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Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
What does 2019 holds for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the south-east geo-political zone? Will the major opposition party maintain its dominance of the politics of the zone or would it be displaced by any of the other political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress (APC), jostling for the control of the area?
The above questions and many more have been agitating the minds of Nigerians shortly after PDP’s disastrous outing in the just concluded Anambra governorship, where the party came third behind the APC, which many had claimed does not enjoy any sympathy in the area.
Since the inception of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, the south-east has been a fortress of the PDP. In the 1999 general election, the party won all the five governorship seats in the zone, as well as most of the seats in the national and state assemblies in the area.
In the 2003, the party consolidated its hold on the politics of the zone as it retained all the governorship seats and most of the legislative seats in the area. However in 2007, the political fortunes of the party, which was then in control of the federal government and most states in the country began to dwindle. At the end of 2007 general elections, the PDP spheres of influence shrink from five to two states in the zone.
The then newly registered Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA), led at the time by former Abia governor and now chieftain of the APC, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, had won the governorship seats in Abia and Imo States, as well as a large number of state and national assembly seats in the two states. The PDP had also lost the governorship seat in Anambra to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a year earlier, after the court sacked the then PDP governor of the state, Senator Chris Ngige.
But it did not take long for the PDP to regain its pride of place as the dominant political party in the south- east following the defection of Theodore Orji and Ikedi Ohakim, then governors of Abia and Imo States respectively to the party. The duo was elected on the platform of PPA. The PDP lost Imo again in 2011 to APGA, which has maintained its hold on Anambra since 2006 till date.
PDP changing fortunes in South East
In the 2015 election, apart from winning the governorship elections in Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu States, the PDP won majority of states and National Assembly seats in the zone. Besides, people of the zone also voted en masse for the PDP in the last presidential election.
However, in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections, where the party lost control of the federal government, things are no longer the same for the opposition in the zone, where it once called the shots.
In the last three years, the fortunes of the party in the zone has dipped considerably; as several leaders of the opposition party in the zone , who made the party tick in their respective areas of influence have defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Similarly, some of the members of the National Assembly elected on the PDP platform have also crossed over to the APC. Informed sources say some time ago, two of the PDP governors, probably out of fear for their political survival, had made moves to cross over to the ruling party.
Gradually, the APC which until recently was dismissed as an “anti-Igbo“ platform is gaining a foothold in the south-east. Analysts say the outcome of the 2015 presidential election changed the game considerably for the opposition party.
The APC challenge
In the 2017 governorship election in Anambra State, the PDP suffered a humiliating defeat, as it was beaten to a third position by the APC. Prior to the Anambra gubernatorial contest, it was unthinkable that the ruling party would ever defeat the PDP in a governorship contest in a state like Anambra. This is because although APGA controls the government apparatus, the PDP has always been the dominant party in the state, as it produces the highest number of National Assembly members from the state.
Although the PDP still remains the dominant party in the south-east, in the run -up to the 2019 general elections, the APC is making serious in road into the zone. Apparently buoyed by the entrance of political bigwigs into its fold, the APC has started making a spirited effort to take over the politics of the zone in 2019.
Speaking recently in Abuja, APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, while setting up a panel to probe why the ruling party lost the governorship poll in Anambra, said the party has its eyes on winning the entire south-east in the 2019 polls.
According to him“It is important that we are using Anambra State as a trigger… we want a situation where we will win handsomely in the south-east.”
As part of its strategy to win the zone in 2019, the APC is using the 2023 presidency as a bait to woo the people of South East. A chieftain of the party and Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu in a recent interview said the PDP is fast losing the south- east, as the people of the zone see the ruling party as the shortest route to Igbo Presidency.
According to him,” …a lot of people are coming to the reality that the zoning convention gave Ndigbo the fastest route to the presidency with President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory. Ndigbo are saying that constitutionally, Buhari is the only northerner who has only four years left in his tenure, that if another northerner wins, he will naturally clamour for eight good years. “
Regardless, PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan told Daily Sun that the south-east belongs to the opposition party and would remain so for a very long time.
According to him, there is no way the APC would be allowed to permeate the zone, not to talk of taking control of it. “It is not possible. South East is the traditional home of the PDP. And there is no way that the APC with all what they have caused Nigeria would be allowed to permeate the south-east, talk less of taking control of the zone. The APC has no space in the south-east. And they know it,” the opposition spokesman stated point blank.
Ologbondiyan blames the success the ruling party recorded over the PDP in the last governorship election in Anambra Stare on the crisis within the PDP.
He said with the resolution of most of the internal wrangling and with the re-branding of the PDP, it would be hard for the APC to defeat the opposition party anywhere in the south- east in future elections.
Contrary to sentiments espoused by Ologbondiyan, analysts say the next general election in the south-east is not going to be a walk over for the PDP, like previous polls.
Pundits say this is because more than any time in its 19 years history, the opposition party is facing a very potent challenge in the zone, coupled with internal wrangling within its fold.
Similarly, wining South East in the 2019 general election is not going to be a pie of cake for the ruling party either. Not a few believe that the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari has not given South East its due in terms of appointments and government patronage, Daily Sun further gathered.
Consequently, the government has seemingly been trying to warm its way into the hearts of the people.
The APGA challenge
But apart from the APC, APGA is also challenging the dominance of the PDP in the region. The party, which has held tightly to the governorship of Anambra State for 12 years and counting, is believed to be working assiduously to take over the entire south-east in 2019. Some politicians in the zone, who are either disenchanted with the ruling party and the major opposition party, are assembling in APGA, which many regard as Igbo party for the 2019 political battle for the control of Igbo land.
However, National Chairman, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Okey Nwosu says neither PDP nor APC would win South East in 2019. Nwosu equally ruled out APGA in the battle for the zone.
The ADC chairman told Daily Sun in an interview that the people of the zone are fed up with the major political parties and would be looking in the direction of a new set of political leaders. He said the zone would be won by a new political coalition coming up.
Nwosu further explained that the coalition is going to be an almagram of different political groups that are interested in offering the country a new and better deal.
“We have the Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM); Coalition for Nigeria Movement, (CNM); coalition for New Nigeria (CNN). CNN is a rainbow coalition of 32 political parties. There are also other movements. We are going to come into a grand coalition that will deliver Nigeria,” he said.