No matter the level of resistance, it may be hard to run away from attempting an 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 similarity gets stronger particularly as the race for the 2023 presidency draws closer.
Ikemefuna, described in the classic as the ill-fated lad, grew up in Okonkwo’s household, seeing him as a father figure. Along the line, somehow, the gods demanded him for sacrifice to purify the land. 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 looked up to Okonkwo for protection. Unfortunately, it was his ‘father’ that drew the sword that killed him. Okonkwo never recovered from the impacts of that misadventure.
Between the relationship of the South East and the PDP and that of Ikemefuna and Okonkwo, the underlining thread is loyalty. For Okonkwo, Ikemefuna went the extra mile in rendering service. For the PDP, the South East has given all it has and has been bearing the brunt for its fidelity to 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. Whether we admit it or not, politics in this part of the world, is breezy and lacks some basic defining principles. If you call it a zero-sum game or winner-takes-all engagement, you may not be entirely wrong. But one thing remains certain – every politics is local. No political party ignores its catchment area without paying a price.
Since the commencement of the present political dispensation in 1999, South East has shown faith to the PDP. From the formative stage of the party when the former Vice-President, the 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 at a time regarded as a fringe player.
To prove its solidarity, in all the elections conducted so far, the zone has returned bloc votes for the party at times, approximating nearly 100 per cent, especially at presidential polls.
For a region that has demonstrated such unprecedented level of fidelity, there is supposed to be a reward. Even in the normal master-apprentice relationship, there is a time for settlement of the latter.
When President Muhammadu Buhari, in faraway London, 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 5 per cent votes with those that gave him 97 per cent support, he was referring to the South East. And he has not looked back in treating the people as strangers to the commonwealth.
So, 2023 presents an opportunity for the PDP to show gratitude to the South East. The party should pick its presidential candidate from the zone as a way of giving it a sense of belonging. There are many reasons why PDP needs to do so.
In 1999, PDP gave the West a shot at the presidency through Olusegun Obasanjo. In 2007, it conceded the slot to the North through the late Umaru Yar’Adua. The South-South had its turn through Goodluck Jonathan. The South East remains the outsider in the game.
Beyond party level, the North had earlier produced Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the first and second republics, respectively. In the days of the military, the North had Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the West had Obasanjo. Except the breezy six-month era of General Johnson Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi, the East has not had any taste of the presidency.
Added to crushing defeat at the 1967-1970 civil war and the poor management of the attendant reconciliation programme, the zone has been at the receiving end of the unfair political system in the country. This is even when the people have exhibited greater commitment in the unity of the country through their expansive interactions and investments in all the geo-political units. The cry of marginalisation, is thus, obvious and resounding.
It behooves the PDP to show the South East that it matters in the scheme of things. If the current managers of the PDP can take a look at the principles guiding the party at is formation on July 29, 1998, they will see reasons to do so. The founding fathers had dreamed of a party that would put the Nigerian nation on a new phase of political engineering.
The long-term vision was to ensure a 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.
PDP’s leadership cannot shy away from this encompassing philosophy or pretend that it does not matter. Good enough, the insinuation of lethargy previously held against the political elite from the South East is being shown to be non-existent. The people are now coming up, forcefully, to make demands from the party. Anyim Pius Anyim, former president of the Senate, has made commendable moves in presenting himself for the race. Industrialist and accomplished pharmacist, Sam Ohuabunwa, has followed suit. There are also whispers that former Anambra governor and the party’s vice-presidential candidate in 2019, Peter Obi, will soon throw his hat in the ring. Others may show up.
No matter what their critics may say, these are men who have proven their mettle in their chosen fields and previous engagements in public office. They deserve attention.
With the South East, PDP, as they say, can go to bed and snore, assured that it has a reliable ally. But that should not be taken for granted this time around. Any attempt to shortchange the zone in 2023 may have telling effects on the party, the same way Okonkwo never recovered from killing Ikemefuna.