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Umahi, the political asylum seeker

“Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; others change their principles for the sake of their party” – Winston Churchill

Your guess may be as good as mine in trying to figure out where Governor Dave Umahi’s Tuesday defection from his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) fits into the above quotation from one of the World’s finest minds, Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister of Britain.

If you knew Ebonyi State capital, Abakaliki, 10 years ago and you go there now and you’re a lover of development, you cannot but fall in love with Governor Umahi, the man behind the transformation of Ebonyi State.

His critics have tried to water down his achievements by saying that he is the sole contractor of all projects in the state but that’s not the issue, what of the ones who spreads their contracts and end up not doing the work? I think for the ordinary people of Ebonyi State rather than not see the project done and the contract spread, let him do the work and be the contractor.

This position certainly does not justify the abuse of privileges inherent in a governor being a contactor of the same job he awards. But there is always less unpleasant of two possible and difficult choices.

When your choice is of two evils, you go for the lesser one. Governor Umahi has been a critical player in the Ebonyi State politics since this democratic dispensation began in 1999. First he was the state chairman of the PDP from where he became the chairman of the all-powerful forum of PDP state chairmen. It was from that position that he migrated to become the Deputy Governor of Ebonyi for eight years under Governor Martin Elechi regime.

To help you understand the political sagacity of this man, he is the first deputy governor in Nigeria’s political history who made it to the governorship position even while being opposed by his boss in the same party.

The very few deputy governors who eventually made it to the throne had the support of their bosses. But in the case of Umahi he successfully outwitted his own man and upturned the party structure the governor was controlling to his favour. This to a great extent shows the ingenuity and the Machiavellian character of the man under review who is not afraid of taking hard decisions especially when his ambition is involved.

Umahi lately started trending in political news for some strange romance going on between him and the ruling APC, and in particular President Muhammadu Buhari. It’s still baffling to political watchers how somebody in the South-East will contemplate leaving PDP to APC, a journey akin to jumping from frying pan to fire. Since 1999, one political party, the PDP, has been winning elections in Ebonyi State.

Other parties have tried to make impact to no avail. By his political antecedents since 1999, Umahi remains one of the biggest beneficiaries from the PDP platform in his state. This is the man who now has dumped the party while occupying the gubernatorial seat he got on the platform of the party.

If politics is a place where morals count, Umahi would be categorized among those who has sinned and found wanting in his political decision. But politics is no religion. In it, interest more than anything is the guiding principle. Governor Umahi says President Buhari is his father and that his move is a protest against marginalization, that he is running away from injustice but could not say how his ‘father’ has helped to alleviate if not aggravate the marginalization and the injustice.

Strangely, Umahi feels his bread would be better buttered under the ruling APC notwithstanding the poor electoral strength of the party in his state and in the region. The governor in arriving at this bizarre political decision is said to be relying on his friendship with the President. But looking at the issue pragmatically, Buhari’s political friendship is not cashable cheque in the bank? It is not a bird in hand going by antecedents.

Would it not be a huge political upset if Buhari endorses an Igbo to succeed him as President in 2023? A man who did not find you worthy to occupy any sensitive security position, in military or para-military suddenly will prefer you who is just coming into his party to be the Commander-in- Chief in his life time.

If it happens it would be an accident even though former American President Franklin Roosevelt tells us that “in politics, nothing happens by accident”. But it would also be nice to note that Umahi is not the first political friend of the President, Senator Ibikunle Amosun was Buhari’s long-time ally whom he relied on, he was unable to pick his successor in the party in Ogun State because Buhari could not help him.

Tinubu the politician from neighbouring Lagos State did. Ditto Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. Governors Akinwunmi Ambode and Godwin Obaseki of Lagos and Edo states respectfully also relied on their friendship or promise from the President for their second term ticket in the party, they were unable to get it. These were the people whose people even voted for him, talk less an Ebonyi man whose people voted 98% for PDP. (disregarding the doctored 25% game in 2019).

One had thought that Umahi was too smart and experienced to indulge in such political summersault. If Umahi’s interest is really about Ndigbo as he claims in his reason for the move, shouldn’t it have been more logical and sensible to stay put where he already enjoys strength than go where he would be treated like an asylum seeker. Even worse is the fact that in the asylum camp where he is headed, lunatics are overrunning it ahead of 2023.

I quiet understand Governor Umahi’s frustrations, that the standard already set by Peter Obi among his competitors within the PDP in the region might be too herculean but it still makes sense to stay with your people and achieve the Igbo target together than go choosing an underdog status. We are aware that many Nigerians had ran away from a free Nigeria preferring to be in asylum camp in Europe, but in that circumstance, they hope to jump out from the camp for the better in a short time. The scenario here is dissimilar.

We recall that the emergence of Obi as the Vice Presidential candidate of the PDP in 2019 created some disquiet in the South-East region particularly in Ebonyi State for obvious reasons, but it ended up being the best choice in the circumstance.

That Anambra State where Obi governed for eight years gave PDP the highest vote in the region despite being controlled by another party in the state says a lot. The refusal of Obi’s image to diminish ever since underscores it that Atiku Abubakar couldn’t have made a better choice.

That a sizable congregation of Nigerians irrespective of party, religion, sex and geography are still saying well of the same Obi gives kudos to Atiku. Early this year Obi was elected Governor of the Decade by THISDAY Board of Editors because of a yet to be matched governance record he left behind in Anambra State and in the country. Political pundits examining Umahi’s move are fearing that it’s capable of undermining the chances of Ndigbo to present a strong voice for the Presidency in the two main political parties in 2023, the APC and PDP either as President or the Vice President.

Even though Umahi’s move will not enjoy the electoral following because the people in their republican nature hardly play along with their leaders when decision is selfish as it seems in this case, but nationally, APC will be claiming to have two states in the South-East while what would be left of PDP although still viable electorally will look deflated structurally with only two states of Enugu and Abia states. As the political shuffling rages ahead of 2023, voters in both APC and PDP, in the South-East and other regions of the country are waiting and watching to see if the Umahi’s move is yet another strife of private interest masquerading as a fight for the people.

But before you begin to feel despondent and distraught about the whole issue let me leave you with this consoling words from American writer and political commentator, Walter Lippmann who says “before you can begin to think about politics at all, you have to abandon the notion that there is a war between good men and bad men. If six and half a dozen means the same thing, why kill yourself for a politician. For the PDP I admonish them not to discountenance all Umahi have said about justice for Ndigbo in the party even though their matter in Nigerian political space has become like the proverbial wrestler already on ground and fears no further falls. God help us.

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