Buhari’s visit and turning points in Ebonyi politics
By Felix Uka, Abakaliki
The recent two-day working visit of Nigeria’s President Muhammad Buhari (PMB) to
Ebonyi State had from its conception bred many puzzles and enquiries.
The issues that bug the minds of political observers are the behind the scene object of the visit.
No qualms, a sitting President has the choice of where and who to visit. That yet would not be without underlying motives, especially in our own clime, many observers noted.
Nonetheless, Buhari, who was in Abakaliki from November 14 to 15, 2017, said his visit to the area was a demonstration of his belief in the unity of Nigeria.
He explained that his presence in the area was expression of his strong belief in the union of the Nigerian nation, “the most populous country in Africa with over 300 ethnic
groups, our diversity is almost unique”.
The President during the trip inaugurated some projects executed by
the incumbent Ebonyi State government including two twin flyover
bridges of 700 meters each, 14.5 kilometre Abakaliki/Afikpo federal highway reconstructed by the Governor David Umahi-led government, ultra modern new Abakaliki Township Stadium and laid foundation stone
for mega Abakaliki Shopping Mall.
Buhari, while addressing key stakeholders of the state at the
Executive Chambers of the Government House said that when he met with the leaders of the South East in Abuja last month, they raised several
issues of concern including the state of the roads and infrastructure
in the region.
“I want to assure you that we will deliver on our
promises. Our 2018 budget included many projects for the region in the
area of power, agriculture and social services. I am delighted to be here in
Abakaliki to interact with the good people of Ebonyi state and indeed the South East region as a whole. I want to express my gratitude to
the people of Ebonyi state for their hospitality and warm reception since I arrived the state.
“I will like to commend His Excellency Governor David Umahi for his
vision and commitment to the development of this state. Some of the
projects I commissioned since my arrival are laudable. I am also grateful to the traditional rulers of Ebonyi state for the honour
bestowed on me with the traditional title of Enyi Oha 1. I thank you for this honour and warm reception”.
Among those who received the President at the Military Cantonment,
Nkweagu included the deputy governor of the state, Dr. Kelechi Igwe;
Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu; former Secretary
to the Federal government, Senator Anyim Pius, former governors of
Ebonyi state, Senator Sam Ominyi Egwu and Chief Martin Nwancho Elechi; former Minister of Culture
and Tourism, Amb. Frank Ogbuewu; ex-Minister of Health (State), Engr. Fidelis
Nwankwo; former Deputy governor of the state, Prof. Chigozie Ogbu and Zonal Vice Chairman of PDP, Chief Austine Umahi; CEO Orient Global Ltd,
Chief Chukwuma Odi, among other top political leaders from the state.
Notably, President Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress
(APC) since his swearing in on May 29, 2015, had not touched his feet in any state in the South East geo-political zone, for which reason the choice to first visit Ebonyi state led by David Nweze Umahi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) raised questions.
Indeed, the visit has generated arguments, puzzles and
questions among political observers in the state and beyond.
The APC in the state, already bedevilled with crisis and division is jittery
as to whether Umahi was going to join the party and sweep off the little that is left of them.
That came to the fore when pockets of the complaining members of the
APC in Ebonyi led by the immediate past governor Elechi in a coaster bus came to the Presidential Lodge of the Government House, Abakaliki
to meet the President. After a closed door meeting which lasted about
27 minutes, they came out more divided as the two contending chairmen of the party separately addressed newsmen.
Two contending factions of the APC even after meeting with Buhari stuck to their claims.
Chief Ben Nwobasi insisted that he was the
authentic elected chairman of the party in the state while Chief Eze Nwachukwu said that they had resolved the matter in his favour.
Recall that since the party concluded its state congresses in 2014, the state
chairman, Ben Nwobasi, and his erstwhile deputy, Eze Nwachukwu, have been locked in a running leadership scuffle.
A source in the meeting they had with the President at the Lodge in Abakaliki said that the President merely charged all members of the
party to come and work together to win elections in the state in 2019. The source also disclosed that major issues were raises on the alleged clampdown on the members of the party by the state government,
including the revocation of Certificate of Occupancy of the private school belonging to the former Commissioner of Education, Ndubuisi Agbo. Also discussed was the proposed $130 million loan from the Islamic Bank being sought by the state government, a matter the
President advised them to work together with the state government for
the development of the state.
Briefing newsmen after the meeting, the state embattled
chairman, Ben Nwobasi, said that the President advised them to work and come together as a team to win elections in 2019. Nwobasi said: "The President addressed us and advised us as a father to come together and work as a team. The Labour Party people who think that they are so strong and so powerful and money bags feel they can use
their money to push us out of the party. And so we thanked God.
"I am still the authentic elected chairman of APC in the state. There is no provision of caretaker chairmen or whatever in our party constitution. If you like, I can give you a letter where the
National secretary wrote withdrawing a letter earlier issued to him as
Eze Nwachukwu in his own interview insisted that the crisis had been resolved.
A chieftain of the party in the state, Chinedu Ogah, urged the state governor, Chief David Umahi, to defect to the APC to expand his
frontiers of development in the state instead of remaining in an opposition party.
Ogah said, "We appreciated the hosting of the President by Governor David Umahi in spite of the fact that the Governor is of PDP. But he is able to attract our President to Ebonyi state. It shows the cordial
relationship between the Governor and Mr President".
Ogah, who is the National Coordinator of Initiatives for Demonstrating
Change noted that the APC cannot be against anything that would lead to the development of the state, stressing that anybody who
opposes the Islamic loan targeted for the construction of the ring roads in the state is anti-Ebonyi people.
