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Still on Umahi’s migration and APC, PDP jostle for Southeast

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
24 November 2020   |   1:50 pm
In what broke out as a political equivalent of the recent EndSARS protest against police brutality, Governor David Nweze Umahi, decided to turncoat and premised his change of platform from Peoples Democratic Party...


•All eyes on Ugwuanyi, Ikpeazu •Orji, Uzodimma, Nnamani tangle over APC zonal leadership
In what broke out as a political equivalent of the recent EndSARS protest against police brutality, Governor David Nweze Umahi, decided to turncoat and premised his change of platform from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC) on perceived inequitable treatment from his former party against the Southeast geopolitical zone.

Without doubt, Umahi, who is at the threshold of the first two years of his final term in office as Ebonyi State chief executive, decided on his long awaited migration from PDP to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in the bid to participate, not only in the membership registration of his new political abode, but also ensure that some of his loyalists would partake in the party’s upcoming elective national convention.

Although Umahi alleged that he was leaving PDP to protest the party’s disdain for the mammoth contributions and electoral loyalty of Southeast, the party’s stakeholders both from Ebonyi and outside the state threw up reasons to show that his motive was personal and inconsistent with the gargantuan benefits he derived from PDP. Everything pointed to the possibility that the governor saw no future in the party and decided to embrace the broom. Will the new broom sweep cleaner his past political missteps?

Perhaps, it was the possibility that his entry into APC would spark fresh leadership squabbles in the party that prominent leaders of the party from Southeast shunned his rally. While some people believe that Senator Orji Uzor Uzor Kalu is the highest elected official from the zone, others said that Kalu’s sphere of representation, being circumscribed by his senatorial district, is inferior to that of the Imo State governor, Uzodimma.

Then, despite the fact that Senator Rochas Okorocha was the first and only APC governor, the coming of Umahi, who is the chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum, places him ahead of his Imo State counterpart.

Yet, with former President of Senate, Ken Nnamani as the Southeast representative on the National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC) and Dr. Ogbonnia Onu as the first national chairman of a legacy party, the issue of who leads Southeast opens a new frontier of crisis in the governing party.
Complicated Options

NOT many observers recall that Umahi’s migration to APC was like a homemaking. His first association with partisan politics actually began with the defunct All Peoples Party (APP), when he joined other foot soldiers to support their kinsman, Dr. Ogbonnia Onu’s gubernatorial ambition. Onu, the former governor of old Abia State, contested against Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu in the 1999 gubernatorial election, which Egwu won amid legal disputation of the outcome.

This time around that Umahi is joining Onu on the APC platform, he has garnered experience, particularly as an incumbent governor of their home state of Ebonyi, while his former boss, a prominent chieftain of the party, is also serving the nation for a second term as Minister of Science and Technology.

Most political actors in Ebonyi State and Southeast found Umahi’s tactical retreat from complicated, even as the governor believes that the there is no political future for him in PDP. For instance, having served for six months as state chairman of PDP caretaker committee, four years as deputy governor and on his fifth out of eight years as governor, party stakeholders are already weary of his dominance of the political space in PDP.

Although Governor Umahi has indicated the possibility of his retreat from politics in 2023, he knows that there are options in APC, which he does not and would not have in PDP. In the vent that he is not ultimately considered for the party’s presidential ticket or even presidential running mate, Umahi knows that since APC has never won a senatorial seat in Ebonyi State. Therefore, moving into the party further brightens his chances of getting to the Senate.

Analysts believe that Umahi’s move to the governing APC would help him enthrone his preferred candidate as successor, particularly against the backdrop of the demographic imbalance between his Ebonyi South bloc and the most populous old Abakaliki bloc, comprising Ebonyi North and South Senatorial Districts.

In the expected replay of political dichotomy between Abakaliki bloc and the old Afikpo bloc, Umahi’s calculation is that since money and presidential impetus enhances electoral victory, being in APC would afford him the added advantage of dividing the populous old Abakaliki to have his way with a preferred governorship candidate.

Currently, the most promising governorship prospects are massed in APC. They include his 2015 challenger from the Labour Party (LP), Dr. Edward Nkwegu, the 2015 APC candidate, Senator Julius Ali Ucha and his youthful former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Bernard Odoh, who retains the change momentum of anti-Umahi tendencies in the state. By joining APC with his incumbency force, it would be seen how far Umahi could go in perfecting his succession plan, particularly in the face of the quiet rumble between the Ezza and Izzi clans of the old Abakaliki bloc.

