Opinion: Ebonyi 2019, Between Umahi And Ogbuoji By Muhammad Ajah

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The gubernatorial race in Ebonyi state is going to be very tough because the two major contenders are from the same senatorial zone. It is going to be a fight between two brothers tied together by the Ebonyi Equity Charter (EEC) of “Egbe beri Ugo beri”. They are the incumbent governor, Engr. Dave Umahi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and a serving member of the Red Chambers of the Federal Republic, Distinguished Senator Soni Ogbuoji of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Umahi is seeking reelection for a second term; Ogbuoji dumped the PDP to clinch the APC flagship. Both are from the Ebonyi South senatorial zone. Ogbuoji hails from Afikpo South Local Government Area; Umahi is a native of Ohaozara Local Government Area.

According to the Ebonyi equity charter, each of the three senatorial districts should produce a governor of the state. It simply means that the governorship position should unconditionally rotate amongst the three senatorial zone of the state. The state has been under the rule of the Peoples Democratic Party since 1999. The opposition had struggled in the past to no avail to unseat the PDP in the state. Umahi was so powerful that he used the party to defeat his former boss, Martin Elechi who defected to another party when Umahi frustrated him out of the PDP. Strictly to that chart, both the north and central senatorial zones have had their turn of eight-year uninterrupted leadership – that is two tenures of four years each.

Though likely unwritten just as the north-south political dichotomy in Nigeria is prevalent, the Ebonyi North represented by former governor and now senator, Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu had its uninterrupted turn of eight years, just like the Ebonyi Central, represented by Chief Martin Elechi did. Martin had planned not to favour his then deputy, Umahi, thus received the biggest shock of his life. By this, May 29, 2019 will be the end of the first four years of Ebonyi South under Umahi. Is the second tenure to be completed by the same representative, Umahi, or by another son of the zone, Ogbuoji?

Ebonyi state has been a stronghold of the PDP since 1999. Umahi has been a strong member of the party and had rescued it from collapse when former governor Elechi tried it. If not, Ebonyi state would have been an APC state like Imo state. Umahi is believed to be doing well. He seems to be in the good book of President Buhari as he has often proclaimed that he is in support of Buhari’s good leadership style, despite their party differences. Whither the genuinely of the proclamation, Buhari has reciprocated by specially visiting Ebonyi state to commission projects built by Umahi for not only Ebonyi people but for the benefits of Nigerians dwelling within or in neighbourhood with Ebonyi.

Senator Ogbuoji was a strong member of the PDP through which he secured the senatorial slot he still enjoys. It was a big shock to the PDP family when he waved goodbye to them and embraced the APC. In short, the chairman of the PDP in Ebonyi state, Barr. Onyekachi Nwebonyi could not believe the defection news for a long time. The strong senator did not stop there. He struggled hard to win the governorship candidate of APC in the state, defeating other aspirants in open primaries that took place at Pinnacle Hotel in Abakaliki, the state capital.

While Umahi had no opposition at the PDP primaries, the 64 year senator-graduate of the prestigious University of Nigeria (UNN) defeated eight contenders pulling 785 votes against his closest challenger, Bernard Odoh, who polled 519 votes. Ogbuoji had been in good rapport with the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who hails from Uburu, Ohaozara country home of Governor Dave Umahi. Onu, a founding father of the APC, has always been in the opposition to any Ebonyi governor but has never succeeded in controlling the state government. According to Ogbuoji, the APC was the best option for the Southeast geopolitical zone, especially as the zone eyes the Presidency by 2023. “I am one of those who believe that the issue of Igbo marginalization cannot be corrected by shouting in the media”, he once burst out.

The first time I meet Senator Soni Ogbuoji was at Sokoto House in Abuja when he came with his Senate Committee on an oversight function. So blunt to the truth and passionate about Ebonyi people and Nigerians, it required no further explanation what he would be capable of doing whenever any position of trust is handed over to him, as he is doing for his people as a senator. He believes that the Igbo people have a responsibility to determine what should happen about marginalization. “I believe that by joining forces; sharing ideas with those who are already in APC, we have a better chance of improving what we have”, he once proclaimed, noting that the level of governance received from PDP governors was not going to help the case of the PDP and the Igbo, as the Igbo have continually been offending themselves that PDP is an Igbo party. “As we speak today, APGA may lay claim to being an Igbo party; but certainly, PDP cannot lay claim to be an Igbo party,” he said.

He described Umahi’s leadership of Ebonyi state as years of unfulfilled promises, suffering and hopelessness predicated upon deceit and intimidation of citizens. While explaining to journalists in Abakaliki about “The New Ebonyi all Ebonyi people desire”, he chronicled the failed electoral promises of the Governor since 2015 and his lackluster administrative method and submitted that the State has descended into the abyss of hopelessness and despair. “Individuals who belong to different political associations have had their businesses closed down. Government cannot be a terror to its citizens…If we allow this to continue, someday we may begin to pay taxes from the dowries of our daughters, but I say God forbid.”

As for Umahi, there were rumours of his plan to defect to APC, though he debunked that on the grounds that he can never be in the same political party with those he described as “failed leaders” in the state. Apparently referring to his own townsman, Onu and other big- weight politicians from Ebonyi south, it was alleged that all attempts he made to join the APC was frustrated. He cautioned people not to mistake his relationship with President Buhari as an indication that he loved APC, not to talk of joining it, adding that his relationship with Buhari is personal. Frowning at such speculations, he said that neither the President nor APC chieftains have ever asked him to join APC ahead of the 2019. “As for today until Christ comes, there is no crisis in PDP. Even if there is a need for me to leave PDP, I can never leave PDP to join the kind of APC in Ebonyi state.”

Umahi described himself as a focused governor. He insists that party politics should be left to party men and women so as to focus more on governance. According to him, the fever that has been griping him since the day he was elected was for him to do his job, to deliver the dividends of democracy and solve the plight of Ebonyi people. “So, they should leave me alone with their dirty politics. I am focused; I am in PDP. As a member of PDP, I have benefited on the platform to be a party Chairman, a deputy governor, and now a Governor. I am a man of character,” he stated.

It is normal in politics to change the goal post at any time. Umahi and Ogbuoji are sons of Ebonyi senatorial zone. It is not the zone that will decide who wins. It is the other two zones. There has been the consistent political dichotomy between Abuja-based Ebonyi politicians and the state governor. It has never worked except for Umahi who was assisted by the Abuja political bloc. He is now being faced with the situation. The two zones have left it for the two brothers to log out. Ebonyi state must have a governor after the March 2019 governorship election. The governor is going to be Umahi of the PDP or Ogbuoji of the APC. But the spirit of inclusiveness of all socio-political and religious groups in Ebonyi must be considered. It is reportedly lacking in one. May God bless my dear Ebonyi state, the salt of the nation.

Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail mobahawwah@yahoo.co.uk.

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