Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State
By Obi Nwakanma
Mr. David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, has finally decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
This move did not cause the kind of political earthquake that he must have been expected, primarily because, one, the news cycle these days is much like instant coffee. It brews too quickly.
And as we have come to learn in the fast-paced age of the new media, stuff happens now exponentially; so much that we hardly have time to ruminate about dramatic events, smell the coffee, and let the drama of our increasingly dynamic existence settle and resolve itself. Of things that we think are earth shaking, the universe has long proved to be indifferent.
As my sagely Igbo people would normally put it, “there is nothing yet which the eyes see that makes it bleed.” So, Umahi did not even get his fifteen minutes of fame or infamy. But of course, he is just another politician who has presumed that he is far more important than he actually is. Now, his decamping from the PDP to the APC has long been predicted. Perhaps that’s why it did not come as a surprise. Folks have been expecting him to dump the PDP a long time ago.
He has been denying this. He rode on the PDP’s solid base in the South East, where the APC has even now, very little political value, for re-election. There are many who have long known that Umahi is the chink in the armor of the PDP in the South East. His membership was reportedly half-hearted. His commitments were desultory. His political investments in the organization of the party was weak and at best, “how-for-do?” Many people from that region, of which Dave Umahi has long served as the chair of the regional governors Conference have long complained that Umahi’s political actions often seem at variance with the demands of serious political engagement in the South East.
He had chosen a very middling position; a middle course in his engagement with the center, and his decamping last week shows very clearly why. Umahi was always an outlier in the South East; and the fact that he chaired the governors forum all through the period does reflect the rather unexciting political atmosphere in the South East in terms of providing an alternative basis for political initiatives in Nigeria. When it comes to real significance, although the Igbo political weight is visible and electric, there is very little, except Nnamdi Kanu’s badly thought, badly organized, fissiparous activities.
That is why in spite of its very deeply flawed and dangerous limitations as a political movement, more Igbo take Nnamdi Kanu more seriously than they would take David Umahi. The facts are very simple: Umahi is not on the same planet as the people he purports to lead. To be fair to him, he has recorded, by many accounts, certain exciting milestones in the physical development of Ebonyi, particularly in the areas of road development, where his experience as a trained Civil Engineer has been invaluable.
He introduced the use of the Rigid Pavement Technology in road construction in Ebonyi, something his colleagues ought to emulate both in the East, with its topography, and across the rest of Nigeria. Umahi is also said to have made solid investments in Agriculture, particularly in Rice production in Ebonyi state. There’s of course so much more to be done, but folk in Ebonyi and in the South East acknowledge that Mr. Umahi, in terms of direct solid achievement, may be the best performing governor in this political cycle in the East of Nigeria. That is nothing to thump one’s nose against. Nor should it also be anything of surprise either. There are not many high performing governors in the South East.
In Abia, for instance, aside from the fact that we have an overweight man there, who rivals the legendary Aesop in looks (according to the legends, when Aesop was born, his own mother took one look at him and burst into tears), his six years thus far in the Okpara Lodge in Umuahia has yielded very little in terms of development to Abia. The great city of Aba looks like Dresden after it was carpet-bombed by the allied forces in 1945. This city on the Atlantic pavement has remained both unimagined and under-invested even long before Ikpeazu. But he continues Abia’s tragic downward spiral, the result of a menacing form of ill-governance starting with Orji Uzo Kalu to Theodore Orji, and to Ikpeazu.
And so, Abia – so called “God’s own state” – remains forgotten by God because Abia has often elected a criminal gang as its public leaders since 1999. If there is any doubt that governance in Abia State has been a Mafia-like criminal enterprise since the transition to democracy, the EFCC and other court cases about criminal enrichment and looting involving the last two state governors is testament. The jury is still out on Ikpeazu. So, Umahi has no real challenge in Abia. In Imo, aside from the fact that the “Supreme Court governor” struggles with a legitimacy problem, he also does not have the requisite level of intellectual sophistication necessary to comprehend complex policy issues around development. And I’m talking about development, long and short term. Not that Umahi is a particularly bright fellow.
