Governor David Umahi has endorsed the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Francis Nwifuru to succeed him when he vacates power at the end of his second term next year. Umahi announced this recently during the internment of the Father to the Commissioner for Trade and Investment, Chioma Nweze in Okposi, Ohaozar Local Government.
The governor expressed hope that the speaker would consolidate on the foundation he has laid. He appealed to the people of Ebonyi South and all Ebonyians to support the candidature of the speaker for the sake of equity, justice, and fairness. He said: “To Okposi people and people of Ebonyi State, I present to you the choice of the people in the person of the Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Francis Ogbonnaya Nwifuru and I want Ebonyi South people to know that when it was the turn of Ebonyi South, an Abakaliki man was contesting and the Abakaliki people said no. So, it is time to pay them back.
“I want to assure you that this Divine Mandate we came with would continue and when this man comes onboard we would not turn left and right from Divine Mandate, so fear not, there is nobody that is thrown up by God that the people would not criticize. If people do not accept the sacrifices you are making, God will not disregard it; you can see that his children are very successful, some are doctors, some are lawyers, etc.
“The candidate for 2023 has to tick all the boxes. The election will not be about promises; if you say you will do B, we have to ask you to prove how you will do A. In all honesty, it is my performance and that of others that the APC will use to do their campaign. I ask you to continue to support our government. We have only one party and this party we are in now will continue with the development of Ebonyi State from wherever we would stop.”
But, the endorsement of Nwifur? by Umahi immediately drew backlash from a cross-section of people, especially major stakeholders and aspirants in the party. The Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Elias Mbam and Senator Julius Ucha led the opposition against the speaker’s endorsement. This is understandable; Mbam and Ucha are governorship aspirants on the platform of the party.
In a statement, Ucha described the move as undemocratic and a flagrant attempt to play on the sensibilities of the Ebonyi people. Ucha, a two-term senator who represented Ebonyi Central at the National Assembly between 2003 and 2011, said Governor Umahi did not even consult other aspirants before making the endorsement. He said: “It is undemocratic, immoral, illegal, unconstitutional and even demonic, for the governor to have taken such a unilateral decision.”
Ucha said such imposition would not work. He called on the Ebonyi people to reject and resist what he called an attempt to destroy democracy. The governorship hopeful who is a member of the National Assembly Service Commission, representing the Southeast zone, maintained that he was fully in the race on the platform of the APC.
Ucha said the APC would lose in Ebonyi State come 2023, if Governor Umahi succeeds in imposing his preferred candidate on the people. He said: “I wish to share my view on the recent political development in our dear state, Ebonyi, where it came to us as a surprise, those of us who are aspirants running for the position of the governorship on the platform of the APC, that an endorsement has been made by the governor.
“We are still aspirants and we are aspiring very strong. And we were not consulted by the governor. We are also aware that democracy is the government of the people by the people and for the people. So, endorsement or appointment in democracy can only be done by the chief executive when he has been elected.
“As a chief executive, you can appoint your commissioners, but you don’t appoint people that are aspiring to be elected. We are all aware that the endorsement of one who is aspiring to be elected is undemocratic, immoral, illegal, unconstitutional and even demonic. Because what you are doing is to destroy democracy; you are saying that the will of the people no longer matters in a democracy.
“People are supposed to vote for the persons to govern them, not through imposition. So, we reject imposition and I call on the people of Ebonyi State to reject imposition and resist anything that will destroy democracy in this State. The Electoral Act and the APC constitution provide only three conditions upon which an aspirant can emerge as a candidate: one, is through direct primary; the second is through indirect primary, and the third is through consensus. None of this has been done in Ebonyi State.”
Ucha was recently adopted as a consensus candidate by his populous Ezza clan as the sole governorship aspirant from the clan on the platform of the APC.
Similarly, Mbam advised Umahi to desist from imposing his successor for the next governorship election in the state. He said anointing a successor is capable of closing the political space against potential aspirants and APC. Mbam urged the governor to give all the aspirants equal opportunity to contest for the position.
oHe said: “If the announcement is correct, it means they are closing the political space against potential aspirants and it is not good for our party. INEC and our party have emphasised that there should be no imposition of candidates. If we close the political space in the disguise of anointing or endorsement, to impose a candidate, it will not be in the interest of the party. It will close the space for other aspirants and we run the risk of losing in the 2023 election.
“I know the governor is the leader of the party and so all of us in the party are his children. So, I expect him as a father of the party to give every of his child the equal opportunity and let the people determine who will be their governor. I am well prepared for the service in this state. I don’t think anybody knows the stakeholders of this state more than me because I have always served my people.”
The founding fathers/members of the APC in Ebonyi State, otherwise known as the old APC, are equally against the idea. They alleged that all their members have been sidelined in the affairs of the party ahead of the 2023 general elections. They said that the new entrants, led by Governor Umahi, have hijacked the party and had schemed them out.
One of them, Paul Okorie, a former Commissioner for Works and Environment gave the above indication while briefing reporters in Abakaliki, the state capital. Okorie condemned Nwifuru’s endorsement by Umahi for next year’s governorship election, describing it as unhealthy for democracy.
He said: “How do you expect me to be comfortable that you are in a house and somebody came in to join you, and then you welcomed him. But, he decided to hijack the house and take over everything? The party’s governorship candidate ought to emerge through an open contest, which is transparent and that is democracy. It is through only this condition that the very best can emerge. As we are getting into the election, we should be careful not to close political space against people. it should be thrown open so that everybody can contest and it will produce a popular candidate.”
In his response, Governor Umahi denied marginalizing old members of the party. He said the endorsement of the speaker followed due process of harmonisation and consensus from his Ebonyi North zone and the ratification of the same by the zoning committee set up by the party. The governor added that the stakeholders have ratified the speaker’s choice before he announced it.
Be that as it may, Mbam went ahead to purchase the governorship form and expressed confidence that he will clinch the party’s ticket.
Will Umahi have his way or will the founding fathers/members wrestle the ticket from him.
Only time will tell.