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Umahi’s purported defection stokes political unease in Ebonyi

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If rumours surrounding the political aspirations of Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, are all it takes to make him realize his highest dreams, then the Ebonyi State chief executive has garnered more than enough.

Ever since he was inaugurated on May 29, 2015, Umahi’s political moves have been accentuated with a surfeit of deep rumours ranging from a vaulting presidential and, sometimes, senatorial ambition to defection from his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to any other political party.

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Penultimate week, Umahi was once again associated with a move to join the governing All Progressive Congress (APC). Initial reports said the governor dumped PDP and joined APC after meeting several leaders of the party including President Muhammadu Buhari penultimate Friday.

Although the reports were treated as part of the many rumours making the rounds over 2023 posturing, it was later taken seriously by the following Saturday, when the only House of Reps member produced on the APC platform, Chinedu Ogah, confirmed it.

The member representing, Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency, lending credence to the governor’s crossover to APC, stated, “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.

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“I am calling on other governors in Southeast to toe the line of Governor Umahi and join APC. We have to be at the center, we have to join mainstream politics for overall development of our zone and the country in general. President Muhammadu Buhari has done well. Everybody should join APC to encourage him.”
Contrived rumours, demands
 
AS the rumours became rife, political watchers started to ask rather rhetorically, what the governor wanted to achieve by his move. The questions were basically centred on his acclaimed foothold on the PDP, even before he became governor in 2015.
 
It was gathered that apart from sustaining the dominance of PDP in his state during elections, Umahi continued to serve as the chairman of the PDP dominated Southeast Governors’ Forum. At the party’s zonal level, he worked to ensure the emergence of his brother, Austin Umahi, as the National Vice Chairman (Southeast).

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Investigations also showed that his other brother is the Deputy Chairman of the party in Ebonyi State, while an alleged close friend serves as state PDP chairman.
 
The governor however encouraged doubts about his rumoured defection, because apart from personal text messages, his Special Assistant on Media Mr. Francis Nweze, came up with a statement in Abakaliki, denying any such move.

The statement read: “The news is a product of a figment of imagination on the part of the carriers, am still flying the flag of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and 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, I wish to leave Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), it will be officially communicated and can never be a product from rumour mongers so the general public is advised to jettison such unfounded rumour.”

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Yet, despite the denial, insiders strongly believe that Umahi has perfected plans to leave the party with members of his executive, House of Assembly, 13 local government council chairmen, and other stakeholders.
 
Sources said part of the governor’s grouse against PDP was the controversy over the zoning of the party’s presidential ticket. PDP national chairman, Uche Secondus, had hinted that the party’s presidential candidate in 2023 could come from anywhere, a development that attracted wide condemnation, especially from party faithful in the southeast.
 
However, another PDP source hinted that Umahi’s move to APC may not be unconnected with the recent state congress in the state, where he was said to have retained all members of the state executive, but became uncomfortable with their alleged romance with certain National Assembly members from the state and the national leadership of the party.

It was gathered that none of the National Assembly members attended the state congress, which reelected the state executive, a development the governor was said to have viewed as a dent in his acclaimed firm grip on the party.  Although the lawmakers’ boycott of the congress was attributed to the ravaging Coronavirus disease, informed sources disclosed that their decision to back out of the congress was to register the lack of confidence in the management of the party by the governor.

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2023 contradictions

Party chieftain that spoke to The Guardian about the covert scheme to remove control of the party structure from Umahi stated that despite his denial of the purported move to APC, the national leadership of PDP had already alerted former governor Sam Egwu and Senator Obinna Ogba to take over the party structure in the state.

Ogba is said to be nursing a governorship ambition for 2023 and it is believed that the way and manner the Senator has been going about his ambition negatively affected his relationship with the governor.
 
Of all the speculations, however, the one that is  ‘gaining ground’ is that the governor’s continued stay in the PDP might jeopardise his rumoured presidential ambition, especially with the pronouncement of  Secondus a few weeks ago. Those conversant with the politicking at the national level of the party believe that the statement attributed to the national chairman was like paving way for the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar to contest the presidency again on the PDP platform in 2023.

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In the event that that scenario plays out, the source stated, it would be difficult for Umahi to become President or Vice-President in 2023, based on the likelihood that he would rank among the least of those Atiku may consider as a running mate from the Southeast zone.
 
It was also gathered that Umahi feels that joining APC could boost his chances of becoming President or Vice President, especially based on his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders of the party.

Clout chasing
BUT, in a hurried Press briefing put together by the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Francis Nwaifuru, shortly after the rumour of Umahi’s defection broke, the Speaker gave PDP a seven-day ultimatum to zone the presidential ticket to the Southeast. That threat went a long way to confirm Umahi’s reason for moving out of PDP.
 
Nwaifuru, who had never spoken on the matter of the 2023 presidency in the past, had while speaking with reporters, said it was only appropriate in the spirit of democracy, equity, justice, and fairness that the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 2023, be zoned to the South East.

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“On this note, we are giving our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seven days ultimatum to convoke the National Executive Committee of the party and zone the position of the Presidency to southeast Nigeria, especially as INEC has officially announced the date of the presidential elections.

“Failure to adhere to these kind requests will cost our party heavily and we, the honourable members of the 6th Ebonyi State House of Assembly will leave no stone unturned in taking decisive actions to ensure that traditions and dividends of democracy are respected in our party.
 
“Equally, the party should not contemplate removing the National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secundus as it is not customary that the zone (South) from where the National Chairman comes from produces the Presidential Candidate of the Party. If this advice is not adhered to, it will further divide and destabilize the party along sectional and regional lines.”

After his lengthy argument on why PDP should zone the party’s presidential slot to Southeast, the Speaker went on a non-commissioned expedition through a futile denial of the purported defection of members of the State House of Assembly to APC. He however noted that the issue had not been contemplated.

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But a political analyst based in Abakaliki, Mr. Paul Okobi, contended that going by what was on the ground, Governor Umahi was set to leave PDP, stressing that the statement by Hon Ogah should be taken with seriousness.

He added that the governor’s romance with the presidency in recent times as well as some of his statements regarding Buhari shows him as one with “some hidden agenda”.
 
Also, an APC chieftain and spokesman of Alaigbo Development Foundation, Chief Abia Onyike, said Umahi’s defection was very true, adding, “Governor Umahi has defected. With the influence of people like Senator Obinna Ogba and the other National Assembly members, it is obvious that the governor appears uncomfortable in the PDP.

“The party can no longer give him the edge he enjoyed ab initio. That was the fallout of the state congress boycotted by the Abuja group, which petitioned the national leadership of the party. So, he had no option, but to look elsewhere.

“The PDP is no longer ready to allow him to produce the National Vice Chairman of the party in the yet to be organised zonal congress. He wants to be in the APC to pursue his presidential ambition.”

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Dave UmahiebonyiPDP
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