By Comfort Obi
If you have been following the news this past week, then you must be familiar with the comments of Dave Umahi, Governor of Ebonyi state. Umahi has been in the news, and considering that it is not often that he makes news, he must be celebrating. And, why is he in the news? He is at pains over the selection of Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra state, as the running mate to the Presidential candidate of the PDP, Atiku Abubarkar.
No matter how much he tries, Umahi is unable to disguise his pain. It is unmistakable in his choice of words. And Umahi has brought to town a new political expression: “State Character”, you know, as in Federal Character, while trying to rationalise his embarrassing comments.
Since he became governor, I have met Umahi unofficially, twice, both at the Protocol Lounge of the local wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. He was there before I entered. So, I went to greet him, and introduced myself as a journalist and a member of the Police Service Commission.
He responded warmly, then, he drew me aside, and said he wanted to ask me for a favour. Taken aback, I asked him to ask. And he said, “You people at the Commission want to remove my Police Commissioner. And I don’t want her removed. She is competent, and has kept bad boys in check” I looked at Umahi, and almost burst out laughing. But, I held myself.
The governor was talking about Peace Ibekwe-Abdallah. She is a native of Anambra state, but married to her Sweetheart, a Northerner. British trained, daughter of a late Commissioner of Police, Peace is a combination of brain and beauty. Competent, disciplined, and elegant, she was last week, deservedly, promoted to a Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police. But I need to tell you why I almost burst out laughing when Umahi asked for the retention of Peace in his state.
When she was posted to Ebonyi as the state CP, His Excellency rejected her, and tried very much to reverse it. But the PSC put its feet down. I was particularly up in arms. And played the feminine card. “Is it because she is a woman? Or because she is an Igbo girl?”, I fired. You may not believe it, but South-east governors are in the habit of rejecting CPs of Igbo origin posted to their states. It is bewildering, but that is a story for another day.
However, the main reason the PSC put its feet down is because the officer is very competent. In Ebonyi, she was leading operations at night to fish out criminals.
So, I teased the governor: I thought you didn’t want her in your state before, Your Excellency? His answer was swift: “That was before.” Unfortunately, I told him his request has fallen flat because she was nominated for a course at the NIPSS, Kuru, Plateau state. If she was being posted to another state command, one could help. But NIPSS? That’s good for her career.
My second meeting with Umahi was before his stunningly beautiful wife. I was, again, at the Protocol Lounge when she entered. And we got talking, Not quite long, His Excellency, came in. I was impressed by the bear hug both of them exchanged. Not many Nigerian men publicly show love and affection to their wives.
But I have been following Umahi’s activities and utterances long before I met him. A couple of months as a governor, I wrote a complimentary article on him. The former governor, whose deputy he was, Martin Elechi, had commissioned a project, I forget what now. Both men particularly didn’t have a healthy relationship before Umahi became the governor. Elechi never supported his aspiration. Instead, he had endorsed the former Minister for Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, to be his successor. But, Umahi was not deterred. He went ahead and defeated the governor’s candidate.
So, Elechi commissioned this project before his exit from office. I don’t know why some governors do that. It’s immoral. Anyway, on a visit to this project on assumption of office, Umahi exposed what was clearly a fraud. The project was nowhere near completion, so why commission it? If you add how much it costs these governors to commission even a borehole, you will appreciate how much they waste.
So, I praised Umahi for his courage in exposing the fraudulent commissioning. But thinking about it later, I was like, may be he was extremely harsh. He didn’t need to rub it in so mercilessly publicly. Afterall, Elechi was his boss, and an old man.
But I have since then come to the conclusion that the governor pulls no punches; that he is tactless and undiplomatic. He says what he feels like saying, and doesn’t care about the repercussion thereafter. His public disgrace of his predecessor in office was not a one-off thing. There are more.
He had knocked together, the heads of a Commissioner he sacked and that of his estranged SSG, by publicly revealing that he sacked the Commissioner on the wrong advice given to him by the the SSG. By doing that, he deliberately sowed a seed of enemity between both of them and their families. He didn’t think about that. Some more.
