BY DELE SOBOWALE
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
When Chief David Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi State, decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, on whose ticket he was elected, to the All Progressives Congress, APC, my first instinct was to denounce his lack of principles.
He still stands charged; but, something about his move was fascinating. It was the breath-taking move of a Chess Grandmaster.
It was time to sit back and watch. With his declaration to run for President in 2023, a few weeks ago, at least one aspect of his strategy is now clear. As the Governor of the smallest and poorest state in the South-East; and not as nationally exposed as some other candidates, he now surprisingly occupies an enviable position in the race. Luck has already placed him in a strategic position in APC. Here is why:
Millions are campaigning for him free.
Hitherto, it has been an assumption, at least in the South, that to have millions campaigning for you means you must have tons of money to spend. Ordinarily, that would have made Umahi a non-starter. Furthermore, the South-East has been solidly behind the PDP from 1999. Two cracks came in Anambra and Imo states. Till now PDP has been unable to find its way back to Government House in Anambra and Imo. Meanwhile, the South-East has gone against the current ruling party – on account of the treatment of IPoB and its leader – Kanu. But, by decamping to APC and moving against the current in Igboland, he is now the only Igbo presidential candidate in APC.
Unless other Igbo candidates enter the race, everybody campaigning for a southern candidate is working partly for Umahi. Those who have been canvassing for Igbo presidency, like me, now have only Umahi to benefit from our efforts within APC. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, a Yoruba, supposed to be from Lagos State, and said to be stupendously rich, is already a declared candidate.
Yet, since Tinubu’s announcement, I have heard and read more opposition to his bid – even from Lagos and Yoruba voters – than those against Umahi. Yet, Umahi has not even stepped into Lagos or the South-West to campaign. Tinubu fares only a little better or worse than Vice President Osinbajo among the people in Yorubaland. Supporters of the two Yoruba candidates are at daggers drawn on the matter. Though undeclared, the VP is already seen as an enemy of the Asiwaju supporters; the hostility goes both ways.
The South-West is set to re-experience the sort of bitter politics characterising the feud between Awolowo and Akintola in the 1960s. As if history is about to be repeated, Akintola was Awolowo’s subordinate, who rose against his former boss in a contest for power. The wounds have not fully healed from the political war in the ‘Wild West’. Nobody is paying attention to Umahi; and he might become a beneficiary of the Tinubu-Osinbajo face-off in Yorubaland. The zone has several examples of politics with bitterness to make that a distinct possibility.
Ohaneze is certainly working for him. Each time the pan-Igbo organisation clamors for Igbo candidate, Umahi smiles. At least in APC he is the only choice right now until other Igbo candidates step forward. Ordinarily, that would suggest that Umahi is in a comfortable situation. Unfortunately, in the quick sand of Nigerian politics, he is vulnerable for the same reason he is fortunate to be the only Igbo aspirant in APC so far. One APC chieftain told me why the “man is wasting his time”. According to him, “Umahi spent all his time in the PDP, was voted Governor twice; then finding himself in the wrong place, he decamps to APC. Now, he wants to claim the biggest prize in Nigerian politics while bringing nothing to the party.
“He is from a poor state; has very little money; Ebonyi is the smallest state in the South-East and he is a local champion. He has no national network. Can such a candidate expect the party to leave Tinubu or Osinbajo and field him?” That, in a nutshell, is the question Umahi must answer; those are the ‘Goliaths’ this David must conquer.
Fortunately, for Umahi, all is not lost. More than ever, this is one presidential campaign which will be largely influenced by the media – including social media. He can up his game by performing well during media exposures.
Ohaneze, Igbo Leaders, IPoB and Presidency
“Two parallel lines can never meet” -Geometry
Ohaneze and other Igbo leaders have my sympathies. They are stuck on two parallel tracks which can never meet – at least as far as 2023 presidential election is concerned. First, they feel compelled to demand for the unconditional release of Kanu, the leader of IPoB – whose is facing several charges in Abuja. Second, they also want other Nigerian ethnic groups to concede the presidency to the South-East partly as a gesture to stop the agitation for secession in Igboland.
To some extent, the two demands are mutually exclusive; mostly because of IPoB. Let me declare, once again, that I view IPOB’s demand or any other group for self-determination as legitimate. It is a right universally acknowledged and which people in other parts of the world have been exercising.
The United Kingdom just underwent a plebiscite to determine if one of its constituent parts would remain in the kingdom. The skies did not fall. Several thousand people in California, USA are still busy collecting signatures in a legitimate bid to leave the United States of America. There is no violence involved; either by the agitators or by the Federal Government.
To be quite candid, the FGN has mishandled the matter — right from the time of MASSOB. They have criminalised activities which elsewhere were settled by voting, i.e. referendum. Unfortunately, the agitators also fall into traps by giving the FG the excuse that they are fugitives from the law. Let me stop there for now; in order to get to the main point of this article.
When Igbo leaders ask Buhari to release Kanu by saying “go and sin no more”, they make two assumptions. One, that Kanu and IPoB accept they are criminals – which is doubtful. Two, that Kanu and IPoB will actually stop agitating for the creation of Biafra. This is even more unlikely. Kanu and IPoB have become inseparable. Igbo leaders might as well ask him to go and commit suicide. He will not keep quiet. And, his continuing agitation for secession works against the quest for Igbo President.
From evidence available to us, neither the All Progressives Congress, APC, nor the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, appears to be too keen on presenting an Igbo candidate. Non-Igbo people, like me, who have been advocating for Igbo President in 2023, know the response we receive most of the time from other ethnic groups. It is at best regarded as a last resort; at worst, a non-starter.
From my own experience, the main reason for resistance lies in the failure of Ohaneze and other Igbo leaders to start the process of engaging the people and leaders of other ethnic groups in the advocacy. The most common question I am asked is: have you heard of any of their candidates going to other parts of Nigeria, establishing networks, making friends? The impression in other parts of Nigeria is that Igbo are waiting for the rest of the country to come and deliver the presidency to them on a silver platter.
By contrast, one other candidate (name withheld), who declared two weeks ago, has already been seen in at least seven states – five of them outside his own zone.
STAKES ARE HIGH
The stakes are high for Igbo; and for Nigeria as well. It has probably never occurred to all of us that failing to elect an Igbo President in 2023 will mean that few people over the age of 60 will ever live long enough to see one – especially if the presidency shifts South again. By then, the frustration, anger and sense of injustice driving IPoB will claim more adherents. In time, Kanu and IPoB might even be regarded as benevolent.
In that connection, the frequently reported romance between former President Jonathan and APC is a joke that should not continue. In all the three elections for the presidency – 2007, 2011 and 2015 – Igbo gave him over 95 per cent of their votes.
They were his most loyal supporters. It would amount to ingratitude of the worst kind if GEJ allows himself to be used to frustrate the presidential ambition of Igbo people. He should put an end to the nonsense by categorically opting out of the 2023 race. He is one opponent Igbo candidates don’t deserve.
“In January this year alone, we suffered not less than 50 reported attacks and loss of lives between 1st and 17th January. Within the same period, not less than 300 communities have been invaded, 220 killed. The number of people kidnapped is 200” -Governor Sani Bello, Niger State, January 18, 2022, Abuja.
Abandon hope all those who go there!!! This is Buhari’s best effort.