Umahi’s defection and the unfolding game of political musical chairs

What started as an act of defiance by former senate president, Ken Nnamani in 2016 when he withdrew his membership of PDP, before joining the APC in 2017,  and an unusual step taken in 2016 by Orji Uzo Kalu, former governor of Abia state, when he exited APGA for the APC,  have now crystallized into a ‘bold step’ as President Mohammadu Buhari recently characterized the defection or cross-carpeting of Dave Umahi, the governor of Ebonyi state from the main opposition party, PDP, to the ruling party, APC.

Ostensibly, unlike Orji Kalu who joined the APC to contend for the post of senate president after the APC unseated the PDP and became the ruling party in 2015 , Ken Nnamani defected because he was given a bloody nose by the PDP, a party on whose platform he served as senate president, 2005-7.

And his loss of influence in PDP stems largely from the role that he played in ensuring that the third term agenda of then president Olusegun Obasanjo, as reported in the media, was scuttled in the Congress which he led.

Having stepped on powerful toes, his path back to the senate was blocked by the powers that be in then ruling party, PDP.

Now, political realignments in Nigeria’s political space is as old as the advent of party politics, so it’s not an anathema.

Every republic since the first in 1963 to the current 9th republic has had a fair share of carpet crossing in the south-west, south-east and in the north. Jumping ship in politics is part of the so called horse trading which politics is all about.

So it came to be that, arising from the fertile imagination of some politicians, and building upon the initiative of a former governor of Kaduna state, late Mallam Balarabe Musa, who was the first to promote the concept of coalition of opposition political parties against the ruling party, a political avalanche in 2013/2014 took place in Nigeria’s  political landscape. That was when several governors and ex governors in Igboland joined forces with fellow politicians in then major opposition parties such as the ACN, CPC , ANPP and part of APGA in a coalition to supplant the PDP which had been ruling at the centre for sixteen successive years since Nigeria’s transition and transformation from military dictatorship into a multi party democracy in 1999.

With Dave Umahi’s defection last week, the game of political musical chairs is now on.

Significantly, it dovetails or it is a presage of the comment by the late political activist and media entrepreneur, Mallam Isma’ila lsa Funtua, who before his passage in July this year had earlier in January, on Arise television stated that if the Igbos want to be the ethnic stock that produces  Nigeria’s president in 2023, “they should belong”.

Of course, it is not lost on most discerning Nigerians that the exhortation for the Igbos to belong ‘is a sort of euphemism that our compatriots who occupy the eastern flank of our country should get out of their cocoon or bubble and sow their political seeds afar.

It may be recalled that the charismatic political activist, Mallam Funtua, of blessed memory,  was responding to the agitation of the easterners that an Igbo man should succeed President Buhari in office when his second four years tenure ends in 2023.

Remarkably, in that interview, the respected northern political leader, Mallam Funtua encouraged the Igbos to emulate the former vice president, Alex Ekwueme (may his soul rest in peace) who reached out of his Igbo enclave by literarily building political bridges across the country from the west to the north. A feat or phenomenon that facilitated his emergence in 1979 as vice-president to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the president of Nigeria in the second republic.

Ebonyi state governor, Dave Umahi is the latest conscript or if you like, the most current to ‘see the light’ amongst lgbo politicians on the need to enlarge their coast. But if the motivation and ambition of Governor Umahi for joining the ruling APC is so that he would a be the president or vice presidential candidate of the ruling party in 2023, he must be miscalculating because Ebonyi state does not have a significant population of the Igbos-only about 3m and 1.5% of Nigeria’s population. Also governor Umahi appears not to posses the political follower-ship to inspire the horde of voters which the ruling party craves.

Who knows, Umahi may just end up being like senator Orji Kalu who defected to the ruling party, APC in 2016 with the intention to clinch the coveted position of senate president of the 9th Assembly and unfortunately, perhaps to his greatest surprise ended up in jail.

At best, Umahi can be like pastor Tunde Bakare of Latter Rain Assembly church who was propped up to serve as the running mate to candidate Buhari in 2011 as a ploy to garner the votes of Christians for the Muslim/Christian candidacy which political strategists had concluded was a winning formula and a sure path to the presidency of Nigeria for Buhari who had tried twice to weave his way to Aso Rock Villa and failed.