It could not be easily projected how far Umahi’s entry could go to disrupt calculations within APC and whether a counter defection would ensue. But, having sustained open dalliance with the Ucha group that has been waging unrelenting political opposition to Onu’s pneumatic compress of the party, Umahi’s entry could worsen the chances of the Ezza clan, given his opposition to a possible Odoh succession.

Will that infighting pave the way for Nkwegu, who is Martin Elechi’s preferred candidate or leave the APC so traumatized to be worsted by PDP? Like Nkwegu, other notable Izzi aspirants on the PDP platform are Engineer Fide Nwankwo and Rep. Sylvester Ogbaga. Senator Silvanus Ogiji Ngele, has been playing cross-cutting politics between APC and PDP. Given how far he has been entrenched in APC so far, it is doubtful of Nkwegu and Elechi would make a detour to PDP to support the Umuekumenyi solidarity.

PDP stakeholders’ pushback
APPARENTLY miffed by Umahi’s sudden retreat from the party, PDP stakeholders must have noted his complicated manoeuvre and dismissed it as self-serving and show of political ungratefulness.

In the text read by the first executive governor of the state and Senator representing Ebonyi North District in the 9th Senate, Dr. Egwu, Ebonyi PDP stakeholders, comprising Senators and members of the House of Representatives, said Umahi’s defection does not enjoy popular endorsement of party chieftains.

During the press conference they called to dissociate themselves from Umahi’s migration to APC, the lawmakers declared that none of them would join the governor in his blind leap. Describing the governor’s defection as “insensitive, unacceptable and selfish,” the stakeholders said the declared reasons for leaving PDP were  “untenable.”

The lawmakers disclosed that indeed “if there is any person who should remain eternally grateful to PDP, that individual ought to be Governor David Umahi.” They stated: “For the sake of clarity we wish to state categorically that not a single member of the PDP caucus at the National Assembly is defecting to the APC.

“The three Senators and five House of Representatives members remain proud card-carrying members of PDP, the platform on which we contested and won elections in 2019.

“The major reason given by Umahi for defecting from PDP to APC is now in public domain, which is that PDP has not been fair to the people of Southeast and the issue of zoning the Presidency and Vice-Presidency.

“While we support that it is then turn of the Southeast to fly the Presidential flag of any of the major political parties come 2023, yet we consider it impolitic, indecent and unwise to give ultimatums and conditionalities in a bid to secure zoning.”

The Ebonyi PDP stalwarts commended the party’s leadership “for their prompt action in dissolving the wards, local Government, state and zonal structures of the party and announcement of state caretaker team.”

But, dismissing the stance of the lawmakers, Umahi said he knows what they want from PDP, remarking that they would join him in APC after they got their demands. As a former state chairman, the governor seems confident that lacking the necessary fiscal war chest or federal might, the lawmakers may not pose any obstacle to his future political schemes in a state bedeviled by huge rural poverty and dependence on government handouts.

However the governor could go in deploying state resources to the tide against PDP in the 2023 state and National Assembly election as well as the governorship would be seen depending on the nature of political realignments and disagreements that trail his new abode.

Of the four factions within Ebonyi APC prior to Umahi’s entry, only the Ucha faction endorsed the governor’s move. Although the governor was said to have reconciled with Senator Sonni Ogbuoji shortly after the 2019 governorship poll, the other tendencies, including the Onu, Odoh, and Steve Egbo factions remained aloof.

Oji Uzor Kalu

Southeast Scramble
ONE very outstanding feature of the rally organized to receive Governor Umahi and his supporters to APC in Abakaliki last Thursday, was the absence of southern leaders. The Guardian gathered that Umahi’s decision to map his entry route from the national leadership, especially through the caretaker committee and Presidency, alienated the zonal leaders.

Apart from a former President of Senate, Senator Ken Nnamani and member representing Ikwo/Ezza Federal Constituency, Comrade Chinedu Ogah, not even the Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, his predecessor, Senator Rochas Okorocha or Senate Majority Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, featured in the rally.

A source within the Imo State Government House confided in The Guardian that Umahi’s defection was part of the machinations of some APC governors to seize the party structure, particularly those that were opposed to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s leadership.

A chieftain of APC in Ebonyi State, Senator Anthony Agbo, told The Guardian that Umahi’s entry would unite and reconcile the party to make it vibrant and competitive in the state. But, despite Agbo’s optimism, emerging indicators show that further frictions and fractionalisation could mar APC’s chances of dominating Southeast.

