OBINNA OGBONNAYA captures the intrigues surrounding the speculations of the Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi’s defection from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to All Progressives Congress (APC)

As the 2023 general election gathers momentum in Nigeria, there are insinuations that the years ahead willcome with a mixed bag of intrigues. There is no doubt that the election year would be full of uncertainties regarding the future of political parties and politicians from the South East geo political zone.

The recent announcement by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)seems to be a wake up call for politicians in the South East, especially in Ebonyi State.

In the last two weeks, there has been uncertainties and apprehension over the future of the PeoplesDemocratic Party (PDP) in the state as the speculation that its governor, Chief David Umahi might have concluded plans to dump the party for the All Progressives Congress (APC), gained traction.

The news of the governor’s purported defection was first broken in a statement signed by the member representing Ikwo/Ezza South Federal House of Representatives, Hon Chinedu Ogah. The report was given credence having come from a statement issued by the member Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Chinedu Ogah.

The Reps member had in the statement made available to the media congratulated the governor for defecting to the APC. But the governor, in a swift reaction, personally dismissed the report of his defection to APC. Reacting in a personal message to an online publication in Enugu State, he said the news is “not true”.

In APC camp, the statement came with excitement as some of its political stakeholders had prayed and anticipated that the governor would join the party ahead of the 2023 general elections.

But the whole drama reflects the intrigues ahead of 2023. There is no doubt that Governor Umahi is interested in the presidential position of the country, an aspiration which seems to be gaining traction from different geo-political zones, private and public sectors, religious groups and organisations.

It is believed that the level of infrastructural development put in place by Governor Umahi in the last six years, puts him in a good position to seek top job.

But the statement credited to the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus that the party would not consider zoning ahead of the 2023 Presidential election caused some upset.

Disturbed by the statement, 24 members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly unanimously gave the national leadership of the PDP a seven-days ultimatum to zone the presidential position of the party to South East or face great loss.

Briefing journalist in Abakaliki, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Francis Nwifuru said that it is 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.

According to him “on this note, we are giving our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), 7 days ultimatum to convocate the National Executive Committee of the party and zone the position of the Presidency to the South East 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 to remove the National Chairman of the Party, Prince Uche Secondus as it is customary that the zone (South) from where the National Chairman comes from produces the Presidential Candidate of the Party. If this advise is not adhered to, it will further divide and destabilize the party along sectional and regional lines.

“We the Honourable Members of the sixth (6th) Ebonyi State House of Assembly, wish to draw the attention of our great Party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to the rightful yearning of our industrious and peace-loving people of the South East Nigeria, that the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria come 29th May, 2023, be zoned to the South East,” he said.

The Speaker in the statement stated that the zone has presidential personalities, people who are globally renowned, reliable, acceptable, tested and trusted to the position of President of Nigeria. “These personalities having discharged their duties efficiently and effectively in the positions held before now, they are eminently qualified to be President come 2023.

“Some of the personalities includes, Persons like Peter Obi (Former PDP Vice Presidential Candidate in the 2019 elections and former Governor of Anambra State), Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim (former Senate President and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation).

“Others include Sen. Ike Ekweremmadu (former 3-time Deputy President of the Senate), Sen. Theodore Orji (former Governor of Abia State), Achike Udenwa (former governor of Imo State) and a host of others”. So we have qualified people who are very much available for this position. We did not mention our Governors not because they are not qualified but these highly qualified persons are not holding positions currently and there are other eminent qualified Igbo leaders as well who are trusted, competent, capable and reliable”.

Hon Nwifuru stated that they are not asking for what the zone does not have, so our party should not turn this request down. The Speaker during the briefing had taken people by surprise when he announced that the members of the State Assembly are not defecting to any political party which was highly speculated ahead of the briefing. He noted that the issue of defection has not arisen.

According to him; “The unity of our beloved country, Nigeria, has always been hinged on the principles of equity, justice and fairness. It is on such conventional wisdom that the country has striven to grow and develop equally across all her geopolitical zones”.

He stated that since the inception of the present democracy, the South East zone has paid its dues having worked assiduously and massively voted for all the presidential candidates of our great party – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“When the people of the South West in the year 1999 and 2003, the people of North West in 2007, the people of South South in 2011 and 2015, the people of the North East in 2019, all contested for Presidency. It is on record that since the inception of democracy in this country, from 1999 till date, the five (5) States of the South East have always delivered the presidential candidates of our great party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), 100 per cent”.

Giving credence to the position of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly members, The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council, less than 48 hours after the House made its position known to the leadership of the PDP in a strong-worded statement, urged governors of the South East to join the ruling APC.

The group said it was apparent that the PDP does not have the South East region’s best interests at heart , and as such , there was no need for leaders of the zone to continue to work with the main opposition party .

The Statement signed by the president general of the Apex Igbo Youth organisation, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro and the zonal secretary general of the group, Mr Nnabuike Okwu, after a virtual meeting with leaders and other critical stakeholders of the region, said “Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide, after its consultative virtual meeting , with Igbo leaders and elders, on Monday, has been mandated to start mounting pressure on the South- East governors to abandon their political parties, especially those in the Peoples Democratic Party , to join the mainstream ruling party, the All Progressive Congress, without further delay.

“OYC urges the governors to defect, because there are no political benefits for the South-East 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 and fake promises, and manipulative politicians”.

In what could be described as a unanimous decision to ensure that PDP does the needful, the Ebonyi State chapter of the party also gave the national leadership of the party one week to zone the 2023 presidential to let of the party to South East.

