•BoT chairman urges party to negotiate with South-east
•Elders, national caucus meet today ahead of NEC meeting
By Chuks Okocha in Abuja and Benjamin Nworie in Abakaliki
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said yesterday that it would not be arm-twisted into making a decision on the zoning of its presidential ticket for the 2023 general election, saying the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi, deserted the party for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) because of his personal interest.
Umahi, at a press conference in Abakaliki, the state capital, said his desertion of the PDP for the APC was to protest alleged injustice and marginalisation of the South-east by his former party on which platform he was elected deputy governor and governor.
The PDP reacted swiftly, dismissing Umahi’s action as selfish even as it wished him well in his future endeavour, noting that he had held various elective offices on its platform.
Rising from its meeting yesterday, the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) dissolved the South-east Zonal Caretaker Committee headed by Umahi’s brother, Austin, and also dissolved its executive committees at the ward, local government and state levels of Ebonyi.
The party reiterated its position that it is premature to allot the party’s ticket to any of the six geopolitical zones as the party needs to engage in consultations with all of its critical stakeholders to arrive at such a decision.
The governor, who for the first time confirmed his movements to the ruling party, said he is joining the APC because the party is amenable and is working for the interest of the South-east.
However, the Chairman, PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Senator Walid Jubrin, called for dialogue among critical stakeholders in the party to address the concerns of the South-east.
The national caucus of the PDP, and party elders are also billed to meet today ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) to discuss crucial national issues and party affairs.
However, Umahi dismissed speculations that his defection to the APC is to pursue a presidential ambition in 2023, saying no one has promised him a presidential ticket in 2023.
He explained that contrary to the allegation that he left PDP because he was not promised the presidential ticket, he would not have accepted the ticket even if given to him.
According to him, his decision to leave the PDP was because of the injustice against the South-east by the party not minding that the late Vice President Alex Ekwueme was a foundation member of the party.
Umahi also faulted claim by Jubril that the South-east never requested for the presidential ticket of the party.
He said: “Anybody saying I asked PDP for a presidential ticket is being mischievous. Because, even if PDP promises anybody the presidential ticket, how does it work when over 8,000 delegates will be electing the person? And such a promise cannot happen with more than 10 or 20 people.
“People are just being very mischievous about that. But there are a lot of prominent people from the South-east and I don’t want to list them, but I think the state House of Assembly wrote to the PDP and listed many qualified persons from the South-east that can take the presidential slot of the PDP.
“Some people said that why I am moving to APC was that I was promised the presidential ticket of the party, but there was nothing like that. APC never promised me any position and they never promised the South-east any position. There was no such discussion.
“However, I offered myself for this movement as a protest to the injustice being done to the South-east by the PDP; that since 1998, the South-east people have supported PDP in all elections.
“At a time, the five states were all PDP and one of the founding members of PDP is from the South-east, the late Vice President, Alex Ekwueme and so, it is absurd that since 1998 going to 2023 that South-east will never be considered to run for the president under the ticket of PDP. It is very absurd. And this is my position and will continue to be my position and it has nothing personal to do with me.”
Umahi expressed hope that his defection would make the PDP realise that the South-east can do without the party.
“I believe that this movement will cause PDP to know that no man is an island and no single person can be called a crowd. And if people are shouting about injustice in this country and I stand in a place where justice is not practised, I have to reexamine my head. People can write what they want to write, it is not my business. In 2023, if God permits, I will be quitting politics, and I’m very satisfied.”
Umahi added that over 50 organisations, the state House of Assembly and the State Working Committee of the PDP in Ebonyi State had demanded that the presidency should be zoned to the South-east.
He explained that having been a governor for two terms, he will return to his business after the expiration of his tenure in 2023.
PDP: We Won’t be Intimidated
Earlier before Umahi announced his defection, the PDP had said it would not be pressured into zoning the presidency to any geopolitical area.
PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, at a press conference yesterday in Abuja, said the party would not be intimidated with the reported defection of the governor.
He added that tomorrow’s NEC meeting will discuss the state of insecurity and spiral inflationary trends in the country and has nothing to do with the defection of Umahi to the APC.
According to him, the PDP is a well-structured political party that usually decides issues based on consensus and that it will not panic over the defection of the governor.
