By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Umahi has stormed out of the PDP. In leaving, he asked an important question. For how long will the PDP use and abuse Igbo votes and treat the Igbo electorate like a housemaid rather than a bride? If the PDP has a conscience, that question should leave a gaping wound on it.
Since 1999, Igbo have voted PDP almost compulsively. The Igbo infatuation with the PDP has meant that PDP presidential candidates for 20 years going 24, have treated the Southeast as a guaranteed vote bank.
PDP presidential candidates saunter into Igbo land, wave deliriously at the people, pack the votes and dance away. With such a sense of entitlement, PDP presidents, all beneficiaries of massive Igbo support, did nothing to cure the deficit in infrastructural development in the south-east.
In 2015, while President Jonathan was sneaking into the Southwest at night and courting the Obas with carrots and cowries, some governors in the southeast were scowling and yelling, telling President Ebele Jonathan not to bother coming to Igbo land for it was his. It was truly his.
After all, it was a contest between an Azikiwe and a Buhari. But in being pocketed too early, Igbo land missed an opportunity to bargain and extract promises from a desperate candidate. In betrothing itself to the PDP almost like a lovesick zombie, Igbos ceded rights to rites and lost the goodies of courtship.
When Jonathan lost the presidency, other zones moved on. But many Igbos immersed themselves in political grief and have gnashed their teeth ever since. Igbos are free to choose whatsoever party to frolic with and whomsoever candidate to die for but they must have one eye on the collective interest of the group.
The romance between the Igbos and the PDP might be blind, but it shouldn’t be so blind that the PDP would not know that having had presidents from the other zones in the south, 2023 should be the turn of the Igbo.
Umahi might have other private reasons for ditching his party. Politicians are often diabolically cunning. But Gov Umahi’s stated reason for leaving the PDP is morally sound, unimpeachable. What was important is realizing that the PDP has been treacherous and doing something to show that not every Igbo leader in the PDP is sleepwalking.
So It is not enough to ask if the APC has promised Igbo their ticket. A thoroughly jilted and abused lover should kick and walk away even if there are no good husbands down the road. It won’t even matter if Umahi ends up not running for president. He has called a spade a spade and called out ingratitude in the boldest possible way.
For so long, I had wondered why Igbo politicians in the PDP looked increasingly stuporous as 2023 approaches. I had wondered why they weren’t at least shuffling their feet even if they weren’t intent on moving. I couldn’t understand why they were mute when they ought to be clamouring for the ticket with swollen neck veins. Why are they so timid?
Umahi has said that the PDP is in the back pocket of Gov Wike. No one needs a workaholic sorcerer to know that Wike who has become the Emperor of the PDP is desperate for power and thus the 2023 Igbo presidency project is not smart by his calculations.
While Wike describes his stranglehold on the PDP as his ability to woo his colleagues and get them to accept his wishes as their command, he thinks Umahi as too ambitious, too arrogant. Umahi is arrogant because Umahi asked the PDP to stop playing funny games with Igbo support. Umahi is arrogant because he threatened to walk away if the PDP didn’t give Igbos a 2023 ‘Assurance’.
So Wike who has issued more threats and ultimatums to the PDP than anyone else since the party was created is now preaching that nobody can give the party ultimatums. The very man who had hinted that a PDP Igbo ticket in 2023 would be a bad calculation, now wants Igbos to grovel and beg for the ticket and be thrown crumbs in appointments that couldn’t build the second Niger bridge in 16 years.
Igbo politicians in the PDP must find their balls or borrow two and speak up. Abaribe cant leave the field to Wike who moves from station to station with his gruff and puff to teach Igbos how not to express their disappointment with the PDP. Indeed, Umahi didn’t wait for the PDP to zone the presidency.
Still, there is no honest seasoned politician who can be fooled by the hesitancy of the PDP leaders to speak about 2023 Igbo presidency. Why would any politician wait till it becomes too late to exploit other options? But I know why the PDP won’t make the promise and won’t position Peter Obi or Umahi to get the ticket.
In the political mathematics of Wike and perhaps Atiku, Igbos may deserve the ticket but an Igbo ticket is an electoral risk a desperate and hungry PDP cannot take now. If such shrewdness is the governing principle of the party, then Igbos have no hope in the PDP.
The congresses taking place in both parties will shape 2023 politics. So if the PDP won’t commit to an Igbo presidency, why should the Igbo sit in bed with the PDP without looking out. I agree with Wike that Igbos must negotiate their way to power. But I think Umahi’s exit is part of that negotiation. Igbos in the PDP must find their voices. They must end the slumber and earn the ticket.