The defection of Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, from PDP to the governing APC has thrown up a realignment of sort within the political space ahead of the 2023 elections. JONATHAN NDA- ISAIAH dissects the issues.
Not many political observers were surprised by the move of the Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi to defect from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the reasons are not far fetched .
Although Umahi has always been in the PDP, his actions and body language have never been antagonistic towards President Muhammadu Buhari whom he has repeatedly said he respects and holds in high esteem.
Indeed, in recent weeks, the clamour for South East presidency has gained traction with most leaders from the zone insisting that 2023 is their turn to rule. The leaders based their agitations on the premise that the South West were in the saddle for eight years, South South for six years and the North for 12 years and it is only natural for the next President to come from the South East.
To be sure, rotational presidency is not in the constitution of both APC and PDP but there has always been an unwritten rule between both parties to rotate the presidency between the North and South. In 1999, both parties – PDP and the All Peoples Party (APP) presented both presidential candidates from the South West – Ousegun Obasanjo and Olu Falae ostensibly to placate the region for the annulment of June 12election presumably won by Chief MKO Abiola and his subsequent arrest and death in detention.
Similarly in 2007, both the PDP and ANPP presented their candidates from the North in the person of the late Umaru Yar’Adua and Gen Muhammadu Buhari, However the death of Yar’Adua some years later altered the political calculation with former President Goodluck Jonathan contesting the 2011 election. Also, his refusal not to honour the agreement led to his loss in the 2015 election.
With the North having occupied the presidency for eight years, it would seem natural that the ruling APC will zone its 2023 presidential ticket to the South.
Umahi sensing the mood of the region decided to defect to the APC which he feels is in a better stead to grant the request of the South East. Suffice to say, the South East is generally believed to be the stronghold of the PDP since 1999, the party has been giving bloc votes to the party. Other parties have been getting miserly votes from the region.
While announcing his defection on Tuesday, Umahi said his move to APC was not as a result of PDP not zoning the Presidency to him as being speculated in some quarters.
He said that he defected to APC because he believes that the governing party is amenable to working with the South East region than the PDP.
The governor insisted that he would continue to agitate for the interest of the South East in or out of office, adding that he has decided to become the sacrificial lamb that would be crucified for the interest and good of the South East as a zone.
“Let me clear the air and state that I never sought the ticket of PDP Presidency and I will not. Whoever that said that I moved to 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 would elect the person and such promise can not 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 South East that can take the slot of PDP.
“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 South East any position, there was no such discussion, however I offered this movement as a protest to the injustice being done to South East by the PDP since 1998 till date,” he said.
He noted that between 1999 till date, the South East region has continue to support the PDP but that the party has not deemed it fit to zone the Presidency to the South East. He added that there are credible and qualified personalities in the zone that are competent to rule the country.
The Ebonyi governor stated that he is not driven by selfish reasons rather long denial and refusal of the PDP to zone the Presidency to the South East, adding that till date, the PDP is yet to give reasons why the South East should not get the slot of Presidency.
\He noted that he started the agitation for South East Presidency since 2019, insisting that the zone must get it right now or else they would wait for another couple of years to get such opportunity again.
Umahi further noted that despite his movement to the APC, he would not castigate the PDP, stressing that he wished the PDP would consider the region and zone the Presidency to South East for equity and fairness.
Perhaps in a bid to explain his selfless sacrifice over the matter, he pointed out that he might quit politics in 2023. He nonetheless added that he has not yet declared interest for the office of the Presidency and would support any candidate from the zone to occupy the exalted position.
With the Ebonyi governor’s defection, the APC and PDP now control two states each in the South-East region, while the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) is in control of one.
Umahi’s defection was greeted with excitement within the APC. His defection was working out as planned by the Governor Buni-led caretaker committee leadership who are pleased with the feat it has achieved in getting the governor especially after the recent loss of Edo State to the PDP.
What’s more, the Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma had on Monday boasted that Umahi’s defection to APC was testament to the party’s acceptance in the South East.
He had added that more high profile defections were expected in the coming days.
The party’s official tweeter handle @officialAPCNg said “Welcome home, Governor David Nweze Umahi. Ebonyi State is APC!”
A source close in the party, who craved anonymity said: “We have also gotten a governor into our fold. The Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee is reconciling us and even wooing quality persons to our party. We are very happy with the development“.
But in a swift reaction to Umahi’s defection, PDP said the Ebonyi State governor left its fold for personal reasons, which Nigerians will come to know in the fullness of time.
A statement by the party’s national publicity secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, noted: “Our party thanks Governor Umahi for services rendered to the people of Ebonyi state, as the State Chairman of Ebonyi PDP (2003 to 2007); deputy governor of Ebonyi state (2007 to 2015) and two term governor of Ebonyi (2015 till date), all elected on the platform of the PDP.
