From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The 2023 general election is still far away. However, 2021 will define the contest for the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP). Like other political parties, the major opposition party is expected to make key decisions in relation to the 2023 contest, as preparations for the next polls gather momentum.
For the PDP, this year is perhaps the most critical in its quest to regain control of the reins of government in the country in the next general elections; as whatever the party does or fail to do this year, will make or mar it in the next general elections.
According to the PDP Chairman, Uche Secondus, the party will devote this year to addressing all the challenges confronting the party, so as to put it on a strong footing for the 2023 general elections.
The opposition party in recent times has been buffeted with a lot of afflictions. The PDP had suffered some political losses in 2020, beginning with the Imo State governorship seat. The Supreme Court, last January, had nullified the election of Emeka Ihedioha as governor of Imo State and declared Governor Hope Uzodimma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the 2015 gubernatorial poll.
Apart from a crisis of confidence among leaders of the PDP, the intra-party squabbles in some of its state chapters have continued to fester. Also, 2020 witnessed the defections of some prominent members of the opposition to the APC with the ruling party making a serious incursion into the South East zone, which is controlled by the opposition party.
Leaders of the PDP who have dumped the party in recent times include former speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi and several members of the National Assembly elected on the platform of the opposition party from across the country.
Nevertheless, the party recorded modest electoral success with the entrance of the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki into its fold and its subsequent victory in the September 19 Edo governorship contest. Regardless, whatever success the party made paled into insignificance when compared with the many afflictions that plagued the PDP last year. For instance, Umahi’s exit reduced the number of PDP controlled states down from 16 to 15.
Therefore, analysts say the main challenge before the PDP in 2021 would be to resolve the crises in various chapters, halt the defections of its prominent members, check the incursion of the APC into the South East, as well as resolve whatever issue that might arise from the zoning of its 2023 presidential ticket to the satisfaction of stakeholders.
How the party addresses these challenges will to a great extent, determine the kind of outing it will have in the 2023 polls.
One of the key issues confronting the PDP in relation to the next general election is the zoning of its presidential ticket for the 2023 polls. In recent times, tension has been mounting in the party over which of the six geo-political zones will produce the presidential candidate in the next general election, with party leaders taking divergent positions.
Recall that former governor of Benue State, Senator Gabriel Suswan, had in an interview last year, said the North will still produce the PDP 2023 presidential flag bearer as the reason for zoning the ticket to the region in the 2019 general election has not been actualised.
On the flipside, former PDP National Chairman, Chief Okwesilieze Nwodo, and some leaders of the party across the country, has continued to maintain that it is the turn of the South East to produce the presidential candidate in 2023.
However, Secondus stated recently that every qualified member of the party is free to aspire for its presidential ticket in the next general election.
Nevertheless, the PDP chairman said the party will take a position on the zoning of offices for the 2023, after the PDP 2019 General Elections Review Committee, headed by Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed submits its report, later this year.
Pundits say the zoning of offices, for the 2023 polls, is perhaps the most critical decision the opposition party would be making this year, owing to its sensitive nature. It is one which will have great impact on the fortunes of the PDP in the 2023 polls; especially as stakeholders from the South East, have threatened that there will be consequences if the zone is short-changed.
Recall that the PDP’s failure in the 2015 polls is largely attributed to the breach of its zoning agreement.
Therefore, all eyes are on the PDP to see how far it would go in addressing the issue of zoning of its presidential ticket, as well as other key offices, for the 2023 polls, to the satisfaction of critical stakeholders.
Reconciliation of warring party leaders
Another major hurdle before the PDP in the run-up to the 2023 polls is the festering crises in some of its state chapters, crisis of confidence among its leaders as well as halting the defections of more of its prominent members to other political parties, in the run-up to the next general elections.
Presently, no fewer than 11 state chapters of the PDP are enmeshed in crises, as chieftains battle for control of the structure of the opposition party in their respective states, ahead of the elections.
They include Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, Adamawa, Kano, Cross River, Ebonyi and Edo states. Incidentally, apart from Edo and Cross River, the PDP is opposition in all the other affected states.
