By Dirisu Yakubu
Penultimate Saturday, this correspondent in a piece titled, “Umahi: Defections and Igbo 2023 Presidency,” analysed the events, circumstances and reasons advanced by the Ebonyi state governor, Dave Umahi for quitting the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP for the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
As it were, the governor has not stopped talking as he earlier in the week, dared the PDP to zone its 2023 Presidential ticket to the South-East as an indication that indeed, it is committed to the cause of Ndigbo. For him, there’s no regret as he’s now fully settled in the fold of his new political home.
However, a number of highly-placed and respected Igbo political heavyweights have since distanced themselves from Umahi’s model of getting the attention of power brokers to look in the direction of the South-East for the plum seat, with many like Senator Sam Egwu insisting that though a politician of Igbo extraction deserves to be Nigerian President in 2023; consultation, lobby and moral suasion , would be the working tools in the hands of Igbo people rather than threat, ultimatum and confrontation.
Umahi has denied entering into any form of agreement with the national leadership of the APC, saying the use of the South-East by the PDP without a proportional reward, solely informed his decision to call it a day with the party on which platform he was elected governor twice. So, has the PDP treated Igbo nation with disdain as Umahi claimed? A quick glance!
Five Consecutive Senate Presidents
Following the inauguration of a PDP-led Presidency in 1999; the party settled for Senator Evans Enwerem (of blessed memory) as the Senate President. Enwerem who represented Imo East at the National Assembly was only the nation’s number three man for six months, losing his exalted office on November 18, 1999 owing to controversy bordering on personal integrity.
From Imo, the PDP went up to Anambra state in search of a new Senate President and found in Chuba Okadigbo, the then Senator representing Anambra North, a perfect choice. A Political Science graduate of the Catholic University of America, Okadigbo (now deceased) climbed the exalted seat only to fall to some banana peels which lined his path to the red chamber. He was impeached in 2000 after failing to throw in the towel following the growing animosity between him and President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Bent on keeping faith with the South-East, the PDP team left Anambra for Ebonyi and picked Anyim Pius Anyim, the then occupier of the Ebonyi South District seat. Unlike others before him, Anyim’s reign came to a successful end in 2003. As if every state in the zone was fated to test the seat, it was soon the turn of Abia as Adolphus Wabara (Abia South) succeeded Anyim but after a two year stint; he bowed out rather unceremoniously paving way for Ken Nnamani (Enugu East) to mount the saddle. He was the Senate President until that political epoch came to an end in 2007.
Thus for eight years, the PDP produced five Senate Presidents, all from the South-East geo-political zone.
12 years of Deputy Senate Presidency & four years of House Deputy Speakership
In 2007 when President Umaru Yar’Adua took office, the South-East lost its grip of the Senate Presidency to the North Central and was compensated with the Office of the Senate Deputy President. And for 12 years (2007-2019), Ike Ekweremadu occupied that enviable seat. He even managed to keep the seat when the PDP lost power at the centre in 2015 when he emerged Deputy Senate President while the All Progressives Congress, APC, produced Bukola Saraki as Senate President.
He again tested his popularity in 2019 (9th Senate) only for him to lose to Ovie Omo-Agege, from the South-South.
In four years (2011-2015), Emeka Ihedioha was the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Two national chairmen
In its 22 years of existence, the PDP has produced two national chairmen from the South-East in Prince Vincent Ogbulafor and Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo.
In 2004, President Obasanjo appointed Professor Charles Soludo, an internationally acclaimed intellectual, from Anambra state, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. Soludo would go on to champion the sanitization of the Nigerian banking sector and played a huge part in the $18 billion Paris debt relief recorded by the Obasanjo administration.
Nigerians applauded President Goodluck Jonathan when on September 8, 2010, he appointed General Azubuike Ihejirika, an Igbo military strategist, as Chief of Army Staff. The rhapsody of excitement that greeted the appointed was informed by the Generel’s geographical leaning. Before then, tongues wagged across the country that she did not trust the Igbo ethnic group with such a sensitive office.