But he went to the Government College Afikpo, which is alright, although it is not Umuahia. And he studied Engineering in ASUTECH (before it became Enugu State University), and so the Supreme Court imposed governor in Imo State, might not measure in that land where the one-eyed are now the leaders of the blind. And there have been exceptional political leaders who rose above their limited formal education. I mean that Welsh politician, Aneurin Bevan, son of a Coal Miner, left school at 13, went to the mines, became head of the Miner’s Lodge early, and then went to a Trade Union School, the Central Labour College.
He joined the Labour party, and by the time Clement Atlee was elected as Prime Minister at the end of WW11, Bevan was made minister of Health, where he designed and introduced the longest lasting legacy of British public policy, the National Health Service Act of 1946; the basis to date of British National Health Service. So, one can transcend the handicaps of one’s education and rise to immortal heights. Luckily for Uzodinma, he went to school in the East when public education was still up to some scratch, and a man with even Standard Six education could hold his own. So, Uzodinma may still hold his own.
But there are no signs of it yet. What is generally known is that he belongs to the crop of upstart politicians in the late Morris Ibekwe -Okorocha circle, who captured Imo State, and lowered the quality of its public service and the scope of its expectations. As for the weirdo in Anambra, whose fashion sense sometimes speak to the state of his mind, there are many who sincerely think he needs to check himself in for rehab. He too has been a closet APC man.
The man in Enugu lost it when he saw the effect of the Fulani herdsmen invasion of an Enugu community. He choked back tears. But rather than do anything about it, he went to Abuja and bowed in servile submission to President Buhari at Aso Rock. The people of the South-East then knew immediately that this fellow has no backbone. And neither does Umahi, by the way.
It is not enough to deliver a few symbolic public projects. Nothing wrong with that. It is in fact commendable. But there is a more powerful; more abstract nature of leadership: a public leader must restore a people’s confidence to them, and must embody their hopes and aspiration. David Umahi does not embody, nor represent the hopes and aspirations of the Igbo in general, nor of the South East in particular.
Not only because he is dour and uncharismatic, but because he lacks the right political instincts. He led mainland Igbo governors to Port-Harcourt when reports came of the killing of the Igbo in Obigbo. These governors from the surrounding Igbo states sat glumly while Governor Ezenwo Wike indirectly declared the Igbo “guests” in Rivers State. Never mind that the Igbo is the single largest indigenous ethnic group in Rivers State.
Worse still, Umahi indirectly affirmed Wike by upbraiding claimants of a coherent Igbo affinity.
True Igbo leadership of the bygone generation would never have done that. First, they would have invited Wike to Enugu, or Owerri, not go to him in Port-Harcourt. Secondly, they would not have sat and listened to Wike’s hogwash without shushing him forcefully. Thirdly they would not throw Igbo victims of military brutality under the bus for political expediency.
Now, the remarkable point is, one week after all that chumminess with Wike, David Umahi decamped from the PDP to the APC. Very clearly, their ambitions clashed. It is rumoured that Wike is angling to be Vice-President under a PDP candidate from the North. His first move was to deny his Igbo identity, and distance himself from the Igbo of the South East. Umahi it is said, saw the game that Wike and Uche Secondus are playing, noting that the PDP are prepping to ditch the South East in spite of years of widespread support, even to the point of being blackballed by the ruling APC.
His moves to the APC is said to be his attempt to establish an early stake in an APC bid to cede the presidential slot to the South East. But there he has to contend with other ambitious men- Okorocha, Uzodinma, Orji Kalu, as well as Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu among others. There is also the dark horse, the urbane Foreign Minister, Godfrey Kwusike Jideofor Onyeama – whose father – the judge, Charles Daddy Onyeama named after his own friend, and Umuahia classmate, GKJ Amachree, who was also Onyeama’s godfather. I am putting my dollar in a bet, that if the factors in the northern APC will look for a Southern candidate, GKJ Onyeama is it.
He is their safe berth. I will come to this someday. But let us also say that the APC currently is an inconsequential force in the politics of the South East. But if the PDP makes the mistake of ignoring the East, the party will die in the East, and even River state, where mainland Igbo votes still determine the races will go to APC. But at the moment, Umahi’s move signals the early shots for 2023.
The trouble for Umahi is whether he has the weight to gather the forces around him. The Southeasterners currently feel that he is not to be trusted. He already lost his backyard.