By Sam Egburonuon
Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi’s alleged friendly relationship with the Presidency is not only a source of concern to his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but also the root cause of the speculation that he is poised to dump PDP for All Progressives Congress (APC). Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu reports that the development has pitched Umahi’s supporters with the followers of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, and may redefine political alignments in the state.
In Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, and its environs, it is still possible today to see Governor Dave Umahi and Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), sharing warm jokes in public places. Just recently, when Anyim buried his mother- in- law at Isiagu and Umahi graced the occasion in style, the handshake was warm enough to create doubts in the minds of anyone suspecting a possible rupture in the relationship of the two political leaders.
This show notwithstanding, insiders in the politics of the South-East state confirmed to The Nation during the week that all is no longer the same between Anyim and his political grandson, Umahi. We gathered that some PDP chieftains in the state, especially close associates of Anyim, who allege that the governor is shifting his allegiance to the new lords in Abuja, are no longer at ease with his political overtures.
“All is no longer the same here because we have reason to believe that Governor Umahi, who is always passionate to be his own man politically, is poised to dump our leaders here. This is unfortunate because it is these same leaders that made him who he is today. We hear and have seen concrete moves that confirmed to us that he may no longer be a PDP loyalist”, alleged a top PDP member in the state who pleaded not to be named.
Although Umahi has reportedly denied any move to dump PDP for APC, the allegation had literally placed iced water on the hitherto warm relationship between him and the other leaders of PDP in the state. Sources said some Anyim supporters, who accuse Umahi of not deferring to the former SGF any longer, are however helpless as Umahi’s control of PDP in the state and indeed the politics of the state today seems near total.
According to Chief Uzoubi Uko, “Whether he chooses to remain in PDP or to defect to APC will make little or no difference in his control of the politics of Ebonyi. The governor is fully in charge here. If you understand the politics of this state and the dynamism of Umahi, a grassroots leader, you will understand that he is not and will never be threatened even if he chooses to defect to APC. But he has said he is not planning to dump PDP but have seen the need to give President Muhammadu Buhari the support he needs to succeed. Now, tell me, what is wrong with that? I do not know why some elements are just desperate to create tension where none exists.”
In fact, since Engr. Dave Umahi, then as the Deputy Governor, first declared resolve to pursue his governorship ambition in Ebonyi State in spite of the then Governor Martin Elechi’s open refusal to offer the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to him, the tempo of the politics of the South-East state has remained in the upward swing. The same, it seems, could be said to be the case with the political image of Umahi himself. He has always displayed uncanny ways of winning the stiff political battles he chose to fight.
Bookmakers had given him little chance when he battled with Elechi, his boss, over the soul of the ruling party in the state. But he won and not only emerged the party’s flag bearer but also the governor of the state notwithstanding reports that most of the associates of the then Governor Elechi had teamed up in the Labour Party to raise the carpet off his feet at the grassroots level.
When Umahi hijacked the leadership of PDP from serving governor Elechi before the last general elections, in what some commentators described as one of the most dramatic political coups of the Jonathan era, close observers credited the feat to his strong Abuja connections. Though the major actors in the Wadata Plaza headquarters of PDP in Abuja then and in the Dr. Goodluck Jonathan-led Presidency have all taken the back seat, his close associates confessed that Umahi is still highly connected in Abuja and is poised to utilize that connection to enhance both his political fortunes and the fortunes of his state.
Ironically, it is this attempt by the governor to cultivate friendship with the Presidency and chieftains of the ruling APC at the centre that is allegedly heating up the politics of the state.
The rumour about his alleged plan to dump PDP garnered steam when he held a closed-door 45 minutes meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abeokuta. Stepping out of the meeting, Umahi had said to the new leaders at the centre, “We also came here to thank you for the manners and the ways you have been using the wisdom of God to assist in piloting the affairs of our nation. I thank you very greatly sir. I believe very strongly that what transpired during the election is actually the will of God. And we have the opportunity to right the wrong.