Although Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala hails from Ogwashi-Uku, Delta state, South-South Nigeria; she is married to Dr. Ikemba Iweala, a consultant neurosurgeon from Abia state. Her appointment as Finance Minister first by President Obasanjo (2003-2006) and later by President Jonathan (2011-2015) was seen as a compensation of sort for the South-East. The former Managing Director of the World Bank apart from being the first Nigerian woman to hold the Finance portfolio is also the first to get the juicy Ministry of Finance twice in Nigeria.
It is also on record that Maurice Iwu, a Professor of Pharmacognosy from Imo state was appointed chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, by President Obasanjo in 2005. He presided over the 2007 Presidential election won by Umaru Yar’ Ádua.
Pius Anyim, a former Senate President was to return as Secretary to the Government of the Federation under the Goodluck Jonathan Presidency again in a PDP-led government.
2019 Presidential ticket
Although it lost the last Presidential election, the PDP picked Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra state, Mr. Peter Obi as the running mate to its candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. It is not clear how Obi would have turned out but there are unsubstantiated claims that the former Vice President was planning to back his running mate for the ticket if they had won the polls.
The Umahi Dynasty
A member of the PDP National Working Committee of the PDP confided in Saturday Vanguard that Governor Umahi lacks the moral fibre to accuse the party of discriminating against the South-East because “the party allowed him free reign and supported him all the way all these years.”
According to him, Umahi missed the point as a former chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum to rally his colleagues to press for the zoning of the 2023 Presidential ticket to Igbo land.
He said: “The average Igbo man sees Umahi as a self-centred fellow who thinks only for himself. He should have defected without saying a word. Trying to justify his defection on the argument that the PDP has not been fair to Igbo land is the worst form of hypocrisy. I don’t want to use a word you can’t publish but find out if truly the PDP has discriminated against the South-East over the years.”
According to him, “the governor should have reached out to his colleagues from the zones, who are PDP members and leaders. They should have presented Igbo Presidency aspiration to the NWC and go ahead to lobby every interest group on the need to reciprocate the good deeds and support of the zone over the years. That is how politics should be played. You don’t bark out orders and say it is either me or nothing. All the same, good luck to him.”
For a truth, Umahi was one time the PDP acting chairman for Ebonyi state and later, the state chairman. He was deputy governor of the state under former Governor Martin Elechi and was backed by the party for the PDP governorship ticket when he fell out with Elechi. In 2019, Engr. Dave Umahi was re-elected governor for another fresh term of four years.
His immediate younger brother, Austin Umahi was until recently, the National Vice Chairman (South-East) of the PDP.
Dave Umahi is a selfish politician who has thrown away the ladder he climbed to his political top. This is the submission of Diran Odeyemi, the PDP deputy national publicity secretary in an exclusive chat with Saturday Vanguard in Abuja.
For Odeyemi, Umahi will only realize belatedly the folly of the action he has taken, noting that those who quit the PDP to support APC in the past have all return to the party fold ahead of 2023.
“Umahi is a selfish man whose only interest is himself. We have nothing new to tell him order than very soon, he will realize how wrong he is. What has the APC done for the South-East in its five years of existence as a party in power?
“I will like to use this opportunity to once again appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the new Electoral Act into law because I believe that the issue of defection has been clearly outlined there. The new law says if for any reason you are leaving the party on which platform you won election into an office; you lose the office as well. We are hopeful that Mr. President will heed the counsel of well-meaning Nigerians and sign the act into law before the next general elections,” he stated.
The defection of Umahi has continued to elicit diverse reactions with many, including Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike saying the Ebonyi state governor intends to contest the 2023 Presidency on the platform of the APC. Umahi has dismissed this, saying the sole reason for dumping the main opposition party is informed by the poor treatment meted out to his Igbo people by a party that have supported for more than a decade. Who is saying the truth is difficult to identify this material time.