Having played the role of opposition for just five years in the 21-year-old Fourth Republic, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) appears to be bracing itself for the odds against its chances in the 2023 general elections. GBADE OGUNWALE reports
For the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), the journey towards the 2023 general elections presents daunting challenges that may test the its unity and cohesion. Having suffered electoral defeat in two consecutive election circles, 2015 and 2019, the erstwhile ruling party appears to be struggling with the role of opposition. Its control of the political space and near domination of the nation’s political landscape for 16 years (1999 to 2015) may have made the role of opposition a bit alien to the PDP
ASIDE from a few occasions when it got it right, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is no match for the All Progressives Congress (APC) when it comes to playing the role of opposition. The APC demonstrated focus and vibrancy as the opposition party when the PDP was at the helms. As a result, the PDP was defeated in 2015. The 23 states under its control prior to the 2015 elections went down to 11, as 12 of the states were taken over by the APC, in addition to losing the Presidency. The party has, however, made some gains in recent times; as it controls 15 states at present, with the recent addition of Edo and loss of Ebonyi. It still lost the Presidency to the APC nevertheless.
A major setback suffered by the PDP in the current dispensation is the loss of Imo State to the APC after winning the state in the 2019 governorship election. The Supreme Court judgment that sacked its candidate, Emeka Ihedioha and enthroned Senator Hope Uzodinma who contested on the platform of the APC dealt a devastating blow to the party’s electoral psyche.
Similarly, the recent defection of former House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara to the APC, must have also dampened the morale of the main opposition party. Dogara, who represents the Bogoro/Dass/Tafawa Balewa Federal Constituency in Bauchi State, left the PDP last August, citing irreconcilable differences with Governor Bala Mohammed. The former Speaker has continued to dominate his corner of Bauchi State at every election cycle. He contributed immensely to the defeat of former Governor Mohammed Abubakar of the APC and the victory of PDP’s Bala Mohammed.
Come 2023, Dogara will be fighting to help the APC regain control of Bauchi State. Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State has added to the PDP’s load of misfortune with his recent defection to the APC. Citing marginalisation of the Southeast geopolitical zone, Umahi formally joined the APC on November 18. And typical of Nigerian politics, it is certain that the governor will drag the entire political structure, including members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly to the APC in the days ahead. With the loss of Ebonyi, the PDP now controls only two of the five states in the Southeast, Abia and Enugu. Two of the states, Imo and Ebonyi, are now in the firm grip of the APC, while the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) has continued to hold sway in Anambra.
However, it is not all gloom for the 22-year-old PDP. Edo State, which used to be a stronghold of the APC, is now in the family. The party profited hugely from the internal power struggle in the APC that destroyed the unity and cohesion of the APC prior to the election, which took place on September 19. The fractious muscle-flexing among key chieftains of the APC saw the exit of Governor Godwin Obaseki from the party to the PDP. Through some political horse-trading, Obaseki secured the ticket of the PDP and went ahead to win reelection on the platform of the opposition party. With Obaseki’s victory in Edo, the entire six states in the South-South are now in the bag of the PDP.
Opposition and the road to 2023
For the PDP, the road to the 2023 general elections is strewn with a number of bumps and hurdles. While the party seems comfortable with its domination of the South-South, its electoral fortunes in the other five geopolitical zones appear not so rosy. With only two of the five states in the Southeast in the pouch, the party’s chances in Igboland have dwindled considerably. The party’s fate in the Southwest appears more tenuous. As it were, the PDP controls only Oyo State, with the APC in charge of the remaining five states. Added to this is the ongoing power struggle between two factions led by Oyo State’s Governor Seyi Makinde and former Ekiti Governor Ayo Fayose. The Lagos State chapter is also struggling with contentious leadership issues. The situation is not different in Ekiti, Ogun and Osun states. Similarly, the divisions among party key stakeholders in the Ondo chapter contributed in no small way to the electoral defeat of the party in the recent governorship election in October.
In the Northeast, the PDP is firmly on the ground in three of the six states – Adamawa, Bauchi and Taraba, while the APC controls Gombe, Borno and Yobe. It may end up a 50-50 chance in 2023 with both parties maintaining their strongholds. The PDP controls only two of the seven states in the Northwest – Sokoto and Zamfara. The other five – Kano, Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina and Jigawa are in the firm grip of the ruling APC. This has serious implications for the PDP ahead of the 2023 battle. The situation is about the same in the North Central where the APC is holding on to five of the six states. The ruling party dominates Kwara, Kogi, Plateau, Nasarawa and Niger states, leaving the PDP with only Benue State.
Can the PDP weather the storm?
But, the party’s chances are bright despite the odds. Speaking extensively about the party’s chances last Friday, spokesman for the PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan was full of optimism. However, the party’s optimism is premised on the envisaged electoral reforms expected to birth with the ongoing constitution review/amendment being midwifed by the National Assembly. The party is basing its hopes on the free, fair and credible elections the reforms are expected to engender.
Ologbondiyan said: “For us in the PDP, we believe that until there are improvements in our electoral laws, our elections are not going to be credible and this is going to endanger our democracy. So the PDP has resolved to constitute a committee that will work in tandem with National Assembly members elected on the platform of our party and other interested parties as well as to form a broad-based committee that will work with our parliamentarians.”
Continuing, the PDP spokesman said: “We need to engage the civil societies on electoral reforms because we have seen that the issue of electoral fraud, abuse, hijack of the electoral process by the APC can only be redeemed if every Nigerian agreed in unison that we must amend the rules. This was why the PDP has agreed to work in concert with CSOs, faith-based organisations, community leaders and others, to entrench a law in the system in which the people can truly elect their representatives.”
Also on the party’s card is electronic-based membership drive nationwide in readiness for the 2023 elections. If the PDP should have its way, the country will go electronic voting in 2023. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already given hints of possible electronic voting in 2023 if the reforms are backed with the required legislation. The last governorship election in Edo State was conducted with considerable electronic input and the PDP is fascinated by the process. Ologbondiyan said: “If you look at the election that was held in Edo State where results were transferred from the units, the base of the election, to the collation centre, that ruled out the tendency by hoodlums to hijack and change results.”
The party has also initiated reconciliation moves across the geopolitical zones with the view to reconciling aggrieved members and group where grievances exist. Speaking on the move, Ologbondiyan said modalities have been put in place for the exercise, adding that “before the end of the year, we are likely going to see leaders coming in”. He added: “Even the Governors Forum and other organs of the party have also agreed to go into reconciliation with our members and leaders when we have issues.”
Review of PDP manifesto
The party has resolved to carry out a review of its manifesto to reflect emerging realities in the country. The initiative has been approved by all the critical organs of the party, including the National Executive Committee (NEC). Ologbonsiyan’s words: “Our party and NEC have decided that in view of the new exigencies in our nation, and in order to be able to meet the demands of Nigerians and prepare ahead of 2023 elections, we are going to create a committee that will review our manifesto and make sure that it meets the requirements of today particularly, the exigencies of today.”
One issue that will task the unity and stability of the PDP is how the party handles the zoning of its 2023 presidential ticket. The North is presently running its second leg of the eight years, with President Muhammadu Buhari in the saddle. Based on the zoning arrangement, the presidency is expected to come to the South in 2023. Despite this stark reality, the PDP has continued to be evasive on the zoning of its presidential ticket. For now, the party has been able to keep muffled agitations on the issue of zoning in check. However, it is in the public domain that Governor Dave Umahi cited the unwillingness of the PDP to zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the Southeast as the reason for his defection to the APC, even though the leadership of the PDP has continued to insist that there are some underlying reasons for the Ebonyi governor’s actions. The opposition party, however, insist it is too early in the day for anyone to begin to talk about the zoning of 2023 presidential ticket at this moment.