2023 Senate: The unease in Ebonyi over Umahi’s replacement

There are a lot of intrigues in Ebonyi state over who replaces the governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, in 2023 as prepares to run for Ebonyi South Senate seat.

For Ebonyi state residents, stakeholders and politicians, the stakes have never been higher as the battle for who succeeds the state governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, gathers momentum ahead of 2023.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is facing internal crisis over the endorsement of the speaker of the Ebonyi state House of Assembly, Francis Ogbonnia Nwifuru, who is a factional governorship candidate of the party, while Chief Elias Mbam is also contending for the candidacy in APC.

Meanwhile, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is not faring any better as it is presently facing internal crisis over who is the authentic governorship candidate, especially with the recognized candidate hailing from the same Ebonyi South as the incumbent governor.

Umahi himself is also facing a major battle as his name only appeared on the recently released list by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on September 20 by court order, with a stalwart, Mrs Agom Eze, contesting that she is the right candidate.

Therefore, while he battles to become the Senator representing Ebonyi South in 2023, Umahi is also facing the headache of planting his replacement as the opposition is fiercer than he envisaged.

Umahi’s opponents

Ebonyi South is made up of five local government areas (LGAs), including Afikpo North, Afikpo South, Ohaozara, Onicha and Ivo LGAs.

The greatest headache of Umahi, who hails from Uburu in Ohaozara local government area, is how to overcome major opponents in the race to represent Ebonyi South in the Senate come 2023, as his opponents in the race are no pushovers.

In 2019, after failing many times in the race, Michael Ama Nnachi, who hails from Afikpo South local government area, was elected to represent Ebonyi South in the Senate on the PDP platform.

It was alleged that Umahi, who was preparing for his second term as governor on the PDP platform, negotiated with stakeholders for ‘loyal’ Nnachi to win and ‘warm’ the seat for him to take over in 2023, when he must have finished his second tenure as governor.

However, with his defection to the APC in November, 2020, Umahi is now contesting against Senator Nnachi, as the latter allegedly refused to step down his second term ambition for Umahi and had to fight tooth and nail to emerge the PDP candidate for Ebonyi South Senatorial district.

On the other hand, after failing to obtain the ticket of the PDP for Ebonyi South, a former member of the House of Representatives, Linus Abaa Okorie, from Onicha LGA, bought into the craze for Peter Obi and defected to the Labour Party and subsequently obtained the ticket of the party for Ebonyi South.

Meanwhile, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Sir Ifeanyi Eleje, who hails from Afikpo North and has been part of the development of PDP and APC in the state, has also gathering support from different quarters since he declared interest in the Ebonyi South Senatorial race in May.

Eleje is the president of Government Secondary School Afikpo Old Boys Association (GSSA-OBA), where Umahi, Nnachi and others are taking directives from him as former students of the prestigious institution.

With campaigns scheduled to begin on September 28, Ebonyians are waiting to make a choice among the four major gladiators as none is willing to back down until results are announced by INEC next year.

Umahi’s albatross

The common complaint of many Ebonyians is that Umahi concentrated on infrastructure, especially construction of roads, bridges, and other things, whereas the welfare of residents, especially civil servants, was not taken into consideration.

Speaking with this reporter, a civil servant, Mrs. Regina Nkama, said Governor Umahi would have done well to better his chances if he had looked into empowering residents, instead of overtaxing them.

She said: “Something is happening in Ebonyi state that many people are not comfortable with. Projects in the state are being abandoned by Umahi. The welfare of workers has been relegated to the background. It is all about 2023 elections now.

“Umahi has not done much to get the people on his side. Come to Abakaliki, beyond the beauty of flyovers, people are suffering. Business people are overtaxed. Workers are poorly paid and also very late. It will be a miracle if he wins the senatorial race.

“With the Senate said to be the retirement home of many governors who had served two terms, many people are watching keenly to benefit from the ‘desperation’ of Umahi to win the election, even if it means spending resources meant to develop the state.”

Gov’ship contenders

The speaker of the House of Assembly, Francis Ogbonnia Nwifuru, who is Umahi’s preferred candidate for the governorship position, is considered as a lackey by many stakeholders within and outside the APC, who are apparently doing everything possible to ensure he does not replace Umahi in 2023.

Speaking with this reporter, a civil servant and stakeholder in the state, Mr. Peter Chukwu, said Nwifuru would not be the best governor for the state as Umahi would exploit the state through him.

He said: “Nwifuru lacks the charisma, carriage and disposition to govern Ebonyi state. For the avoidance of doubt, Umahi has been fronting him so that he can continue ruling the state by proxy if Nwifuru wins. That is the whole truth about what is happening in Ebonyi state. Chief Elias Mbam is the other candidate of the APC from a factional primary, so we will know whom INEC will recognize on October 4.

“The truth is that Nwifuru does not have a good antecedent. The state house of assembly has been dormant under him. He is at the back pocket of Umahi, like other members of the house. So, I don’t see him making a good leader. Prof Odoh, the APGA governorship candidate, is another good contender with good programmes, but winning is another thing as Ebonyi has been a PDP state since 1999. Umahi’s defection to APC in November 2020 has not changed many things as I don’t see the APC winning the state.”

Ogba vs Odii

In the PDP, the battle is fierce as the accepted candidate of the party, Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii, is believed to be a moneybag willing to do anything possible to ensure he replaces Umahi in 2023, despite hailing from the same Ebonyi South as the governor.

Although a new comer in Ebonyi state politics, Odii has been massively accepted by PDP members as its governorship candidate, whereas Senator representing Ebonyi Central, Obinna Ogba, has been contending the ticket, having participated and won in a factional primary election conducted by the party.

Being a new entrant into Ebonyi politics, Odii and his supporters are referred to as “junior players,” while Ogba and his supporters, including Ebonyi PDP National Assembly members, are regarded as senior players, with the tussle raging by the day.

Interestingly, on September 14, the Supreme Court recognised Odii as the authentic PDP candidate for 2023 governorship election in Ebonyi, which has miffed the Ogba camp, with his supporters openly threatening to work against Odii and the PDP in the governorship election.

Speaking with this reporter Wednesday, a PDP stalwart, Mr. Tony Ekuma, said it is a great disservice to Ebonyi people if Odii should be allowed to win the governorship election, especially as Umahi is about to complete his eight-year tenure for the zone.

“What is happening in Ebonyi state is a matter of great concern because issues are coming up that must be addressed for us to move forward. There is a saying that he who goes to equity must go with clean hands. In Nigeria, the Igbo are lamenting of marginalisation as the zone has not produced a president since the return to democracy.

“Discouragingly, in Ebonyi, Umahi has served 8 years for Ebonyi South. Now, he wants to go to the Senate under the APC. Though the candidate he is fronting, Nwifuru, lacks all the attributes for an intending governor, it is so sad to hear and see that Odii, from the same Ebonyi South as Umahi, wants to become the governor too. What this means is that if Odii wins, Ebonyi South will be ruling for 12 years at a stretch or even more as many governors naturally want to go for second tenure.”

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