Among the fundamental rights guarantied in section 40 of the amended 1999 Constitution is the entitlement of every Nigerian “to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or other association for the protection of his interests…”
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seems to have circumscribed this right, as exercisable by Governor Dave Umahi to defect to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Suddenly, there’s bedlam from the PDP hierarchy, as if the Ebonyi State governor has committed a crime for deciding to decamp to the APC after hibernating in the PDP for over 20 years.
It’s also resulted in a spat between Umahi and Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, with Wike calling Umahi a “liar” and an “ingrate,” and Umahi labelling Wike a “dictator” and an “interloper.”
But barely six months ago, the PDP, with Wike leading, rolled out the drums to receive Governor Godwin Obaseki when he defected from the APC in the run-up to the governorship poll in Edo State.
Then, to the PDP, it wasn’t that Obaseki was desperate for power, butthattheAPCdidn’ttreathimfairly, fordisqualifying himfromtheprimariesfortheSeptember19,2020election.
Now, the PDP says Umahi is desperate to be president, hence he left the party that made him state chairman (2003-2007); deputy governor (2007-2015); and twoterm governor (2015 till date). But can these PDP top shots show a politician, among the nation’s officeholders/seekers, who wasn’t or isn’t desperate for position and power?
Why should Umahi’s ambition be an exception? Yet, the PDP cleverly side-stepped Umahi’s allegation of “injustice” that the party has done to the South- East, which, since 1999, has voted massively for it, but “the PDP is yet to give reasons why the South-East is unfit for the Presidency.”
That’s the issue on ground, for which Umahi says he’s offering himself as a “sacrificial lamb for the interest of the zone,” and that he may quit politics in 2023, but still be involved in “building support for a presidential candidate of South-East origin.” And how did the PDP respond to Umahi’s weighty submission, as the core reason for his defection to the APC? I
t’s the typical liner from a “peacocky” institution that admits no fallibility! “We are not a party that will be responding to issues on impulse. We are not a party that will be pushed around by any individual. No individual is bigger than the PDP,” boastedtheparty’snationalspokesman, KolaOlogbondiyan. Really? Hasn’t “one individual” been pushing the PDP around lately?
And if it wasn’t rattled by Umahi’s defection, as the PDP chair Prince Uche Secondus, Ologbondiyan and Wike claimed, why the haste to dissolve all party executives in Ebonyi State? Media reports indicate that the PDP “hurriedly” convened an emergency meeting of its National Working Committee (NWC) and dissolved Ebonyi’s ward, council, state and the zonal executives.
Ologbondiyan said “these decisions are pursuant to the powers conferred on the NWC by the PDP constitution,” but the move was said to prevent party officials from defecting along with Umahi.
The fear of a massive defection has gripped the PDP since the news broke that Umahi would decamp to the APC, whose leadership uncommonly helped fuel the “exodus” from the PDP. Afraid of domination, some APC heavyweights in several states had kicked against opposition leaders defecting to the platform. But in Umahi’s case, APC stalwarts, including President Muhammadu Buhari, “have given their blessing to the venture.”
Buhari said of Umahi: “I know people might call him names, but that is the price men of principles have to pay for acting according to their conscience and conviction.”
The PDP leaders had striven to stem Umahi’s defection, engaging him both in Abuja and at Abakaliki, the Ebonyi capital city, but the “most performing governor” in the South-East remained adamant. To limit the impact of his movement to the APC, the PDP worked on its leaders in Ebonyi, especially its caucus members in the National Assembly (NASS), “not to go along with Umahi to APC.”
The members held a press conference in Abuja, to “let Umahi know that we will not abandon PDP because of him,” said Senator Sam Egwu, chair of the caucus and former governor of Ebonyi.
Egwu added: “We remain proud card-carrying members of the PDP… For the sake of clarity, we wish to state that not a single member of the Ebonyi State PDP caucus… is defecting to the APC.” The caucus members even tried to blackmail Umahi.
While conceding his right to join any political association of his choice, they said as lawmakers, they’re aware of the Supreme Court decision that “candidates are products of political parties.” “What it means is that political officeholders are not at liberty to migrate from one political platform to another, particularly when there is no division in their party.” Isn’t that questioning Umahi’s right “to assemble freely and associate with other persons”?
As the PDP licks the wound inflicted on it by the exit of Umahi from its column, the APC is celebrating its addition of Ebonyi State to Imo State, the party’s sole slot since 2013 in the South-East. Ahead of Umahi’s defection, the South-East APC caucus met at the Imo State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, “to brainstorm on strategies for repositioning the party in the zone.”
The caucus leader and Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, said the South-East APC leaders were interested in the reintegration of the zone into mainstream politics.
“We have one governor now, and we are working so that by 2023, we will have five governors,” Onu said, adding, “We have the people and whatever problem we have, we will resolve them.” SpecificallyonUmahi’sdefection, formerSenatePresident Ken Nnamani said: “It is a work in progress. Our party is a moving train. We are ready to pick anybody that wants to join us. We are expecting not only governors but everybody.”
If the APC members’ optimism materialized, it would feed into the prediction of a PDP chieftain and former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, who described Umahi’s defection as “troubling.” Fani-Fayode had tweeted: “I urge the leadership of the PDP to do all they can to ensure that he (Umahi) stays.
Not only is he a profoundly good man and an excellent governor but his contributions to the success of the PDP over the last 20 years at various levels are immeasurable and simply extraordinary.
“What makes the matter worse is that other governors may also contemplate leaving if he does because he has a lot of friends and goodwill amongst them. If that happens, it will affect our party’s chances in the 2023 presidential election in a very significant way.”
Perhaps, an advice coming too little, too late, as Governor Umahi has formalized his departure from the PDP, received into the APC fold, and “presented” to President Buhari by the party’s Caretaker Committee and the Progressives Governors’ Forum in Abuja.
The BIG question, though: Will Umahi’s defection sway the APC to zone the Presidency to the South-East in 2023, and prompt the PDP to toe the same line? It’s a gambit Umahi has taken in exercising his right to assemble freely and associate with whomever he chooses!