Several months ago, Umahi, a PDP governor, had also stated that, he would support President Buhari in the 2019 presidential election. I never read anywhere he said he was misquoted. But I think he only wanted to flaunt his relationship with Mr President, a point he emphasised penultimate week.
Said Umahi that week:” President Buhari is my friend, and I am not ashamed to say it.”
Ashamed ke? Why would anybody be ashamed to be the President’s friend. It is a privilege. But, why flaunt it? And, is there any reason Umahi would be expected to be the President’s enemy? Politics of bitterness does not pay. Our leaders should learn from civilized countries where they very often spend their holidays.
This order day when America’s Senator John McCain died, President Donald Trump was not to the funeral. Before the senator passed-on, he had said he didn’t want Trump at his funeral. He phoned a number of people he wanted present, including Presidents George Bush Jnr. and Barack Obama, both of whom he asked to read his eulogies. Obama is of a different party, and McCain chose him. But more important, Trump’s most beloved daughter, Ivanka, was at the funeral with her husband. That his father was not invited, neither stopped her, nor her father’s aides, including the Secretary of Defence, from attending.
Here, in Nigeria? Never. Neither, the President’s daughter, her husband, nor Ministers would attend when the President himself had been snubbed. Then, many gossips will be on hand to tell the President who went, and who didn’t. We need to grow up.
So, Umahi has kept mis-speaking, Making his relationship with the President public adds no pip to his shoulders. Or, what would he have a Nasir El- Rufai or an Abdullahi Ganduje, or a Yahaya Bello, all very close friends of the President do? Shout it from the roof tops every day?
Yet, nothing prepared one for Umahi’s undisguised discomfort over Obi as Atiku’s running mate. His comments to the media, after a stakeholders meeting with his governor–colleagues, including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was bewildering. And it doesn’t matter whether he agrees with those who have strongly lashed out at him or not.
Leveraging on his position as the Chairman of the South-east Governors Forum, a position Obi held longer than anybody, Umahi spoke to the press after the meeting. And what did he say? That Obi’s choice as Atiku’s running mate is news to them; that they are just reading it like everybody else; that they were not consulted; and that the stakeholders were still consulting on the issue And he was speaking to the media?
Please, what impression was he creating? A divided homefront? If there was a disagreement at the meeting for whatever reason, was it okay for Umahi to make it public? Or, does he have another agenda? What impression was he giving to Nigerians? But Umahi was not finished yet. So stung is he that he talks about Obi’s choice, even when it doesn’t fit into the discussion.
So, speaking during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, on socio-economic development in his state, Umahi zeroed in on Obi’s choice again.
So, you ask, what has Obi’s choice got to do with an MoU which he was signing? But read him please, along with my side comments in brackets.
Umahi: “Nobody is against Peter Obi because he is my friend, competent (Ah that’s good to hear that from you Sir). And you must have seen our pictures together on the social media (What weight do the pictures carry Sir?).
“We must take decisions against the marginalisation of Ebonyi people because if we have to vote, we must be treated with equity. (Really? Sir, are you already thinking of not voting for your party because you were not consulted on Obi?)
“Two names of the nominees came from Anambra, two from Abia, and one from Enugu, but none came from Ebonyi and Imo. (Ah, Sir, is that what this is all about? And when were you appointed the spokesperson for Imo state?)
“What is wrong with somebody from Ebonyi and Imo, and you must know that one of the reasons an Ebonyi man is against regions in the country is the fear of further marginalisation. (Ah, His Excellency must have forgotten, so soon, that an Ebonyi man, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, was the Senate President, and later the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, under a PDP regime)
“The South-east leaders never issued any statement on the matter, and anybody from the zone who says that our stand is not good is not a human being. (But, Sir, nobody said anybody issued any statement. You have been the only person speaking, purportedly, on behalf of other stakeholders).
“Nobody chooses the Vice President for anybody. It is just like a wife issue, but if other people were on the list, people from Ebonyi should be there. (Not true Sir. President Olusegun Obasanjo & co chose Goodluck Jonathan as President Umaru Yar’Adua’s running mate without consulting the South-south stakeholders, or even Jonathan himself).
