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Saving PDP from dwindling fortunes in Southeast

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
31 July 2022   |   2:18 am
As the 2023 general elections draw near, observers of the politics of the southeast region are pondering what fortune awaits the Peoples Democratic Party ..

Okezie Ikpeazu

As the 2023 general elections draw near, observers of the politics of the southeast region are pondering what fortune awaits the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) amid the multifarious challenges in the region and how it would retain power in Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia states.

The rancorous governorship primaries across some of the states appear to have continued to unsettle members. On the other hand, the penetration of the Labour Party and alleged poor governance by PDP leaders have created pains for the people, threatening the party’s fortunes in the zone.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that as the party prepares for next year’s elections, one of the major challenges it will face would be the opposition within its fold, created by few members to remain relevant in the scheme of things. These ill feelings have continued to swell the camps of the opposition.

IN Ebonyi, although the party lost its governance seat, which it had occupied since 1999 when current governor, Dave Umahi cross-carpeted to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2020, hopes that it will reclaim the seat using the 2023 general elections appear unrealistic, given the crisis over the authentic governorship candidate of the party in the state.

Two members of the party, Chief Ifeanyichukwu Odii and Senator Obinna Ogba are currently locked in a bitter quarrel over who is the right candidate produced by the party. Its national leadership had, on different occasions, recognised the two men and issued its certificate of return. But only one person will contest the seat.

The point of dispute is the validity of the two governorship primaries held in the state on May 28 and 29, which produced Odii and that of June 4 and 5, which produced Senator Ogba.

FOLLOWING a state congress meeting that was held on May 7, 2022, the list that emerged from the three–man delegates was used to conduct the first primary supervised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in which Odii emerged and his name was forwarded to the national secretariat of the party.

Few days later, the party’s national leadership cancelled the exercise on the guise that the panel that conducted it was not properly constituted and had issued notices for fresh conduct of the primary on June 4 and 5. It was at the fresh exercise that Ogba emerged. Odii had gone to court to challenge the action of the party and sought the nod of the court to authenticate his election as the only legitimate one conducted by the party.

On June 7, 2022, the federal high court, sitting in Abakaliki had restored the authenticity of the first primary, which elected Odii. It said the repeated primary was invalid. It was on the strength of the court’s ruling that the PDP, which had earlier issued its certificate of return to Ogba, backtracked and gave Odii a fresh certificate.

Angered by the development, Ogba had approached the Court of Appeal in Abuja. On Tuesday, July 19, the Court set aside the ruling of the lower court. It ordered that the case be relisted so as to guarantee fair hearing, adding that the matter should be reassigned to any other Judge of the lower court other than the one who handled it earlier. The decision of the court had elicited reactions from both parties who went about celebrating that there was hope. While those of Ogba claimed that the ruling “restored” Ogba’s candidature, those of Odii stated that it did not. Different interpretations have continued to trail the Court of Appeal’s ruling from both camps.

But State Publicity Secretary of the party, Nwoba O. Nwoba, has, however, insisted that Odii remains the governorship candidate of the party, stressing that the Court of Appeal did not alter his ticket.
“It is wrong to imply that Ogba has been restored by the court. What the court said is that the matter should be retried by the federal high court. This is to give him fair hearing. So, Odii remains the candidate until the court says otherwise.

“But let me quickly add that the same federal high court, Abakaliki, had on Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in a suit filed by the Deputy Chairman of our party, Ifeanyi Nworie and others challenging the claim by Ogba that there were primaries for June 4 and 5 in which he won, nullified the claim. The court ruled that there was no primary on the said date and that there was nothing wrong with the primary held on May 28. The implication is that Ogba does not have any claim. What Ogba and his group want to do is to destabilise the party. But in line with the directive of the Court of Appeal, the matter will go for fresh hearing and we shall await its outcome,” Nwoba told The Guardian.

Beyond the internal wrangling, there is also a zoning arrangement in the state that had seen power at the centre moved through the three senatorial zones with Ebonyi south, which produced the incumbent governor completing the cycle. Debates had earlier raged as to whether the rotation should continue from Ebonyi north, where it started in 1999 or should be thrown open for anyone to grab irrespective of the zone. Several leaders of the state had spoken in favour of the North to continue from where Umahi would stop in the spirit of equity and fairness in 2023.

Governor Dave Umahi, who though has anointed his successor in APC from the north, had reiterated the position last week when he said that it would be evil and criminal for any person from the south to contest governorship in 2023, stressing that it was the turn of the north.

Umahi is from the south, same as the PDP’s assumed flag bearer, Odii. What has remained unresolved is whether Odii’s aspiration when it is fully settled would get the support of the North who are being denied the opportunity by the PDP and a fragment of the members of the party loyal to Ogba, especially from Central, also nursing the injuries of the fallout of the party’s primary. This is the challenge that time would be made to address.

IN Abia State, the cohesion in the party has continued to weaken by the day following the disenchantment that trailed the primaries as well as the governance style of the incumbent governor, Okezie Ikpeazu.

The governor’s bid to have Prof Uche Ikonne as his successor threw up some sentiments within the party to the extent that some members considered influential left the party in anger to join forces with other opposition parties. These people, it was gathered, made the party thick in 2015. Some of them include the likes of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Chief Ncheta Omerepke, Enyinnya Nwafor, Chima Anyasor, Darlington Nwokocha, Solomon Adaelu, Ginger Onwusibe, and Okezie Ugboaja, among others.

Ikonne, who hails from Abia Central, defied the zoning arrangement of the state popularly called Abia charter of equity. If the arrangement had been followed, the turn to produce Ikpeazu’s successor would have gone to Abia north, which produced the governor in 1999. This is still being contested.

Ikonne, had, however, emerged the PDP flag bearer after the court issued an order on May 7, 2022, stating that only the three-man Adhoc delegates list should be used for the purpose of electing the party’s governorship candidate.

This continued to unsettle the party, such that one Friday Akuoma, on May 16, 2022, approached the state high court, sitting in Aba urging it to vacate its earlier order, which recognised the three-man delegates list that produced the governorship flag bearer.

On June 30, the Court had reversed the order following the new National Judicial Council guideline that stripped it of the jurisdiction to entertain such matters. Such matters, according to the new practice direction, should be entertained at the Federal Capital Territory.

The development is said to portend danger signals for the party, even as the fate of its governorship candidate who benefitted from the earlier order is said to be hanging in the balance.

In the midst of the confusion, the Ikpeazu-led government’s failure to pay salaries of teachers has led to the closure of all public schools in the state in the last four months. The public school teachers have been on indefinite strike. Investigations showed that except private schools, all other public schools in the state have remained under lock and key with their premises overgrown or taken over by hoodlums to fester their nefarious activities.

This development was compounded on Tuesday, July 20, when the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) withdrew the accreditation status of the Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, with regards to running its programmes, due to non-payment of staff salaries and other allowances for over 30 months.

Igbo youths, under the auspices of the Coalition of Southeast Youth Leaders (COSEYL), had in reaction to the development within the week, asked the people of the state “to vote out Ikpeazu and anything PDP from the state.”

Insisting that the government, which he leads, had “completely destroyed the future of the state with the destruction in education”, its National Coordinator, Goodluck Ibem, stated that “Abia State university lecturers and non-academic staff are owed over eight months salary and have been on indefinite strike; Abia State College of Education (Technical) lecturers and non-Academic staff are owed for three years and have been on strike while secondary school teachers are owed two years and primary school teachers five months.”

Even with the peace overtures after the governorship primary that produced Dr Peter Mba for Enugu State PDP, some undercurrents within the party indicate that all is not well and that pledge to work for the victory of the candidate in the coming elections remains to be seen.

Mba had embraced all that contested in the primary of the party to ensure the PDP wins in the election proper. The party has been in total control of the state since 1999. The scenario appears to be changing as the aspirants are now cross-carpeting into other parties for a possible guber ticket in order to challenge the dominance of the PDP.

Chief Chijioke Edeoga, the runner-up in the election and one of those who congratulated Mba after the primary, has picked the ticket of the Labour party to contest the governorship election. Before the responsibility was bestowed on him, the likes of Evaristus Nnaji (Odengene) and Chinyeaka Ohaa, who also ran in the primary of the PDP, also contested for the Labour party ticket.

Since Edeoga picked the ticket, opposition has continued to swell against the PDP, especially from Enugu north senatorial district, which produced incumbent governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi over an alleged inequality in the distribution of offices and negation of zoning by the governor. The arrangement left Edeoga’s Isiuzo local council without any elective portfolio in the entire Enugu East senatorial zone.
 
Some members of the party from the Enugu north have also continued to criticise the governor for the alleged tacit support he mustered and the trumped card of zoning arrangement to ensure that Mba got the party’s ticket, while breaching the same code in securing his senatorial ticket to the National Assembly as well as the choice of governorship running mate.

The senatorial ticket of the zone is believed to be the turn of Igboeze south local council in line with zoning. But Ugwuanyi was said to have usurped the turn of the local council and in turn, nominated the governorship running mate from his Udenu local council, leaving the area (Igboeze south) with nothing.

 
Also unsettling the party is the army of aspirants who purchased the forms to run for one office or the other but could not emerge in the primaries. Allegations that some were either mobilised to do so by the state government or secured the nod of the governor before venturing into the exercise have remained rife. Their grouse is that they should not have been made to waste their resources on ventures that ultimately would amount to nothing.

Apparently, to shore up support for the party, the governor has continued to encourage local councils and groups to pay solidarity visits to him where promises of support to the party in the 2023 general elections are extracted from them.

On the other hand, the APC in the state, in a bid to reap from the failings of the PDP, have embarked on a “thank you tour” that currently sees it traversing the 260 wards of the state. Sources stated that the tour is a way to “meet one-on-one those with the responsibility to deliver at the polls.”

These are the undercurrents unsettling PDP in the zone. While indeed there are expectations from the general elections, it would really be interesting to know how the party would navigate these bottlenecks and remain strong in the states.