A possible reconciliation between Governor Dave Umahi and his predecessor, Martin Elechi is far from happening anytime soon, writes Benjamin Nworie for Thisday…
The 2015 democracy day celebration in Ebonyi State has once again reawakened the cold war between the former governor, Chief Martin Elechi and his successor, David Umahi. The car gift recently presented to the former governor was the bone of contention. Many thought that with the inclusion of Elechi in the award list, it was an indication that the two leaders might have decided to bury the hatchet. No doubt, the rumpus so far generated cannot easily be swept under the carpet as different opposing groups have already cashed into the opening.
There are those who argued, however, that the rejection of the car gift does not make sense since it was heard in some quarters that the former governor had allegedly written to Umahi for two car assistance immediately he left office for Elechi’s wife, Josephine which was done. But observers have concluded that Elechi’s grouse was beyond the car gift, perhaps, still smarting from the post-2015 election trauma.
The former governor had written to the government that the gift was a sharp contradiction to the purpose it was presented. But when the matter came up at the State Executive Council meeting, Governor Umahi allegedly said it should not be discussed and publicised so that it would not stir unwarranted controversy. Many had thought that with the elections gone, the two leaders would have come together to forge a common front for the growth, peace and development of the state.
Yet, the resurgence of the impasse was caused by the car gift presented to him and other former governors of Ebonyi origin. Apart from Elechi, other recipients included former Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim; former Abia State governor and Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and the first Executive governor of Ebonyi State and Serving Senator, Senator Sam Egwu.
They were honoured with a car gift, which was first initiated in the state by Elechi. In his second term shortly after the appointment of Anyim as SGF, perhaps, a move to secure the supports of the federal government, the former governor had organised an award ceremony to honour all Ebonyi indigenes with federal appointments.
The awards, however, generated condemnation from many quarters when the state was groaning under economic hardship and inability to pay the “controversial” minimum wage to workers that led to the suspension/withdrawal of workers’ salaries in the state.
At that time, sources in the fourth assembly of the state House of Assembly even revealed that the consent of the legislature was not sought before Elechi carried such capital intensive project at a point all the sectors in the state needed serious intervention. At a point, Elechi even admitted the state had conflict of priority begging for intervention.
If Elechi conceived any need to reject the car gift, opinions had it that he should have towed the path of peace and emulate the likes of Justice Nwali Ngwuta, who rejected Elechi’s car award without much ado or heating up the polity. Rumour had it then that out of their reciprocal generosity some recipients retuned the car to Elechi unpublicised for personal reasons.
But Elechi’s rejection of the gift accompanied with a letter has further generated mix reactions in the state. The former governor has since been asked to toe the path of peace for the development of the state, instead of being a clog in the wheel of progress by heating up the polity.
The donation of the V8 Toyota Sport Utility Vehicle to Elechi and other personalities was in recognition of their role in the promotion of democracy in Ebonyi State. But Elechi’s rejection of the award was based on his claim that he was at loss to convince himself that his role in the promotion and sustenance of democracy in the state from all indication was the antithesis of what is being practised in the state now.
In his letter to the governor, Elechi noted that every one of his projects had become a subject of public ridicule, outrage and outright condemnation.
“The only exception is probably the ultra-modern digital radio and television complex which I conceived and completed from scratch to finish. It is not condemned or criticised because it is an organ by which I am regularly vilified and rubbished.
“The permanent secretaries I appointed and/or trained have been swept out of office for no known reason. Ebonyi State is today the only State being governed without Permanent Secretaries. As if the bad verdict on projects is not enough, there is the saga of malicious and false petitions against me and two of my children to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)… This is courtesy of Your Excellency’s ingenuity with your team players.
“Why have I chosen to go down memory lane even though the issues raised above are only a tip of the iceberg? With so much calumny, character defamation and outpouring of invectives and unabated fresh petitions swelling up to the anti-graft agency on weekly basis, why am I considered worthy to receive a State’s honour? Where and what are those ‘meritorious services’ that justify my consideration for a gift of car, when I am being hounded day and night with my children? Is this not the height of contradictions?
“Let me remind you that for the past twelve months, I have not been paid my salaries and second term severance allowance. These are my entitlements under the law of Ebonyi State; they are not a favour… But of what use is this practice of sending seasonal gifts to a man, who is being hounded and denied of his lawful official entitlements?”
At the International Conference Center in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, venue of the Agricultural Summit orgainised for Civil/Public Servants, Umahi seized the opportunity to bare his mind on the concerns and allegations raised by his predecessor in his rejection letter, which had gone viral in the state, noting that his greatest grouse was that Elechi was not advisable.
“Now, what he said about EFCC. When he was a governor and I was deputy governor, somebody who is now in his camp wrote a petition against us. And the EFCC went into action. For example, they said his son did all the local government projects. I was not there, I didn’t award the projects. But it was clear that only two local governments were completed and the whole money was paid.
“So, we had to find out the issue of going to the EFCC and the realities on the ground. That is one of the issues and this administration never wrote anything to EFCC. And I speak this before the God I serve. I told EFCC, leave this man because he is aged.
“If you find him wanting in terms of money, let me know and I will be paying small, small till I pay it off. I say that in the name of He that brought us to leadership, but not for his children. The children will answer for whichever thing they committed. One of the children is also accused of doing multi-million ICT projects. Was I there when the job was given to them, but the civil servants were not happy,” Umahi recounted.
In the first place, Elechi’s position was that Umahi was not qualified to rule Ebonyi, citing intolerance and lack of accommodating spirit. Elechi wanted former health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu as his preferred candidate. But when the game failed, the former governor conscripted a businessman, Edward Nkwegu to succeed him under the platform of the Labour Party. But Umahi’s insistence on running against all odds snowballed into the skirmishes playing out between the two men now.
At Elechi’s thanksgiving celebration on April, 3 2016, the former governor resurrected his grudge that he had “no regret” opposing Umahi’s candidature and if similar situation repeats itself, he would still toe the same line of stiff resistance to Umahi’s governorship ambition. Elechi’s argument was that Umahi had no accommodating spirit to rule the state.
After the election which Umahi was declared winner, he maintained that his victory was for all and not to witch-hunt anybody, no matter his or her political, religious and geographical standing. But Elechi insisted that the governorship election in the state, including the PDP primaries that produced Umahi was a daylight robbery and stage-managed.
With the resurgence of the political dichotomy between Elechi and Umahi, it leaves no doubt that genuine reconciliation may be far from happening now. After the elections, Elechi still lamented the circumstances and developments that shaped the 2015 general election to the point of alleging that Umahi was responsible for his ordeal in the hands of the anti-graft agency.
It is still, however, unbelievable to many that the former governor was still contesting the validity and credibility of the governorship election in the state, even after passing through the marathon of legal battles. (Thisday)