Rumble in the East Over Defection of Umahi to APC

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Benjamin Nworie examine closely and thoroughly the change of political party loyalty from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress by Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi built on his reputation and confidence step-by-step. He served as the State Chairman of Ebonyi Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) between 2003 and 2007; deputy governor of the state; between 2007 and 2015. He threw his hat in the ring to become governor of the state in a contest in which he was not favoured by his boss and governor of the state at the time, Martin Elechi.

However, having been the chairman of the PDP in the state, Umahi clearly understood the workings of the party and had secured the understanding of the leadership of the party in the local government. Therefore, he was able to remove the carpet from the feet of the Elechi, who thought he could deploy the influence of money to kill Umahi’s ambition. Against the incumbent governor’s wish, Umahi won the ticket of the PDP to run for the office of Ebonyi State and went on to win the general election in 2015. He was reelected in 2019, mainly on the basis of the amazing transformation his administration achieved within four years.

Before Umahi became Governor, Ebonyi used to be the least state in the South-east. Within his first tenure, he was able to turn the table completely. He inspired the Ebonyi people who were once derided as the most backward among the Igbo states to rise to a place of honour.

Umahi stepped into the national honours scroll when he became the only governor in the South-east, arguably, in this political dispensation, who is accepted across partisan lines. He easily became Chairman of the South-east Governors Forum. In the period leading to the 2019 national elections, almost all the opposition party candidates surrendered to him. The few who went ahead to contest against him lost woefully, and thereafter preceded to the elections petition tribunal, but soon beat a quick retreat.

Therefore, it was not unusual that the first hint of Umahi’s change of political party loyalty from the PDP to the APC came from elements in the erstwhile opposition. Indeed, when Umahi was in the PDP, there was little or no opposition. Now that he has moved the the APC, he expected the entire state to queue behind him, but it was not quite so.

The Ebonyi State caucus of the PDP in the National Assembly denied support for Umahi’s move. On behalf of the three senators and five members of the House of Representatives, former governor of Ebonyi State, Senator Sam Egwu, PDP, Ebonyi North said that no single lawmaker in the National Assembly will follow as they remain full-blooded and loyal PDP members.

According to Egwu, the Senator and members, House of Representatives considered the decision of the governor as impolitic, indecent and unwise to give ultimatums and conditionalities in a bid to secure zoning.

Senator Egwu who is a ranking Senator said that it was not fair for the governor to describe the PDP as not fair to the South East Zone when he has benefited immensely from the party in the past.

They, however, stated their support for the South-East to fly the Presidential flag of any of the major political parties come 2023.

The read text was signed by Senator Sam Ominyi Egwu; Senator Obinna Ogba; Senator Mike Ama Nnachi; Hon. Sylvester Ogbaga; Hon. Igariwey Iduma Enwo; Hon. Chukwuma Nwazunku; Hon. Edwin Anayo and Hon. Livinus Makwe.

The statement read, “We, the undersigned members of the Ebonyi State PDP caucus of the National Assembly, wish to address our fellow PDP members and other well-meaning Nigerians, on the defection of the Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi from the PDP to the APC.

“The major reason given by Chief Umahi for defecting from the PDP to the APC is now in the public domain which is that the PDP has not been fair to the People of the South East on the issue of zoning the Presidency and vice Presidency.

Viewing the the maximum damage that an Umahi defection could cause to the PDP, the party quickly dissolved the leadership of the party in the state in an attempt to neutralise the impact of the Umahi move. But such was the all encompassing nature of the Umahi defection that even the party he was moving into had to adjust its structure in order to accommodate him, as the APC in Ebonyi also carried out a restructuring of its leadership.

As Chairman of the South-east Governors Forum, Umahi has been put on the spot concerning topical issues on a number of occasions. Agitators for a sovereign state of Biafra have been in an unending war of words with Umahi because the Ebonyi Governor openly disagrees with their methods of operation. However, he is very vocal for the realisation of an Igbo presidency in,Nigeria. Not a few believe if there is an Igboman who has the temperament and the capacity to lead Nigeria in 2023, Umahi is the one.

National Caretaker Chairman of the All Progressives Congress who is also the Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni pleaded with Umahi to give a thought to all members of the APC across all levels in the State.

Buni described Umahi’s defection to APC as timely and appropriate, as they have started to rebuild the party with reconciliation and registration of new members.

