I am hardly persuaded to comment on the defection of Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). This is because it is not unusual for Nigerian politicians to do what he has done. Besides, I have had cause in the past to raise objections about the governor and his ways. I saw through his politics long before now. I have, more often than not, been repulsed at it. The gist of my submissions in this column and elsewhere about Umahi has always been that he is given to pandering to the interest of the North against the collective interest of the Igbo nation. I did not want to tread this beaten path once again.
However, his defection has thrown up some issues that cannot be conveniently ignored. He has, curiously, made the South-East, the zone whose interest he cannot claim in good conscience to be protecting, the centre and reason for his action. He has told Nigerians that he left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because the party has not been fair to the South-East. By that declaration, Umahi is giving the impression that he cares about the zone and its people. This latter-day posturing of the governor must be juxtaposed with some of his actions and inactions as the governor of Ebonyi State. Interestingly, if the governor has been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds all this while, the plunge he has taken has taken off his pretentious cloak. He can now be seen for what he is and who he is.
Let us return to the basics. Umahi said he was unhappy with the PDP for refusing or failing to zone the presidency to his region since its inception in 1998. The leadership of the PDP has since faulted the governor’s argument in this regard. But we need to stretch the issue a little further. In doing this, we cannot but ask: when should the PDP have zoned the presidency to the South-East? So far, the only time that could have been possible was in 1998 at the Jos convention of the party. That was when Olusegun Obasanjo picked the party’s ticket against the highly rated Alex Ekwueme, who was a founding member of the party. But we all know that, if Ekwueme lost out then, it was not because Obasanjo was his match. Things turned out that way because there was a design by the outgoing military order to cede power to the Yoruba because of the June 12 debacle. Umahi was old enough in 1998 to know the undercurrents that shaped the politics of that period.
Since then, the PDP has not been in a position to zone the presidency to the South-East. The party could not have done so in 2007 when power was programmed to return to the North after Obasanjo’s eight years in office. We also know how the power taken over by Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 led inevitably to the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. Then, given the circumstances that led to Jonathan’s ouster, a simple political calculation will show that it would have been anything but strategic to still zone the presidency to the South at a time a northerner wrested power from a southerner in very unusual circumstances. The Muhammadu Buhari presidency, which compelled the PDP to look northwards in 2015, is yet to end, and the PDP is also yet to zone the presidency for the 2023 election. With this overview, it is really out of place for Umahi to have accused the PDP of leaving out the South-East in its zoning arrangement.
Perhaps, what would have made sense is for the Umahis of southeast Nigeria to argue that the preferential treatment given to the South-West in 1999 should be extended to the South-East in 2023. Now that Umahi has joined the APC, he can take advantage of his belongingness to the ruling party to canvas for a replication of the 1999 arrangement in 2023, this time in favour of the South-East. That is, if he is serious about having the presidency ceded to the South-East in 2023 as he will have us believe.
As a matter of fact, Umahi’s defection to the APC imposes a fresh burden on him. Before now, he has been kowtowing before the Buhari presidency. But the challenge before him now is to prove that his actions were for the interest of the Igbo and not for personal and selfish reasons. As PDP governor, Umahi has largely been a quisling. His actions do not resonate with popular Igbo position on national issues. His seeming anti-Igbo disposition got accentuated when he assumed the chairmanship of South-East Governors’ Forum. While serving in this capacity, Umahi has been imposing his views on the forum. Sometimes, statements issued by his chief press secretary as the views of the governor on any important national issue are repackaged and passed off as representing the position of South-East governors. Umahi has been doing this without a whimper from his counterparts from other South-East states either because they are not interested in the activities of the forum or they do not have a position of their own on issues that border on the interest of their people. Either way, it has been to the advantage of Umahi who, it seems, loves to wield absolute power.
The most vexatious of Umahi’s overbearing disposition on South-East affairs was the dangerous politics he played with the plan to set up a regional security outfit for the South-East. This plan was concluded and agreed upon by the forum, working with other South-East groups like Ohan’eze and Alaigbo Development Foundation. After the agreement, the governors, led by Umahi, announced that they would soon come up with a name for the security apparatus. Then the people began to wait. Names were even suggested for the consideration of the governors. Suddenly, there was deafening silence on the matter. The governors stopped talking about the security outfit. Strangely, Umahi was to announce later that the zone had adopted the community policing arrangement of the Federal Government. Nothing was said anymore about the planned regional security. The people at whose pleasure the governors are holding power were not told anything. The plan just fizzled out. Just like that.
If Umahi did this because he wanted to look good in the eyes of the Buhari presidency, then he missed the point. He should be reminded that South-West governors, who are of APC fold, except one, were unanimous in their position on Western Nigeria Security Network, code-named Amotekun. Even their master, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who is the President’s right hand man, was not opposed to the idea. They rejected the Federal Government’s community policing and opted for regional security. Nobody has stigmatized these South-West governors on account of this.
As I noted earlier, Umahi has a responsibility to prove that he did not take these actions to feather his own nest. As APC governor, we are waiting excitedly to see how Umahi will mainstream South-East politics. He has said that it is better to belong to the centre. We agree. But this centre must bring about that difference the Igbo have been yearning for. If that fails to happen, Umahi would have committed political harakiri without knowing it.