2023: Umahi’s defection and Igbo presidency

[By Collins Ughalaa, Owerri]

Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State has stuck to his guns as he, on Tuesday, November 17, defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Umahi

He told journalists in Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State, that he had no regrets leaving the PDP, adding that he had no deal with the APC or any member of the party with regards to zoning of the presidential ticket to the Southeast.

He said: “I offered this movement as a protest to injustice being done to Southeast by the PDP. Since 1999 the Southeast have supported the PDP. At a time the five states were all PDP. One of the founding members of the PDP was from Southeast, the late former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. It is absurd that since 1999 going to 2023, the Southeast will never be considered to run for presidency under the PDP. And this is my position and will continue to be my position. It had nothing to do with me or my ambition”.

Umahi, the incumbent Governor of Ebonyi State, gave fillip to the discourse on the Igbo presidency project on Wednesday, November 11, 2020, when he told the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP led by the party’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus, that he was leaving the party for the APC. He was reported to have made the comment during a meeting with the PDP NWC at the Ebonyi State Lodge in Abuja. Many pundits said that the Abuja meeting was one that required frank discussion as it was not a tea-party but an opportunity for all in the meeting to bare their mind on the very critical issue. The Governor was reported to have told his guests that unlike the PDP, the APC would protect the interest of Ndigbo in the 2023 elections.

Umahi is the Chairman of the Southeast Governors’ Forum. Born on January 1, 1964, he became the Acting Chairman of the Ebonyi State chapter of the PDP in 2007 and later served as the substantive State Chairman of the party from 2009 to 2011. He became the Chairman of the Governing Board of the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, for one year during the period. In 2011 he emerged the Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State on a PDP joint ticket with Chief Martin Elechi, and on April 12, 2015 he was elected the Executive Governor of the state, amidst tough political battle. Umahi was re-elected Governor, polling 393,343 votes, in March 2019.

It is not clear what Umahi meant by saying that the APC would protect the interest of Ndigbo in the 2023 presidential election, but we assume he believes that the APC would zone its presidential ticket to the Southeast in 2023. If this is true, it holds huge promise for Ndigbo to actualize their dream of producing the president of Nigeria. “Since 1999, PDP has been in control in Ebonyi and other states in Southeast, yet the party has not found one person worthy of flying its flag and we don’t even have any hope that it would happen soon”, said Engr. Elias Mbam, Chairman of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), who applauded Umahi’s decision.

Some had suggested that Umahi was merely playing politics and looking after his own interest. Some said particularly that he is also eyeing the presidency in 2023. Yet others said he was engaging in arm-twisting, and that power is not given but taken. Our answers, without holding brief for Umahi, is that he is first and foremost a politician and no one should be surprised when he plays politics. We add that the presidential election is not a religious or social event. It is political, and discussions around it should be political. Nothing in the books bars Umahi from looking after his own interests in politics, or elsewhere. If he wants to run for the presidency in 2023, he is eminently qualified to do so. We further add that arm-twisting and negotiation are all legitimate political tools. A politician must be strong enough to arm-twist his opponents and smart enough to negotiate.  

Many Igbo people do not understand why the PDP cannot give its presidential ticket to Ndigbo. A newspaper report quoted an anonymous source to have supported Umahi’s defection, saying: “Election is like warfare and all is good in any war. Since the PDP has deliberately refused to zone its presidential ticket to the zone, the Igbo will go with any political party that panders to its interest.

Check out since 1999, the Southeast has been a backbone of the PDP and nothing to show for it…South-south has produced the President of Nigeria in the person of Goodluck Jonathan, Olusegun Obasanjo from the Southwest was president on the platform of the PDP for eight years. The Northwest has had it in late Umaru Yar’Adua; and though he did not win, the Northeast produced the presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 general election. Something has to be done to the Southeast for its massive support to the PDP”.

Umahi’s defection had already generated the needed discussion within the PDP, amidst fears that some other governors may join him to the APC. According to reports, the National Working Committee of the PDP had called for an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting on Thursday, November 19, at the National Secretariat of the party, Wadata Plaza, Abuja, to look into the issue of Umahi’s defection.

The NEC meeting, the report added, was planned to hold after the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party might have met on Wednesday, November 18. Other stakeholders of the PDP have also expressed the fear that Umahi’s exit from the PDP is ominous. Popular politician and commentator, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, had described Umahi’s exit from the PDP as troubling.

He said: “I urge the leadership of the PDP to do all they can to ensure that he stays. Not only is he a profoundly good man and an excellent governor, 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. Again, I call on the National Chairman and the NWC of our great party to do all they can to keep Umahi on board.”

The PDP seems not to have harkened to pleas from Fani-Kayode, as the party had earlier on Tuesday, said it would not acquiesce to Umahi’s demand.

Speaking through its Spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, during a programme on Arise TV on Tuesday morning, the party said it was too early to zone its presidential ticket, even as the party expressed the hope that Umahi would not leave the party. “PDP is a structured party. We have not reached the stage of zoning of offices”, said the party.

Umahi’s defection to the APC reminds one how on November 26, 2013, the PDP lost some of its governors and other chieftains to the APC, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

It has been argued that the defection of the PDP chieftains to the APC contributed to the party’s loss of the presidency in 2015.

Former Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who led the pack had explained that he joined the APC because his state, Rivers State, had suffered neglect under the Jonathan administration, adding that part of the decision to join the APC was because the issues raised by G7 governors were not resolved by President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP.

“Yes, we have joined APC after the meeting we had with Buhari, Tinubu and the interim Chairman of APC. The governors met on Monday and decided that we must meet with the APC leadership and when we met with the APC leadership, it was important we took a position and the position we took is for the good of our democracy and to ensure that Nigeria moves forward. We can’t continue the way we are, where we are. The picture painted by the PDP was as if we were begging to come back to PDP, and issues were not being looked into, issues were not being resolved and it’s important that we resolve it one way or the other,” Amaechi said.

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