“As we wish Governor Umahi all the best in his adventure, we call on the members of our party to remain calm and committed to the ideals of our party as no individual is bigger than the PDP,” the party said.
Reacting also, Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, declared that the quest by his Ebonyi State counterpart, Umahi, to become the presidential candidate of APC led to his defection from PDP.
Wike who stated this on Tuesday night said the Ebonyi governor’s decision to leave the PDP had nothing to do with alleged injustice meted on the South East by the PDP.
The governor stated that committed members of the PDP were not surprised that Umahi’s formally defection to the APC, which he said he had for a while been fraternising with.
He said he would ordinarily not have been perturbed by Umahi’s decision to defect to the APC, but he felt offended by his attempt to justify his decision on the purported injustice meted on the South East by the PDP.
Wike accused Umahi of being unfair to the PDP which gave him governorship ticket in 2015 against all odds, and repeated same feat in 2019.
The governor noted that while Umahi has a right to move to the APC, for him to attempt to blackmail the PDP and paint it in bad light was mischievous and unacceptable.
He said, “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 that because you want to blackmail your party, you tell lies to people that you are leaving the party because of the injustice meted against the South-East, that is not correct.”
Wike who demanded that Umahi should retract the statement that the PDP has not been fair to the South-East, argued that under the PDP, the South East has produced Senate Presidents, National Vice Chairman of the PDP and Secretary to the federal government.
Meanwhile the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP would not take the defection lightly. Rising from an emergency meeting Tuesday evening it announced the dissolution of the ward, local government and state executive committees of the Ebonyi state chapter of the party forthwith.
Ologbondiyan in a terse statement said, “The NWC has also dissolved the South East Zonal Caretaker Committee of the party.
“These decisions are pursuant to the powers conferred on the NWC by the PDP Constitution.”
Interestingly, while Umahi’s younger brother, Austin was the South East Zonal chairman of the party, his half brother, Maxwell was vice chairman of PDP in Ebonyi State.
2023 Permutations And Realignments
Political analysts have greeted the defection of Umahi with mixed reactions. Some have questioned the political weight of Umahi in the South East that would enable him clinch the ticket ahead of other contenders .
To be sure, if the APC decides to zone its presidential ticket to the South East, other gladiators from the region like the minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu who has always been in the ANPP and was even chairman of the party when he was the lone man standing in the South East would first mention.
Other APC heavyweights in the South East including former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former governor of Imo, Rochas Okorocha and his Abia counterpart, Orji Uzo Kalu would be first in line to clinch the ticket .
Also, former governor of Lagos State , Ahmed Bola Tinubu has not hidden his desire to be president in 2023 while Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi and minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi are also in the mix .
Suffice to say, the trio of Tinubu, Ameachi and Fayemi will not give up on the presidency without a fight. There is a general consensus that the APC will zone it to the South in general and not micro zone it to any zone in the South .
Also some political analysts contend that zoning the presidency to the South East for the APC will be political suicide on the grounds that the region is hostile to the APC.
According to a stakeholder in the ruling party who spoke on the condition of anonymity said “ I don’t think we can risk giving the ticket of our party to the South East. What will happen to the likes of Tinubu who many think should be the natural choice to succeed Buhari in 2023.Tinubu put everything into the Buhari project in 2015 and 2019 and it’s natural that he would expect the president to back him in 2023. Don’t forget we have rules in our party, if we zone our ticket to the South, all interested candidates from the region will be given an equal opportunity to fight for the ticket, there will be no preferential treatment for anybody. Come to think of it, what if we zone our ticket to the South East and the PDP decides to jettison zoning and a northerner gets the PDP ticket, what do you think will happen? You know most northerners are not enthusiastic about a South East presidency, they feel the region used IPOB to blackmail other regions of the country and besides most Northerners will just abandon our party and queue behind a northerner in the PDP, then party loyalty will be thrown out of the window. Remember in 2015 even northerners in PDP supported Buhari. That is our fear right now,” the party leader said.
However, a social media commentator , Martin Ikenna said Umahi’s moving to the APC is political suicide as no nobody in the South East will move with him.
He said, “Umahi cannot influence anybody in the South East to move with him. Maybe he is using that to negotiate for 2023, maybe a ministerial appointment or something else , I don’t think it is presidency. I don’t think he overates himself that much.
“Granted, Umahi is one of the best performing governors in the region, you can’t take that away from him, he has performed creditably well. But giving the ticket of the APC is a tall order. What about people from the South East that have been in APC, do you think the party will bypass them,” he said.
As 2023 draws nearer, more political realignments are bound to happen. But only time will tell whether Umahi’s defection was a political masterstoke or suicide.