PDP: A Nigerian disaster-class in failing to “read the room”, By William Uyai Ukpe

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Reading Time: 7 mins read

“If you don’t like the PDP’s decision for the primaries, please leave the party and start yours,” said PDP in 2022, in a collective response by “online operatives” of the People Democratic Party to its loyal voter bloc (the South-South, South-East and Middle Belt) after party members urged that Peter Obi be given the party’s ticket for the 2023 election.

According to INEC, Peter Obi would later go on to win Lagos and Abuja and clear PDP’s traditional voting bloc in the South-East, South-South, and Middle Belt. For the rest of the article, INEC’s figures will not be legitimised as the Election’s Online Portal was “switched off” during the collation.

2015 Never Happened if We Don’t Talk About It

The year is 2014, and Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the first president from Nigeria’s Niger Delta region (responsible for 90 per cent of the country’s export revenues), was left isolated after members of his own party (PDP), including the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, joined forces with a coup plotter and an ex-Military Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, who had also acquired a reputation in the 1980s for being one of Nigeria’s worst leaders, in terms of economic capacity. Atiku stated his reason for mending fences with someone who would go on to do his absolute best to blow up Nigeria’s economy, was a refusal of Goodluck Jonathan to respect the party’s regional rotation policy.

Looking back, all Atiku had to do was wait for Jonathan to complete his second tenure and be the prime candidate to replace him in 2019, because the only other option was making Muhammadu Buhari president, which was a luxury, as time showed, that Nigeria could not afford.

In the months leading to the 2015 election, the only support the then PDP president, Jonathan, had left was his party’s loyal voting bloc (the South-South, South-East, and Middle Belt, which also includes the Federal Capital Territory). In fact, due to his Igbo middle name, “ Ebele”, Nigerians from the South-East region ended up being vilified by their own people for voting for a man from the South-South region. Essentially, 2015 is expected to be looked back on and studied by Political Scientists as a textbook example of “intellectual suicide bombing.”

A few months before the 2015 election, Buhari had also threatened Nigerians (the dog and baboon comment) if the elections were rigged. It came as no surprise that making him the president was one of the worst things to happen in democratic Nigerian history.

By 2019, Atiku Abubakar, a man who not only abandoned the PDP in 2015 but played an important role in Buhari winning his region (the North-East), returned to the PDP. However, the damage had been done. The PDP bloc, despite voting for him, did not defend their votes from him through turnout, and as was expected, he lost.

Anyone paying attention then knew the PDP needed a different face, someone who did not remind its voting bloc of the betrayals of 2015, a lesson clear to everyone except the PDP and its subordinates. This was the beginning of the PDP’s battles with its own bloc in terms of presidential elections. A party that fails to listen to its own members will collapse under the weight of its own hubris (hallucinations), lesson number one.

2019, the VP Candidate

Atiku’s return in 2019 was politically and culturally aided by his vice presidential candidate, the former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi. However, the importance of picking Obi seemed lost on the PDP itself.

By 2015, when Atiku and others left the Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi remained loyal and served in economic-related roles in GEJ’s government. He was one of the few “elder statesmen” that the PDP’s voting bloc saw with their own eyes standing for their own interests. By 2019, despite the support for Atiku in the South-South and South-East, it clearly wasn’t enough to defeat Buhari due to a peculiar issue: low voter turnout.

It is not a coincidence that two years after the 2019 election, while Obi himself still aligned himself politically with the PDP, it was members of the voting bloc that urged him to run for the presidency (two years before the 2023 verdict). After the 2019 election, Peter Obi was also, if not the politically accessible opposition to Buhari’s government, in the eyes of PDP’s voting bloc, he was “Mr PDP”, a fact obvious to everyone except PDP itself – an indictment on the party’s capacity to visualise its own future and stay grounded in its own reality.

Anyone paying attention to this point would have realised that if Atiku could not command high voter turnout in PDP’s bloc, it was up to the party’s leaders to prioritise representation that would maximise and ensure voter turnout, another lesson evident to everyone except the PDP.

Phase Condescension: 2022

A year before the 2023 elections, one thing was obvious: many young Nigerians, especially in the South, would be voting for the first time, and those young Nigerians would vote for someone who was “visible” to them because, in free and fair elections, Nigerians would not vote for who they had no trust in.

Atiku inspired none of those qualities. Reminder: This was also in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests, a period when young Nigerians in the digital age learnt how to organise themselves politically in the most decentralised way possible. (It should not come as a shocker that the Obidient movement is also “decentralised,” another lesson that was obvious to everyone except the People Democratic Party.)

It was natural that young Nigerians eager to vote wanted the party they saw their parents vote for and selected the candidate who shared their economic interests. However, the People’s Democratic Party told those same young Nigerians off.

To rephrase: In an era when young Nigerians learnt for the very first time how to politically organise themselves with technology, the PDP used its social media infrastructure as a vehicle of condescension. Some party-affiliated strategists went as far as telling first-time voters off, basically, “Party supremacy over the interest of our voting bloc.”

