By James Eze
As I write this piece, I am keenly aware that no article, no matter how brilliant, can capture the political weight of Chief Victor Umeh in Igbo land. And this is why I have no illusions about the rescheduled Anambra Central Senatorial election, which comes up on January 13. To my mind, the election will be nothing less than a ceremonial ratification of Umeh’s “ascendancy” into the red chambers of the National Assembly. It is a rite of passage of sorts; because nothing stands between him and the Senate at the moment. Nothing!
If truth will not frighten us, we must admit that no Igbo politician in recent memory has been as outstanding as Umeh. Whether it is his bold re-affirmation his Igbo identity with his trademark long red cap or his role as the power behind many thrones or better still; his clinical efficiency in uprooting his political opponents to make them lose their polling booths, Umeh deserves our attention.
Interestingly, only a few political leaders of his time may have suffered as much vilification, as much organised attacks and as much vicious campaign as Umeh. He has been written to the dust, but still like dust, Umeh has risen. And the only reason he could rise from all the muck, all the calumny, all the defamation is because they are mostly lies, half-truths and exaggerations. Don’t get me wrong. No politician is a saint. But not all things said about politicians are true.
Umeh’s brilliance shines through all the muck like a candle in cupped hands. He seems almost always a step ahead of his closest rival. That was why after a long drawn battle with Peter Obi, the former governor found out that his hands were tied and that before he could make any headway, he had to kiss and make up with Umeh. If the import of this is lost on the electorate who are too pre-occupied with the business of eking out a living, it was not lost on the political class. That is why Umeh is, against all odds, still the beautiful bride.
If there were ever any doubts about Umeh’s brilliance, they were rested in November 2017. As the DG of Governor Willie Obiano’s Re-election Campaign Organisation, Umeh was zestful and feisty. His bristling energy showed in the manner that he animated the entire campaign with irrepressible enthusiasm. In the end, he left a bold track of excellence.
Umeh is widely believed to have literally manufactured the judicial ropes with which Martin Agbaso and his team were tied to a leafless legal tree to pave the way for a smooth gubernatorial election on November 18. Agbaso’s puerile brinksmanship fell flat on its face when Umeh pulled the strings behind the scene. He needed no one to remind him that as an upstart, he was no match to Umeh who cites legal cases with greater precision and accuracy than many lawyers. He was soon flushed down the cesspit of political amateurs who embrace infamy for cheap pecuniary reliefs.
But Umeh’s final conquest of his immediate political environment came with the outcome of the gubernatorial election in Anaocha Local Government. Anaocha was the perfect scene for the final resolution of the battle of supremacy between Umeh and Obi, two friends from two neighbouring towns who have dominated Anambra politics for over a dozen years. Everyone knew that it was not going to be an easy battle. Obi had wielded executive powers as a former governor and garnered wide acclaim as a persuasive public speaker of note. On the other hand, Umeh has remained a political behemoth whose grassroots appeal and understanding of public mood-swings have no match. Against this backdrop, the stage was finally set. So, who would outwit the other?
Much to the shock and horror of his fans, Obi never quite came to the party. Umeh seized the initiative from the very beginning, corralling the party machinery in Anaocha to a roaring campaign stomp at Neni, the Council Headquarters. In fact, Umeh’s whirlwind personality swept everyone of substance in Anaocha, including the traditional ruler and opinion leaders of Peter Obi’s Agulu hometown to the campaign rally where they unanimously endorsed Governor Obiano and turned their backs on Obi’s candidate. It was a democratic coup that only Umeh could have hatched and executed with such disarming precision. Speaker after speaker eulogised Umeh at the rally while hurling snide remarks to “our son” who had had his time but lacked the magnanimity to allow other people after him have theirs. The torrent of charged rhetoric at the rally eventually swept Obi and whatever he stood for in his home base to the ash-heap of history. Obi lost everything, including the PDP umbrella over his head on the Election Day.
So, the January 13 re-run of the Anambra Central Senatorial election is the closing Act of a long running political soap opera in which Umeh is waiting for his well-earned last laugh. Indeed, our ancestors were right when they told us that “oji ife nwata wenie aka enu…”
• Eze wrote in from Awka, Anambra State capital.