It is possible that latter-day entrants would have to battle old chieftains for the soul of APC in the zone, especially given the quiet scramble for superiority between Uzodimma, who is seen as the leader of the party, and Umahi, who flaunts his chairmanship of Southeast Governors’ Forum to claim leadership.

A pointer to the emerging rivalry among old members, old joiners and new entrants was that only the former national chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), Dr. Chekwas Okorie, who joined APC earlier this year that sent goodwill message and solidarity for Umahi’s bold move.

In a post on his FaceBook handle, Okorie sided Umahi’s postulation that PDP has been unfair to the people of Southeast, stressing that the party was a creation of the military for the continuation of their subjugation of Southeast.

According to Okorie, “The retired and retiring military Generals in 1999 converged in Minna the capital of Niger State, and in a grand conspiracy, conceived the idea of influencing the formation of a political party that will provide them the tools to remain in power even if it was by proxy.

“The PDP, to all intents and purposes, is the political wing of the retired military cabal that has its operational headquarters in Minna. The emergence of General Olusegun Obasanjo with the short-changing of Dr. Alex Ekwueme at the Jos Convention of PDP and the corresponding emergence of Chief Olu Falae as the Presidential Candidate of the APP/AD unholy alliance with the short-changing of Chief Olusola Saraki, were the first signs that the real seat of power of the PDP was in Minna.

“The fact that there was no federal presence in the Southeast since the end of the civil war was an unwritten deliberate policy of the Federal Government of Nigeria. The Minna-based Cabal ensured that the PDP continued with that wicked policy up until 2015, when the Almighty God intervened in the political leadership of Nigeria through the routing of the PDP leadership and halted the unconscionable alienation of the Southeast geopolitical zone in terms of infrastructural development.

No project of whatever size was ever started and completed by the PDP in the Southeast in all of the 16 years it ruled Nigeria. Who would believe that it was the Private Public Power (PPP) project at Ariaria, Aba in Abia State started by the Buhari administration and commissioned by the President in 2018 that is the first federal project started and completed by any Nigerian Government since the war ended in 1970. Please note that General Buhari was never part of the Minna based Cabal.”

Okorie said the verbal attack by “the ever pugnacious Governor of Rivers State, Chief Nyesom Wike on Gov Umahi for exercising his inalienable right of freedom of association is in absolute bad faith.”

While wondering what it matters if Umahi aspires to contest for the presidency of Nigeria on the platform of the APC, the founder of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and UPP declared: “Wike should grow up. History will be kind to Governor Umahi for calling the bluff of the PDP; he is a true Igbo son. I salute him.”

Tattered SEGF
UMAHI has deflated the Southeast Governors’ Forum by his move. As their leader switches platform, all eyes are on Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu and Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State to see how they manage the new realities.

For Ugwuanyi, any attempt to take a risky jump at this point in time could prove a major distraction to his administration, given that he has a legion of political alligators waiting for any slip. Immediate past Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, does not look ready to join him, should Ugwuanyi contemplate ditching PDP.

In the buildup to the 2019 election, Ekweremadu made a song and dance of the inability of APC and President Muhammadu Buhari to reach the 25 per cent threshold of the total ballots from Enugu State. For fear of anti-party accusation, Ugwuanyi was said to have backed out of attempts by some leaders to confront Ekweremadu for the Enugu West Senatorial election.

Chief Gbazuagu Nweze Gbazuagu, was fielded on APGA platform with the covert plot to supplant Ekweremadu at the polls and switch over to APC after winning the Enugu West seat. Former Governor Sullivan Chime, the 2019 rival gubernatorial candidate of APC, Senator Ayogu Eze, APC Senatorial candidate and former speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Eugene Odoh and former Senate President Nnamani are all in the faction-ridden Enugu State APC.

In Abia State, but for the sudden and unexpected reprieve from his 12-year jail term that was annulled by the Court of Appeal, Senator Kalu stands as a rampart for Ikeazu and Senator Theodore Orji’s plan to join APC.

The incumbent governor and his benefactor had reportedly reached advanced stage in talks with APC leaders in their determination to bring in the Southeast under the party’s platform for its future electoral plans. But given that Kalu, Ikpeazu and Orji, who has signaled his intention to retire from active partisan politics in 2023, have different candidates they want to support for the governorship, Kalu’s return from jail damped their enthusiasm.

No matter how it is interpreted, Umahi’s defection to APC has deflated PDP to a large extent, particularly given that the two PDP state governors manifest passive political inclinations. With Governor Willie Obiano’s ambivalent posture between APGA and APC, the fact on the ground is that PDP has become recessive in Southeast. That calls for more work.