By Eric Elezuo
The defection of Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, to the All Progressives Congress, just before the weekend did not come to many political followers as a surprise. It was more like the climax of a series of skirmishes that had been playing out for a couple of weeks now. The defection, therefore put an end to weeks of speculation. While many said that Umahi has undertaken a political ‘harakiri’, many others believe that he may have taken a good step in the right direction towards causing a paradigm shift in favour of the South East geo-political zone in its quest to actualise a lofty ambition of producing the President of Nigeria in 2023.
The defection is expected according to stakeholders to be the harbinger of many other defections of South East Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors, and other political bigwigs not yet in the ruling APC. It is noteworthy however, that there are only two south east PDP governors left; they are Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State. The Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, who is a member of the aLL progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), is also on the radar as one those being lured to defect to the APC
Giving reasons behind his dumping of the PDP in favour of the APC, Umahi, who before now, has been frolicking with President Muhammadu Buhari, blamed the Rivers State governor for his highhandedness in the party, adding that he wished to position the South East to benefit from the dividend of democracy as flows from the Federal Government and get fully integrated into the politics of the centre. He also mentioned injustice as another for his defection, saying that he could not be part of a system where fairness, justice and equity were not taken seriously.
From the Ecumenical Centre, Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, where he announced his defection, Umahi praised Buhari for playing a vital role in the development of the state. He noted that his journey to the APC is with a retinue of officers under his administration, in addition to all the political structures hitherto erected on behalf of the PDP.
The officers include all the state executive council members, chairmen of the 13 local government areas, liaison officers, board members, political appointees and coordinators, among others.
In his words: “It is time to go. We have dwelt so much in one political party and it is better to go to the centre. We want to appreciate Mr President, who has helped us to develop Ebonyi State. The help from the President has transformed the state.
“We want to thank the national leaders of the party, the governors, my deputy, my exco members, the state House of Assembly members and the Ebonyi people. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for following me. Thank you for standing by me.
“My National Assembly members are my children. They are looking for something. When they get it, they will soon come back. Do not castigate them. We have three members of the Elders’ Council, do not castigate them. They are my children. Do not castigate them. They will come back. We are together.
“This is a new house that is built on God. It will accommodate all of us. I have dissolved the Elders’ Council to accommodate our brothers and sisters who are coming from the APC.
“In the South-East, we have to move to the centre. We are tired of empty promises. We want action now. Today, as my deputy has said, we have moved to the APC. The governor and the deputy governor united, together with 106 exco members; 1,200 appointees made up of executive assistants, senior executive assistants and technical assistants; and 374 liaison officers are with me on this movement.
“We have 400 appointees into boards and commissions, 506 management committee members, 130 supervisors, all local government area chairmen and all the party chairmen and the legislators. We are all in agreement on this movement.”
In all, Mai Bala Buni, the Chairman, Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee of the APC, said that Umahi’s action would pave the way for more democracy dividends for the people of the state.
“Ebonyi is now closer to the centre and as such, will benefit more as an APC state in the South-East zone,” Buni stated.
In support of Umahi, the Nigeria Presidential Project 2023, appealed to the three remaining governors in the South-East to join Umahi to defect to the APC.
In a statement signed by its Director, Media and Publicity, Tony Nwachukwu, the group hailed Umahi for taking the bold step of dumping the PDP to embrace the APC.
He called on governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Willie Obiano of Anambra and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia to follow the example of their Ebonyi counterpart without further delay.
But Wike faulted Umahi’s defection and claims of injustice which he posited, warning the Ebonyi governor to take care that his presidency ambition does not destroy the South East. He said that though Umahi has the right to pursue his political aspiration, he should be mindful of the political future of the South-East region.
“Three senators from his (Umahi’s) state said they have seen the need for the South-East to produce the President. However, it is not the way their governor is going about it. This is not a personal thing. Your ambition should not destroy the entire South-East,” Wike said.
Faulting all Umahi’s claims, bordering on injustice, Wike maintained that Umahi’s ambition to be the APC’s presidential candidate in 2023 is the sole reason behind the defection. He reminded the Ebonyi governor that under the PDP, the south east produced Senate presidents, ministers of major portfolios, secretary to the Federal government among others.
Wike’s stance was contained in a statement by his Special Assistant (Media), Kelvin Ebiri. The Rivers State governor accused Umahi of being unfair to the PDP, which gave him the governorship ticket in 2015 and again in 2019.
“Committed members of PDP were not surprised that Governor Umahi on Tuesday formally defected to the APC, which he has for a while been fraternising with.
“My friend, Umahi, wants to be president. There is no problem about 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 because of that 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 advised Umahi demanded to retract the statement that the PDP has not been fair to the South-east.
However, much as the Ebonyi lawmakers of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the National Assembly, have said no member of the caucus is cross carpeting to the All Progressives Congress (APC), reports have it that plans are under way for about 10 lawmakers across boards to defect in solidarity.
The Chairman of the Caucus in the national Assembly, Senator Sam Egwu, in company of three other senators and Five House of Representatives members from Ebonyi said “For the sake of clarity, we wish to state that not a single member of the Ebonyi State PDP caucus of the National Assembly is leaving to the APC.
“The three Distinguished Senators and five House of Representatives members remain proud card-carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the platform under which we contested and won elections in 2019.”
While supporting calls that it was the turn of the South East to fly the Presidential flag of any of the major political parties come 2023, he described Umahi’s action as “impolitic, indecent and unwise”
Meanwhile, consultations are said to be ongoing to pave the way for about 10 members of the National Assembly, elected on the platform of the PDP to toe the line of the Ebonyi governor
The Punch reported that a ‘senior legislative aide to one of the ranking senators from the region, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said seven senators and three members of the House of Representatives were making final arrangements with the ruling APC to dump the opposition party.
According to the paper, the source was quoted as saying “You know, anybody who wants to contest any political position in 2023 has to move to the party that will guarantee their political future. Again, you have to stay in a party like the APC for a period of time before you can be allowed to contest any political position. So, those who are defecting now want to be on the ground and be part of decision-making at the fullness of time.”
The South east region remains the only region yet to test the executive powers of the presidency since Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a ceremonial head during the First Republic that lasted between 1960 and 1966. It is left to be seen if the APC holds the key to Igbo presidency come 2023