Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Dave Umahi’s last week defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) heightens tension for 2023 presidential election. Is it actually Igbo presidency project or something else that drove him to the ruling party? ONYEKACHI EZE writes
After weeks of speculations and denials, Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, last Tuesday, finally left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where he had been elected twice, to the All Progressives Congress (APC). He gave as his reason the “injustice” in his former party to the people of South-East zone.
Umahi had been linked with APC since his first term in office. As a matter of fact, he boasted in January this year that he was the only person who belonged to both PDP and APC. He told members of the PDP planning to defect to APC that he was “100 per cent APC.
“If you say you are there (APC), know I am already there. If you go to APC, I am an APC member. If you go to PDP, I am there. “I am the only person that does antiparty and nothing will happen. Any other person that does anti-party is gone. So, I am representing you in APC while you all stay in PDP. If you like, go and write it in the social media.” Different interpretations have been given as possible reasons for the governor’s defection.
One of them is that he was promised APC ticket for the 2023 presidential election. The governor always flaunted his friendship with President Muhammadu Buhari and had threatened to sack any of his aides who criticised the President. Therefore, it is being speculated that Buhari has promised to handover to him in 2023. Another reason is that Umahi may be looking for protection after he leaves office.
The statement by PDP shortly after the news of his defection hit the airwaves was pregnant with meaning. The statement, which was signed by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan reads: “The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) says that the Governor of Ebonyi State, Engr. Dave Umahi, left our party for personal reasons, which Nigerians will come to know at the fullness of time.
“Our party thanks Governor Umahi for services rendered to the people of Ebonyi State, as the State Chairman of Ebonyi PDP (2003 to 2007); deputy governor of Ebonyi State (2007 to 2015) and two term governor of Ebonyi (2015 till date), all elected on the platform of the PDP. “As we wish Governor Umahi all the best in his adventure, we call on the members of our party to remain calm and committed to the ideals of our party as no individual is bigger than the PDP.”
But the governor maintained that his defection was in protest against injustice by the PDP against the South East, the zone, which he said, had remained faithful to PDP and voted for its candidates in the present dispensation.
He said: “Since 1998, the people of the South-East have supported PDP in all elections; at a time the five states in the South-East were all PDP. “One of the founding members of PDP, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the late former Vice President, is from the South- East, so it is absurd that since 1998 going to 2023, the South-East will never be considered to run for presidency under the ticket of the PDP.
“It is very absurd and this is my position and it will continue to be my position, it has nothing to do with me. I am not driven by selfish interests, but because we need to protest against marginalisation.
We have benefited more from the APC government. I didn’t start this protest today. I have no regrets in my decision to join the APC. In life, you have to be courageous. “I want to clear the air that I didn’t ask for PDP’s presidential ticket and I will not.
So, anybody saying that I have gone to the APC because PDP didn’t zone its presidential ticket to me is being mischievous because even if PDP promises an individual the presidential ticket, how does it work when over 8,000 delegates will be electing the persons and such promise cannot happen with about 10 or 20 people?
“So, people are being very mischievous about that. Some people said I was promised this and that before joining APC, there was no such discussion. APC never promised me any position; they never promised the South-East any position, and there was no such discussion.
I want to clear the air that I didn’t ask for PDP presidential ticket and I will not. “The point is very simple. In 2023, I would have been in PDP for between 24 years and the South-East never really supported APC the way they are supporting PDP.
“And by 2023, they (APC) would have been eight years in office. I believe that APC is amenable to working with the South-East from all indications.
The party is amenable and I also believe that until we ensure justice and equity in this nation, it will be difficult for Nigeria to make progress.” Umahi is the Chairman of South- East Governors’ Forum. The forum has been speaking in one voice on issues affecting the zone.
For instance, the forum together with Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural and political association of the Igbo, met on the issue of security for the region and took a common position.
This time, it is not known if the ultimatum given to PDP to zone its 2023 ticket to the South-East was a common position of the governors. PDP was in control of three out of five South-East states before Umahi’s defection.
None of the two state Houses of Assembly has issued the ultimatum to the party like the Ebonyi Assembly.
PDP caucus in the National Assembly from Ebonyi State, Umahi’s state, which distanced its members from the governor’s action, said it considered the ultimatum by the state Assembly as “impolitic, indecent and unwise,” even though it supported the demand for PDP to zone its 2023 presidential ticket to South-East.
Former governor of the state, Senator Sam Egwu who spoke on behalf of the caucus, however distanced caucus members from Umahi’s defection.
“Indeed if there is any person who should remain eternally grateful to the PDP, that individual ought to be the Governor David Umahi, a man who was appointed the state Chairman of the PDP, made deputy governor of the PDP administration and was elected for two terms under the banner of the PDP as governor, his younger brothers were elected to principal offices of the PDP; one Austin Umahi as the South-East zonal Chairman of the PDP and another Mr. Maxwell Umahi as the deputy state Chairman of the PDP .
