Will Edo stand firm for Atiku/Okowa presidential bid?

Truce, a necessity for the opposing groups of the Edo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to behold, is increasingly becoming elusive without regard to the most keenly anticipated 2023 general election.

Interestingly, the infighting, which is between those that defected alongside Governor Godwin Obaseki from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to PDP and the party members that were gallantly holding the fort before the “messiah’s” support crew arrived, is happening in the neighbourhood of Ifeanyi Okowa, the party’s vice presidential candidate.

The protracted crisis rocking the boat of the umbrella party in Edo State started few months after Governor Obaseki was given the mandate to govern the affairs of the state for a second term.

Due to the governor’s avowed and unfeigned determination to carry on with his lofty initiatives for another four years as well as the party’s resolve to return Edo State to his fold, Governor Nyesom Wike, a dogged fighter, an old-timer and strategist with oratorical prowess in the political arena, was chosen to lead Obaseki’s campaign train.

Governor Wike in collaboration with Dan Orbih, his staunch friend and ally, took charge of the 2020 governorship election campaign, went ahead to declare that Edo State would return to PDP and they eventually made good their promises by ensuring Obaseki emerged victorious. But the harmonious relationship between them was short-lived as a result of controversies.

In view of the already mounting electioneering, there are indications that the dispute is now beyond skin-deep as it has snowballed, subsequently led to the emergence of factional candidates for the various legislative positions for the 2023 general elections and culminated to a series of legal suits at the different stages of Nigeria’s court of justice.

Aside the peculiar case in Edo State, there is growing concern about the lingering issue between Governor Wike and Atiku Abubakar, the party’s presidential standard-bearer. Both states – sited in South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria – are strongholds of the umbrella party confronted with certain issues.

In light of Peter Obi’s emergence as the Labour Party’s presidential candidate and with optimism that the votes from the South-East will swing to his direction, the crises within the PDP, according to pundits, constitute a major threat to Atiku’s South-South bulk votes which he intend to garner as he did in 2019 presidential election by defeating his major rival, President Muhammadu Buhari in the zone.

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In the quest to succeed the incumbent president and bid to rescue Nigeria with their five-point agenda, the party’s chances to sweep the board across the south-south region may be long odds as there seems to be no end in sight to the prolonged disagreement between key members of the party.

Seemingly unperturbed by the issues, the party’s presidential candidate, his running mate alongside Udom Emmanuel, chairman of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council and Governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Aminu Tambuwal, Sokoto State governor, Iyorchia Ayu, national chairman of the PDP, Uche Secondus, erstwhile national chairman of the PDP, among other campaign members stormed Edo last Saturday to woo voters.

Speaking during the mega presidential campaign rally at the main bowl of Sam Ogbemudia stadium in Benin City, which was filled to the brim, Atiku said Edo State is for PDP and urged Edo people to stand by him as he navigates to Nigeria’s seat of power.

In his words: “You have seen how the All Progressives Congress (APC) has destroyed this country, destroyed the economy of this country, destroyed educational opportunities and job opportunities. APC is not a party to be supported. Therefore, we call on you to be loyal to PDP and PDP will be loyal to you all.

“By the grace of God, I am here with many leaders of the party, they have done it before. We have seen what Governor Godwin Obaseki has done in Edo State, what Governor Emmanuel Udom is doing in Akwa-Ibom State and what Aminu Tambuwal is doing in Sokoto State. Go to any PDP state, you will see development in education, infrastructure but when you go to any APC controlled state you will not find anything there.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, my fellow people of Edo State, I have come here to make this undertakings and I promise you, we will fulfil our promises”.

Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State governor and the party’s vice presidential candidate, on his part, said with collective efforts, Atiku will get the votes that will make him become president in the forthcoming election.
“We, in the Niger Delta, believe in him and I want to plead to our youths to henceforth convince other youths that the new Nigeria we need is the Nigeria that will create hope for you and I when Atiku Abubakar is president.

“To God be the glory, he has chosen one of us, myself, a son of the South-South, as his running mate. I want to let you know that I am partially from Edo State because my grandmother is from Orhionmwon local government area. I am one of you and together we shall deliver the votes that will enable Atiku become president of this country. By the special grace of God, we will work with the governor and all of you to deliver Nigeria from hunger and insecurity,” Okowa said.

Iyorchia Ayu, national chairman of the party, in his remarks, said the candidates were carefully selected because of their outstanding performances and experiences in governance, urging Nigerians to vote massively for them.

Expressing confidence that the party will emerge victorious in the forthcoming election, Governor Godwin Obaseki said, “Edo is the heart of PDP. Today, we are doing what our leaders did in 1999, when PDP was established, and produced the president at that time.

“Leaders like Late Tony Anenih, leaders like late Sam Ogbemudia, leaders like Gabriel Igbinedion. These are the people who set up PDP in Edo State. They are the foundations of PDP in Edo State, are we going to disappoint them? So, I want to welcome our presidential candidate and our brother from Delta State, who is the vice presidential candidate, Ifeanyi Okowa. This campaign is led by our chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, who is also our inlaw. So, you see, we are PDP.

“We, in Edo state, are ready to do our best to ensure you come out victorious in the presidential election. We will be there for you.

“Whatever it takes, we will work to make you the president of this country. Edo people will ensure that PDP succeeds in the 2023 presidential election. We campaigned for people in their absence in the past and they won. But now you are here today and you will win.

Kenneth Imasuangbon, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party and former governorship aspirant of the party, said Atiku will triumph over other contenders, noting that “In Edo, point-blank, we will win. Our house is not divided and PDP is stronger.”

Although Governor Nyesom Wike, his ilk, including Dan Orbih, South-South national vice chairman of the party, among other top members of the party were conspicuously absent in the rally, Hillary Otsu, Edo State secretary of the party, told BusinessDay that PDP has never lost a presidential election in Edo since 1999.

“PDP remains the party to beat in Edo in 2023. Despite the seeming challenges, it is hoped that a resolution will be reached soon and everybody will come together and work for victory,” Otsu said.

Otsu expressed hope that the governor’s alliance with Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Atiku’s running mate, will help deliver winning votes, saying, “When PDP was in opposition in 2019, we delivered Edo for Atiku. So, I don’t expect the governor to relent.

Speaking on the possible influence of the dispute on the outcome of votes from the south-south, he said: “We expect an amicable and peaceful resolution of the issues. Once that is done, all hands will be on deck to deliver victory in 2023. As for the South-South, it is the home of PDP. The bulk votes will definitely come if the issues plaguing our National Working Committee (NWC) are also resolved pronto.”

Now that Atiku and his party has commenced the journey towards presiding over the affairs of the nation and rescuing Nigeria, will aggrieved members, particularly in Edo State, douse the rising tension to avoid a nail-biting conclusion or dare the age-long trajectory of voting pattern in the state?

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