Speaking in Abakaliki during the formal reception of Umahi to APC, the Yobe state Governor noted that they were not just happy receiving Umahi to APC but they were happy with the great performance of the Governor in the State.

He noted that the national ruling party believes in equity and fairness and that was why President Muhammadu Buhari does not consider party affiliations when making sure that the welfare of the Nation is being into consideration.

He further described the President as a man of Justice and fairness which he said was the reason that Governor Umahi left his former Party to the APC.

Harping on the administration of the APC administration, the National Chairman recalled that when the President took over the mantle of leadership, Buhari discovered that over 27 States and many local government areas were unable to pay salaries and the President had to provide bailout funds to enable the States pay salaries.

He also added that some of the flagship programmes of the federal government like the Anchor Borrowers were executed by States without party considerations.

Buni said, “We have received the Governor, Umahi and his supporters to APC. Your Excellency, you are most welcome. We are happy to receive you on behalf of the APC family. We are happy not because we are receiving you but because you have performed, you’re performing; you have delivered, you are delivering”.

“Your intention to join APC is timely; it’s appropriate because you are coming to our party at a time we have started rebuilding the Party. And to rebuild this Party, we have started with reconciliation and now we have started the second phase which is membership across the country”.

“Today marks the new beginning in the political history of Ebonyi State. Your Excellency, I know you are a man of justice. You will do justice to all manner of members across all levels of the state from ward, local government to the state level.”

Umahi stated that the state is now 99.9% APC pointing out that in no distance time, all the PDP National Assembly members from the state will join the APC, as they are all tired of PDP and its empty promises.
The Governor who promised to be fair to all members in the state noted that he left PDP for the interest of the South East zone.

He also announced that he joined the APc with the 23 members of the state House of Assembly, 106 members of his cabinet, 13 Council chairmen and 171 Councillors and over 3000 other political appointees.

Umahi said, “Today, Ebonyi State is 99.9% APC, the remaining 1% are the National Assembly members and some of our Elders Council. I know too well that all of them will soon join us in APC because in Ebonyi State, there is no opposition”.

“I know what the National Assembly members are looking for and the moment they get it, they will join us in APC. I want to assure all that this new house built on equity and trust will accommodate all”.

“Party should not divide us, I believe that together we will be stronger. So there is no need for anyone to be aggrieved. Its high time South East move to APC in totality. We are tired of PDP and their empty promises”.

“We have gotten our freedom now, freedom from one person deciding the faith of millions of people as seen in PDP”.

“I want to assure all that everyone would be carried along. No one would be discriminated. We are going to work as a family to achieve our common goal and aspiration”.

Umahi also commend President Buhari for all the support and encouragement so far given to the state adding that the support of Mr. President is the testimony of the transformation being witnessed in Ebonyi State today.

“We must thank the leadership of the APC for giving us the opportunity to be part of the transformation in the country. South East must get it right now”.

A leader of APC in the South-east and Former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani commended Ukahi for taking Ndigbo to where they belong.

The former Senate President noted that Umahi has set the space in the state and has position the aligned with the ruling party and cannot deviate from it.

The state Deputy Governor, Kelechi Igwe declared he will follow Govenor Umahi to anywhere since he was the one that called him to work with him.

Those who attended the function includes, Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Abubarka Malami, Governors of Kebbi, Niger, Jigawa and other APC National leaders from the South East region.
Reacting to slaves fired at him by his Rivers State counterpart Mr. Nyesom Wike in an exclusive interview on ARISE TV, a subsidiary of THISDAY Newspapers, Umahi berated Wike for hijacking the NWC of the PDP and dictating virtually everything that happens in the party.

The NWC had earlier dissolved the wards, local government and state executives of the party in the state.

The governor said it was shameful how Governor Wike attacks and disparages fellow governors and further warned him to be careful how he talks to sitting governors.

“I can’t join issues with my friend, Governor Nyesom Wike. He is a dictator and controls the PDP. He dictates virtually everything that happens in the PDP. Wike said I made my younger brother the National Vice Chairman of the PDP but he has forgotten he made Prince Uche Secondus the National Chairman. He has forgotten how he imposed the House of Representatives Minority Leader of PDP”.

“He has called me so many unprintable names and it’s very shameful. In as much as I don’t want to take my fellow governor to the cleaners, he should be very careful how he talks to fellow governors. The PDP NWC is being remote controlled and it’s very unacceptable and unless there is a change, you will see a lot of governors leaving the party. People should stop talking as if they are good. Sometimes, my colleague talks as if they are my God, Umahi said.

