Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
The recent defection of Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi, from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), has stirred the political waters of the agrarian state and indeed the South East geo-political zone. However, the defection did not come as a surprise to many political observers especially those who had been monitoring the political actions and utterances of the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum since he ascended to power as the governor of Ebonyi in 2015.
Since his ascension to power, Chief Umahi had never hidden his affection for the APC, but what many did not know was that he made up his mind to join the APC as far back as the night of March 31, 2015.
DailySun gathered that the governor took the decision the moment former President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP conceded defeat to Muhammadu Buhari, the then candidate of the APC during the 2015 presidential election. Some people close to the governor confided in Daily Sun that the then PDP guber candidate became visibly downcast and looked scaringly hopeless the moment the INEC formally announced Buhari of APC, the winner of the 2015 presidential election. According to our source, Umahi had said in a tone of lamentation that his hope of becoming a Vice President in 2019 had been shattered by Jonathan’s unexpected defeat at the polls. He then, reportedly vowed to ‘smuggle’ himself into the heart of President Buhari at all cost to achieve his target. Daily Sun gathered that Umahi made the vow on the night of March 31, 2015 at the former Deputy Governor’s Lodge, Ezza Road in Abakaliki before his brothers and some very close aides.
Governor Umahi was said to have disclosed to them that night that he had prepared to position himself as a loyal boy to President Jonathan even to a position of ‘an errand boy’ so as to be considered for a Vice Presidential candidacy to the PDP presidential candidate from the North who would take over from Jonathan in 2019. But the unexpected defeat of Jonathan in that election shattered his plan.
This perhaps explained why Umahi continued to romance with the APC at the detriment of his former party, and at several occasions threatened to sack any of his appointees who castigated or criticized Buhari or his policies. It may therefore be correct to speculate that his recent controversial defection to the APC was still in line with his concealed dream of becoming Vice President of Nigeria.
Daily Sun gathered that the Governor had earlier in 2018 made strong moves to join the APC in the build up to the 2019 general elections, but was discouraged at the last minute by his family and close political associates on the ground that he might lose his re-election bid on the platform of the APC. It was at the time that his immediate elder brother, Roy Umahi, who is a known critic of President Buhari, was prevailed upon to desist from constant castigation of the President on the social media.
When he finally made up his mind to seek re-election on the platform of the PDP, Umahi came out to dismiss the speculation which had then gone viral in the state that he was moving to the APC. He vehemently denied it, and vowed never to join the APC, describing the leaders of the party as failures and people who do not have the interest of the state and the people at heart.
He said: “I have always insisted on character. People that jump from one party to the other should examine their characters. Except if there is any problem within your party. As of today, till tomorrow and until Christ comes, there is no crisis in PDP. Even if there is a need for me to leave PDP, I can never leave PDP to the kind of APC in Ebonyi State because with the kind of leaders in Ebonyi APC, leaders that have failed Ebonyi State, I can never be on the same political platform with them. There is no reason for me to leave PDP of which I was the party chairmen, deputy governor and now governor.’’
However, barely two years after he made the statement, Umahi on Tuesday, November 17, 2020, confirmed his formal defection from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Umahi who confirmed his defection to journalists at a press briefing in his office in Abakaliki, however said he defected to the APC to protest the injustice meted to the South East zone by his former party, the PDP since 1999.
He said the people of the South East zone have supported the party for over two decades now but with nothing to show for it.
Umahi dismissed insinuations that he left the PDP to pick the APC presidential ticket, adding that he was not sure that APC would zone it’s presidential ticket to the South East in 2023.
According to him, “I didn’t leave PDP because they refused to give me the party’s presidential ticket. I never sought for the party’s ticket, and anybody who is saying that is only being mischievous. I am moving to APC as a protest for the injustice meted to the South East by the PDP since 1999.”
But his friend and colleague, Nyesom Wike, of Rivers State, while reacting said there was nothing like injustice done to the zone to warrant Umahi’s defection to the APC, and warned the Ebonyi governor not to allow his presidential ambition destroy the South East.
He claimed that the governor’s grouse with the party started after Atiku Abubakar picked former Anambra Governor, Peter Obi, to be his running mate for the 2019 presidential elections.
He said: “when we had the 2018 convention that produced our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, he consulted widely and came up with Peter Obi as running mate; Umahi was livid because he wanted to be chosen or be the Vice-President. You don’t choose who will be the Vice-President candidate of anybody. Umahi was livid. What disturbed me is why do you think that if anything comes to the South East, it must be you? Why do you think so?’’
Also reacting, Umahi’s former Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Dr.Emmanuel Onwe, said the reason adduced by the governor for his defection to the APC showed that he has no conscience. Onwe in a statement titled: “Umahi’s blind ambition” is the nemesis of his conscience,” said ’’there are a number of perfect justifications that the governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, could have advanced for his decampment from the PDP to the APC in pursuit of the presidency of Nigeria. But grounding his reason on the purported “injustice” meted out to the South East by the PDP betrays a complete absence of conscience. This ludicrous claim is fed by nothing but blind ambition.
Onwe also accused the governor of deliberately sabotaging the 2019 PDP presidential campaign in Ebonyi just to favour the APC.
He said: “what is “unjust” is to have systematically sabotaged the 2019 presidential campaign of the PDP in Ebonyi State at every turn, not to mention the financial and structural sponsorship of opposition candidates against PDP candidates in the National Assembly election.
