Those familiar with politics (and the game of power generally) know that there are no rules; and if there are, these are often flouted. It is a “win or be damned” situation. The opposition is a camp some are just waiting in for the time there will be “vacancies” in the ruling party. There are many things “winners” do that “losers” don’t do: As a winner, you make important political appointments (and terminate them in some cases); you write a book which almost certainly becomes a bestseller; you have guaranteed news coverage on daily basis; you are made guest of (dis)honour at social functions; your community proudly associates with your (“our son’s”) accomplishments; somehow, everyone gets your number and the phones are always ringing. These opportunities elude losers, not only in Nigeria, but everywhere! In Nigeria, one is an unfortunate species if you are in the opposition. Tinubu and Awolowo can tell you their experiences of being in the opposition. Incumbent office-holders are in perpetual campaign mode. You will hear things like, we are holding a “Thank You Rally”, organised by any willing group who can get the administration to provide the funds for this. After winning an election, the victorious party immediately starts planning and campaigning for its re-election bid. The opposition or the challengers make the error of waiting until the “traditional” election season comes to begin their campaign. This is a mistake the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) does not want to make, as it has rolled out its plans not to stay in the opposition for more than four years!

Since PDP does not want to leave anything to chance in challenging the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC), it has become imperative for it to define its opponent, in this case President Muhammadu Buhari, before he gets a chance to define himself. The several appellations, “#TyrantBuhari”, “#BudgetOfYams” and the likes are veiled PDP attempts to define the Buhari administration before it could define itself.

A good political strategy the party can consider using is to be different. This means deliberately choosing a different set of activities, orientations or brand to deliver a unique mix of values, if it is serious about wrestling power from the hard-fighting APC. Is the PDP really ready for this? Let us look at some clues giving by the party that are public knowledge. This writer is not a member of the PDP neither does he flirt with the party.

In one of his interviews with an online news platform, Naij.com, PDP’s (now embattled) spokesman, Chief Olisa Metuh, confirmed that at the next general elections, his party will be fielding a “Northern presidential candidate.” While one fairly understands the logic behind the reported “zoning” of its 2019 presidency to the North as a vote catching tactic, it looks like the party needs its strategists, if they have, to get to work. The fact that APC produced Buhari who won 12 million votes in the region, and ultimately won the election, does not automatically translate into “victory” for PDP if they present say, Sambo Dasuki.

In parenthesis, the same Metuh told the world that “The APC and its leaders fear that Dasuki, given his vast political and security network, may be harbouring a presidential ambition, more so that the PDP has zoned its presidential ticket to the North.” Presenting the great grandson of Uthman Dan Fodio (Dasuki) to challenge Buhari or APC in 2019 may look like a good calculation to win (or divide northern votes), but how “safe” are southern votes for PDP?

Need we remind the PDP that in 2011, Buhari contested on the platform of a largely new (unknown) platform, Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and could still poll over 10 million votes? It takes only Buhari to defeat Muhammadu Buhari in that region with the cult like following he enjoys in the region!

With the reported zoning of its presidency to the North, the party is doing little to show its difference from APC. Nothing in adopting a “northern presidential candidate” shows that PDP is ready to draw a sharp contrast between itself and the ruling APC. There’s only one reason why people vote an incumbent out of office: when they find someone better. You have to present the voters with a better alternative to your opponent. Show them why your candidate is clearly different, and why that difference makes him a superior choice. The party will have a difficult task convincing the typical Northern voter, considering the terrible reputation the PDP has with Northern politicians, especially the insults its members hurled at the APC on African Independent Television (AIT), making it look like being a Northerner was evil during the 2015 electoral campaigns. We keep our fingers crossed to see how the party rebrands its image in the strategic Northern region.

Let me say this for the purpose of analyses that of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, the PDP can only boast of the South-East as being its stronghold for now. The party is fast growing in the reputation of being an “Igbo party” (it was once regarded as an “Ijaw party” though). How long the party can hold on in the South-South is yet to be seen. I say this in the light of the region’s historical romance with the centre. For instance, the region (now comprising Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa States) voted the Hausa-Fulani-dominated National Party of Nigeria (NPN) during the Second Republic (1979-83). Bendel, now Edo and Delta, is historically part of old Western Region, which was largely why they voted for Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) then.

If PDP strategists do a proper diagnosis of its post-presidency era, they should realise the fact that even with a block vote from the South-East, their ambition of staging a comeback into Aso Rock in 2019 remains a pipe dream.

Let us engage in a little speculation about the possible options for the PDP. Let us imagine that Metuh only made a big joke of the possibility of Dasuki emerging as the party’s presidential candidate in 2019. If he were serious, I suspect an easy job in the works for APC strategists, as they will have no problem sleeping soundly through the election season and defeating the PDP at the same time. So lets hope Olisa Metuh made a big joke!

If the party’s strategists are only interested in considerably reducing APC’s and Buhari’s strong showing in the North, it may consider drawing to its side the North-Central geopolitical zone where Buhari has not historically had it so good. In this case, maybe, the party could consider presenting Bukola Saraki, a party protégé in APC. But Saraki will need to first survive the onslaughts of the hard-fighting APC on his position as Senate President.

The South-West remains a battleground where the PDP needs to do more work if it must be taken seriously. The party cannot continue to rely on the votes from only Ekiti, arguably the smallest state in the region. Its leaders in the region are at best uninspiring. The party will need to do a serious rebranding in the zone because of its perceived terrible reputation among the Yorubas. The monumental onslaught or “Tsunami” of 2003, and the bloody 2007 elections in the zone are still fresh in the minds of the region’s voters. Somehow, people still associate the brutal murder of former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige with the party. Though the PDP has persistently denied this, the assassination of the “Cicero of Esa Oke” featured prominently during the 2014 Osun gubernatorial election, with the party doing very little to rub itself of the dirt!

If the PDP is truly serious about getting back to Aso Rock is 2019, it must do some reality check. As things stand, should a presidential election hold today, other things being equal, it has less than 40 percent chance of winning. I say this because, it is not always as easy as “zoning” its presidency to the North, or presenting “a northern presidential candidate”. Had the APC presented any candidate less that General Buhari, even if this were Abubakar Atiku or Rabiu Kwankwaso, it would have been a easy ride for the PDP in the 2015 presidential election. Zoning its presidency to the North is a good move on the surface, but much work remains to be done for the party to recover lost grounds and reconstruct its battered image. There is still a long way to 2019!

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