“Even if we would not make the list, as the choice is for Abubakar to make, we should know what disqualified us from being picked.”
Now, I don’t understand His Excellency anymore. He is reducing a serious business to frivolity. So, Atiku should have picked would-be VP candidates from every South-east state, and then tell Umahi why the Ebonyi aspirant, in particular, was not picked?
Why are the Igbo like this? Why do some of our leaders make a ridicule of an otherwise hardworking and intelligent race like the Igbo race? That’s what Umahi is doing with his ego trip.
To show how bitter he is, he countered his Chief Press Secretary. The guy had issued a press statement congratulating Obi on behalf of his boss. But Umahi hit the roof and issued a counter press release.
Umahi: “When my Chief Press Secretary issued a statement congratulating Obi, the zone’s leaders started calling me, saying that I have made the VP alone.
“I had to issue a counter statement telling them that I was not consulted before the statement was released, and that it was an honest mistake by my CPS.”
I don’t know Umahi’s CPS, but does he still have his job? Has he been sacked by his boss for embarrassing him? If not, he should quit the job. His boss has publicly disowned him.
My gut feeling is that the CPS made no mistake. He issued the statement in order to nanage the damage caused by Umahi’s comments. And the effect it could have on the governor’s image, the backlash. That is his job. To manage his Principal’s image. But he didn’t know the depth of his Principal’s grouse.
I don’t know the stakeholders who called the governor to ask “whether he made the VP alone” after the statement by his CPS. Does it include Abia state governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, who has publicly endorsed Obi’s choice? Does it include Ohaneze Nd’Igbo, its Youth wing, and almost every important stakeholder in Igbo land, home and abroad, who have all hailed Obi’s choice? Yes, he may have spoken in Enugu in his capacity as the Chairman of the South east Governors Forum, but he didn’t have to make public their reservations, even if there was any over Obi. Umahi should have waited for Atiku and expressed such feelings, especially if they discussed anything with him before the Presidential primary. It shouldn’t have been for public consumption. And Atiku would have explained the circumstances to him.
Now, Umahi has exposed the Igbo to public ridicule and people are laughing and asking questions. Worse, innocent people are being accused of playing the music Umahi is dancing to. One of them: Ekweremadu. Not true.
The Igbo know how to destroy themselves. That is why they are not alwayd taken seriously. Other tribes think that some Igbo leaders are two for a kobo. They may not be wrong . When it was the turn of the South east to produce the Senate President, Igbo sons were being changed like underwears. Evan Enwerem, Chuba Okadigbo, Alphonsus Wabara, Pius Anyim and Ken Nnamani. All within a space of eight years. But David Mark stayed for eight years. And if Bukola Saraki had been Igbo, his kinsmen would since have sold out – since! It is embarrassing.
When President Buhari picked VP Yemi Osinbajo as his running mate, did he consult South-west governors, Afenifere, or other South-west stakeholders?
It was between him and Tinubu, and may be, a couple of others. Nobody went to the media to denounce it. They presented a common front. Not the Igbo.
It is an irony. Some days ago, Ohaneze and co were threatening to vote against the PDP if the party does not pick an Igbo son as its Vice Presidential candidate. Now, an Igbo son is picked, and it is the South-east zone, protesting against a choice hailed by other zones. Now, it is people from other zones appealing to the South-east to support their own son.
President Jonathan has weighed in with an appeal to the South- east to support their son. And so has Chief Bode George. And a very angry Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.
In a short write-up on the back page of ThisDay of Sunday, October 14, entitled ‘Obi or Not Obi, Simon Kolawole, summed up the negative vibes in the South-east. He wrote:
“The choice of Peter Obi as the running mate of PDP Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar, seem not to have gone down well with some power brokers in his geo-political zone, the South-east. There were reports of bickering on Saturday, with the governor of Ebonyi state, Chief Dave Umahi raising dust.
“Compare and contrast with 2015 when President Buhari picked Professor Yemi Osinbajo as his running mate and the support the professor of law got was instant. Meanwhile, the South- west is said to be highly interested in the event that the Igbo are unable to support one of their own as Atiku’s running mate ” It is food for thought for the Umahi group.