Chief Chekwas Okorie, a chieftain of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in this interview with FELIX NWANERI, speaks on the defection of Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and what the development portends for the people of the South-East ahead of the 2023 general election
How would you react to the decision by Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, to dump the Peoples Democratic Party for the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
I followed with keen interest the build-up to the ultimate decision of Governor Dave Umahi to pitch his political tent with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). His statewide consultations and the seven days ultimatum given to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to convene its meeting and zone the party’s 2023 presidential slot to the South-East geopolitical zone by the Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly were deft political moves with admirable wisdom. Nobody expected the PDP with its well established disdain for Ndigbo to spare a thought for the Igbo quest for the presidency of Nigeria on its platform. The PDP from its inception has always taken Ndigbo for granted. Upon the expiration of the ultimatum about five weeks ago, it became clear that a political dispute between the PDP and its teeming members in the South-East has been declared. The implication of this dispute is that the PDP cannot successfully approach any court to challenge any of its elected members from the South- East, who may wish to defect to another party, especially the APC.
Are you saying that other PDP members in the South-East are likely to follow suit?
Governor Umahi has cleared the way for what may soon turn out to be a gale of unprecedented political defections in the South-East in favour of the APC.
The people of the South-East have supported PDP since its formation, what could be responsible for the soured relationship?
The retired and retiring military generals in 1999 converged in Minna the capital of Niger State, and in a grand conspiracy, conceived the idea of influencing the formation of a political party that will provide them the tools to remain in power even if it was by proxy. The PDP in all intents and purposes is the political wing of the retired military cabal that has its operational headquarters in Minna. The emergence of General Olusegun Obasanjo with the shortchanging of Dr. Alex Ekwueme at the Jos convention of the PDP and the corresponding emergence of Chief Olu Falae as the presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party (APP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD) unholy alliance with the shortchanging of Chief Olusola Saraki, were the first signs that the real seat of power of the PDP was in Minna. The fact that there was no federal presence in the South-East since the end of the civil war was an unwritten deliberate policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Minna based cabal ensured that the PDP continued with that wicked policy up until 2015, when the Almighty God intervened in the political leadership of Nigeria through the routing of the PDP leadership and halted the unconscionable alienation of the South- East zone in terms of infrastructural development.
But the belief in some quarters is that the South-East benefited from the PDP administration?
No project of whatever size was ever started and completed by the PDP in the South-East in all of the 16 years it ruled Nigeria. Who would believe that it was the Private Public Power (PPP) project at Ariaria, Aba in Abia State, started by the Buhari administration and commissioned by the President in 2018 that is the first federal project started and completed by any Nigerian government since the war ended in 1970. Please, note that General Buhari was never part of the Minna based cabal. In fact it was the cabal that jailed him and put him out of circulation for a long time. It is also to be noted that a Taraba State born army general who is a chieftain of the cabal was jolted to the reality that he might well be an outsider when the snake that bit Ndigbo only struck him and his kinsmen with its tail. It was at that point that he liberated himself and joined the champions of equity, justice and inclusiveness in the Nigerian federation.
In what ways did the PDP administrations wronged the South-East?
The under-development and subsequent abandonment of the sea and river ports in the Eastern coast lines were part of the deliberate policies of the PDP to annihilate the people of the former Eastern Nigeria, economically, politically and socially. The PDP ought not to have any difficulty in zoning its 2023 presidential ticket to the South-East since it has rotation of the presidency between the North and the South in its constitution.
Is it not too early to start talking about where the ticket for an election that is more than two years away will go to?
But the PDP promptly zoned its 2019 presidential slot in 2015 shortly after the presidential election of the same year. So, my position is that the excuse that it is too early to decide on rotation at this time is dishonest. Any PDP stalwart from the South- East who is genuinely and honestly in support of the much orchestrated clamour for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction must align with the ebullient, courageous, pragmatic and patriotic Governor Umahi of Ebonyi State. Such personalities must stand now to be counted. If the National leadership of the PDP could meet at Abuja to seal the fate of Ndigbo, including dissolving the South-East Zonal Executive of the party without consultation, I do not see the reason, the South-East Caucus of the party should not urgently convene an extraordinary meeting to take their political destiny in their own hands. This is the minimum leadership obligation they owe their members who are obviously confused at this time.
What do you make of issues personal ambition being raised against Umahi by some chieftains of the PDP?
The verbal attack of the ever pugnacious Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike on Governor Umahi for exercising his inalienable right of freedom of association is in absolute bad faith. What does it matter if Governor Umahi aspires to contest for the presidency of Nigeria on the platform of the APC? He is eminently qualified. If he decides to throw his hat in the ring, he will be adding value to the South-East presentation to the party and widen the scope of choice of party delegates at the presidential primary election. Wike’s political leader in the PDP is on record to have defected from PDP to the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) to contest for president. He contested and lost. He joined the APC where he participated in the APC presidential primaries in 2014 and lost. He bounced back to the PDP where he contested the 2019 presidential election and lost again. I understand that he is one of the reasons the South-East PDP is being given a bloody nose right now. Governor Wike is comfortable with such political nomadism while Governor Umahi’s deft political move is giving him nightmare. Wike should grow up. History will be kind to Governor Umahi for calling the bluff of the PDP. He is a true Igbo son. I salute him.