Ebonyi State has three senators and five House of Representatives members, and none of them is following Umahi to APC. At least, two of his cabinet members have voluntarily resigned their appointments instead of following him to his new party.
Some members of the state House of Assembly have also refused to join him PDP has also defended the accusation of injustice against the South-East leveled against it by the governor.
The party noted that the region has produced five Presidents of the Senate on its platform; Deputy President of the Senate for 12 years; Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives for four years; Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF); two National Chairmen of the party; Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff; Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor; Finance Minister (twice); Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); and a vice presidential running mate.
On the other hand, South-East has consistently accused the APC of marginalising it in its government. Apart from certain policies of the Federal Government against the region, the people of the South-East have not forgiven President Buhari for the army massacre of unarmed Igbo youth in 2017 and other clampdown thereafter.
The people and their leaders have declared APC as Igbo hater. For now, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said Buhari will not handover to an Igbo man when his tenure ends in 2023, as claimed by Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha.
Also, former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode said even though Buhari picked his running mate on two occasions from South-East, that does not mean he loves Igbo people but because he was looking for their votes.
“Next, you will say he has Igbo ministers in his cabinet forgetting that the constitution compels him to give each state in the country, including the Igbo ones, at least one minister. “He has not done the Igbo any favour by giving them ministers or making their sons his running mate twice because that is their due.
They are entitled to it and their votes and support was badly needed. “You say that Buhari loves the Igbo yet his security forces and military have killed and locked up more Igbo leaders and youths and marginalised more Igbos at the federal level more than any other Nigerian president or head of state since the civil war.
“He loves Igbos so much that he has not arrested or prosecuted any of the well-armed, well-funded and well-organised Fulani militants and herdsmen that have gone into Igbo land in the last two years and killed thousands of people, burnt their homes, and stolen their land.
“He loves the Igbo so much that out of the two key positions that have been given to southerners in the President’s team in the villa not one of them has gone to an Igbo despite the fact that the Igbos constitute such a large number of people in the South.
“All the numerous other key positions in the villa are in the hands of northerners and only two key posts were given to southerners. Of the two none was given to the Igbo. Is that love for the South and particularly the Igbo or is it contempt and disdain?
“This sort of ethnic domination and northernisation of the villa has never happened before and it is shameful. I worked in the villa for three years and I know how it works and how things are usually balanced between North and South and the six zones. “But this is not the case under Buhari.
For him only two key positions in the villa, that of Femi Adesina who is Special Adviser on Media and who is from the South-West and Ita Enang, who is Special Adviser on the National Assembly and who is from the South- South, are the only southerners in key positions in Buhari’s presidency.”
No Igbo man is good enough for him to put in a key position in the presidency and the popular refrain amongst his inner circle and his little cabal is that Igbos cannot be trusted. Everyone knows this. They don’t like southerners generally and they despise the Igbo particularly.
“The Igbo that are in the APC that do not know all this and that cannot appreciate the shameful and primitive disposition of Buhari and his inner circle are simply ignorant or deluded or both,” Fani-Kayode said. Umahi said APC “never promised the South-East any position” in 2023, neither has PDP foreclosed ceding its presidential ticket to the zone.
In fact, it was gathered that PDP NWC who met with him in Abakaliki a week before his defection explained to him why the party could not zone its 2023 ticket now. So why has he concluded that the PDP has denied South-East its presidential ticket in 2023?
The party said the main reason why Umahi left for PDP would be revealed in the nearest future. The National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus told the National Executive Committee (NEC) members last Thursday that Umahi used the alleged injustice against the South East to blackmail the party. “We have refused to join issues with him in any way but we cannot bow to any blackmail.
What I can report to NEC is that the strength of our party in Ebonyi State and South-East is intact and the NWC has taken necessary steps to protect and guard it. The real reason that informed the decision will be exposed soon,” Secondus added.
Though PDP did not say what becomes of its mandate Umahi took to APC, the statement by Ebonyi State caucus in the National Assembly is enough warning to the governor to prepare for the challenge ahead.
The caucus said in its press conference: “As democrats, we concede Chief Umahi’s rights to join any political association of his choice.
However as federal lawmakers, we are not unaware of the Supreme Court decision that candidates are products of their political parties. “What it means is that political office holders are not at liberty to migrate from one political platform to another, especially when there is no division in their party.”
It is not known how many state House Assembly lawmakers are joining him in APC. What PDP had done was to dissolve its zonal and state executive committees in Ebonyi State. This, according to Chairman of PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jibrin, is to secure the party’s structure against hijack by APC.
Umahi’s brothers held important positions in the dissolved committees, and they did not attend last week’s NEC meeting where important decisions concerning Umahi’s defection might have been taken.
National Assembly Ebonyi caucus welcomed the dissolution, and two leaders of the party in the state, former President of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim, and former governor, Senator Sam Egwu, attended the NEC meeting.
Ohaneze has not made public statement on Umahi’s defection and his claim of injustice against the South-East. The coming weeks may be interesting ones, but for now, APC shares the same number of governors with the PDP in South-East, an indication of a form of balance of power.