Elechi’s defection to APC and the politics of 2019 in Ebonyi
The intrigues surrounding the recent defection of a former governor of Ebonyi State, Chief Martin Elechi to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is gradually playing out in the politics of the State and the South East geo-political zone.
In some quarters, the defection of Elechi is seen as an attempt to hide under the ruling party’s canopy and rescue himself from the ordeal he is facing with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) over allegations of financial misappropriation while he was in power.
But some other persons say that his move was aimed at frustrating his successor, Governor David Nweze Umahi’s second term ambition in 2019. Nonetheless, analysts argue that the development is unearthing the shape of things to come in the state in 2019 just like the coming council elections.
Elechi, who was the coordinator of Goodluck Jonathan Presidential Campaign for the South East in 2011, had last Sunday declared his interest to return to active politics by joining the APC after announcing his exit, but promised to continue to play the advisory role of an active elder statesman.
For those in the progressives circle in the region and Ebonyi in particular, Elechi’s return to the APC was regarded as a back to the base move, having been one of the founding members of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) where he supported the governorship candidacy of the incumbent minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu in 1999.
The ceremony took place at his Echi-Alike Ikwo country home during a courtesy visit by some stakeholders of the APC in South East and their counterparts from the North.
Giving reasons why he left PDP, Elechi said: “I was elected governor on two occasions under the PDP’s platform as it used to be the pride of Africa. The party was suddenly ravaged by self-inflicted crises and afflictions. In 1983 when I was the Secretary of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), in the old Anambra State, the budget for the national elections in Anambra and Imo, now South East zone was N170, 000.
“But in 2015, the budget for my impeachment was N3 billion and this was followed by the distortion and malpractice recorded in the primaries and congresses to elect the PDP candidates.”
He alleged those heavily bribed and intimidated with oaths were elected to participate as delegates, while court injunctions were illegally secured to perpetrate the acts.
He commended President Buhari for favouring the people of Abakaliki and said Mr. President is the person Nigerians are waiting for as Boko Haram and corruption issues could have been indescribable if God had not brought him (Buhari) to power.
One of the APC national leaders, Alhaji Kasheem Imam who represented President Buhari and was part of the ‘wooing’ team, urged the Igbos to identify with the party as he recalled that the region used to be a good ally of the North “a position, which the South West had taken due to the Igbos rejection of the APC in the 2015 elections.”
He said it is imperative of Igbo people to get it right by re-integrating itself back to national politics in 2019, adding that it is the wish of Buhari and the APC, which explains the reason for this visit.
On his part, the zonal vice-chairman of APC in the South East, Emma Enukwu, who represented the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said the APC has perfected plans to harvest all stakeholders in the Igbo project to ensure that the zone was re-integrated back into national politics in 2019.
He cited the defections of prominent Igbo personalities such as the former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo, former Senate President, Chief Ken Nnamani, former Enugu and Abia governors, Sullivan Chime and Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and others as good testaments of the region’s resolve to rejoin the centre in 2019.
Also, Enugu politician, Gbazuagu N. Gbazuagu in his remark said the likes of Elechi and others from the zone were the ones redirecting their people to rejoin the centre and as such, he had every reason to join the APC train as his role in Igbo politics and unity since the days of regional governments cannot be ignored.
The National Deputy Women leader of the APC, Mrs. Tina Adike, who was one of the those instrumental to Elechi’s return to the ruling party, said the former governor’s decision will help a lot in directing Igbos in national governance and other issues affecting the region.
Speaking at the event, Onu expressed joy over Elechi’s decision to join the APC, which he said would not be forgotten in history, noting that the President would be pleased to receive the news of him joining the ruling party.
The Acting Chairman of the Party in Ebonyi, Pastor Eze Nwachukwu Eze had earlier reeled out many policies of the present PDP government in Ebonyi, which he alleged were anti-masses.
Elechi has had a history of strained relationship with Umahi, who was his deputy. Since Umahi became governor, several attempts had been made by some PDP stakeholders, some founding fathers of the PDP and even clerics to reconcile the duo but to no avail, as Elechi appears stuck to his gun on his claim that the PDP primaries that brought Umahi to power was a rape of democracy that fell short of the expectations of the electorates.
The same position, he extensively reflected on during last weekend’s APC stakeholders visit to him. The Ex-Governor who had thought it was time to rest and retire from active politics had disclosed during a press briefing a year ago that he has become a regular visitor to the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) as he claimed that Umahi colluded with some of those he accused of hijacking democracy in the state to file 54 petitions against him and his sons before the anti-graft agency, which he described as ‘frivolous’.
But Umahi has since denied having any hand in Elechi’s ordeal, contending that some of the petitions were written by some of the persons that served in his (Elechi’s) government.
At a reconciliation meeting organised last year by the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese, Bishop Michael N. Okoro, Elechi was said to have reeled out a list of grievances against Umahi and the governor had responded that he was not behind his predecessor’s woes, insisting that even if the cases pending before the anti-graft agency that concerned him directly were withdrawn, those of his (Elechi) children cannot.
A source hinted that Umahi had maintained that they have to answer for whatever ‘sins’ they might have committed during their father’s reign. The meeting was said to have ended in deadlock, as an attempt by the cleric to convene another with fewer delegates could not hold.
Meanwhile, the former governor’s defection jolted the PDP, particularly Umahi and the Divine Mandate Elders, a group of elders who worked for the incumbent’s emergence in 2015.
But in a reaction, the group and a number of others working for Umahi’s second tenure have dismissed Elechi’s defection as a ‘mere formalisation’ of his dumping of the PDP since 2014, when he ceased to participate in the party’s activities in protest of the outcome of the December 2014 PDP primaries in the state.
Ebonyi Elders Council led by a former Ambassador, Franklin Ogbuewu, in a statement claimed that Elechi played no crucial role in the creation of Ebonyi and therefore should not pride himself with such.
The statement reads: “Elechi was not relevant in the political equation of Ebonyi as it stands today, especially after failing to install his successor despite having the power of incumbency in 2015 and insisted that the PDP will not miss his absence.”
Another group, Akubaraoha Youth Assembly, led by Chief Mark Onu also chided Elechi for defecting, saying: “the former governor was only trying to resurrect and team-up with the opposition to oppose Umahi’s second term ambition because he was not comfortable with the fact that the incumbent is fixing Ebonyi which he failed to do in eight years.”
But the opposition party described Elechi’s defection as a great ‘harvest’ which will boost its efforts to unseat Umahi in 2019. According to Ebonyi State chapter of APC, “We are hoping to harvest all friends and allies of Elechi in addition to wooing some serving and former senators and other legislators cum political big-wigs to join our train ahead of 2019.”
In addition, the APC is also exploiting the fall-out of some stakeholders with the governor in the politics of ‘endorsements’ that has trailed the PDP in the forthcoming local government election as they have already started courting those who lost out to join them.
As a counter-measure, apart from the fact that Umahi has strategically positioned those he considers to be his best foot-soldiers across the 171 wards in the coming council polls and the PDP via various groups, he has purportedly started his reelection rallies and meetings in various wards and councils across Ebonyi.
However, observers are keen to see how Elechi’s defection and the dusts it is generating plays out in the April 22nd Council elections as well as shape the face of things to come in the state in the 2019 elections.