“There is no administration that wouldn’t have some ills but the most important thing is the ability and the knowledge and wisdom to identify them like you just advised me here; all those good ones continue with them, the bad ones you can always right them,” he said.
He did not stop there but openly pledged support for Buhari, saying of him: “And I use the opportunity to thank Mr. President Sir and to say one of the greatest things that will move this nation forward is forthrightness and Mr. President has displayed that. In our meetings, the governors, we are very pleased with him. It’s not a question of being in this party or being in the other party.
“He displays rare sense of humility, honesty and the willingness to carry this country forward. And that’s what we are looking for. We are not interested in which party or the other party. We are interested in the man who has the welfare and the interest of the nation at heart. His directive to stop many accounts of NNPC, I’m sure you are gladdened because I had discussed that with you and you complained bitterly about the way NNPC was being run; when they keep more money than what they give the federal government.
“So, we thank you and I want to say Sir that you continue to support Mr. President, General Buhari, and I’m very sure with you sir by his side, he is going to deliver in his promises,” Umahi said.
Coming from a PDP governor, these comments have been interpreted to be a confirmation that the governor may be on his way out of PDP.
Umahi’s interest in APC dates back to July this year, barely a month after his swearing in as governor, when he paid a well publicized visit to Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa though he defended then that his support for the programmes and policies of the President, especially the anti-corruption stance, does not translate to plans to defect to APC.
But most political watchers could not believe him because not only has he gone out of his way to associate closely with Buhari and Obasanjo, he has also been seen consolidating his stake in the leading political platform by associating with and sending special gifts to some powerful Emirs who allegedly wield enormous influence in APC.
We also gathered from top political leaders from the state, especially federal lawmakers who have held several meetings with him that he is zealous about the need to collaborate with Buhari’s government, notwithstanding how some elements in PDP will interpret it. An earlier report had quoted one of the Ebonyi State federal lawmakers as saying that Umahi actually advised them in a meeting to ensure that they align their bills with the vision of the Buhari-led government.
No matter how Umahi may try to justify his resolve to praise and work with Buhari’s government in the interest of Nigeria, he can no longer deny the fact that this decision may have pitched him against PDP purists who see him as a betrayer. Umahi, it seems, is not perturbed. But there is some unease even amongst his associates, who are wondering if it is necessary for him to encourage this brewing political battle and if the governor stands a chance of coming out of it without sustaining some fatal political bruises?
A top government official in Abakaliki, explaining the situation in the Government House said on Friday, “We are not worried here by the rumour because the governor is not afraid of political battles. He thrives from it. Recall that his political rise into the Ebonyi State Government House began when the then Governor Martin Elechi, who had assured him that the governorship of the state would be zoned to his old Afikpo bloc of Ebonyi South Senatorial district, suddenly shifted interest from him to the former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu.
“Many had thought the shift would mark the end of Umahi’s dreams but it ironically marked the beginning of a new tempo, a more radical and realistic tempo. Immediately the former Health Minister was named as the consensus governorship candidate, Umahi dished out his campaign posters. You know the rest of the story. So, he is not afraid to do the right thing,” he said.
It is on record that in that political battle the official recalled, Umahi was backed by political heavyweights in the PDP like former Governor Sam Egwu, whose friendship with the then National Chairman of PDP, Adamu Muazu, gave enormous influence and the then Secretary to Government of the Federation, (SGF) Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who literally oversaw Nigeria then, among others.
With the help of these people, Umahi defeated Elechi and effectively took over control of PDP in the state.
Now that his new steps would imply dumping these same PDP lords, it remains to be seen how it would impact on the politics of the state. Already, some supporters are saying that the weak economy of the state makes it wise for Umahi to relate well with the federal government. But the question his critics are asking is if he must dump PDP and his political godfathers before working with the Buhari-led federal government?
The chess-like game has just commenced and it remains to be seen how it will ultimately affect common Ebonyi people and Governor Dave Umahi.(The Nation)