Already, some leaders of the party in Lagos, Adamawa, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Osun and Plateau states are in court with the PDP National Working Committee ( NWC) over the control of party structures in their respective states.
Similarly, the South West chapter of the opposition has been torn apart by a battle of supremacy between Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde and former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose.
Besides, there are indications that all might not be well within the PDP Governors Forum. In the aftermath of Umahi’s defection to the APC, the Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle, had commended the Ebonyi governor for taking a “ bold decision”.
Matawalle, in a statement by his spokesman, Zailani Bappa, had stated that he will commend Umahi for “his bold decision rather than condemn him because everyone feels welcome only in a house where he feels comfortable.
“If this trend of generating bad blood amongst us continues unabated, our great party will increasingly be on the receiving end as we move towards the year 2023.”
However, the party, late last year, set up a Reconciliation and Strategy Committee to reconcile warring factions.
The committee, which is headed by former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, former Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke among others.
Nevertheless, there have been allegations that the NWC was behind some of the intra-party squabbles. Some PDP leaders, especially in the South West had repeatedly accused the NWC of fanning the embers of discord in the party.
However, the opposition spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, told Daily Sun that it not true that the party leadership is behind the crises in some of its state chapters. Ologbondiyan noted that most of the crises have to do with local issues in the affected states.
Saraki, while speaking shortly after the inauguration of the Reconciliation Committee, said in as much as the panel is committed to fostering peace and reconciliation in the party, the members will not hesitate to resign enmasse, if the NWC tries to interfere with its activities.
“As members of this committee, we have decided to do only what is right. We do not have any personal interest and will not allow any interest other than of the party and what represents the truth, equity, objectivity, unity and peace to influence what we will do. The NWC must also give us free hand to operate”, he said.
Pundits say the restoration of peace in the troubled state chapters of the PDP, this year, would help put the party on a strong footing for the 2023 polls, while anything to the contrary will have disastrous consequences for the opposition party.
Anambra guber poll
The forthcoming Anambra State governorship election is going to be more than a contest for who succeeds Willie Obiano as the governor of the South East state. Pundits say it is going to be a dress rehearsal in the battle between the PDP and the APC for the soul of the South East in the 2023 polls.
The South East has been a fortress of the PDP since the inception of the present democratic dispensation. However, the loss of Imo and Ebonyi governorship seats, last year, has made the opposition party vulnerable in the zone.
Presently, both the PDP and APC control two states each while the two parties are gearing for an epic contest for the Anambra governorship seat.
The APC, buoyed by its recent gains in the zone, sees the Anambra poll as an opportunity to gain more ground in the South East ahead of 2023.
Consequently, for the PDP, a victory in the next Anambra gubernatorial contest is crucial to its continued control of the politics of the South East.
The PDP is scheduled to hold an elective convention, in December, to elect a new National Working Committee( NWC), as the tenure of the current leadership of the party will elapse on December 10.
The zoning of the party’s presidential ticket, will determine which zone will produce the next national chairman and other members of the NWC.
Expectedly, the stake will be high as those elected would preside over the nomination of party candidates for the general elections, as well as lead the opposition party to 2023 polls.
Already, the speculated second term ambition of the current NWC members is said to be generating tension in the party, as leaders are divided over the issue.
Also, interest groups, especially those eyeing the presidential and vice presidential tickets of the party for the 2023 polls are strategising on how to get the upper hand, at the convention, beginning from the zonal congresses holding before the end of the first quarter of 2021.
In the past, the outcome of PDP National conventions generated serious tension in the party, and in some cases led to the exit of many of its prominent leaders.
For instance, in the aftermath of the last National Convention, in 2017, Professors Jerry Gana and Tunde Adeniran, former ministers of Information and Education, respectively, among other leaders of the party resigned from in protest over the outcome of the convention.
Analysts say the ability of the opposition party to hold a generally acceptable National Convention in December, as well as resolve all pending issues, will make or mar its campaign to regain power in 2023.