We had on this space attempted a sketch of analogy between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the South East, on one hand and the lead character in Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”, Okonkwo and his houseboy, Ikemefuna, on the other hand. The attempt looked wry and fatalistic. But developments in the last couple of days in the party, make the comparison more frightening.
Ikemefuna, the ill-fated lad, grew up in Okonkwo’s household, seeing him as a father. He was so much attached to Okonkwo that he began to see himself as a member of the family. As fate would have it, the gods in Umuofia, Okonkwo’s village, demanded a human sacrifice to purify the land. It fell on Ikemefuna. Okonkwo’s friend, Obierika, who knew how close the young man had been to Okonkwo, pleaded with him, not to have a hand in his death.
When Ikemefuna was rattled on the path to where he was to be sacrificed, he naturally ran to towards Okonkwo for protection. Unfortunately, it was his ‘father’ that drew the sword that killed him. Okonkwo never recovered from the psychology of that misadventure.
Loyalty is the thread in the relationship of the South East with the PDP and that of Ikemefuna and Okonkwo. For Okonkwo, Ikemefuna went the extra mile in rendering service. For the PDP, the South East has given it all and has been paying for it. Just as Okonkwo drew the sword against Ikemefuna, PDP has practically thrown the South East under the bus, in callous manifestation of perfidy.
The intrigues and gang-ups that resulted to the resignation of former Anambra State governor and leading presidential aspirant from the party, Peter Obi, few days ago, indicate that the PDP has no space for the region. It would be a mirage expecting a fair deal for the remaining aspirants from the zone in the May 28 primary of the party.
Politics, it is said, is a game of numbers. Political parties, go for their best and those that will win votes for them in elections. And whether we admit it or not, politics in this part of the world, is breezy and lacks some basic defining principles. It is one in which there is just a trophy to be won and the loser is left in the lurch. If you call it a zero-sum game or winner-takes-all engagement, you may not be entirely wrong. One thing however remains certain – no political party ignores its catchment area without paying a price.
Since the commencement of the current dispensation in 1999, South East has shown faith to the PDP. From the formative stage of the party when the former Vice President, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was easily the face of the party, the zone has adopted the PDP in a manner of a family affair. The affinity to the party was so glaring, till lately, that any politician belonging to any other party in the area, was regarded as a fringe player.
In all the elections conducted so far, the zone has returned bloc votes for the party at times, approximating nearly 100 percent, especially at presidential polls. That wholesale demonstration of loyalty has caused the region some pains.
When President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after his election in 2015, sniggered that he should not be expected to extend same treatment to a people that merely gave him, less than five percent votes with those that gave him 93 percent support, he was referring to the South East. And he has not looked back in treating the people as strangers to the commonwealth.
For a region that has demonstrated such unprecedented level of fidelity, there was expectation of a reward. Even in the normal master-apprentice relationship, there is a time for settlement of the latter.
2023 should have been an opportunity for the PDP to show gratitude to the South East. When a student answers a question correctly in class and the teacher asks other pupils to clap for him, it is to encourage him and motivate others to be up and doing. It is called positive reinforcement.
What more, the founders of the party, had at its formation on July 29, 1998, dreamed of a party that would put the Nigerian nation on a new phase of political engineering.
Their goal was to institute a process that would ensure just and equitable distribution of power, resources, wealth and opportunities to conform with the principles of power shift and power sharing, rotation of key political offices and equitable devolution of powers to zones, states and local governments so as to create socio-political conditions conducive to national unity and to defend the sanctity of electoral democracy.
These were the considerations that informed the party giving the South West a shot at the presidency through Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999. In 2007, it conceded the slot to the North through the late Umar Yar’Adua. The South-South had its turn through Goodluck Jonathan. The South East remains the outsider in the equation.
In fact, at the Port Harcourt, Rivers State convention of the party in 2018, it was essentially a contest by northern aspirants featuring former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, with the understanding that the slot would shift to the South East in 2023.
But in the run up to the May 28 primary, the party defaulted and threw its ticket open to all the zones. There are obvious obstacles for the South East in the arrangement. Presidential primary is not an open contest but delegates’ election. The delegates are chosen, three, from each of the 774 local government areas in the country.
The entire five states in the South East have 95 local government areas. Three states in the North West – Kano (44), Katsina (34) and Kaduna (23), have 101 local government areas. The configuration of the councils on its own, limits the chances of an aspirant from the South East, in a system that is further driven by primordial sentiments of religion and ethnicity.
What was needed was an arrangement that would allow the zone to present the candidate of the party on grounds of equity, justice and fairness. More so, the region has lined up a formidable team of aspirants with credible credentials and proven records of capacity. Even among thieves, there should be honour.
But the PDP has chosen to ignore the region and its people. This arrogant attempt to shortchange the zone, may have telling effects on the party, same way Okonkwo never recovered from killing Ikemefuna.