Following the discovery that the strategy couldn’t yield the desired dividends, simply because, although pastor Bakare and Latter Rain Assembly are both a Pastor and a Christian church respectively, they did not have enough clout to harness the Christian votes that the Buhari campaign needed. So the Buhari campaign decided to cast their fishing net farther into the sea of politics.

Smarting from that disappointment, but obviously more determined to clinch the presidency in 2015, the Buhari campaign realigned and sought partnership with the pastor Enoch Adeboye led Redeem Church (the largest Christian denomination in Nigeria) and that’s how a senior pastor, Yemi Osinbajo an associate of former Lagos state governor, Bola Tinubu (who had served as attorney general of Lagos state) was tapped for the role.

In my estimation, unlike the 2015 episode, the 2023 presidential race would be a different ball game.

That much has been projected in my new book: “Isma’ila Isa Funtua. A Bridge Builder The Chronicles Of A Political Activist And The Jostle For Nigerian Presidency in 2023”.

In a chapter titled “Decoding The Encoded Comments “Nigeria Is Not Turn By Turn Nigeria Ltd”  and “The Presidency Should Be By Merit And Not The Place One Comes From”, l made a case that since wise men speak in riddles and parables, the comments needed deep scrutiny in order to decipher the real import.

Then l proceeded to do so with facts and figures in the book.

To the unsuspecting observer, it may sound naive, but Nigeria’s political space is gradually being constricted into a one party political system instead of multiparty democracy that it was at inception in 1999 which is 21 years ago.

The assertion above is reinforced by the claim by Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, that  more governors from the main opposition party would defect to the ruling party.  That is if the claim were to be taken seriously.

It may be recalled that in an interview on Channels Television, the Kogi state governor reportedly made the following comment.

“I said it long ago, not today when the party (PDP) was going through some challenges; I did say that there are 10 governors from the opposition parties that will join APC.

“We have seen one; one that is even as equal as 10, he has joined us, nine to go. Just mark my words; I don’t lie, I will never lie, and I will never deceive anybody.”

Frankly, wise people know that statements by politicians are not to be taken seriously, but with a pinch of salt.

And given the antecedents in other climes, particularly American politicians such as President Donald Trump and senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who are serial culprits in the art of double speaking and spinning of yarn, lying is not peculiar to Nigerian politicians.

Talking about governor Umahi’s defection from the PDP to the APC which his antagonists are characterizing as political macabre dance, he too appears to have mastered the art of deception as he is on record to have vehemently denied nursing any plan to defect to the ruling party, APC.

According to media reports, Governor Umahi had in 2018 stated the following: “Mr. President or any APC person has never asked me to come to APC, and they will never ask me. And there is no reason for me to leave my party, PDP, of which I was the party chairman, deputy governor and now governor.

“…People that jump from one party to the other should examine their characters, except if there is any problem within your party. As of today, till tomorrow, until Christ comes, there is no crisis in the PDP. Even if there is a need for me to leave the PDP, I can never leave the PDP to the kind of APC in Ebonyi State because with the kind of leaders in Ebonyi APC, leaders that have failed Ebonyi State, I can never be on the same political platform with them”

Clearly, the Ebonyi governor has eaten his words and thus validated the widely held belief that most politicians don’t have conscience and most of our political parties and politicians have no philosophical underpinning.

In any case, as l have highlighted in previous media Interventions ,  for altruistic and strategic reasons, the ruling party APC is particularly keen on having a strong foothold in the eastern region in fulfilment of the 2/3rd majority votes spread constitutional rule for  a presidential candidate to be deemed to have won.

As the APC failed to secure Imo state firmly after gaining a foothold in 2015 through the inconclusive governorship election declared by INEC in the state and a repeat contest in some senatorial districts was called. Rochas Okorocha, incumbent governor who had cross carpeted by joining the invigorated opposition political forces against the ruling PDP prevailed and was eventually declared the winner of the governorship contest.

That is a feat which the APC repeated in 2019 with the complex Supreme Court judgement that snatched victory from Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP who had been declared winner, and the victory handed to Hope Uzodinma, based on alleged uncounted votes belonging to Uzodinma who had been earlier adjudged by INEC to have finished in the fourth position after the election.

Putting on my futurologist hat, I had envisaged or predicted the impending capture of Igbo politicians by the ruling party , APC  in 2017, when l wrote and published an article titled : “As President Buhari Turns On The Charm Offensive On The Igbos.”

