* Gov’s defection imminent, say Ebonyi party chieftains
Chuks Okocha in Abuja and Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
There are strong indications that the planned defection of the Governor of Ebonyi State, Mr. Dave Umahi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been blocked by the South-east bigwigs of the ruling party.
THISDAY gathered that the governor was billed to join APC this week.
But the stakeholders in Ebonyi APC yesterday insisted that the defection of the governor was imminent.
The blocking of the governor’s defection, it was gathered, was plotted by some members of the National Assembly and ministers from the South-east.
THISDAY was told that these stakeholders made it clear to the Ebonyi State governor that the APC presidential ticket is not for grabs by him.
It was also gathered that the defection move was perfected and sealed during Umahi’s recent visit to Abuja where he met with APC top hierarchy.
THISDAY also gathered that a lot of activities are being lined up at the PA Ngele Oruta Township Stadium, Abakaliki, where the governor and others have perfected plans to officially defect, probably this week.
However, a source close to the Mala Buni-led APC said though the Ebonyi State governor is welcomed to the party, the APC cannot just give him the presidential ticket, adding that nothing indicates that the APC ticket has been zoned to the South-east.
“If anyone is promising him the presidential ticket, he should be careful because it is a Greek gift. APC cannot give him the ticket just because he defected to our party. ,” a source told THISDAY, adding: “We have others with presidential ambition and no one, even President Muhammadu Buhari can grant him the presidential ticket like that.”
Continuing, he said: “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 Bola Tinubu and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State from the South-west, which has more APC states under its control than the South-east. There must be something else that is pushing him than presidential ambition.”
The source said Umahi should be mindful of the treatment given to him when he purportedly nominated his brother, Mr. Austin Umahi as a ministerial nominee in the Buhari second term in 2019 and was dropped at the eleventh hour, stating that the same fate awaits him.
The planned move may have also pitted the governor with the top leaders of the two main political parties in the state.
While the APC has blocked his entry, the PDP is still keeping mum on the move by the governor.
It was gathered that the governor is already seeking a gradual U-turn to remain fully in PDP since APC leaders both in the state and in the South-east caucus are not enthusiastic about receiving him.
It was learnt that the APC leaders in the region like the Ministers of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, from his state; Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, from Anambra and Minister of State for Education, Chief Emeka Nwajiuba, from Imo State and others felt slighted as they were not consulted.
Members of National Assembly from the South-east also echoed the same sentiment of not being considered for consultation over the movement to the ruling party.
THISDAY checks revealed that Umahi had negotiated his entry into the party directly with the presidency and decided to ignore other leaders from the zone.
It was gathered that none of the three blocks in the APC at the national level is willing to have Umahi whom they believe is coming for the presidential ticket.
Speculations about the governor’s defection grew stronger after his visit to the Presidential Villa last month and he was congratulated by an APC legislator from his state.
Though he denied it, the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, through its speaker, apparently acting on his behalf in a press conference, gave seven days ultimatum to the national leadership of the PDP to announce the zoning of the 2023 Presidency to the South-east or face rebellion.
Sources close to the PDP told THISDAY that the Ebonyi PDP was asking for something that is impossible and was just trying to find grounds for the defection of its leaders as it is believed the governor was promised the presidential ticket in the APC.
Ebonyi State PDP’s romance with the APC began before the 2019 general election when an Anambra billionaire summoned all Ebonyi State traditional rulers to tell them that President Muhammadu Buhari had promised to hand over to their son, Umahi, in 2023 and, therefore, they should cooperate with him.
It was gathered that this was a dummy sold to them to let the president earn at least 25 per cent of the votes in Ebonyi State.
Umahi’s initial move to defect to the APC with members of his State Executive Council, State House of Assembly and PDP State Executive Committee was to get what the PDP cannot offer him, which is the presidential ticket of the party in 2023.
PDP’s National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, recently said that every zone is free to contest the presidency of the party in 2023 and this did not give the governor any hope.
THISDAY learnt that his APC friends have told him that he needs to cross over early enough to be able to benefit from the 2023 power game.
The whistle on the planned defection was blown on the defection plans by the member representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Chinedu Ogah, when he said, “Yes, 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 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 Umahi’s defection to APC, saying that “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,” he stated.
When also contacted for his reaction, the Ebonyi State APC Chairman, Pastor Eze Nwachukwu Eze, said that the party’s doors are open to welcome Umahi and others to the fold.
“We will not be against him joining APC, though nothing has suggested such to me or my office and none of our national leaders have 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,” he said
Gov’s defection to imminent, say Ebonyi party chieftains
However, the stakeholders in Ebonyi APC yesterday insisted that the defection of the governor was imminent.
In a meeting held in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, the stakeholders who noted that Umahi’s defection was imminent also described his defection as a big catch for the APC in the South-east geopolitical zone of the country.
The Convener of the meeting and Chieftain of the APC in Ebonyi State, Senator Julius Ucha, who called on party faithful to work towards the eradication of factions within the party in the state, noted that the governor’s defection to the APC has already materialised.
He further called on the governor to immediately join the APC as the party is eagerly waiting to receive him