•Our ticket not up for grabs by defectors – APC source
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Political permutations ahead of the 2023 presidential election may be behind the reported move by Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi to dump the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the All Progressives Congress (APC), THISDAY has learnt.
But some forces within the ruling APC in Abuja may also be readying to make Umahi’s alleged 2023 presidential ambition difficult in the party, if he eventually comes on board. Some elements in the leadership of APC are said to have cautioned the governor that the APC presidential ticket is not up for grabs by defectors from other parties.
Reliable sources in the PDP-controlled Ebonyi State have said it is almost certain that the governor would defect, carrying along some of his loyalists in the state.
The alleged defection move, it was gathered, was informed by assumptions that APC would zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the South, where many believe the odds are overwhelmingly in favour of Umahi’s South-east.
The member representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Chinedu Ogah, had on Saturday blown the lid off the defection plan, when he affirmed that Umahi was set to join APC. Ogah described the development as a step in the right direction, though an aide of the governor denied the alleged defection move.
However, sources close to the governor hinted that he planned to defect to APC with Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Francis Nwifuru, and 23 other lawmakers.
THISDAY gathered that the defection move was perfected during Umahi’s recent visit to Abuja, where he met with the APC top notch. It was also learnt that series of activities had been lined up at the PA Ngele Oruta Township Stadium, Abakaliki, where the governor and the others were expected to officially announce their exit from PDP, and entry into APC soon. Some said it might be as soon as this week.
However, a source close to the Mai Mala Buni-led APC leadership said, though, the Ebonyi State governor was welcome in the party, APC could not just award the presidential ticket to him. The source added that there was no indication that the APC ticket had been zoned to the South-east.
“If anyone is promising him the presidential ticket, he should be careful,” the source regarding Umahi’s presidential ambition, adding, “APC cannot give him the ticket just because he defected to our party. We have others with presidential ambition and no one, not even President Muhammadu Buhari, can grant him the presidential ticket just like that.”
The source queried, “Who told Governor Umahi that the ticket is automatically granted to the South-east, and Ebonyi State, for that matter. We have presidential aspirants like Senator Rochas Okorocha, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu from the South-east.
“We also have Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State from the South-west, which has more APC states under their control than the South-east. There must be something else pushing him, beyond presidential ambition.”
The source added that Umahi should be mindful of the treatment given to him when he purportedly nominated his brother, Austin Umahi, for ministerial appointment in Buhari’s second term in 2019, and he was dropped at the last minute. The same fate might await the Ebonyi State governor, the source said.
Meanwhile, a close associate of the governor told THISDAY that he hoped to get in APC what PDP could not offer him – the 2023 presidential ticket. The associate said the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus’ recent statement that every zone could contest the presidency in the party in 2023 did not go down well with Umahi’s dream of becoming the president of Nigeria.
It would be recalled that Umahi’s APC romance started even before the 2019 general election, when Prince Arthur Eze revealed to some traditional rulers from Ebonyi State that Buhari had hinted him that he was going to hand over to Umahi in 2023.
Umahi has severally denied anti-party accusations from PDP, including the alleged “smuggling” of 25 per cent vote to Buhari in the 2019 presidential election in Ebonyi State. During the election, the governor was also reported to have produced customised bags of rice as part of his contribution and honour to Buhari.
It was learnt that Umahi’s APC friends, including the president’s henchmen, had told the governor that he needed to crossover early enough to be able to benefit from the 2023 power game.
PDP is said to have all along been monitoring the governor and his APC romance.
According to a source in PDP, “The PDP as a political party plays by the rules and dictates of its constitution and cannot be stampeded into taking unconstitutional decisions to please anyone. We are not discussing presidential ticket of the party now. There are pockets of elections engaging the attention of the party now.
“It is not in the interest of the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) to unilaterally say that it has zoned the presidential ticket of the party to any of the six geopolitical zones without adequate negotiation. The ultimatum from the Speaker of Ebonyi State to the national leadership of the party to summon an emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting is not only unknown to our statute books, but also appears like the hand of Esau and voice of Jacob. The rule is clear on how the NEC of the party can be called.”
On the threat of leaving the party and the effect in the region, the source said the party would not be affected.
The source said, “APC knows that it does not exist in South-east and the voters demonstrated this clearly in the last election. In Imo State, where they are pretending to exist, we saw how a number four became a number one in the biggest electoral robbery in history, through the Supreme Court.
“In the PDP circle, everybody believes that Umahi is driven by ambition and he is chasing shadow in the move that will make him a victim of a political 419, if he thinks that he will be APC presidential flag-bearer in 2023.”
Ogah had on Saturday stated, “Governor Umahi’s defection to our great party, APC, is a step in the right direction. We cannot afford to remain in opposition. We must join the ruling party to continue to reap the dividends of democracy.
“I am calling on other governors in South-east to toe the line of Governor Umahi and join APC. We have to be at the centre, we have to join the mainstream politics for the overall development of our zone and the country in general. President Muhammadu Buhari has done well. Everybody should join the APC to encourage him.”
But the governor, in a press statement by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr. Francis Nwaze, in Abakaliki, denied the defection move. The statement said, “The news is a product of a figment of imagination on the part of the carriers, as Governor Umahi was, is, and is still flying the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). It is, however, difficult to observe how people are easily persuaded to believe in fake dummies in the name of rumours.
“If, for any reason, Governor Umahi wishes to leave Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it will be officially communicated and can never be a product from rumour mongers.”
However, when contacted, the Ebonyi State APC chairman, Pastor Eze Nwachukwu Eze, said the party’s doors were open to receive Umahi and the others.
Eze said, “We will not be against him joining APC, though nothing has suggested such to me or my office and none of our national leaders has communicated us to that effect. We, however, want our party to grow, spread its ideology over Nigeria and make Nigerians believe that it is the party to identify with.”