Umahi while reacting to Wike’s claim that his defection to APC was a show of ingratitude to the PDP which made him all he is, said that it was on recorded that he was the soul sponsor of the PDP in the South East zone.

The governor also noted that his problem in PDP was that he failed to castigate President Muhammadu Buhari.

“PDP wants me to be castigating the President. That’s not in my character. The President remains my father and boss. I am happy doing what am doing, Umahi. Everything is not politics. My respect for Me President will never change. Mr President is a man of character and he has been very fair to all the governor’s irrespective of political differences”.

He also reiterated that his decision to leave the PDP was due to the injustice of the party against the South-east zone.

While debunking that the President never lobbied him to join the APC, the governor noted that he is not joining the APC in other to be given the presidential ticket or for it to be zoned to the South East region.

“I want to tell you that my movement to APC doesn’t mean they should give to South East or myself. I am protesting against injustice. I am protesting because the PDP is marginalizing the South East and if it doesn’t yield result today, it will yield tomorrow. I am not protesting because APC must do this or that. By 2023, we must have supported the PDP for 24 years. If we support APC for such years and they didn’t do something, then we have reason to protest.

Umahi said that though the NWC said it was too early to talk of the presidential ticket but the way they were going showed that PDP was not going to zone it to the South-east.

Like most human beings who command considerable influence, Umahi is sometimes given to grandstanding and ostentatious speech. Perhaps goaded by sycophants who are encouraging him to think he is superhuman, the Ebonyi governor sometimes takes sweeping and arbitrary decisions. Consider this statement from the Deputy Governor, Kelechi Igwe. According to him, Governor Umahi has assumed the position of a political teacher, a mentor and a father to him in particular and the entire council members. He said, “Your Excellency, a book will not contain your marks, that of this Exco and this administration. No man can fully understand or comprehend you. I say to you: you are an enigma and you are maverick. This State that you have rewritten its history will never forget you. I have no regrets serving and working with you and to say to you that no governor in Nigeria will have the privilege of working with great minds and brains like this exco.”

They even try to encumber him with bogus appendages. For instance, Umahi has been addressed with the larger than life title, ‘Akubaroaha’ (meaning ‘wealth that benefits the people’). He was also made the Grand Commander — Empowerment Hall of Fame. Feeling giddy from this kind of enticement, it is understandable that Umahi can take a whimsical action like appointing 1000 Special Assistants, whose duties clash with other appointees playing similar role

Sometimes, his vision sounds grandiose and boastful. From the way he sees himself, Umahi thinks he has the capacity to deliver so much to Ebonyi that those who will come after him will have nothing to do. At a recent event, he stated, “Our target is to completely solve the problem of infrastructure by 2023 when we shall be handing over to a new administration. We will create jobs for our citizens, most especially in the private sector, thereby addressing the current huge dependence on civil service employment and its clearly adverse implications for overhead costs.” Considering his track record, it may not be out of place to give Umahi a benefit of doubt. In the days ahead, he has committed himself to construct additional eight flyovers at vulnerable locations across the state, complete the new Government House, International Market, industrial clusters, build an airport and numerous other projects ongoing in the state.

Ebonyi State Governor, Engr David Umahi said that he was joining the APC because the Party is amenable working for the interest of the South East zone.

The governor also noted that he has no presidential ambition and has not been promised by anyone for the presidential seat in 2023.

He stressed that contrary to the allegation that he left because he was not promised the presidential ticket by the PDP, the governor noted that he would not have collected the ticket even if it was given to him.

He said that his decision to leave PDP was because of the injustice against the people of the South East zone by the Party not minding that the late Vice President, Alex Ekwueme was a foundation member of the party.

Briefing journalists in Abakaliki, the Governor also faulted claims made by the Board of Trustees Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Walid Jubril who said that the South East never requested for the Presidential ticket of the Party.
Umahi said: “anybody saying I asked PDP for a PDP presidential ticket is being mischievous. Because, even if PDP promises anybody the presidential ticket, how does it work when over 8000 delegates will be electing the person? And such 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 Southeast 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 Southeast 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 Southeast any position. There was no such discussion”.

“However, I offered myself for this movement as a protest to injustice being done to Southeast by the PDP; that since 1998 the Southeast 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 Southeast, the late vice President, HE Alex Ekwueme and so, it is absurd that since 1998 going to 2023 that Southeast 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”.