“We are urging the Governor of Ebonyi state to come into APC. We are asking him to come to APC; let us do the politics. Because, if most of the Governors in the South-east join APC, we will unite and get more power from the centre. Now, as a governor under PDP platform, he can’t
be part of caucus.
"When he comes to APC, he will be part of the caucus and with the
relationship he has established in the Presidential Villa. It will be smooth ride for him. The door is open. We are welcoming everybody to
come to APC.
"We are pleading with the South-east governors to come to APC so that we build a united Nigeria. There is nothing like reconciliation. We have not reconciled. We are still having factions in APC in Ebonyi state,”
Barely 24 hours after the reconciliatory meeting between President Buhari and the warring factions of the Ebonyi State chapter of the
APC) ended in deadlock, the leadership of the All Progressives Youth Vanguard in the state accused the Minister of Science and Technology,
Dr. Ogbonnay Onu, and the APC
National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, of being responsible for
the leadership crisis in the state chapter of the party.
The National Leader of the group, Engr. Frank Ngwu, threatened that
The group would protest against Oyegun’s rescheduled visit to Ebonyi state
on Friday, stressing that the party would not honour his visits.
He specifically berated Onu for using his closeness with the Presidency and the party’s national leadership to foment troubles in the party, while Oyegun has made himself a wining tool to destabilize the
party in the state. The group also passed vote of no confidence on the National chairman, alleging that he is incompetent to head the party and further urged him to resign so as to redeem the image of the party.
He alleged that Onu teamed up with the defectors from the Labour Party
to hijack the party’s structure from the state chairman, Ben Nwobasi, by appointing the erstwhile state deputy chairman, Eze Nwachukwu, as the acting state chairman of the party against a subsisting court injuction. Nwachukwu had claimed that the crisis had been resolved but Nwobasi disputed that, claiming that there was still a subsisting court
injunction restraining the party from tampering with his election as
the state chairman.
The group also lamented that Onu has not made any effort to wade into the chairmanship crisis which has further split the party into other
factions thereby creating confusion on the genuine leadership of the
party. The leader warned that the group would mobilize the teeming members of
the party to protest against the visit and further charged security agents to stop the planned visit to avoid breach of public peace, as
they would resist all attempts to cause more crises in the party which
his visit portends.
Ngwu said: “We will not allow Oyegun to come to Ebonyi. The crisis in Ebonyi APC revolves around Dr Ogbonnaya Onu and John Oyegu. The duo are making business with the party in the state. Onu has refused to
give peace a chance. Two of them are bent on removing our elected chairman, Ben Nwobasi. To tell you that Oyegun is either confused or
has commercialized APC in Ebonyi, when some moneybag visited him, he authored a letter on February 23, 2017 appointing Eze Nwachukwu as the state Acting Chairman. When contempt proceeding was served on him, he
quickly authorized another letter on April 25, withdrawing his initial letter.
“We cannot allow such character to come and cause mayhem in the state because of his double standard. We want him to resolve the crisis
before coming to Ebonyi state otherwise we will resist him from
stepping his foot into Ebonyi soil. His leadership incompetence has further exacerbated the crisis in our state chapter of APC and this has endangered the strength of our party in the state.”
He therefore noted that Ebonyi State chapter of APC would not continue to relate with him as its national chairman until he obeys the court
injunction which restrained him from tampering with the 2014 state congress which elected Nwobasi and other state Working Committee,
which Nwachukwu was Nwobasi’s deputy. The group also frowned that in
spite of the court order restraining him from ousting Nwobasi, Oyegun
had continued to relate with
Nwachukwu as the state Acting Chairman without recourse to the party’s
Although Governor Umahi had at various fora said that he would not defect to the APC, a number of his followers are alarmed by his deepening romance with the National leader of the APC, Buhari.
Umahi, you could recall, was
among the three governors who met with Buhari in London when the condition of his health was clouded in secrecy. He was among the three
governors who joined the President to the last United Nations
Umahi’s reported disposition to Buhari has in no small measures added to the puzzles.
Even when the Buhari visited the Ebonyi state this week, he left with the governor seated beside him in the presidential craft as they flew to
Anambra State. When the President disembarked to join the final
campaigns for the November 18th Anambra governorship election, Umahi
was flown back to Akanu Ibiam International Airport in the same plane.
For the opposition elements in Ebonyi, the camaraderie is threatening
whereas it is confusing to a number of his followers.
A serving Senator in the state had explained that they would not
mind joining him defect to the APC if that is found more convenient
and assuring. He though said that if that would be the case, it should be done as early as possible so that they could have time to realign
and re-strategize for the 2019 general elections. The Senator who did not want to be named explained that his fear was that Umahi and his
associates could have to contend with the loyalists of Dr. Ogbonnay
Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology, a die-hard chieftain of the APC and Uburu kinsman of governor Umahi. The PDP Senator noted that opposition elements could hardly be under rated, more so that Buhari might not pull hard strings should the tide turn stormy because
his cabals could be the ones to call the shots when it could matter most, a development that could put to risk the chances of Umahi gaining APC governorship ticket as against what could obtain in the
PDP in Ebonyi where he is in full charge and has his allies in the strategic positions.
Whatever be the case, observers see the Buhari’s visit as a landmark political point in favour of Umahi. How he uses the relationship with
the President is another matter that would count in his favour,
probably beyond the 2019 elections.