From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
For critical observers, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has started its campaign to regain control of the South East in 2023 on a shaky note. The early signs manifested in the outcome of the recent governorship elections in Anambra State. Against the expectations of the PDP, its candidate in the keenly contested poll, Valentine Ozigbo, lost to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Professor Chukwuma Soludo. That would be the fifth consecutive time, the PDP will be losing the coveted seat to APGA in the strategic South East state since 2003.
In the estimation of many, the loss of Anambra governorship poll was a major upset to the PDP’s plan to take over the South East in 2023. From all indications, the just concluded Anambra poll was a dress rehearsal for the 2023 general election in the zone.
The permutation is that the PDP would use the November 6 governorship poll as a spring board for its 2023 campaign in the South East.
The PDP had started out as the dominant party in the zone and after the 1999 general elections, the opposition party was in effective control of the politics of the South East with the five governorship seats and virtually all other elective positions in the zone in its kitty.
However, in 2006, the PDP lost Anambra, after the Appeal Court declared former Governor Peter Obi as the winner of the 2003 governorship seat in the state. Obi was the APGA candidate in the contest. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Senator Chris Ngige as winner of the contest. But the court in a historic judgment declared Obi as the winner of the 2003 Anambra gubernatorial contest.
In 2020, the PDP also lost Imo State, as the Supreme Court sacked Emeka Ihedioha as governor of the state and declared Governor Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the 2019 Imo governorship poll. Ihedioha was the opposition party candidate in the contest.
The fortunes of the PDP in the South East further nose-dived in November, 2020 after the Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi defected to the APC. Umahi’s defection altered the political configuration of the South East states, as it brought the APC at par with the opposition party in terms of the number of governorship seats they control in the zone. Nevertheless, the PDP still controls majority of the National and state assemblies’ seats across the five states in the South East.
In the aftermath of Umahi’s defection, the PDP National Vice Chairman, South East, Chief Ali Odefa, had boasted that the opposition party had gone back to the drawing board to ensure it regains control of the zone in 2023, beginning with the Anambra governorship seat.
“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 after his assumption of office as leader of the opposition party in the zone.
The PDP leader, in an interview with a national daily, earlier in the year, boasted that ‘as for Anambra, I am convinced 100 percent of victory. Anambra people are tired and fed up with the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
“They are fed up with the lack-lustre performance of the of APGA in Anambra State. Nothing is working. So, the people are fed up. They are looking forward to us to come in and make things better in Anambra State. So, I am 100 per cent assured that with all the things we have in line, we will definitely win the governorship of Anambra State come 2021 election.”
But alas! The opposition party came a distant second in the governorship contest. Analysts say that the outcome of the election, no matter what angle it is viewed from is a drawback to the PDP in its quest to re-assert its dominance in the South East politics.
How PDP lost Anambra
There have been several conjectures as to why the PDP failed to clinch the Anambra governorship seat. However, pundits say the major factor that turned the tide against the major opposition party, was the controversy that trailed the outcome of its June 26 primary. Not a few believe that the PDP actually lost the November 6 contest on June 26, when it nominated its candidate.
Preparatory to the primary, the party had cleared a total of 16 aspirants to participate in the exercise.
They include Obiora Okonkwo, Uche Ekwunife, Chris Azubogu, Winston Udeh, Tony Nwoye, Valentine Ozigbo, Godwin Maduka, Godwin Ezeemo, Emeka Etiaba, Chidi Onyemelukwe, Ekwochi Genevieve, Ifedi Okwena, Ugochukwu Uba and Walter Ubaka Okeke.
Everything was going well for the PDP, or so it seemed, until few days to the primary, when the party ran into troubled waters.
First, a group of party members in the state got a court order sacking the entire PDP leadership of the state. The court order also nullified the election of the ad-hoc delegates, who were to participate in the primary to elect the PDP candidate for November 6 contest. From thence, it became a litany of controversies for the opposition.
However, as a fall back option, the PDP leadership resorted to the use of “super delegates” for the nomination of the party’s gubernatorial standard bearer for the Anambra contest.
According to a statement by the National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, on the eve of the primary, a total of 212 super delegates, who are otherwise automatic delegates would choose the party’s candidate.
The super delegates consisted of members of the PDP Board of Trustees from the state, former governors who are members of the party and former and serving members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the party.
Surprisingly, on the day of the primary, the number of the super delegates kept changing almost every hour, to the consternation of most of the aspirants.
Eventually, a total of 218 super delegates were accredited to participate in the governorship primary, against 212 originally announced. At the end of the exercise, Ozigbo polled 62 votes to clinch the PDP. Obiorah Okonkwo, who came second scored 58. However, about 17 votes were unaccounted for.
Expectedly, Okonkwo rejected the outcome of the primary, noting that it was fraught with alleged irregularities.
According to him, “perhaps, the most blatant of the irregularities came in the collation of votes. For instance, a total of 218 delegates were accredited for the exercise. The tally of votes cast for the candidates, along with voided votes came to 201.
“A full week after the primary election, nobody has satisfactorily explained what happened to the other 17 votes cast by duly accredited delegates.
“We expect those who conducted the election to provide the answer to this obvious discrepancy, particularly given the razor-thin margin of victory of the declared result.”
Curiously, the PDP national secretariat failed to address concerns over disparity between the number of accredited voters and the votes declared.
Exasperated by the development, Okonkwo defected to the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) and picked the party’s ticket for the November 6 poll. Similarly, Maduka moved to the Accord Party, on whose platform, he eventually contested the governorship seat. Other aggrieved members of the party also defected to the APC.
Thus, for the PDP candidate, apart from the depleting ranks of the opposition party in Anambra, he was also faced with litigation over who is the authentic candidate of the party.
Recall that a faction of the PDP had at a parallel primary chosen Senator Ugochukwu Uba as its governorship candidate. However, few days to the November 6 contest, the Supreme Court affirmed Ozigbo as candidate of the PDP.
Nevertheless, analysts say the inability of the PDP leadership to effectively manage the differences that arose from the gubernatorial primary was the opposition party’s greatest undoing in the just concluded Anambra governorship poll.
What lessons for 2023?
Pundits say one of the key lessons from the just concluded Anambra governorship poll, is that the 2023 general elections in the South East will not be a walk over for the PDP, as most of the leaders of the opposition party believe.
Apart from the APC, which has never hidden its desire to take over the politics of the South East in 2023, the PDP now has APGA to also contend with. The latter buoyed by its victory in Anambra would most likely want to put up a strong fight for the control of the other four South East states.
Analysts say that for the PDP to make any impact in 2023, it has to put its house in order and ensure that there is level playing field for aspirants seeking to contest the next general elections on its platform.
Apart from the fact that the PDP will be contesting the 2023 polls in Ebonyi and Imo as opposition party, issues surrounding the zoning of the governorship position in Enugu is already generating tension in the party in the state. Already, there is a cold war among leaders of the PDP in the South East, especially in Anambra, Enugu and Imo states.
Therefore, for the PDP, the actualization of its 2023 agenda in the South East, lies in the satisfactory resolution of all differences among party leaders, as well as free, fair and credible nomination exercises. Anything short of these will leave the opposition party in the zone with the short end of the stick at the next general elections.