Although the 2023 general elections is way-off, the clamour for presidency by the Southeast has begun in earnest, NNAMDI MBAWIKE writes.
The long search for a president of Southeast extraction, is already drawing concerns from major stakeholders across the country. A critical look into the agitation for a president of Southeast extraction, shows that a good number of the agitators believe that apart from the perceived marginalisation of the zone for a long time, it has not produced a democratically elected executive president since the enthronement of democracy in the country. This stems from them believing that Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was from the zone, was just a ceremonial president.
Close followers of political activities in the Southeast are of the view that despite the existence of an unwritten constitution of power rotation between the North and the South, notable Southeast leaders, including the governors, may take unexpected actions that may lead to a political ‘tsunami’ in the zone soon.
Already, signs have emerged that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which has the zone as its stronghold, may be the most affected when the cloud of defections currently gathering, finally descends.
To many political leaders in the zone including the governors, the only way to actualise the dream of a president, is that there must be a fallout of power play within the ruling party and major opposition(s) with the support of the sitting president.
Hence, there are ongoing moves by top political actors in the zone, to dump the PDP for the APC to actualise their dream of getting the presidency in 2023.
Those who believe that dumping the PDP for the APC will be a sure way to get the presidency, are hinging their argument on the failure of the PDP to zone its presidential slot to the Southeast, despite the huge support it has been getting from the zone since its formation.
Already, Dave Umahi, the Ebonyi State governor, after days of speculation, has formally defected from the PDP to the APC.
Umahi, who defected along with members of his cabinet, insisted that the zone had suffered injustice from the PDP. He told journalists that he moved to the party because of injustices meted out to the Southeast by the PDP.
He said, “Let me clear the air and state that I never sought the ticket of the PDP presidency and I will not. Whoever said that I moved to the APC because they refused to zone the ticket to me, is being very mischievous, because even if PDP promises me, an individual, a presidential ticket, how does it work?
“It is expected that well over 8000 delegates will elect the person and such a promise cannot happen without more than 10 or 20 people. People are being very mischievous but I tell you, there are a lot of prominent people from the Southeast that can take the PDP slot.
“Why am I moving to APC? Some people said I was promised this and that but I tell you, there is no such discussion. APC never promised me any position, they never promised the Southeast any position, there was no such discussion, however I made this movement as a protest to the injustice being done to the Southeast by the PDP since 1998.”
In a swift reaction, the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP, dissolved the Ebonyi State executive committee of the party. The party also dissolved the Southeast caretaker committee of the party which is headed by Governor Umahi’s younger brother, Austin Umahi.
The defection of Umahi has continued to elicit reactions from various quarters.
The director of Planning and Strategy of the Pan Nigeria Presidency of Igbo Extraction Coalition, the umbrella group of all pro-Igbo presidency pressure groups, Chief Pat Anyanwu, noted that the PDP should now know that without zoning its presidential ticket to Igbo land, it would have a lot of challenges in 2023.
He said Governor Umahi should be seen as a patriot by this move, adding that he is a man that is concerned about the political interests of his people.
“It’s not all about him or his ambition per se, and he should be appreciated for his step. It’s now left for the PDP and other parties to do the needful and zone the 2023 presidential ticket to Igbo land,” Chief Anyanwu noted.
Also reacting to the defection, the spokesman of Ohanaeze N’digbo Worldwide, Chuks Ibegbu, noted that Ohanaeze N’digbo, though not a political outfit, is interested in the political interest and rights of N’digbo and would support any move that would enhance it.
He called on the PDP to repay N’digbo for their long years of loyalty to the party even to their own detriment.
Ibegbu noted that Umahi took the decision after several efforts to see his former party do the needful, adding that Umahi is an Igbo patriot and should be commended for defending the political integrity of his politically marginalised people. He warned against any crisis over the matter “as he who wears the shoe knows where it pinches him.”
Apart from Umahi’s defection, political pundits believe that there are other prominent leaders of the PDP from the Southeast including the governors, that may soon dump the party for the APC, if the PDP fails to cede the presidential ticket to the zone.
To buttress the belief of close followers of the looming defections, Hope Uzodinma, the governor of Imo State, recently disclosed that the party was looking forward to welcoming more governors from the zone into its fold.
“The APC is the ruling party and for the interest of national integration and cohesion, Imo and the Southeast, indeed, need to become part and parcel of the ruling party to make the Nigerian project a complete project,” he said.
But, in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday, a former National Auditor of the PDP, Barrister Ray Nnaji, said the APC would not zone the presidency to the Southeast because of Umahi’s defection, insisting that the reasons he gave were not true.
He noted that all the political parties including the PDP and APC have not been fair to the Southeast, but pointed out that politics is a game of numbers.
He, however, advised the Southeast to be organised, stressing that no party will have the confidence to give them the presidency or even vice president because the zone is “too fragmented”.
Apart from Umahi, who is also the chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum, there are serious insinuations that the APC may extend its tentacles to convince Governors Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State to join the party soon.
The Ohanaeze Youth Council had earlier advised governors of the zone to join the APC. It said the PDP does not have the region’s best interests at heart, and as such, there is no need for leaders of the zone to continue to work with the main opposition party.
The zonal secretary general of the group, Mr Nnabuike Okwu, made the call. “The Ohanaeze N’digbo Youth Council Worldwide, after their consultative virtual meeting with Igbo leaders and elders on Monday, has been mandated to start mounting pressure on the Southeast governors to abandon their political parties, especially those in the PDP, to join the mainstream ruling party, the APC, without further delay.
“OYC urges the governors to defect, because there are no political benefits for the Southeast to continue to remain in a political party that has no respect and value for Igbos, except milking their votes during elections through deceitful mediums, fake promises and manipulative politicians,” he stated.
With the defection of Umahia, the APC is now controlling two states in the zone, while the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and PDP are respectively in charge of the remaining states.