In that piece, l analyzed President Buhari’s charm offensive on lgbo politicians evidenced by a few direct and indirect actions that he had taken or initiated to correct the impression (wrongly or rightly) that the president of Nigeria is excluding the lgbos from his development agenda.

The article which was first published by both traditional and online media platforms on November 8, 2017 – about three years ago, foreshadows the current political scenarios evolving in the south east, and it is reproduced below for a review.

It goes thus:

 “After the infamous Python Dance lI that led to the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, which put the Igbos on edge, you may be thinking that President Muhammadu Buhari would leave them in the cold, right? 

Well, you may be wrong because government under the watch of President Buhari has tapped ex-Biafran soldiers in south eastern Nigeria for compensation benefits in excess of N50 billion.

That the good gesture is being extended after over 50 years of the civil war that lasted for 30 months and killed an estimated two million people (mostly lgbo), is quite remarkable and therefore raising eyebrows.

But government watchers were curious only to the extent that a retired army officer, Bala Yakubu, whose firm, Deminers Concept Nig. Ltd., sued the Federal Government to the Economic Commission for West African States (ECOWAS) Court on behalf of victims of the war, and will be benefiting from the largesse through the award of N38 billion worth of contract to clear the war zone of unexploded ordinances.

But what might have escaped the radar of politicians and Nigerians in general, is that government might have seized the opportunity created by the ECOWAS Court case to embark on peace building with the easterners that have been dancing to the drum beat of secession being played by the now defunct lPOB-led by Nnamdi Kanu.

Perhaps the current unusual magnanimity towards the lgbo, who have been crying out about marginalisation since the end of the civil war 47 years ago, is part of the strategy of defrosting the icy relationship between President Buhari and easterners who gave him only five (or is it 3%) votes in 2015 presidential election and are assumed to be bearing the brunt of casting most of their votes for the candidate that lost the election.

Whatever the case may be, it is safe to conclude that with the 2019 election on the horizon, CHANGE is beginning to take hold in terms of politics of inclusiveness as opposed to exclusiveness, which was fuelling secessionist tendencies.

Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), David Oyegun, had put it crudely when a couple of months ago, he reportedly advised lgbo people to join the APC if they wanted to enjoy government patronage that would translate into prosperity.

But President Buhari is actualising the proposition of bringing back the lgbo into the mainstream (After mischievous Arewa youths served them quit notice) by turning on his charm in a bid to convert the lgbo into his burgeoning political family via good deeds.

The different approaches or strategies adopted in trying to get the lgbo to say yes to APC by the chairman of the ruling party and Mr. President suggests a sort of bad cop, good cop scenario playing out.

Whatever the case may be, it is worth recalling that it was Rochas Okorocha’s lmo State, where governorship election was inconclusive in 2015, so a re-run was called and APC literarily pulled the rabbit out of the hat to give then presidential candidate Buhari the infamous ‘five per cent’ votes of the lgbo, which helped him clinch the presidency.

Going by Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, without the lgbo’s ‘five per cent’ votes, which enabled then candidate Buhari to fulfil the requirement that compels a presidential candidate to secure 2/3rd majority of votes of all Nigerians across the national spectrum before being declared the winner of a presidential contest, candidate Buhari could have remained unelected as he had been even after winning estimated 12 million votes mainly from the core north in three previous elections.

By and large, the critical contribution that the paltry lgbo votes made to candidate Buhari’s electoral fortune compared to the estimated 24% that Kano voters brought to the table, is a typical case of when the less becomes the more.

But as it would appear, President Buhari might have considered only the face value of the five per cent votes, hence he reportedly felt not indebted to the lgbo but only beholden to the northern and to some extent the south west voters who cast the majority of votes for him.

That mindset probably informed the alleged vile comment credited to President Buhari with respect to his purported plan to give unto the Igbo little government patronage, and one that is proportional to the votes that he garnered from that zone.

Sadly, that is a narrative that has been giving fillip to the notion that the lgbo are being deliberately excluded from government and a circumstance which gave fervour to the quest for a referendum or separatism as propounded by Nnandi Kanu, whose whereabouts is now unknown.