What could possibly have gone wrong?

Obi Won’t Secure 500,000 Votes, and the G5

A few days before the PDP’s primaries in 2022, Peter Obi dropped his membership of the Peoples Democratic Party after it became clear that the party delegates would not pick him. In true condescending fashion, the party’s loyalists bragged that, “Peter Obi won’t get up to five hundred thousand votes,” making it clear and obvious that the PDP did not care about its voting bloc.

The PDP strategy became clear to anyone paying attention at this point, essentially expecting its Southern bloc to “blindly vote” who the party picked and also expecting to ride on Atiku’s Northern identity, a strategy which the PDP had never tried post-2015 and it suddenly expected to work in 2023.

To make matters worse, the two most prominent governors in the Peoples Democratic Party (Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Wike of Rivers State) were, for whatever reasons, openly flirting with the APC’s candidate, and somehow the PDP did not see this as a problem, instead the online “brownshirts” who months earlier had said they did not need Obi or the South-East, spent the remaining few months leading to the election, seeking the validation of the same people they told off. Up until now, Makinde still trolls Atiku, and Wike has actually taken a position in the APC cabinet, but both men are still PDP members and have not as much as been criticised by the PDP online brownshirts, talk less of being reprimanded by their party. Party discipline is in the mud. Again what could possibly have gone wrong?

From the perspective of the party’s traditional voting bloc, first-time voters witnessed directly and indirectly that the party still NEEDED them (obviously), but clearly, the party did not care enough to listen to who they were ready to vote for. Again what could possibly have gone wrong?

How to Fumble a Voting Bloc through Igbo-phobia

By January 2023, a month before the 2023 election, it became obvious that the PDP had no national strategy that its traditional base could “relate with”, whilst the G5 governors led by Nyesom Wike had made it clear that they were on APC’s side. The Peoples Democratic Party spent more energy insulting Peter Obi than fixing its house.

Some prominent members of the party went as far as claiming Peter Obi as an “Igbo Christian President” (a prominent dog whistle used against Goodluck Jonathan’s Ijaw Christian identity), and some even went as far as claiming Peter Obi’s votes were “IPOB motivated.”

Anyone paying attention to Nigerian politics since 2015 should have realised by now that geopolitically, the South-South, South-East and Middle Belt are “the same bloc.” Secondly, publicly smearing someone (Obi) who was and still is politically respected in these parts of Nigeria gave a very bad look, another evident lesson that was clear to everyone except the PDP, making it obvious that the party could not read the room because they had plucked out their own eyes.

It’s the Obidients’ Fault

By the time the 2023 presidential election came, APC lost Nigeria’s two most urban centres (Lagos and Abuja), and the votes did not go to PDP, but obviously Obi had them.

Anyone paying attention up to this point realised why Obi won Lagos and Abuja, well except the PDP, of course, and their acolytes have promptly gone on a public defamation campaign against the youngest voting bloc in Nigeria, blaming them for Tinubu’s victory, thereby legitimising an election that did not even tally with the PDP’s own data collation (according to the PDP’s own data, Obi won Lagos with a much wider margin than was announced).

Meanwhile, between the announcement of the 2023 result to now, Obi has become the face of Nigeria’s opposition, using the internet as a medium to reach out to his followers and even scolding the Tinubu regime on its policy missteps (which they have reversed, including some recent FX import duties with Customs), and talking about the country’s kidnap crisis, with more than 4,000 people kidnapped since 29 May, 2023, according to SBM Intelligence. Meanwhile, for the PDP, it is a daily and constant harassment campaign towards first-time Nigerian voters, blaming 18 to 23-year olds who voted for the first time for their defeat. Again, what could possibly go wrong?

Hard Work for 2027

Like most people who come from families that have voted PDP since 1999 but voted Obi in 2023, it is best to ignore the PDP as a nationalist party because blaming us for your refusal to read the room is genuinely not worth responding to most times. Secondly, Nigeria has much more important and pressing issues than the egos of strategists.

However, Peter Obi still has a lot of work to do. While he communicates with his voters because they see him as a representation of the kind of leader they want, Obi still needs to continue reaching out to moderate Muslims in Nigeria with a proper big tent approach, stating his economic ideology through fighting insecurity to combat food inflation is a good start, but much more needs to be done by talking to different blocs. A good start for Obi could be the Kwankwasiya movement in Kano (any talk of political merging has to be done with personalities who command actual voting blocs).

As for the PDP, if their members are more obsessed with sounding correct and logical, than listening to their voting bloc, they should ask Jeremy Corbyn and Mitt Romney how thisworked out for them. Optics matter in elections. Winning an election and governance requires two unique skills. Communication is the most critical commodity required, and if the PDP fails to learn how to communicate with its traditional voters, it means that on the federal level, the party might be heading for its own extinction, unless a drastic change happens in communication.

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