By Henry Ekpe
On Friday, February 25, 2022, news filtered out that President Mohamadu Buhari has accented to the much- awaited Electoral Act Bill, which is seen by many as the road map to transparent and acceptable Elections in Nigeria.
There was jubilation in the country, as citizens celebrated the news with pump and pageantry.
It was on the heels of this excitement that all the political parties moved into election for the Ngor Okpala State constituency bye-election in Imo State.
In the first place, the seat was occupied by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP through “Hon” Tochi Okereke. However, the Imo House of Assembly, through the Speaker of the House had declared Okereke’s seat vacant citing the constitution which empowers the House to declare a seat vacant, if the member failed to appear in sitting for a particular period of time.
Following this development, the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, declared a Ninety (90) Day grace for all political parties to prepare for the bye-election.
In Imo State, there are three “Known” political parties that the electorate can easily mention when asked.
They are the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA.
Meanwhile, APGA is usually there waiting for those who could not pick tickets in any of the major political parties, or those disgruntled with the outcome of primaries in the major political parties in the State.
Truth be told, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP is very strong in Owerri Zone, because of former Governor, His Excellency, Emeka Ihedioha.
In the 2019 election, Okigwe Zone fell to the fire power of Senator Ifeanyi Araraume of APGA and Orlu Zone was majorly dominated by Action Alliance, AA, with PDP relatively involved. APC did not win any seat.
While PDP cleared all the House of Assembly Seats in Owerri Zone, APGA pocketed Okigwe Zone, AA got majority of the seats in Orlu Zone, with PDP clearing Oru clan and Orlu State constituencies in particular.
Two years after, the Imo State House of Assembly is now dominated by APC Legislators, who however did not win Elections under the APC platform on the field, but through cross- carpeting in the Plenary.
Therefore, at the grassroots, while the PDP remains rooted in places it still has its members presently in the House of Assembly, those of them who defected to APC are still trying to “land” in their various constituencies, as the decisions to move party was mostly taken by the individual politicians in Owerri, leaving their followers out in the communities still rooted where they had been since 2019 election.
In particular Owerri Zone, the place remains a strong hold of PDP even though some of her top sons and daughters have joined the ruling party, APC.
In Okigwe Zone, with Senator Ifeanyi Araraume having a running battle with the sitting Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, and not easily indentified which party he belongs to presently, his followers in Okigwe are gradually tilting towards PDP, which they were in before their son, Araraume dragged them to APGA, and later to APC after the 2019 election.
In Orlu Zone, Governor Uzodinma recently through defection, gained the House of Assembly member from his own constituency. Before now it was PDP seat.
In the same Orlu Zone, Chief Uche Nwosu’s AA shared the spoils with PDP, with AA claiming the majority.
However, all Lawmakers from Orlu Zone, except the one from Orlu constituency, that has returned to PDP after defection to APC, have now ported with APC.
However, the same scenario is playing out in Okigwe Zone where the Lawmakers simply changed parties without actually bringing in the voters in the negotiations.
Although their son, Senator Hope Uzodinma is the incumbent Governor, but most of the hostilities distracting his administration come from his own Zone, Orlu, which political analyst see as not good for Uzodinma and APC.
Apart from that, the sour relationship between Uzodinma and Okorocha has created a situation where both men are losing their followers to PDP, which remains quiet since there is no power tussle within the party.
Therefore, it is right to say that as Uzodinma and Okorocha do battle in APC, it unleashes disarray in the party in Orlu Zone, while Araraume’s recent quietness in Okigwe zone has led most APC members in the Area into confusion taking PDP as the easy route.
But in Owerri zone, PDP remains strong and deep rooted. The peace in the party in the Zone has created a very enabling environment for the party to thrive.
And that strong base was what the APC confronted on Saturday February 26, 2022 bye-election.
As usual, the PDP had hoped for a seamless, peaceful election. But was shocked with what confronted her.
The PDP had campaigned hard; moving from LGA to ward, chapter and House to House campaigns.
The State Party Chairman, Chief Charles Ugwu and his Executive visited all the five Court Areas of Ngor Okpala LGA, where they spent hours to speak to party members on the election, all anchored on transparent and peaceful polls.
Former Governor, Emeka Ihedioha was physically present as the PDP moved to all the Wards to address the electorate.
Therefore, the PDP had just one plan. Go and Vote and protect your votes with your presence.
But their opponents had two options: use dangling of carrots/stomach infrastructure method. If that fails apply Nicolo Mechiavalis option. End justifies the means.
As early as 8 o’clock that Saturday, there was peace as voters trooped out in their numbers.
Indications were clear that PDP was strolling to victory. The exercise continued as voters gulped whatever were presented to them, and yet still went for PDP.
As it approached 1-2pm when votes were about to be counted, the situation changed. It became total bedlam. Chaos and mayhem took over. Invading forces stormed the voting centres with ferocious anger and destruction.
Oh God! I have covered elections since 1999, but I have never witnessed such brigandage.
Since PDP members and voters were not prepared for such mad situation, everybody took to his/her heels for dear life. With life, there is a tomorrow.
He who runs away live to fight another day. It was Nnamdi Azikwe who said that “It is only a mad man that argues with a man with Gun”.
Ngor Okpala PDP members had felt that the election after all, is a communal poll, even though between two political parties. Are the candidates not sons of Ngor Okpala? Why would there be blood bath in Ngor Okpala for just a bye-election?
Well, PDP has enough to learn from the Ngor Okpala war. The major lesson is that the party remains ever strong in the LGA. Even our brothers on the other side know that and it was clear to them. That was why they adopted the “Final Option” than allow votes to be counted.
Two, PDP should not despair. The future is absolutely brighter than before. The party should widen its scope and not allow one-off election, dominated by violence, distract the party. But it should explore all legal and civil means to pursue the bye-election fall-outs.
In 2023, all those who poured into Ngor Okpala will move to their villages across the State to defend their votes. Ngor Okpala will not be a war front again.
This is because elections will simultaneously happen at the same time.
Imo PDP should only appeal to their teeming supporters who voted for them in Ngor Okpala on Saturday, and assure them of protecting their votes next time. Say No to violence and allow the masses make their choice. That will give Nigeria the leaders it deserves.
Henry Ekpe is an Imo -Publisher, wrote from Owerri