“But for the funds I provided the Atiku/Obi State Campaign Coordinator, he would have failed catastrophically in his duties during the presidential campaign rally in Abakaliki on 2nd February, 2019.’’
But a former senator in the state and chieftain of the APC, Chief Anthony Agbo, said Umahi’s defection to the progressive party was not for his personal political ambition but for the interest of the South East.
He stated that those who were saying that the governor joined the APC because of his selfish interests were unfair to the governor.
Briefing journalists in Abakaliki, Agbo who represented Ebonyi North Senatorial zone between 2011-2015, expressed optimism that the governor’s defection to the APC would bring great political fortunes for the zone.
The former lawmaker who said he was among the three man team drafted to talk the governor into joining the APC said, “Umahi showed an unquantifiable degree of statesmanship by agreeing to our counsel to join the APC without proving to be a governor who knows it all.
“This development will ensure that Igbos lay adequate claim to whatever is due to them in national politics because one cannot make agitations in a setting he does not belong to.
“We should realize that the issue of Igbo presidency and marginalization are inter-related and when the integration is achieved, it will eliminate the marginalization and the presidency can be achieved.’’
Following the governor’s eventual defection to the APC, his former party, the PDP, said it would not allow the party to die in the state, adding that they would take immediate action to save the party from suffocation in the state. Consequently, the party dissolved the leadership of the party from ward, state to the zonal level, and immediately announced a caretaker committee for the state. The new caretaker committee is headed by a former Commissioner for Donor Agencies, Fred Udeogu.
But the dissolved Onyekachi Nwebonyi-led state executives have vehemently rejected their dissolution, maintaining that they remained the authentic party excos for the state having been elected just this year to serve for the period of 4 years.
At a press conference at the party’s secretariat on Wednesday, Nwebonyi said the NWC of the party lacked the power to dissolve them.
Dramatically, on Thursday Nwebonyi released a statement suspending 24 members of the party in the state including 8 National Assembly members , members of the newly constituted PDP caretaker committee and some other influential members of the party in the state. He said their suspensions were as a result of anti-party activities in the state.
Those suspended include: Michael Ama Nnachi(Ebonyi South) Obinna Ogba(Ebonyi Central), Chukwuma Nwazunku(Ebonyi/Ohaukwu) Sylvester Ogbaga(Abakaliki/Izzi) Livinus Makwe(Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo),Idu Igariwey (Afikpo North/South) and Edwin Nwonu (Ezza Noth/Ishielu).
The purported suspension came a day after the 8 PDP NASS members from the state said they would not join the governor to the APC.
But the leader of the Ebonyi PDP NASS caucus and Senator representing Ebonyi North, Dr.Sam Egwu, in a statement dismissed the purported suspension stating that Onyekachi Nwebonyi lacked the power to suspend any member of the PDP having been dissolved by the NWC of the party.
Egwu, first civilian governor of the state, urged Nwebonyi to concentrate on his new party, the APC and desist from any acts capable of causing commotion in the state.
He said: “the attention of the Ebonyi State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Assembly Caucus has been drawn to a document released to the public purporting the suspension of the eight National assembly members of the PDP in Ebonyi State and the recently inaugurated Caretaker Committee Executive members of the party by the former Chairman of the party, Onyekachi Nwebonyi, Egwu said.”
Reacting, the only APC federal lawmaker from the state, Chinedu Ogah, who represents Ikwo/Ezza South federal constituency said that all the PDP National Assembly members from the state will surely join him and the governor in APC in no distant time.
Ogah said: “I believe that all of them will join. There is no cause for alarm for anybody to flex muscles. There is nothing to fight about, what they should be talking about is conscience.
“What were they before now; would they have gone to the National Assembly without the effort of the Governor?”
As many PDP stalwarts in the state appear reluctant to join the governor to the APC, the governor has not relented in taking actions to flush the recalcitrant persons and stakeholders out of his government to pave way for loyal supporters to come. Consequently, the governor has ordered the dissolution of the state Elders Council, dissolution of Boards and Commissions, and the sack of many of his political appointees from Ohaukwu, the local government area where Dr. Sam Egwu hails from. And the state executive council is also expected to either be reshuffled or dissolved very soon.
Those sacked in Ohaukwu local government area are all the Development Centre Coordinators, Technical Assistants, Senior Technical Assistants, Liaison Officers and all management committee members.
A member of the state House of Assembly, Victor Aleke (Ebonyi North West), who is among the 10 lawmakers that reportedly refused to defect to the APC with the governor, has also been suspended over alleged financial misconduct.
Daily Sun however, learnt that serious efforts have been going on towards convincing and mobilizing the people and many critical stakeholders to declare for the APC as the governor has reportedly ordered that nobody should be forced to join the party. Those leading the campaigns are the 13 council chairmen in the state and some powerful APC chieftains in the state.
All the 13 council chairmen and the 64 development centre Coordinators have all declared their support for the governor as well as their membership of the APC. These council chairmen and the Development Centre Coordinators have also been mobilizing their people to join the governor in APC as a mark of their loyalty and solidarity to him for his great achievements in the state.
One of the council chairmen and chairman of Ohaukwu local government area, Clement Odah, at a press conference at Ngbo, Headquarters of Ohaukwu local government area on Friday said the people of the council have moved in their numbers to the APC in solidarity with the governor for the numerous infrastructural development he gave to the people of the council. He vowed alongside the stakeholders of the council to deliver the votes of the council to all the APC candidates come 2023.