The clarion call was contained in a statement signed by the state chairman, Barr. Onyekachi Nwebonyi who said that it has become imperative since INEC has announce the date for the elections. The party however made case for the re-election of Secondus for a second term as national chairman of the party.

“We therefore enjoin the party, in whatever arrangement not to tamper with the seat of the national chairman. Having performed satisfactory well, leading the party to victories, Secondus deserves a second term. “That is not negotiable”. PDP should in the interest of justices equity and fairness zone the presidential ticket to the southeast.”

He argued that since the inception of the democratic dispensation, PDP has never thrown it presidential ticket open to all zones but rotated the ticket between the south and north.

“It is a crass show of hypocrisy if the PDP denies the South East that chance. To that effect, we do vehemently demand that the NEC meeting of the PDP be convened within one week to ratify the issue and zone the presidential ticket to the southeast”.

The chairman further argued that the zone has notable personalities who have performed exceedingly well in public service. “We have the likes of Senator Pius Anyim, Sr Peter Obi, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Senator Theodore Orji, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who have accolades that speak volumes”.

He said that if the party does otherwise, the Ebonyi State chapter will not accept any other arrangements as that might cause apathy among the teaming supporters of the party in the state.

But there is more. Political analysts are of the view that the defection rumor may have prompted the stance of the APC in Ebonyi State that the party was poised to wrest political power from the ruling PDP in the state.

In a meeting convened by the minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu in Abakaliki which hadin attendance the political stakeholders of APC days before the defection rumor, they insisted that the APC would hoist its flag at the Ebonyi State Government House in 2023 and urged party faithful to unite to achieve the common destiny.

Onu noted that the party could surmount any challenge if united by a common bond and thanked leaders for burying their differences in the interest of the party.

He said: “If we work together as a party, there is no mountain we cannot climb and I want to assure you that it is very important that we do so. “APC will take over power in the state and we are going to hoist our party’s flag in the Government House by 2023. All we need do is come together and remain united.”

A political analyst in the state, Hon Chikwendu Agwu in an interview with LEADERSHIP said that the defection rumor of Governor Umahi seems to have rekindled the leadership crisis in the party. “Having a big fish like the governor joining the APC, expectedly, the struggle of who controls the soul of the party is eminent”.

Interestingly, the leadership crisis rocking the party seems to have been laid to rest but with the rumored defection of the governor to the APC, concerned stakeholders and elders of the party have dusted the files that would ensure that they control the party structure in the state.

Just recently, some concerned stakeholders of the party in a newspaper advertorial called on the National Caretaker Committee of the party led by Governor Mai Mala Buni to set up caretaker committee for the party in the state.

There is no doubt that, two factions of the party are at each other’s throats for the soul of the APC in the state. The stakeholders and elders of the party who claim not to belong to any of the two contending camps but are simply interested in restoring peace, order and sanity in the party.

The group said only a caretaker committee will be able to effectively resolve the crisis within the party. They expressed the worry that if urgent steps are not taken to resolve the impass, what happened to the party in Rivers and Zamfara states may repeat itself in Ebonyi come 2023.

According to the stakeholders, the fight for the soul of the party is between two groups led by Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology and Senator Julius Ucha, currently a member of the National Assembly Service Commission.

The stakeholders noted that the “battle has left a very fragmented party open to manipulation by external forces, including opposition parties”. The stakeholders also urged the national caretaker committee at the national level to allow the proposed membership registration at the state level to be handled by the caretaker committee.

The stakeholders further demanded that a “genuine peace meeting be convened by the party inviting all the aggrieved parties, just as “those who flouted the presidential and NEC directive on court cases be disciplined accordingly”.

Giving a brief background to the lingering crisis, the stakeholders noted that “It is a known fact that before the last congress, the party had two chairmen, Ben Nwobasi, the congress elected chairman who belongs to the Ucha group and Eze Nwachukwu Eze, elected deputy to Nwobasi and core loyalist to Onu who claimed that Nwobasi was impeached by the working committee and thus mandated to act.

“This led to several litigations in the court of law alongside several mediatory efforts from the national. This was the state of the party before the last congress”.

Expectedly, two parallel congresses were conducted by the Onu and Ucha led factions respectively. While the Onu-led faction elected Eze Nwachukwu Eze as their chairman, the Ucha-led faction elected Dr. Sylvester Nwambe.

“Nwambe went to court seeking to nullify the congress. A state high court in Abakaliki presided over by Honourable Justice A. A. Nwigwe, present Chief Justice of Ebonyi state on April 17, 2019 in suit no HAB/77/2018 nullified the APC state congress and some Local Government Areas and wards held in the state which technically means that the purported state executive led by Eze Nwachukwu Eze does not exist any longer”.

According to them; “in a desperate bid to cover up the truth and hoodwink the party to believe that all is well with the party, Eze called a meeting of some members of the party where he read prepared speeches that was adopted by those present”.

They stated that the experiences of the party in Rivers and Zamfara states in the recent past are still fresh and must not be allowed to repeat itself in Ebonyi hence the need to tread cautiously in dealing with any of the factions in Ebonyi state”.

The seven days ultimatum given to the leaderahip of the PDP having elapsed on Tuesday, October 27, 2020without a word from the national leadership of the PDP on the zoning of the Presidency to the South East. It is not certain what the next line of action of the members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly and the statechapter of the party would be. Expectedly, there is going to be more unfolding episode in the defection rumor and the renewed crisis rocking the APC in Ebonyi State.

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