On the agenda of the NEC meeting, Ologbondiyan said: “It is essentially on the state of the nation. Price of the staple food is skyrocketing; state of insecurity is out of hand and in the state of hopelessness and this is basically what the NEC meeting is out to do on Thursday.”
He also stated that it would be undemocratic for the PDP “to unilaterally zone the office of the presidential candidate of the party to any zone as to do that is to announce the obituary of the PDP.”
He added that even the APC will not announce the zoning of its presidential ticket for now.
He said that at an appointed time, the PDP would announce the zoning of its offices after consultations with all stakeholders.
Umahi Left for Personal Reasons, Says PDP
However, in another reaction after Umahi announced his defection to the APC, the PDP attributed his movement to personal reason, which it said Nigerians would know later.
The party, in a statement by Ologbondiyan, said: “Our party thanks Governor Umahi for services rendered to the people of Ebonyi State, as the state chairman of Ebonyi PDP (2003 to 2007); deputy governor of Ebonyi State (2007 to 2015) and two-term governor of Ebonyi (2015 till date), all elected on the platform of the PDP.
“As we wish Governor Umahi all the best in his adventure, we call on the members of our party to remain calm and committed to the ideals of our party as no individual is bigger than the PDP.”
PDP BoT Chair Calls for Dialogue
As the Board of Trustees (BoT) and National Caucus of the PDP meet today to discuss issues affecting the party, Jubrin yesterday called for dialogue with the South-east over the agitations that the presidential ticket of the party should be allotted to the zone.
The BoT and the National Caucus of the party are billed to meet in Abuja today.
Jubrin told THISDAY that as the main advisory organ of the party, the PDP must be ready to dialogue with the South-east over the zoning of the party’s presidential ticket.
He said: “We are the main advisory organ of the party, constitutionally recognised, we must be ready to dialogue with the Igbo. We lose nothing in dialogue. We must dialogue with them.
“They are not outsiders. The Igbo are part and parcel of the PDP. They are part of our backbone. They cannot be wished away.
“The Igbo contributed a lot in the making of the PDP. We must listen to them in the same way a father listens to his son. This is politics. We need the South-east.
“Today, the entire South-south zone belongs to the PDP. We are happy about it. In the same way, we must ensure that we do all that is necessary to listen to the Igbo and discuss with them as a family.
“It is not politically right to keep quiet, while other political parties are making overtures to them. They are humans and have interest to protect.”
He explained that other political parties cannot be strategising on the 2023 elections and the PDP will be left out.
It was also gathered that the Ohanaeze Igbo has made Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu chairman of a body to select a replacement for Chief John Nwodo, the outgoing president of the Igbo socio-cultural body, with the sole aim to electing a new president who will ensure that the presidential ticket of the two main political parties are zoned to the South-east.
THISDAY gathered that the Ohanaeze position on 2023 presidential election is that the South-east should support any political party that gives its presidential ticket to the zone.
Umahi Defected Because of His Presidential Ambition, Says Wike
Despite his clarification that he did not defect to pursue a presidential ambition, Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, said Umahi’s quest to be the APC presidential candidate and not alleged injustice against the South-east by the PDP informed his defection.
According to him, PDP members were not surprised by Umahi’s defection yesterday to the APC because he had been fraternising with the ruling party for a while.
He said ordinarily he would not have been perturbed by Umahi’s decision to defect to the APC but he felt offended by his attempt to justify his decision on the purported injustice against the South-east by the PDP.
The governor accused Umahi of being unfair to the PDP, which gave him governorship ticket in 2015 against all odds and repeated same feat in 2019.
He added that while Umahi has a right to move to the APC, his attempt to blackmail the PDP and paint it in a bad light was mischievous and unacceptable.
“My friend Umahi wants to be president. There is no problem with that. You have a right to be president. Nobody can stop you. You are educated. You have been a governor for two terms, so you are qualified to say I want to be president of Nigeria. But that does not mean that because you want to blackmail your party and tell lies to the people you are leaving the party because of the injustice meted against the South-east, that is not correct,” he said.
He said it was erroneous for Umahi to accuse PDP of injustice, when he unilaterally imposed his younger brother as South-east zonal vice chairman of the PDP.
He stated: “In life, power is sweet, but conscience is important. It is most offensive and insulting for a man to lie against his party because of power.”
The governor said though APC has not yet told Nigerians where it will zone its presidential ticket, Umahi’s presumptuous move might be too hasty and will ruin him politically.