By Ehichioya Ezomon
The boxing bout hasn’t started and yet, a blow has landed on the nose. This is an Esan proverb that depicts the mud-fight between Governor Dave Umahi and political leaders in Ebonyi State.
It’s barely three weeks that Umahi defected from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the rumpus that predates his defection hasn’t abated.
The crisis emanated from Umahi’s calculation that his soul-mates in the PDP would graciously join him to decamp to the APC. But he’s shocked they’ve shelved the plan, provoking him to turn against them and even their interests in his government.
Leading the “renegades” is former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, who’s “returned fire for fire” against Umahi for labeling him as a betrayer.
Surely, some PDP chieftains, particularly members of the caucus in the National Assembly (NASS), were opposed to Umahi’s defection, and told him they wouldn’t abandon the PDP because of him.
At a news conference in Abuja, former governor of Ebonyi and the caucus leader, Senator Sam Egwu, declared: “We remain proud card-carrying members of the PDP… For the sake of clarity, we wish to state that not a single member… is defecting to the APC.
“The three Distinguished Senators and five House of Representatives members remain proud card-carrying members of the PDP… under which we contested and won elections in 2019.”
Prior to Umahi’s defection, nowhere was Anyim, a former Senator, featured publicly in the equation until Umahi’s revelation lately at an APC stakeholders’ meeting in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi capital city.
According to the governor, Anyim and other leaders of the PDP in Ebonyi, including the NASS caucus members he said he had consulted and they approved his move, were to join him “two weeks after he must have successfully defected” to the APC.
But Umahi noted that Anyim backed out because he (Umahi) visited President Muhammadu Buhari, ahead of the defection, adding that the NASS members and other leaders’ grievance was that he joined the APC before them, rather than after their defection.
“They were planning to ambush me, but it is difficult to catch the air,” Umahi boasted, an allusion to the governor’s outsmarting of the PDP leaders that tangle with him over the desertion saga.
That’s it: No unity of purpose! There’s lack of trust between the Umahi and PDP leaders’ camps, to the extent that they’re reading from different pages, and preparing to board different means of transportation to defect to the APC.
From his public displays on the matter, Umahi’s main regret is his practice of cronyism: patronizing the PDP leaders in Ebonyi, whom he accuses of ganging up against him after accepting goodies, in the form of the famed “stomach infrastructure.”
“All these people that came together to fight me, they collect contracts, they collect monthly pay, they collect vehicles,” Umahi told APC stakeholders in Abakaliki, adding: “And when they are asked to bring people that will work for us, they will bring their wives, children and relations.”
Umahi vowed that for the PDP leaders’ recalcitrance, he would go beyond mere verbal statement to publishing what they benefited from him. “We are in chapter one. In chapter two, I will publish all that I have done for the leaders of this state,” Umahi said.
The question: Was the patronage in anticipation of the leaders decamping to the APC or the usual extension of largesse to party stalwarts for electoral support and backing for the government?
Dictionary.cambridge.org, in defining defection, says: “For subjects of both rank types, the higher the expectation of defection, the higher the probability of defecting.” What were the PDP leaders to gain, in concrete terms, if they followed Umahi to the APC?
If the patronage was a “pay-for-play,” then Umahi didn’t do his homework properly. He placed too much trust in the party leaders, who, as politicians, are known for playing hardball.
Politicians only enter into a “gentleman’s agreement,” which can be broken at will. Even written agreements are torn to shreds when politicians’ interests – their first and only consideration – are at stake. So, Umahi breached one of the cardinal rules in politics: Trust the other person at your own political peril.
Umahi’s wrong in thinking that if the PDP leaders defected before him, they would take the shine off his. But they would’ve acted as harbingers of a “big masquerade” following behind them.
Whether before or after the PDP leaders, Umahi’s decamping, as the governor and leader of the party in Ebonyi, has more political weight and mileage. Thus, he misjudged by jumping the gun!
Joining a political party is a matter of choice – a fundamental human right – free from cajoling, coercion, intimidation and threat. Nobody, not the Ebonyi PDP leaders, forced Umahi into the APC. Why would he compel, rather than persuade, them to join him?
And must Umahi “show his power,” to express his ennui with the PDP leaders in Ebonyi? That would only complicate matters for him, as the torchbearer to lead his people to his new platform.
Umahi has turned his defection “fiasco” into a vendetta, sacking political appointees associated with the PDP leaders, thereby hardening the chieftains’ resolve not to defect, for fear of getting a raw deal under his leadership of the APC in Ebonyi.
Umahi’s feud with the PDP leaders has prompted an intervention by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which holds that citizens can quit or remain in any political party of their choice.
The Ebonyi CAN chairman, Rev. Father Abraham Nwali, during a mediatory/courtesy visit to Umahi, advised him to “employ all wisdom and tact at his disposal” to ensure peace for development.
“We need the peace; that peace is all that we are looking for,” Nwali said. “As a father, you are the vanguard of peace. Continue to remind us, let us continue to live in peace. Let us live in peace.”
Nwali said in Europe and America, citizens choose the party to belong, adding that, “in Washington D.C.,… there is always a switch between Democrats and Republicans. There is always a movement, depending on the signal of your political ideology.
“In Europe, there is a move from the left to the right. There is nothing wrong with movement. It’s where you get your satisfaction. Why would there be extraordinary clamour (to defect)?” Nwali said.
Umahi appears to forget that “people talk about him” not for his defection to the APC, but due to his developmental strides that’ve earned him the “Most Performing Governor” in the South-East.
Actually, CAN reminded him about the “fame and prestige” his government has brought, for which “Ebonyi State can never write the history of this generation forever without your name,” charging him to complete the ring road, airport and stadium projects.
As an affirmation that Umahi’s government under the PDP has benefited from the Buhari APC administration, Rev. Nwali said, “We need the centre (Federal Government) to finish them (projects).”
Umahi should heed the plea of the stakeholders he had interacted with in Abakaliki, to wit: “We, therefore, urge him to remain focused in his determination to transform Ebonyi State for the good of all.”
So, no room for rancour and recrimination!
Mr. Ezomon, Journalist and Media Consultant, writes from Lagos