Umahi’s defection and the 2023 Igbo Presidency by Lateef Adewole

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Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State
Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

Nigeria’s political environment is always an interesting spectacle to watch for keen observers. The kind of shenanigans that play out every now and then can hold one spell-bound. This week, the most spectacular political “jigi-jaga” was the “formal” defection of the governor of Ebonyi state, Engr. David Umahi on Tuesday. He announced this while addressing a press conference in Abakaliki.

He gave some reasons for taking such drastic decision among which is that the PDP has not been fair to the South-east since 1999 by not allowing an “Igbo presidency”. He claimed that he was ready to be made the “sacrificial lamb” for the interest of Igbo people. This has generated huge reactions across the country especially within the South-east and the PDP. There has been exchange of words, accusations and counter-accusations.

For 10 years, I lived and worked in South-east and South-South. I traversed the states. Many of my long-term friends till date are Igbos. Many of them are politicians in different parties. All along, we have always had discussions about politics of Nigeria and how the Igbos have fared within the system. We always have our points of agreements and disagreements on many issues.

Of particular interest is the issue of “Igbo presidency and marginalisation of the Igbos politically” within the Nigerian state, just as Governor Umahi stated. In my assessments, there are many things wrong with the content of the statement from him. I put his defection as formal in quote. This is because, for a long time, he has been accused of romancing APC and pandering to President Buhari. He has always denied it. Now, “afefe t’ife, a tiri furo adiye” (the wind has blown and the orifice of the chicken has been exposed).

Nothing is new in defection by politicians in the Nigerian landscape. In fact, that is their second nature. Only few can boast of being consistent and true to any particular party ideology. But the reasons they usually give for such move that, it is in the “interest of their people”, is what I often found ludicrous. Nothing could be farther from the truth. So, same applies to Governor Umahi.

President Muhammadu Buhari has welcomed Governor Dave Umahi to the APC
President Muhammadu Buhari has welcomed Governor Dave Umahi to the APC

Another issue is the “Igbo presidency”. I have always disagreed with such nomenclature and I believe it is wrong. There should be nothing like that or Yoruba presidency or Hausa-Fulani presidency or Ijaw presidency, or any at all. This is a dysfunctional thinking which must have been responsible for the woes we are faced now. Rather, I believe it should be a “Nigerian president of Igbo extraction”. This deflates that myopic tribalistic view of the national leadership which such nomenclature depicts.

It is such notion that informed the sentiments of “tribalistic winner-takes-all” mentality as we have seen in the past five years of this administration, where some see the presidency under President Buhari as northern (Hausa-Fulani) presidency. And so, most of the critical political positions must be occupied by northerners. When Chief Obasanjo became president in 1999, the Yorubas never saw his ascendance as Yoruba presidency, despite being a Yoruba man.

That aside, let me revisit the other issue of reasons for defection. No politician ever defected from one political party to another for any person’s or group of persons’ interest but themselves. They do so to actualise their selfish political interests and nothing more. Any other excuse is bunkum. So, Mr. Umahi should spare us that rhetoric. Moreover, all other political bigwigs elected on the same platform in the state have distanced themselves from his position. What happened? Don’t they want to fight for the interest of their people too?

The PDP has responded to him as being economic with the truth following his claims of marginalisation of South-east in PDP. One position I have maintained is that; a president coming from a particular tribe or region does not necessarily translate to the betterment of the ordinary citizens of that region. Such usually benefits the elites majorly, who get appointments into government, and not the citizens.

Now, let’s look at the issue of political marginalisation of the Igbos in the Nigerian state. Are Igbos really marginalised? I don’t agree largely. In my opinion, that an Igbo man has not been elected president of Nigeria since 1999 does not mean marginalisation. Igbos have benefitted hugely as individuals since 1999 up to 2015 before this administration came to power. The individuals who benefited might not have transformed the region as a whole, which buttress my point.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo has congratulated President Muhammadu Buhari
Ohanaeze Ndigbo has called for 2023 Presidency to be zoned to the Southeast

Over the years, the Igbos have always been in the mainstream political system, just like the northern part. They were usually with the federal government. This made them to always be at advantage in benefitting from the largesse of the federal government. This is the first time that the region will be in opposition but have been uncomfortable in just five years. They are not used to that.

This is unlike the Yorubas, South-West region, which has remained and survived in opposition from first republic up to 2015 when APC took over power. They suffered the brunt of being opposition, groom their parties and eventually capture the centre in conjuction with other previous opposition parties. That was a difficult route. Like I said earlier, 1999 to 2007 of Obasanjo was not considered being for the South-West.

So, the Igbos or south-east has benefitted immensely from being part of the central government over the years. Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was the first president of Nigeria in the first republic while Sir Tafawa Balewa was the Prime Minister. History has it that many important appointees of that government were Igbos. In the second republic, Dr. Alex Ekweme was the Vice president to Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

Third republic was aborted. The fourth republic which had Obasanjo as president to assuage the Yorubas for the death of Chief MKO Abiola, benefitted more non-Yorubas than the Yorubas. The Igbos also occupied prominent positions in that administration. PDP gave the South-east five Senate presidents, deputy senate president, deputy speaker, three national chairmen, and many others. Goodluck Jonathan government was the most generous to the Igbos. Many “firsts” (as in things never previously benefitted from and positions never previously occupied, by the Igbos) were achieved for Igbos under his administration. All under PDP.

