Many questions over PDP’s dwindling fortunes in South East

From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

What does the future hold for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South East geo political zone? That is one question agitating the minds of stakeholders, as the fortunes of the opposition party continue to dwindle in the zone.

Once upon a time, the PDP was the party of choice in the South East. At the inception  of the present democratic dispensation, the opposition party   had won the governorship seats, alongside majority of National and State assemblies, in the five South East states.

For several years, all it took to win election in the zone was securing the ticket of the opposition party. However, the tide has since changed for the PDP, which once prided itself as “the largest party in Africa. “

After the 2023 elections, the opposition party was confined to only Enugu State, where it won the governorship race. While the Labour Party (LP) won the governorship seat in Abia State, the APC produced the governor in Ebonyi. Anambra and Imo states governorship seats had earlier fallen to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and APC respectively.

Besides, in the aftermath of the 2023 general election, several leaders of the PDP in the South East have dumped the party for the ruling APC and other political parties.  Among those who have severed ties with the PDP, recently, is former Imo State governor, Emeka Ihedioha.

Ihedioha’s exit led to the defection of no fewer than 25 PDP officials and top shots in Imo, including former Minister of Commerce, Charles Ugwu. Ugwu was until his resignation from the PDP, the state chairman of the opposition party.

Similarly, in Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states, several party members have also dumped the opposition party in the last one year.

The woes of the PDP,  pundits say, is traceable to the  politics of the 2023 general elections in the zone.  Shortly before the May 29, 2022 presidential primary of the opposition party, former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi had ditched PDP for Labour Party.

Obi’s exit, which is traceable to the party’s nomination politics, was a fatal blow to the PDP in the South East, as the results of the 2023 general elections in the zone later proved. The people of the South East, who felt short-changed by the PDP, in solidarity with the former Anambra governor, who was the presidential candidate of the LP, had voted massively for his new party.

The PDP in line with its constitution, prior to the 2023 polls, had always rotated its presidential ticket between the North and the South. Regardless, for the last general election, the party threw the ticket open.  That decision did not go down well with the South, especially the South East, which believes that the presidential ticket ought to have been zoned to it in interest of equity and fair play.

The result was the humiliation the opposition party suffered in the South East, where the LP swept the National Assembly polls, with the PDP coming a distant third.

Former PDP National Vice Chairman, Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu told Daily Sun that the challenges confronting the opposition party in the zone is a fate foretold. Chukwu, while alluding to the nomination politics in the 2023 polls, said the ‘PDP was on trial’ and could have respected its Constitution and zone its presidential ticket to the South East, but chose to do otherwise.

According to him, “ all that the party would have done was to line up the aspirants from the South East and picked anyone from among them and paired with someone from the North Central as the Vice-presidential candidate. With all sense of modesty, I can tell that there’s nothing they find in other aspirants of other ethnic nationalities that they can’t find in the South East aspirants.  Today, they are suffering Titanic syndrome and there is nothing anyone can do about it.”

He added “when a party indulges in multiple principles and plural principals, there is no way those conflicts and contradictions can stand. They will rather result to mutual destruction. Wishful thinking and prayers cannot solve the problems, genuine intentions and actions are equally necessary.

“If the party had respected and observed the Constitution, where it was clearly stated that principles of zoning and rotation must be maintained; it was going to alternate between the North and the South. And every zone to which it alternates must ensure it reflects geo- political character of that region.

“The Presidential ticket of the PDP in 2022 should have rightfully been zoned to the South East- because the South West, under President Obasanjo, was there for eight years, and he did brilliantly well. The records speak for themselves.

“After him, of course, it went to the North West. The cerebral President Umaru Yar’Adua. He chose to be non-conformist without making non-conformism a principle. Either by accident or providence, President Goodluck Jonathan of South South took over as  President of Nigeria. He was there for six years. After eight years in the North, the PDP unfortunately, jettisoned the Rotation Principle and opted for open Presidential Primary. “

Ironically, former Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, who defected to the APC in 2020 had cited the marginalization of the South East as reason for his exit.

