Elechi, Umahi: Reopening Old Mines

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Benjamin Nworie, in Abakaliki, writes on the unremitting faceoff between the immediate past governor of Ebonyi State and his successor

The feud between the former governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi, and his successor, Mr. David Umahi, is not yet over. Elechi continues to talk angrily about the circumstances and developments that shaped the 2015 general elections.

Reawakening Old Grouses
At Elechi’s thanksgiving service on April 3, he resurrected his grudge, saying he has “no regret” opposing Umahi’s candidature. The former governor said if a similar situation was repeated, he would still toe his line of stiff resistance to Umahi’s governorship ambition. Elechi’s argument was that Umahi was not accommodating enough to govern the state.

Since after the results of the elections were declared in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidates in the state, especially the governorship candidate, Elechi has maintained that the election was stage-managed and skewed against the Labour Party candidate.

The former governor does not seem to believe the verdicts of the tribunal, appeal court and Supreme Court that upheld Umahi’s victory. In spite of the judgements and rulings, Elechi still maintains that no such election was conducted in the state and even if conducted, it was won by his Labour Party candidate, Edward Nkwegu.

At the peak of the election, Elechi had decried that the PDP governorship primary was stage-managed and skewed against his preferred candidate, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, who was health minister, using federal might.

Continuous disgust at the emergence of Umahi at the last general election was a highpoint of Elechi’s thanksgiving service in his Ikwo council area. It was a kind of stock taking, which focused on his travails with his former deputy, Umahi. Elechi had been angered that despite his opposition, Umahi went ahead with his governorship ambition.

Geopolitics
Elechi had wanted Senator Chris Nwankwo to return to the senate instead of Dr Sam Egwu, the former governor’s predecessor. This was where the battle line was drawn.
Elechi’s persistence seemed understandable. If Egwu had wanted to contest with his minority one local government, he could not defeat Nwankwo, Elechi’s in-law, who has three local government areas in his populous Izzi clan.

But with the alleged politics of division and clannish interest in Izzi clan at the perceived instance of Elechi’s wife, Josephine, the people of Izzi were displeased with Elechi. He lost grip on all the major nationalities in the state, especially the most populous Ezza clan. Elechi became politically vulnerable in the state politics.
However, he was able to hold tight his 13 council caretaker committee chairmen.
Before the general election, the Federal High Court sitting in Abakaliki had sacked all the chairmen because of the illegality of the Option A4 method used by the state electoral umpire.
As the supremacy battle intensified, Elechi ran to the Presidency to seek the help of the then President Goodluck Jonathan for the PDP primaries in Ebonyi to be cancelled. First, he alleged that the delegates in the primaries were all fake.

Endorsement
In 2014, preparatory to the general election, Elechi was said to have gathered “charlatans and thugs” in his Government House lodge in a meeting the purpose of which was unknown to the people. After sometime, Elechi addressed the people, saying after due consultation and assessment of who should succeed him, he had come to the choice of Chukwu for the sake equity, fairness and justice in line with his resolve to shift power to the southern senatorial zone.

This pronouncement did not go down well with many stakeholders, who lamented that Elechi did not consult them and the nationalities in the state. Particularly piqued by Elechi’s pronouncement was a frontline politician, elder statesman and Second Republic senator, Dr Offia Nwali, who described the endorsement as “fruitless and political misadventure”.
Nwali said the anointment of Chukwu was not acceptable and could not stand.

Before Chukwu’s controversial endorsement, speculations were high that Umahi was the preferred candidate of Elechi. However, stakeholders and Umahi saw Elechi’s pronouncement as a betrayal of thrust and their gentlemanly agreement, they had in 2011, when Elechi was said to have begged Umahi to deputise him and also use his popularity to win the hotly contested election. The idea, according to feelers, was that Elechi would support Umahi to succeed him.

Having been disappointed by his former boss, Umahi took charge of his own destiny and persevered to exercise his fundamental rights. Elechi saw Umahi’s determination as an affront.
When Elechi noticed that he had lost the battle during the primaries, the former governor ran to the Presidency to ask that the concluded governorship primary for Ebonyi State should be cancelled. That did not succeed.

Defection
After failing to alter the congress results, Elechi defected to the Labour Party, where he supported Edward Nkwegu from the North zone to contest against Umahi, using the numerical strength of the Izzi clan, where Nkwegu hails from. Elechi justified his defection, using his “Taxi- Driver theory” that when a car grounds on a journey, the passengers will come down and board another taxi while the driver stays to fix his taxi.
Nkwegu’s candidature further consolidated Umahi’s camp when people saw that there was no sincerity in Elechi’s charter of equity. At that time, most of the stakeholders from Umuenkumenyi, made up of Ebonyi North and Central zones, teamed up against Elechi to support Umahi, having seen no light in Elechi’s political adventure to the Labour Party.

Elechi’s Thanksgiving
The timing of Elechi’s thanksgiving service, which was fixed at a time when the country was mourning the demise of the governor’s mother, late Deaconess Margaret Umahi, has been condemned in some quarters. It was held on a day the whole country was at Uburu for the thanksgiving service following the burial of the late matriarch, which was also attended by Vice President Yemi Osibanjo.
The personalities that graced the former governor’s thanksgiving were mainly his former colleagues in the old East Central State in 1970. Elechi said at the occasion, “I am awe over the presence of Professor Ukwu I. Ukwu, who was my colleague in the first set of appointees in the East Central State in 1970, and is still alive.”

The former governor further stated, “I have no apologies to anybody or to any group of people for what happened. I still stick to my conscience and to my belief that what I did in that circumstance is what I should do. Yes I made my point clear to him (Umahi) as early as September 2014 that I wouldn’t support him because my observation showed me that he lacked certain qualities that we hold very high and very dear in governance, the spirit of accommodation.”

Elechi has, however, been criticised for his comments at the thanksgiving service.
The Ebonyi State president of National Youth Council of Nigeria and former state chairman of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, Elder Sam Igwe, said the statements were uncalled for.