I think Umahi should be commended rather than being vilified. He spoke the mind of PDP members and choose to say it early when amendment could be made.
Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi is not an unknown name in Nigerian politics; he has been around at top level for a very long time. His political history is very interesting. He has been party chairman and from there became the deputy governor of Ebonyi State for two terms. He is one of the few that went from deputy to become governor. He is a first term governor but what has made his debut at the governorship level unique is that he also doubles as the chairman of South East Governors Forum. This position is strategic for two critical reasons. The zone is a key player in national politics; political forces from the area were in the forefront of the struggle for political independence, so traditionally much has always been expected, politically, from the zone.
The other reason would be that this group has been immersed in leadership quagmire and this has remained for too long. So, anytime anyone mounts a centralized administrative position like the one Umahi now occupies or the presidency of Ohaneze Ndigbo, that alone translates to huge expectation from the people. The obvious marginalization of the people from the area since after the civil war has not helped matters in this regard. So Umahi has been in the eye of the storm and like we all would expect, it has not been easy. The governor has been in the news and I would want to say for the right reasons. The first was his position on the choice of former Governor Peter Obi as the vice presidential candidate for Umahi’s party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The other issue is Umahi’s position on the N30,000 proposed new minimum wage. He has been under attacks for his views on those issues.
I take the first. The choice of a president and his deputy has always been of great interest in our polity because of the way we do things in our country. There is always this feeling and thinking that an area that produces people for those positions gains the most from governmental policies and programmes. The validity of this assumption is yet to be proved, but withstanding, Nigerians still clamour that strategic national leaders come from their areas. So the Igbo interest in the vice presidential seat can be situated within this context and more. In recent years, the North, South West and the minorities have alternated the president and the deputy among themselves, and the Igbo, a majority group have been kept by the sideline. This would explain the interest PDP’s gesture has and would continue to generate among the people of the South East. What Umahi said was that neither the party nor the presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, consulted with the leadership in the South East before the choice was made.
Umahi had hardly finished stating his position when hell was let loose. Criticisms, direct attacks, deliberate mischief and misinterpretations flew in from all directions. I saw rough tactics, even men you would think were well educated and therefore well cultured descended so low, I guess, just to score cheap political points. The first point to note in all of this, irrespective of the place of sentiments, is that on a larger note our country subscribes to democracy and the cardinal principle of democracy is freedom to hold and express thoughts; that one holds a public office does not take away his rights especially in this regard. So on this score Umahi was within his territory.
The other would be the right of candidates to choose their running mates. In text-book politics, the ideal would be to say candidates have overall right to pick their running mates. There is a world of difference between ideal and practical politics. In practical politics the number one objective is to win power except you are in it for other reasons like expressing a particular view point or desire, otherwise winning power is it.
To win elections, strategic planning becomes an integral part of the bigger game, so taken from this perspective the office of the vice president becomes more than a successor setup or spare tyre as we have come to know it but a real contributor, whose nomination would add enormous value to the group. In plain language, a vice should be able to bring some electoral gains to his party and this is where the exercise of that right comes into question.
Any good political candidate, who knows that it is about the winning would definitely consult and in fact, widely. It is within this context that I locate the reaction of Governor Umahi to the issue. I see in his reaction a true desire to prop up his party and place it on a winning pedestal. As a political player myself, there are things that I can pick that may not be clear to non initiates. Atiku is a journeyman, he just returned to the party from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and shortly after won the party’s presidential ticket, it is a feat and I am sure it did not just happen because of his strength. It is certainly a consequence of a coalition of political forces In that case, Atiku must have traded off some concessions to some groups and if he did, like I think he did, then that puts him under obligation to consult before implementation. If you take this, Umahi was right.
I think Umahi should be commended rather than being vilified. He spoke the mind of PDP members and choose to say it early when amendment could be made. As it is today, Peter Obi is a good guy, better qualified than the candidate but in terms of real politics today, he is a general without troops. He is not core PDP, he just came from APGA, his base, his attempt the last time to have a new support base in Anambra state collapsed terribly in the failure of his candidate in the last gubernatorial election in which Obiano of APGA won landslide in all the 21 local governments. Igbo don’t know Obi as an Igbo political activist, even in the eight years that he operated as the governor; he restricted himself to Anambra State. That Obi began to visit Igbo leaders after Umahi had spoken underscores Umahi’s stand on this very important matter.
Those who made allusion to the usual Igbo “pull him down” syndrome on this matter missed the point and that is where I see the mischief. Every perceptive group would react when they are not consulted, no matter what good is expected. When some people from the North picked Obasanjo to be president without due consultation with the Yoruba leaders, the consequence was Obasanjo entered history as first Nigerian president to have lost elections in his unit, ward, local government, state and geo-political zone. The Yorubas rejected him. When Obasanjo, from the West brought a sick Yar’adua from the North, prominent Northerners complained vehemently. Umahi was not about Obi but the process. The same way he has said, the country ought to sit down and critically analyze issue of minimum wage before taking a position and people are abusing him. Umahi is right, issues associated with minimum wage is far expansive than the question of take home pay.