By Ejike Anyaduba
Recently the media was awash with calls on Senator Victor Umeh to contest the Anambra Central Senatorial election which is slated to be held sometime in February 2023. The calls were from Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Anambra Central Stakeholders, Political groups, Student Groups among others. All the groups without exception urged Umeh to contest the central senatorial district election, insisting that he has what it takes to offer the zone, Anambra state and indeed ndi Igbo, quality representation currently lacking in the National Assembly.
Ordinarily, calling out a politician to contest political office does not have to elicit public attention for obvious reasons. One is that many politicians are called out daily and a lot more have been called out previously. Two is that it neither indemnifies against failure nor guarantees for electoral success. At best, it is mere decorative appendage of the political process.
However, the call on Senator Umeh is different. Apart from having a ring of importunate demand for a voice that was lost to political indifference, it was to din the urgency of a change in representation into the minds of those who have seized it to selfish advantage. Though detractors have started fighting to whittle down its importance by insinuating that it was contrived, but its message of reintroducing a strong voice into the upper chamber of the national assembly will take some beating.
It is doubtful if those who made the call on Senator Umeh to contest the senatorial seat did not think through their action or that it was a flippant exercise. Umeh’s brief, but momentous outing in the 8th senate still resonates with the people. The nostalgic memories of his robust contributions more than anything else compelled the demand for his return.
Everybody who appreciates the political situation in Nigeria and especially that of the southeast zone will very easily jump at any effort to have Umeh return to the senate. The brilliance of his argument on the floor of the senate, particularly the one of December 11, 2018, against the lopsided presidential nomination into the board of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), forced the Bawa-led anti-corruption commission to admit not just representative of the south-east zone, but also of the south-south zone.
Until his effort, the anti-corruption commission and many other federal boards were comfortable operating without the southeast – a major stakeholder in the Nigerian project. It bears repeating here how he constructively engaged the drop-the-gun-order issued to the vigilantes by the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris and won. The turn-in order which came in the wake of the Fulani herders/farmers clash was not just insensitive, but lacked prudence. Umeh’s argument was that such order will expose the vulnerable to more carnage and will hurt the security architecture of his own state. His argument was unassailable and that forced the federal government to drop the idea.
Sadly, Umeh’s absence in the senate did not take long to be noticed. The Electoral Amendment Bill seeking to adopt electronic transmission of election results was to expose the void his absence created. While almost every senator on the ticket of the All Progressives Congress voted against the Bill, those representing Anambra state that were expected to vote for it absented. As important as the Bill, some of them chose that day to attend a burial ceremony while others disappeared. But for the public outcry against the rejection of the Bill, the electronic transmission of results would have gone the way of many popular bills that were dropped out of the selfishness of our representatives. Although a vote from Umeh would not have changed much as there was big gap between the 28 who voted in favour and the 52 who voted against, but it would have depleted the 28 who absented and gave confidence to the constituency that sent him.
The argument of those with little knowledge of the responsibilities of a legislator, and who wish the status quo to remain, is that the present representative of the central senatorial district has attracted constituency projects. That may be true. But so did Senator Umeh, even more. In his 17 months in the senate he attracted a total of 68 projects and offered 76 university scholarships which he still sponsors till date. Between the period 2018 and 2019, he attracted projects worth N1.34 billion. In 2018 alone, he attracted projects worth N800 million, about N534 million in excess of the N266 million the constituency was entitled to. While 2019, saw him attract another N540 million-worth of projects as against N266 million the state should get.
Unarguably, Umeh’s period in the senate, though brief, was the most glorious for the simple reason that all aspects of legislation were covered. Regardless, speaking out against injustice is more beneficial to the Igbo now that her political direction has become a tough row to hoe. This does not in any way invalidate the importance of projects which are useful only to the extent that they are protected by law. A people faced with political extinction and or existential threat may need projects, but not as much as they need justice and fair treatment. In fact, next to making laws and oversight business, the most important thing is to speak when others acquiesce. Legislation comes with responsibility which does not preclude attracting projects, but not solely its own end.
The Igbo nation is at crossroads and needs as many rationale voices as it can muster. The effort of every Igbo legislator is not lost on those who sent them and it is for this reason, and not for want of capable hands, that the call on Umeh to contest the position was coming repeatedly. He offered what others could afford, but chose not to possibly because it puts their personal interest in harm’s way. With the speculation that Senator Enyinnia Abaribe may leave the red chambers for Abia state governorship project, constructive representation is set to deplete further. The gap will be too wide and requires conscious effort to close.
The call on Umeh may be part of the effort to stanch possible hemorrhage that will occur when some of the good representatives are gone. It does not matter what political divide, the effort to enthrone excellence for the good of the Igbo should guide the process. In choosing who goes next, political wisdom should prevail and what affects us individually should be last served. A strong voice that will speak when others cannot should be considered. The days presage political circumscription for the Igbo and they require astuteness.
Anyaduba writes from Abatete