It boggles the mind that in a society where perception can easily become reality, two and half years after the faux pax or Freudian slip by Mr. President in far away USA found its way into public lexicon and  discuss, nothing seems to have been done to debunk or confirm the gaffe until a couple of days ago.

As a result, the whispers in the dark advanced from being mere conspiracy theory spurn by President Buhari’s competitors, to something like a statement of fact, which has been hanging over Aso Rock Villa and APC like an albatross.

Arising from the above, the charm offensive to deodorise the odious five per cent versus 97 commentary is not only timely, but also overdue.

Fortuitously, the recent correction of the seemingly erroneous impression that appointments into public office is skewed against the lgbo and tilted in favour of Hausa/Fulani, has been a positive turning point.

However, the correction of the widely held impression that the Hausa/Fulani are being favoured by President Buhari over other ethnic stock in Nigeria, rather than being a deliberately planned strategy to give clarity to misconceptions, happened accidentally.

This is because the Presidency was only reacting to a factually incorrect and hollow Business Day newspaper report, as opposed to addressing a public concern that has become a major blithe on the image of government.

In previous articles, l had wondered what made the Presidency so complacent, insensitive or arrogant not to apprise Nigerians of its thinking on the vexed issue of appointment into public offices, which had become a hot button matter that was irritating most Nigerians. In fact, l have even heard some northerners complain that President Buhari is favouring only Daura people. Ridiculous as such mindset may be, it deserves clarification with facts and figures to disabuse the minds of the unwary complainants and stop the author of the disinformation on the track.

Given the foregoing, what stopped Aso Rock from clearing up the mess generated by Mr. President’s unsavoury remark in over two and half years, you may wonder?

Thankfully, although extraneous circumstances have compelled Presidential Spokesman Femi Adesina to come up with some argument to debunk the notion, when put in the crucible of truth, the justification would not pass the test of equity. This is because he failed to put the whole scenarios into context and perspective, as such, public opinion is that he was only being clever by half.

For instance, it is commonsensical that all public offices are not equally strategic, prestigious or lucrative.

With the people occupying the office of the president, Senate president, speaker of the House of Representatives, secretary to the Federal Government (SFG) and all the military service chiefs-Army, Navy, Air force-as well as the Police not one being from the lgbo stock in a country comprising of three major ethnic groups, of which the lgbo are a strategic part and parcel of the tripod, it can be disconcerting that no lgbo was deemed fit enough to occupy any of those offices.

So now that President Buhari is dangling the carrot ostensibly to harness or harvest the votes from the east to facilitate a win again for him or the party in 2019, would the rabbit’s passion for carrots; monkey love for Banana or chicken craving for corn and cat’s greed for fish and even bears liking for honey make the lgbo take the bait?

It may be too early to tell, but suffice it to say that in a country where ‘stomach infrastructure’ (apologies to Babatunde Fashola, former Lagos State governor and now minister of works, power and housing) occupies prominent position in the electioneering process, anything can happen.

Already, President Buhari’s cabinet ministers from the east such as Chris Ngige, in charge of Labour and Productivity, Ogbonanya Onu, responsible for Science and Technology, who are ex governors and as such had grass root following are getting their campaign machines into overdrive in their bid to convince their people that the grass is greener on the APC side.

Similarly, Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, which is the only lgbo state controlled by APC in the east and Orji Uzor Kalu, former Abia State governor, who is a latter day APC convert and Buhari devotee, are also strutting the vast land of the lgbo stirring up positive emotions in the desperate bid to court NdiIgbo for President Buhari assuming he decides to seek re-election or for the APC candidate as the case may be.

None typical politicians like Foreign Affairs Minister, Geofrey Onyeama, and Trade, Commerce and Industries Minister Okechukwu Enelemah, who are originally from the private sector are also expected to weigh in with any clout that they can muster to get their boss or party re-elected as the ruling party.

Unfortunately, there are no lgbo heading influential or cash cow parastatals or agencies like Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigeria LNG Limited, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), amongst many other geese that lay the golden eggs to lend helping hands to the cabinet members from the east in the mission to capture the eastern votes.

But if President Buhari in pursuit of his proposed expansion of the federal cabinet and appointments into vacant board positions offers lucrative political appointments to more Igbo sons and daughters, and promises to construct the second Niger bridge, and rehabilitates the badly dilapidated roads in the east, APC and President Buhari may make more inroads into the east.