“Let it be known that I am God’s project and I don’t go beyond my calling. I’m satisfied being a Governor and by his grace, for eight years. First and foremost, a business man and then took an adventure in politics”.

“I refused to be called a politician, because if politics is all about lying, cheating and backstabbing that is not my family character and so, I protest and nothing will stop me from this protest”.

“I believe that this movement will cause PDP to know that no man is an ireland 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 practiced 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”.

“One thing I promise is that I will not castigate PDP, just like my only sin in PDP is that I refused to castigate Mr President, and I will never do that, because that is my family character. But those who don’t have character believe that since I don’t castigate Mr president, I could be linking the information of the PDP”

“So, let it be known to everybody that nobody promised me anything. Let it be known that I moved because of injustice and I have no regret about that. Some people said, I will regret this movement, but I laugh at them, because they are not my God”.
Umahi noted that the over 50 organizations, State House of Assembly and the State Working Committee of the PDP in Ebonyi State have demanded that the position should be zoned to the South East.

He added that the PDP has not been fair to the South East zone which necessitated his decision to quit the Party as a sacrifice for the purpose of actualization of the President from the South East zone.

Umahi explained that having been successful Governor for two tenures and a successful business man he would return to business where he also has calling.

I am not driven by selfish interests but because we need to protest against marginalisation. We have benefited more from the APC government. I didn’t start this protest today. I have no regrets. In life you have to be courageous”.

Umahi said that the South East has remained faithful to PDP, voted for her candidates yet had not been considered fairly in Nigerian polity.

He further explained that if an Igbo man is President he would naturally be protective of all sections of the country moreso because the Igbo have stake in all parts of Nigeria

Ebonyi State was notoriously buried in the backwater of the Igbo nation. Only a few of her notable indigenes could stand head and shoulder above the surging tide of poverty. If Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world, Ebonyi shared an unpleasant place at the bottom of the pyramid with other less fortunate states of the federation. That was before an unassuming man, who was stoutly resisted by his principal, former Governor Martin Elechi, assumed leadership of Ebonyi in 2015.

True, David Umahi was deputy governor to Elechi since 2011. But Nigerian governors have the ill-reputation of despising their deputies. As many of them only chose a deputy to fulfill the criteria to run for office and often in deference to ethnic and geographical delineation of the state, which sometimes throws up a candidate they can barely accommodate. On these and other accounts, the relationship between many Nigerian governors and their deputies is less than cordial.

Not surprisingly, Elechi clearly showed a preference for another candidate, among those who jostled to succeed him. But Umahi showed greater promise and was able to rally opinion moulders in the state behind him. His infectious enthusiasm was all he could showcase, at the time. After all, he had not been governor before and nobody knew what he could do. Happily, those who were willing to give him a chance were in the majority and easily carried the day, winning the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ebonyi governorship ticket for Umahi. Subsequently, he won the 2015 Ebonyi governorship election.

In victory, Umahi has shown surprising magnanimity. Whereas many political god sons have been known to make life uncomfortable to their political godfathers immediately the baton of power is transferred to them, Umahi has been very accommodating. He openly showers encomiums on his predecessor. “I want to thank all of you and I reserve all thanks first to God almighty, my family and that of the Deputy Governor and of course, Chief Martin Elechi, the former Governor. I will never forget him because he is the destiny helper that God brought to put me where I am. Without him, I wouldn’t have been here. So, for your information, we are talking now and we are happy with ourselves.”

Because, he deliberately refused to follow the path of vengeance, which heats up the polity, deciding instead to pursue the Biblical injunction to live in peace with all men, he has, therefore, created a conducive environment to set lofty goals and chase them relentlessly to completion.

Four years after, a people who were once derided as the most backward among the Igbo states have been inspired by the sterling performance of Umahi to rise to a place of honour. Who would have thought that the streets of Abakaliki, the state capital could spot such dazzling beauty in the day, as well as, at night. If Eboyans dreamt of flyovers, it was probably in the distant future. Not at all achievable in a span of four years. Umahi has brought so much rapid positive transformation to Ebonyi that even his detractors have little or nothing to say against him. Arguably, he is the only governor in the Southeast who is accepted across partisan lines. In the period leading to the 2019 national elections, almost all the opposition party candidates surrendered to him. The few who went ahead to contest against him lost woefully, and thereafter preceded to the elections petition tribunal, but soon beat a quick retreat.