Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
In the aftermath of the defection of the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi to the All Progressives Congress( APC), the battle of supremacy between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling party, has shifted to the South East.
Umahi, who was elected on the platform of the PDP, had said he left the opposition party, because it has allegedly not been fair to the people of the South East geopolitical zone.
Prior to his defection, the governor at a meeting with the PDP National Working Committee (NWC) reportedly demanded the zoning of the party’s 2023 presidential ticket to the South East as a condition for his continued membership of the party.
The Ebonyi governor, while announcing his defection at a press briefing in Abakaliki, had said he was leaving the opposition party as a protest against alleged unfair treatment against the South East by the PDP.
According to him, “I offered this movement as a protest to injustice being done to the South East by PDP. Since 1998, the South East people have supported PDP in all elections; at a time, the five states in the South East were all PDP. One of the founding members of PDP is from South, His Excellency Dr. Alex Ekwueme, East; the late former Vice President. And so, it is absurd that since 1998 going to 2023 that South East will never be considered to run for presidency under the ticket of the PDP, is very absurd and this is my position and it will continue to be my position; it has nothing to do with me.”
However, the PDP in its immediate reaction to the defection of the governor, said the the allegation of unfair treatment of South East was baseless.
The PDP Deputy National Chairman, Suleiman Nazif, said contrary to Umahi ‘s claim, the opposition party has been a safe haven for the people of the South East since its inception in 1998. He noted that the opposition party will continue to give opportunity to the people of the zone.
“This is a party that has given you opportunities in the past. And this is a party that will continue to give you opportunities. The party will continue to give the Igbo people a sense of belonging,” Nazif told leaders of Ebonyi State chapter of the PDP in Abuja.
To buttress its point that it has been unfair to the South East, the PDP in a document by its Publicity Department, said under its 16 years rule, Senators Evans Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Adolphus Wabara, Anyim Pius Anyim and Kenechukwu Nnamami occupied the position of Senate President, while Senator Ike Ekweremadu was deputy Senate President for 12 years.
The opposition party added that during its tenure, the South East also produced the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, in seventh assembly; national chairman of the party, on two occasions; the Chief of Army Staff; governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) and its 2019 Vice Presidential candidate, Peter Obi among others. The PDP challenged the APC to say what it has done for the South East.
Like the PDP, the APC is to make its position for the 2023 presidential contest known. Consequently, pundits say in the ensuing battle for supremacy, both the APC and the PDP will be relying on its past record , especially as it concerns accommodating the people of South East in the scheme of things in the past, to push its case in the zone.
However, analysts say Umahi’s defection may alter the political equation in the South East, as there is now seemingly a balance of force in the region. Before his defection, the PDP was in control of the governorship seat in Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia, while APC controls only Imo State.
However, with the current development, both parties are now at par with two states each. Nevertheless, the PDP still controls majority of the National and state assemblies’ seats across the five states in the South East.
The APC sees the defection of Umahi as an opportunity to make more inroad into the South East ahead of the 2023 polls. The South East has always been a fortress of the opposition party, since the inception of the present democratic dispensation.
The Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma, few days before the exit of the Ebonyi governor from PDP, had told journalists in Abuja that the ruling party is talking to more opposition governors in the South East to cross over.
“We are still talking to more governors to join. APC is the ruling party and for the interest of national integration and cohesion, Imo and South East, indeed, need to become part and parcel of the ruling party to make the Nigerian project a complete project,” he had stated.
Nafiz says Umahi’s defection is a ploy by the APC to dislodge the opposition party from the South East. The party leader, who stated that the PDP since its inception has been a safe haven for the people of South, said the party would not allow the APC take the zone from it.
According to him,”what the powers in Abuja are trying to do is to edge out PDP from the South East. They cannot do that. The people of the South East are people that we love. People that we admire. People who have contributed to the development of this country. You have a safe haven in PDP. You are known in the PDP. PDP is a household name in the South East. PDP will continue to be a household name in Ebonyi.
“Let us not be deceived that because they technically took out our governor in Imo, we will allow them do the same thing they have done again in Ebonyi. We will work extremely hard. A tree cannot make a forest. And let them know that. Even in governance there are people behind governors, they are people behind leaders. And those people will continue to remain in PDP.”
The confidence of the PDP is buoyed by the insistence of the leaders of the party in Ebonyi not to defect alongside Umahi.
The elders and leaders of the Ebonyi PDP had at a press briefing, at the party’s national secretariat, Wadata Plaza, Abuja, last week, reaffirmed their loyalty to the opposition.
The former Minister of Culture, Ambassador Frank Ogbuewu, who read a statement on behalf of the party leaders, at a press briefing, which was attended by former Secretary to the government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim and former Ebonyi State governor, Senator Sam Egwu noted that whereas they believe it is the turn of the South East to produce the next president of Nigeria, the zone was yet to discuss the issue of zoning.
They added : “We affirm our resolve to obey and honour any decision or resolution reached by the South East PDP on how to actualize the zoning of the presidency to South East come 2023. “We note the explanation of the party that the issue of zoning is not yet at the table for consideration and in due time it will be treated in line with the party rules and guidelines.
“Being political products of PDP, we are minded to keep faith with our party both when in power at the centre or in opposition, with the hope that in due time, the party will give the quest to zone the presidency to South East the consideration it deserves.”
Other prominent leaders of the party in attendance included a founding member of the PDP, Chief Henry Ude, popularly known as Ajimbest, members of the National Assembly among others. The National Assembly members had days earlier said they will remain in the opposition party.
The National PDP Youth Leader, Sunday Ude -Okoye, said there is no way the APC would treat the South East better than the opposition party. Ude-Okoye, while speaking at the inauguration of a caretaker committee for the Ebonyi PDP, said the opposition party will always remain a party of choice for South East people.
According to him, “anybody who is talking about any other political party in the South East is wasting his time. We don’t know any other party other than the PDP. I want every Igbo to know this. There is no reason whatever for an Igbo man to say that he will leave our own party and run to the party that declared 97 per cent for those who voted for them and five percent for my people, the Igbo people. That party, we don’t belong to it. This is our party.”
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