Such is the power of give and take, which is referred to in politics as horse-trading.

Ultimately, whether President Buhari or APC likes it or not, beginning with the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Anambra State, they will be facing a referendum of some sort.

A path which lPOB wanted to tow but not recognised by Nigerian Constitution.

The Anambra State gubernatorial election is a referendum of sorts because on that occasion the Igbo would be taking steps towards choosing whether to remain outsiders, which they seem to be now with the hope that one day a knight in shining armour would rescue and take them to another island where they will presumably be free, or allow themselves to be properly wooed like a bride and get integrated into the scheme of governance in Nigeria.

Trust me, what happens in Anambra on November 18, 2017 may be a window into the pattern of the general elections in 2019.

The outcome of the recent local government elections in Anambra State, which was swept by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidates should be a pointer to the way the pendulum may swing in 2019 and therefore a wakeup call.

A similar situation is evolving in the USA where the democrats are crushing Republican Party candidates in the midterm elections, one year after the ascendancy of Donald Trump as the most controversial and polarising president America has ever had.

As a franchise holder of American presidential system of governance, would a similar scenario play out in Nigeria? Time will tell”

Amazingly most of the points raised in the foregoing three years old essay, still ring true today.

And despite President Buhari’s charm offensive on the lgbos in 2017 and thereafter, the apparent marginalization of the south-easterners has remained a sore point in the relationship between the lgbos and the current government at the centre.

The assertion above is underscored by the fact that the Senate minority leader, Eyinaya Abaribe recently continued with the lamentations about lgbo marginalization by claiming that the highest lgbo man in Aso Rock Villa is a photographer in the presidency-a  curious revelation that needs to be fact checked.

Whatever the case may be, one thing that is clear is that President Muhammadu Buhari is not a seat tight president of the ilk of Paul Biya of Cameroon who has been president of that poverty ravaged country since 1982-a whooping 38 years or Paul Kigame of Rwanda who has held the reins of power in that relatively prosperous country since the year 2000, which is 20 years on the throne.

Not being a sit-tight-leader appears to me like the only bright spot in a presumed blighted legacy which this government is bound to leave in 2023, given that Nigerian economy has just descended into recession for the second time in five years.

So, Nigerians may be blaming President Buhari for the inability of his governmental to deliver the masses from poverty and insecurity of lives and properties, but the accusations would mainly be woven around Mr President’s unwillingness to fire his appointees when they are seen or deemed to have fallen short of public expectations. Ordinarily, that is an onerous duty of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria; and a presidential function that he reserves the prerogative to wield.

His apparent reluctance to exercise that power as signposted by his seeming ‘deafness’ to the concerted calls for the sack of the military service chiefs,  most of whom have been past due for retirement, would occupy a major space in  president Buhari’s leadership odyssey.

It needs no further elucidation that in the last four to five years, Nigerians from all strata of society, nationwide, and ranging from civil society organizations to traditional rulers and faith leaders of both the Christian and Islamic faiths have all weighed in , but to no avail with the same piece of advice that Mr President should replace the military service chiefs,  whom most Nigerians (correctly or otherwise) are blaming for the horrifying  state of insecurity of lives and properties currently being exacerbated by the #EndSARS protests induced abdication of the police force from their roles of enforcing law and order in most cities nationwide.

Even as President Buhari is yet to transit into his lame duck presidency period which should be a year or so to his exit from Aso Rock Villa, the groundswell of defections by members of the opposition parties to the ruling party, APC is already creating jitters amongst politicians in the polity.

And if the dream from Kogi state governor’s fertile imagination that ten governors from the opposition camp would soon join the APC manifests or materializes, that means the cross-carpeting activities may catalyze into seismic dimensions or escalate into tsunami levels.

Be that as it may, realignment of political forces in Nigeria is not novel.

The legacy of the four political parties earlier listed, ACN, CPC, ANPP, APGA plus a splinter group from then ruling party, PDP happened before 2015 general elections.

The only difference now is that it is not the opposition that is attracting like minded politicians to supplant the party holding power at the centre.  But the ruling party is consolidating its hold on power by poaching opposition politicians, particularly governors, which in my view is real politick and a sign of APC’s machismo. However, would such action not crowd out smaller parties and end up making Nigeria, by omission or commission, a one party state?

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