Abia, Ebonyi and Imo states. Sources said that the development reflected the voting pattern in the states, especially with the alleged agreement reached with the APC and its Presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari and the governors of the zone, who were interested in returning to their position.

The Guardian gathered that there was a secret pact between the governors and Buhari to give him 25% of their votes in the presidential election, while they would in return be supported to retain their seats.

If indeed there was a secret pact, how come Enugu did not deliver?  This particular case is being interpreted differently in the zone. A look at individual states will throw more light on how the votes came about.

Abia State
There is a wide-held impression that since the likes of former governor Orji Kalu, governorship candidate Uche Ogar, two term member of the House of Reps, Nkiru Onyeaguocha, among others joined the APC, the fortunes of the party has brightened.  A political party that was nowhere in 2015 has suddenly taken the centre stage in 2019 and almost running neck-to-neck with the ruling PDP.

Investigations showed that the performance of the APC where it recorded over 25% votes was basically due to popularity and the love of the people for the politicians that joined it.  Going by the outcomes from the three senatorial zones of the state, Abia north offered the highest result for the APC, winning the five local governments that make up the senatorial zone.  This is because, most of those who make the party thick in the state hail from the area. For instance, while Orji, who was the candidate of the party for Abia north senatorial seat beat the incumbent, Mao Ohuabunwa of the PDP; Nkiru Onyeaguocha, who left the PDP for APC, also retained her seat for Umunneoche/Isikwuato federal constituency. Benjamin Kalu also won the election for Bende/Ohaofia/Isikwuato federal constituency. Their win was significant and going forward, could entrench the APC in the zone.

A source, however noted that the trend of voting in Abia State did not start with the 2019 presidential election. The source said the trend had been there since 2015 when the seats in the House of Assembly were shared among the PDP, APGA and others, stressing that, “ Abia is not known to follow a political party but the individual that can deliver.”

He continued: “I believe the people wanted certain persons to occupy some positions and they went ahead to vote them in. You will see a repeat of this on Saturday (yesterday) when they would vote for those in the House of Assembly.

Enugu State
It would probably have been news to those who have followed the trend of politics in Enugu State had the last presidential election given the APC candidate 25% votes in the state. This is because, irrespective of the existence of the party in the state and the known names that have joined it, Enugu in general has never played opposition politics. Enugu is a PDP state and has remained so since 1999.  The slogan in the state is that “PDP is the shortest route to grow politically.” All previous administrations in the state had been PDP. Attempts by other political parties to have a foothold in the state have always been unsuccessful, as the people reject them by either voting against them in elections or refusing to join the political party. PDP has become so entrenched in Enugu State that no other political party has produced anybody at any level except those belonging to the party.

This was basically the protest that led to the mass exodus of its members to the opposition APC last year. Majority of those who left the party felt that there was need to “broaden the political space” to give those with aspirations opportunity to do so. These have not dwarfed the dominance of the PDP in the state.

In the 2019 presidential election, the state could not give up to 25% votes to President Buhari. It is so because those that matter politically in the state are followers of PDP. The state respects party and not individuals. Decisions of the party on its candidates are not contestable no matter how unpopular it might be. From the local governments, State Assembly members, House of Representatives, Senate and governor are of the PDP stock.

Leaders of the party such as Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, hold sway in Enugu West. Ekweremadu is so adored in the zone that the people like following him wherever he goes and with whomever he has identified with. In the last presidential election, he won the five local governments that make up the Enugu West senatorial zone for the PDP. This is irrespective of the presence of the only minister serving in the cabinet of President Buhari, who hails from the zone, the Presidential adviser, the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), the former governor of the state, among many others.

In Enugu east, the presence of the former governors, Dr Chimaroke Nnamani and Chief Jim Nwobodo, Offor Chukwuegbo and former minister Frank Nweke, who have worked so hard to entrench PDP in the area, have always influenced votes for the party. Although the likes of former Senate President, Ken Nnamani is in the zone, PDP had always ensured that he was beaten in every election in his polling unit. Buhari won in one of the polling booths in Enugu east and this is attributable to the effort of the House of Reps candidate of the party for Enugu north/south federal constituency.

In Enugu north, the incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is highly honoured. His performance in the area of infrastructure has improved the lot of the area and endeared him to the people. Being a product of the area, the people are comfortable following him wherever he goes, irrespective of the opposition by Sen Ayogu Eze, the APC governorship candidate, who is also from the area. Eze put up a big fight during the last election, winning his polling unit for the APC, but that did not do much to change the fortunes of the PDP.
The feeling is that the state could have given more to Buhari if the PDP had decided to vote the Presidential candidate in the election.


Ebonyi State
Ebonyi gave President Buhari over 25%.  Although the state went into the election with a serving member of the Senate from Ebonyi south, a minister, among others in APC, sources said the feat could only have been facilitated the Governor, who is of the PDP, but has a soft spot for President Buhari.

Governor Dave Umahi has not hidden his love for the style of administration of President Buhari and had a number of times expressed the desire that he continues in office. The over 90,000 votes the APC secured in Ebonyi may not really mean that the party has been accepted in the state. The level of acceptance of the party in the state would be known with the outcome of yesterday’s elections for the governorship and state Assembly elections.

Ebonyi state since 1999 has been ruled and controlled by the PDP. The state had always voted along this line of thought. From the local government, State Assembly members and majority at the National Assembly, to the governorship, PDP had been in control and this would always affect the voting pattern in the state.

Imo State
As it is, APC is in control of the state. It delivered the highest votes to the party in the presidential election with over 100,000 votes. However, this may not mean total control as the outcome of the last exercise showed that PDP won most of the National Assembly seats.
Apart from Governor Rochas Okorocha’s  “victory” and that of Kingsley Uju for Nkwere federal constituency, APC did not win in any other part of the state. PDP won in Owerri senatorial zone, Orlu east, Ahiazu Mbaise, Abor Mbaise/Ngor Okpalla, Owerri federal constituency, Mbaike, with the Action Alliance (AA) winning in two federal constituencies of Oru West and Ideato North/South.

The fact is that the over 25% votes secured in the state may have been influenced by the fact of the party controlling the centre in the state. The real test for the party was in yesterday’s election.

Anambra State
The state is controlled by the APGA, which fielded a candidate in the presidential election. That the state did not give APC up to 25% votes is understandable. It follows from the fact that, one of its own; Mr. Peter Obi was running in the election as Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP. Again, there is the fact of Kingsley Muoghalu, who is also from the state being on the ballot for the presidency. It would really have been absurd had the state voted Buhari, even with the campaigns mounted by Governor Willie Obiano in favour of Buhari, against its sons in the race.

Again, Anambra is not known to follow a political party. The electorate has ensured that opposition parties thrive in the state, but are ready to go with any candidate they believe can attend to their challenges. That is why many have attributed the victory of Ifeanyi Uba of the newly formed Young Peoples Party (YPP) to his person and not his political party.