Umahi had said, “since 1998, the South East people have supported PDP in all elections; at a time, the five states in South East were all PDP. One of the founding members of PDP is from South East, His Excellency, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme. And so, it is absurd that since 1998 going to 2023 that South East will never be considered to run for presidency under the ticket of the PDP…”

In the aftermath of Umahi’s defection, the PDP National Vice Chairman, South East,  Chief Ali Odefa, had said that the opposition party has  gone back to the drawing board to ensure it regains control of the zone in 2023.

“I want to tell you that we are not shaken by these loses. We are not discouraged. We have gone back to the drawing board to make sure that we recover all we lost. We will start with Anambra State. We will take Ebonyi back. Enugu is PDP. Abia is PDP,” Odefa reportedly said.

Unfortunately, the PDP failed to regain lost grounds in the South East through the 2023 general election.  To make matters worse for the opposition party, internal wrangling has continued to weaken its cohesion in the zone.

For instance, leaders of the opposition  in the South East have been on a warpath over the position of the party’s National Secretary.  The PDP South East caucus, prior to the last Imo governorship election, had nominated former national youth leader, Sunday Ude-Okoye to replace Senator Samuel Anyanwu as national secretary of the party on the ground that the latter ought to vacate his office having been nominated as gubernatorial candidate.

Expectedly, the move to oust Anyanwu has deepened the division in the South East PDP, as well as in the National Working Committee ( NWC) with leaders of the opposition party, in the zone, working at cross purposes.

Furthermore, leaders of the party in Ebonyi State recently threatened to quit the PDP, following the Constitution of a new caretaker committee for the state chapter of the party.  The stakeholders, in a statement signed by the PDP deputy governorship candidate, in the 2023 Ebonyi State governorship election,  Paulinus  Nwagu,  and 70 others, said the composition of the caretaker committee was not in line with decisions reached at a meeting between party  leaders, National Working Committee (NWC), prior to the announcement.

According to them, “ it is now crystal clear that they are either working as undertakers for the final burial of the PDP in Ebonyi State, or they are being misguided by arch-enemies of the PDP in Ebonyi State.

“We hereby state categorically that if the NWC reneges on the collectively agreed-upon list of new caretaker committee as submitted by the various local government chapters of the PDP in Ebonyi State, we may not have any other option than to resign from the PDP.”

Analysts say the implications of current developments in the South East PDP  is that apart from the depleting ranks of the opposition party, power tussle at different levels is making it difficult for the party leaders to work together for the tasks ahead.

Nevertheless,  PDP leaders,  as well as governors, including the Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, believe that the party would overcome its troubles and return to its winning ways.

Makinde, while speaking at a reception in honour of the chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees( BoT), Senator Adolphus Wabara, in Abia State, recently, said there are better days ahead of the opposition party in the South East.

He said “The party in the South East has gone through a lot. Out of the five states in the South-East, Governor Peter Mbah is the only PDP governor in the zone. But this used to be a zone where the PDP usually had four out of five. This type of occasion, therefore, gives us the opportunity to send the message that the best of the PDP is still ahead of us. So, do not relent. I want to encourage you. No matter what you are going through at this stage, please, don’t be discouraged.”

The PDP acting national chairman, Umar Damagun is equally optimistic that the party will reclaim its place in the politics of the South East soon. Damagun, who also spoke at the Abia event said  “PDP is a deeply rooted party in the South East, hence it would overcome whatever challenges confronting it presently.”

He added that “with what we’re doing with our governors, the party will come back sound, healthy and victorious.All those migrants that have taken shelter somewhere will come back to the PDP in 2027. We recognise the nostalgia of the South East; our governors will be back and the PDP will be victorious in 2027.

There are lots of challenges that you are facing and by the grace of God, we shall be victorious. “

However, beyond rhetorics, pundits say rebuilding the South East PDP, ahead of the 2027 general elections, would require a lot of measures. This includes  reconciling all aggrieved parties, halting the defections and ultimately giving the people of the zone, a reason to cast their lots with the opposition party. 

Whether or not the PDP leadership is able rise to the challenge will determine the party’s fate in the South East in the coming months.

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