By Mike Nwachukwu
Now that the mourning period is over, it is proper and legitimate for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to begin to take concrete steps towards repositioning itself across the states as well as the national level. This write-up is, however, using Imo state as a paradigm because of its unique experience both before and during the last general election. Besides and more important, Imo is a special case because it is one state which remains basically a PDP state but which has unfortunately become a serial loser of the governorship election in the last eight years.
In 2007, a non-PDP governor emerged in the state after series of political and judicial rigmarole. Although the fellow who emerged as governor rode on the back of the PDP under a certain arrangement, the PDP was never the same as a result of the crisis and eventual factionalization that followed the 2007 governorship election in the state. The governor in question, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim, eventually returned to the PDP, but the party was to again loose the state to the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) under circumstances that are still being debated till date.
The 2015 general election provided yet another opportunity for the PDP (over 80 percent of the state is PDP) but again, against all expectations it lost.As a matter of fact, the 2015 loss poses a bigger puzzle to observers because compared with what happened in 2011, the stakeholders in the party fought for the recovery of the state on one page, at least up to the primaries. Unlike in 2011, there were no factions. Indeed, all the top political gladiators who had defected from the party in 2010 to join the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria had returned to the PDP at least one year before the 2015 general elections. And against the backdrop of the growing disenchantment of the political elite, plus a good chunk of the masses, on the incumbent regime, book makers were upbeat that the PDP was set to retake Imo. But that did not happen.
What happened is perhaps too well known to warrant a full length disclosure here but it is important to point out that the entire thing boils down to one; which is the imposition of governorship candidate on the Imo electorate by the PDP.This point ought to be emphasized and put in proper perspective because it will enable us make one other vital point; which is that the Imo electorate was not necessarily against the PDP governorship candidate, Chief Emeka Ihedioha, as a person. What Imo people, those who had sympathy for the PDP (and they were in the majority) were against was the flawed process that threw Ihedioha’s candidacy up. In other words, it was not that the Imo electorate hated Ihedioha, contrary to what some pundits would want the world to believe, but that they wanted to prove the point that the state had no room, any longer, for fraudulent electoral processes, at any level.
Agreed, the other rival parties might not have been less guilty but the fact was that the good people of Imo state looked up to the PDP to present them with a new and transparent ambience to operate on. Having learnt the lessons from the mistakes of 2011, the people expected the PDP to lay a fresh foundation for good democratic practice in the state. By 2013, it was no longer in doubt that the people of the state had realized that what they thought was an island (in Governor Rochas Okorocha) was nothing but the back of a Whale. The disenchantment with the Okorocha regime was pervasive, despite the pretenses of the governor for running a pro-people administration.
They thus looked up to the PDP for a succor, to present a more credible alternative both in terms of governance and in democratic practice. But the expectation was dashed by the PDP, beginning with the election of ad-hoc delegates for party primary elections. To the chagrin of a predominantly PDP polity, the party hierarchy in the state threw up a most bizarre arrangement that saw lists of would-be delegates go from hand to hand, amid an unprecedented rancor among key party leaders and political actors. In the countdown to the PDP primaries, the people watched with dismay as party officials extorted money from aspirants using all manners of tactics.
Worse, the campaign for the primaries turned into a bazar as aspirants sought to outspend each other through obscene display of emergency opulence. For a people as conservative as Imolites, what they witnessed was an affront on their collective psyche by a crop of desperate office seekers aided and abetted by a compromised party leadership some of whose members seemed to be more interested in what went into their individual pockets, at that material period, than the victory of the party at the polls ahead.
Then came the governorship primary election proper, where the party further confounded a highly agitated electorate with an arithmetical abracadabra that has remained a baffle even to the most versed political scientists. Perhaps for the first time in the history of the state, it took no effort for the people to buy into the allegation that the primary election was manipulated. What followed was simple. One, a section of the electorate quickly rekindled their interest for the sitting governor who, in any case, was making good efforts to represent himself as credible. Two, the PDP again broke into two factions – one in support of the fellow who emerged as candidate, Hon. Ihedioha and the other in support of Senator Ifeanyi Araraume who came second in the primary election but who was believed to be the actual winner of the (primary) election.
The rest of the story is too well known to be repeated here expect to re-iterate that in their reaction to the outcome of the primary election, the main issue was not the personality of the candidate but the process that threw him up, which majority of the electorate, rightly or wrongly, saw as flawed. And pronto, they made up their minds on what to do at the election proper.The people there and then decided to vote for the PDP in the state and national assembly elections but to look elsewhere for the governorship election.And that was how and why the PDP won all three senatorial seats, eight out of nine House of Representatives seats and a reasonable number of seats for the State House of Assembly.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration that the people of Imo state were for the PDP was what happened in the Orlu senatorial zone where Governor Okorocha hails from. Before the general election, pundits tilted towards an APC victory for the senatorial seat. Many analysts were certain that even if Governor Okorocha was going to lose the governorship election, he would put in everything at his disposal as a governor to make sure that his party, the APC, won the senatorial seat in Orlu zone.
For many, the matter was worse for him(and the other parties) as the national assembly election was to come before the governorship election. Meanwhile, at least two other formidable candidates in the zone, ThankGod Ezeani and Felix Idiga respectively of the APGA and Accord party were also in the race. To be sure, Senator Hope Uzodimma, candidate of the PDP and a sitting senator had a massive following in the zone, the 2015 senatorial election in Orlu zone has been described as one of the most keenly contested in the history of the state. In the end, Uzodimma emerged victorious, beating his closest rival with a very wide margin. Thus, although the PDP also won the senatorial seats in the other two zones – Owerri and Okigwe – what happened in Orlu (zone) was of a bigger significance not only for reasons already given but also in showing the stuff Senator Uzodimma was made of.
In the view of many, if the PDP was able to surmount the obstacle in Orlu zone to win the senatorial seat, then it ought to have repeated the same feat to win the governorship election in the entire state. This is a topic for another day but it is important to state, in the time being, that this particular puzzle is what constitutes the real lessons the party should learn from the 2015 general election:Which is that it is capacity that matters in politics, not the glamour and exuberance of office. Now that the mourning period is over and plans are under way to reposition the party, it is hoped that the party will recognize this fact and place emphasis on capacity and those who have it.
It should be expected that the party will encourage those who have proved that they can ride the tiger to offer useful inputs. That is not all. The party should also allow people who command a mass appeal across the state. Political battles are fought with both the carrot and the stick.To win, you need a good blend of the two. It is the ability to strike a good balance between the two that constitute capacity. And despite that every politicianclaim to possess capacity, there is always room to separate the men from the boys.
Despite the outcome of the 2015 general election, there are things to show that the PDP could still get its act together and reclaim the state in 2019. The major point tonote is that it has to make use of what it has.
The proposed congresses should be preceded with a deliberate program for reconciliation. As against the posturing of the caretaker state executive committee, aggrieved members who were alleged to have not worked for the victory of the party should be brought back to the party. In the absence of a governor, the arrow head of this reconciliation agenda should be somebody who has a mass appeal across the state. As noted earlier, every politician claims that he has what it takes but it is not difficult for the PDP to know who can do what. Besides and more important,the proposed congresses offer an opportunity for the party to rework its image. If it conducts free and fair congresses, then it would have wormed itself back to the hearts of the people.
On the whole, the future is still quite bright for the PDP in Imo state. More than ever before, the disenchantment of the people on the current administration has heightened for reasons we need notgo into here. If the Imo PDP makes proper use of what it has, it can exploit the obviously dwindling political fortune of the APC in the state regardless of the grand standing going on in Abuja.