ANALYSIS: Ebonyi: APC facing an uphill task in bid to oust Umahi

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State
Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State

In Ebonyi State, it is a straight fight between the incumbent governor, David Umahi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and candidate of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC), Sonni Ogbuoji.

But internal wranglings within the opposition party in the state may scuttle its chances at the poll.

Mr Umahi won the governorship election in 2015 against all expectations. He was then the deputy to Governor Martin Elechi but the former governor endorsed Onyebuchi Chukwu as his successor. This prompted Mr Umahi to align with some major stakeholders in the state like former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, and Elechi’s predecessor, Sam Egwu.

Together, the trio wrested the PDP structure from Mr Elechi leading to the emergence of Mr Umahi as the party’s governorship candidate. Mr Elechi reacted by backing Edward Nkwegu of the Labour Party and moved his political structure to deliver him.

But Mr Umahi won the election. He scored 289,867 votes against Mr Nkwegu who polled 124,817 votes. The candidate of APC, Julius Ucha, came third with 27,583 votes.

After the elections, Mr Nkwegu and his supporters moved to the APC, making the party very strong in the state. The party grew even stronger when Mr Ogbuoji, currently the senator representing Ebonyi South senatorial zone, joined the election late last year.

The party’s ranks were further swelled when Mr Umahi’s Secretary to the State Government, Bernard Odoh, resigned his position and joined the APC.

Both men contested the governorship primaries with Mr Ogbuoji emerging the winner with 785 votes. Mr Odoh garnered 519 votes to return in the second position.

However, Mr Odoh challenged the result of the primaries in court. He alleged that the delegates from Ikwo and Ezza North LGAs were illegally changed before the elections.

The matter is still in court.

That was the first sign of a crack in the party. The party suffered more setbacks during the National Assembly primaries. First the primaries for Ebonyi central turned bloody with many killed and even more others injured.

The primary election was thereafter moved from Onueke, headquarters of the zone to Abakaliki, the state capital. In that primaries, Mr Ucha emerged the senatorial candidate while Chinedu Ogah and Peter Edeh emerged as House of Representatives candidates for Ikwo/Ezza South and Ezza North/Ishielu constituencies respectively.

But a few days later, the party substituted Mr Edeh’s name with that of the runners up, Mike Ifere. This action and other alleged acts of injustice during the primaries across the state led to an implosion of the party in the state with many accusing Mr Ogbuoji of orchestrating the injustice, an allegation he vehemently denied.

Since then, the party in the state has become factionalised. The outcome was the trashing it received from the PDP in the state during the presidential and National Assembly elections.

Shortly after the acrimonious primaries of the APC, one of the governorship candidates, Azu Agboti, and a former Minister of Power and Steel, Goddy Ogbaga, who was a senatorial aspirant in Ebonyi North, decamped back to the PDP.

Also, one of the party media officers, Steve Rustic, also dumped the party for the PDP.

Some candidates in the election including the governorship candidate of the Advanced Allied Party (AAP), Ogbonnaya Okorie, and the House of Assembly candidate of the party for Onicha West state constituency, Sylvester Ogbu; governorship candidate of Alliance for Democracy (AD), Ozuma Peter, and others announced their withdrawal from the elections and declared their support for Mr Umahi’s second term bid.

Mr Okorie said the leadership of his former party was in support of his decision to pitch tent with Mr Umahi and PDP.

He said the decision was informed by the achievements of the Umahi administration and the need to support his quest to develop all sectors of the state economy.

He said the governor has demonstrated uncommon leadership and there was no need to change the winning team, noting that everybody must not be governor at the same time.

“After wide consultations and in consideration of the achievements of the incumbent governor, David Umahi, I have resigned my membership of my party, Advanced Allied Party (AAP), to throw my support for the governor, and I enjoin my supporters to join the PDP.

“I was never forced or cornered to join the PDP rather it was my own decision backed by evidence of the leadership the governor has provided. In the cause of my debate with the governor, he did promise to give me N10 million for my election and I hereby urge the governor to add the money to his campaign, while I will make my personal donation towards his election come March 9,” Mr Okorie said.

He called on other governorship candidates in the state to join hands in ensuring the reelection of Mr Umahi.

On his part, Mr Ogbu, said he also took the decision after wide consultations. He said part of the reasons he took the step was because of the achievements of the PDP-led administration in the state under Umahi.

“This decision was informed by the level of peace that abounds in the party and the need to support the governor in his quest to develop all sectors of the state economy,” he said.

In the February 23 elections, the PDP won all the three senatorial and six House of Representatives seats. This was blamed on the internal wrangling in the party which made the party stalwarts to work against the candidates of the APC.

Another issue that may work against the APC is the issue of zoning in the state. The two previous governors before Mr Umahi, Sam Egwu and Martin Elechi hailed from Ebonyi North and Central Senatorial zones respectively. Both had two uninterrupted tenures.

Mr Elechi, a founding father of the state, while he was governor promised to hand over to someone from Ebonyi South in line with the charter of equity he and other founding fathers wrote while fighting for the creation of the state.

This was why he backed Mr Chukwu to succeed him. When Mr Chukwu lost the PDP primary election, Mr Elechi nominated Mr Nkwegu who hailed from Izzi local government area in Ebonyi North. That decision in 2015 contributed to Mr Umahi’s victory as many voters cast their vote in protest against Mr Elechi for breaking the arrangement which he himself championed over the years and was a beneficiary of.

Both Messrs Ogbuoji and Umahi are from Ebonyi South. The thinking is that a vote for Mr Umahi will preserve the zoning structure while a vote for Mr Ogbuoji will alter it.

Political analysts believe that it is better for Mr Umahi to complete his second term and then hand over to someone from another zone, preferably from Ebonyi North, in 2023. On the other hand, Mr Ogbuoji winning the election will invariably alter the status quo and hand Ebonyi South a potential 12 years in office as he will likely go for a second tenure.

Mr Umahi has already promised to hand over to Ebonyi North in 2023 while Mr Ogbuoji has promised to go for only one term. But political observers believe that Mr Umahi’s position is more acceptable to the majority of Ebonyi voters from the North and central zones.

The PDP has dominated politics in the state, restricting the opposition to a few positions in the State House of Assembly in every cycle and just one House of Representatives position in 2011.

Going by the results of the Presidential and National Assembly elections and the internal wranglings in the APC, it will take more than a miracle for the APC to clinch the governorship position in the state.

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