So, what was Umahi talking about that PDP has not been fair to the Igbos? That’s incorrect in my estimation. He also, personally benefitted more than millions of other party faithfuls. He was former acting chairman and later substantive chairman of the party in the state, deputy governor for four years, governor for two terms, against all odds and so many others since 1999. His younger brother, Chief Austin Umahi was the National Vice Chairman of PDP for the South-east zone.

apc pdp logo apc logo pdp logo

The truth of the matter is, the benefits that have accrued to the South-east have been substantially commensurate with the choices that the political leadership of the zone have made over the decades. And it has been beneficial irrespective of what we are made to believe. The South-east could not sacrifice or endure the difficulties of being in opposition. Which must have explained how many political bigwigs quickly started to jump ship immediately  Goodluck Jonathan and PDP lost the presidential election in 2015.

Those who held political offices were majorly those who stayed-put because their “personal” political interests were better served in PDP. They had better chances of winning elections on that platform. These are issues we subject to rigorous intellectual analysis whenever I am discussing with my Igbo friends. We always disagree to agree.

By the way, what is sacrificial in Umahi’s defection? I laughed when I heard about that part. A man who has been anything and everything on the platform of PDP in over two decades, with exception of being the president claimed he was making sacrifice by joining the ruling party. Which sacrifice? Did he relinquish the governorship mandate he got on PDP platform after over five years? Does his new political position put him at any risk of backlash from the central government? Definitely no! What exactly does he have to lose? What is he sacrificing? Rather, this move is a gain for him.

Let’s look at what it entails to get presidency in Nigeria. We all know that it is beyond defection. Alhaji Atiku can write a book on that, like many other presidential aspirants of several years. Also, it is beyond simply making demand for it like it is a right that is sacrosanct. It is not. Again, using open or subtle blackmail or threat does not sauce it too. Being negatively aggressive about it will also not work. These are few ways I have seen the Igbos used in attempting to get Nigerian presidency which I disagree with. I know that, like a friend used say that I don’t understand politics because I am not a “card-carrying” member of any political party in Nigeria now, many Igbo may also disagree with me. Well, everyone is entitled to their opinions. These are mine. And I will briefly elaborate on them.

When the party structuring, positioning and standing of each party in each region is considered, it is a well known fact that South-east, like South-South, did not embrace APC and has not supported it like the four other regions. This has been the case since 2015, nothing changed in 2019 and nothing has changed so far. They saw Okorocha who was an APC governor for eight years as aberrations.

So, if the defection was all about strategic move towards 2023 presidency by Umahi, I doubt it is a good move. In my opinion, South-east cannot demand that APC must automatically zone the presidency to the region. They did not work for it based on precedence. Getting to be elected by the entire country as their president is not a right but privilege granted by other zones to the zone from where the president comes.

Secondly, over the years, since the end of the unfortunate civil war in 1970, the Igbos have constantly played the victims. They then use that to blackmail other regions by endless claim of political marginalisation. But like I previously highlighted, the Igbos have always aligned with the center, and benefitted immensely from that based on appointments. That those appointments did not translate to developments in the region should be blamed squarely on their leaders.

Again, one way or the other, the Igbos approached their presidential aspiration in more negatively aggressive ways than conciliatory. They feel that it is their right to be handed over the presidency. That’s a miscalculation. No region gets that without building bridges, forms alliances, networks with other regions that make up Nigeria. With the past approaches adopted, it did not work. They must change strategy. It is insanity to do the same thing over and over, but expect different results, according to Albert Einstein.

These and some other approaches have jeopardised the chances of the South-east producing the “executive” president of Nigeria in the past. New thinking must be adopted.

Morally and for the sake of stability of the country, I believe the southern Nigeria should produce the next president of Nigeria after the completion of President Buhari’s two-term of eight years in 2023. So, all major parties should zone that slot to the south. Then, it is left for the three zones in the south to reach a consensus about where to sub-zone it. If that is impossible, let all zones go to the field, canvass other zones and convince them to support them for the presidency.

If this happens, South-east is better off pushing on the platform of PDP. That’s their traditional terrain. The South-West will likely fare better in APC. They sacrifice to build the party. One can only reap where on sows. South-South may be less interested since Jonathan was the last president before Buhari. All these are based on my own realistic political calculations and not sentimental or from emotional point of view. These are my personal opinions. And I am entitled to them.

In all, whatever happens going forward, it is important that Nigeria be restructured. This will minimise the desperation by each zone to rule the country. The “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” federal system we are running is ruining the creativity of our citizens and hindering development of each region and the country as a whole. It is not working.

Also, there is urgent need for the electoral reform. The national assembly should revisit the amendments and send to the president for assent, which we hope he will give this time around. Without a reliable electoral process, all efforts by the citizens to truly chose those who they want to lead them politically will be in futility. It is now more expedient than ever.

In the spirit of fairness, justice and equity, South-east deserves to produce executive president of Nigeria but they must work for it. I wish Governor Umahi good luck on his new political journey.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter