Fred Udeogu is the chairman of the Ebonyi Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee that was set up, following the defection of Governor David Umahi to the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Deputy Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU, RAYMOND MORDI and EMMANUEL ANYA, he speaks on how the party is coping with the crisis generated by the governor’s exit, the worsening insecurity in the Southeast and preparations for future elections
How is the Ebonyi PDP coping with the exit of Governor Umahi from the party?
We are doing quite well; you know Ebonyi State is a PDP state. In fact, the entire Southeast is a PDP zone. Until recently, Ebonyi had been governed by successive PDP administrations since 1999. Even this man that is there now, Umahi, was produced by the PDP. He was the party chairman, deputy governor and elected governor for two terms on the platform of the party before he decided to jump ship. So, Ebonyi is still PDP and our members are happy. Today, for instance, we paid some outstanding allowances to our ward and local government chairmen and other officers; people are happy. It is just that it is not easy to fight an existing government, particularly here in the Southeast. Despite the fact that the governor has joined the APC, the PDP will always win future elections in this state.
How far have you been able to resolve the crisis that followed the governor’s exit?
We don’t have a crisis in the PDP. Governor Umahi was the person engineering the crisis. When he left the PDP, all the people causing the crisis left with him; they all declared for the APC. So, we are one PDP in Ebonyi State today; and we are happy to reclaim our party. That is why we are confident that we will win the next election.
You said there was no crisis in the PDP when Umahi left, but we do know that the tenure of Onyekachi Nwebonyi as state chairman became disputed and there was also a controversy over who has the right to use the party secretariat. It is surprising to hear you say there was no crisis after Umahi left…
You will recall that the National Working Committee (NWC) and suspended Onyekachi Nwebonyi and his followers when the governor defected. That is the tradition of the party. The NWC is the highest decision-making body in the party and it has the right to do that; it is in the party’s constitution. The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) later confirmed it. But, Onyekachi Nwebonyi and his backers refused to accept that decision. Rather, they resorted to media trial to whip up sentiment. By inaugurating a new executive committee, with me as the chairman, the party had moved on. What the governor wanted to achieve was to continue manipulating the PDP even after he had left the party, through his cronies, Onyekachi Nwebonyi and his followers. But, we did not allow it because you cannot belong to two political parties at the same time. When he saw the handwriting on the wall, he was forced to join his master by defecting to the APC.
Who is the arrowhead of your party in Ebonyi today?
I am the chairman of the party. But, we have our leaders, like the former Senate President and later Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim and the former governor who is now a senator, Sam Ominyi Egwu. These are two of the people we look up to and they have been dictating the pace of politics in Ebonyi State. All our National Assembly members are still within the fold; the three senators from the state are PDP members and five out of the six members representing the state at the House of Representatives are also from our party.
Can you substantiate the allegation that the governor has started harassing PDP members who refused to defect with him to the APC?
He initially believed he can intimidate people to join him in the APC. Here in Igboland, we have our tradition; you don’t force people to obey you: obedience is something you earn and people naturally reciprocate when it is perceived that someone deserves it. So, in politics in Igboland, people follow when they want to follow you, but he wanted to use force and it backfired. We have our leaders and when our leaders say they are moving left and you say you are going right, it would be difficult for you. So, that was what happened; he left for the APC and wanted people to come along with him, but it didn’t work out. He has cases in the state high court, the federal high court and the Court of Appeal in that regard. The point still remains that we are one PDP today and we are happy they left us.
Is there any sense in his argument that he wanted the state to have a connection with the centre to garner more dividends of democracy for the state?
Since he left, which is several months now, what benefit has his connection with the centre brought to the state? Is it not the same monthly allocation that we were receiving in the past that we are still receiving? Has anything changed? If anybody says the PDP has not been fair to the Southeast over the years, I believe that person is being ungrateful. As the youngest state in the Southeast, we were able to produce the former Senate president, we were able to produce the former SGF and we have some infrastructural developments here that were facilitated by the PDP. So, what is he talking about? Most of our members defecting to the APC are trying to evade prosecution when they leave office; some believe that when they get to the APC, they will be given oil blocs. But, unfortunately for them, it doesn’t work that way; they will be disappointed. Unfortunately too, they have not explained to their blind followers why they are doing what they are doing.
Did he consult you when he was making the decision to leave the party?
He called for a meeting of state elders — I used to be one of them – at his office and told us casually that he was defecting to the APC and that anybody who feels inclined can join; that it is not by force. Most of us did not utter a word. Some of us, however, responded that they will go with him wherever he goes. These are old men who were just trying to curry his favour. Some of us helped to build the PDP in Ebonyi State and the Southeast in general; he came into the PDP later and he has gotten all he wanted from the party, hence his decision to seek greener pastures in the APC. We are bothered that he left us; we are just saying that he should concentrate on governance and leave us alone to play our politics.
Insecurity in the Southeast has gone from bad to worse, with reports of burning of INEC offices, police stations and that of the killing of men in uniform. What is your view about what is happening in the region?
It is most unfortunate and condemnable. What is happening here is worse than what we witnessed during the civil war. To make matters worse, security operatives have not been able to apprehend those responsible for such despicable acts. We don’t even know whether it is the Igbo attacking themselves or people from outside the region trying to foment trouble for the people of the Southeast. These attacks and destruction of properties is also happening in parts of the Southsouth like Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Edo and Delta States. Before this current development, herdsmen had been attacking and killing our people. The Federal Government should step up intelligence gathering, find out what is happening and take measures to protect the two regions.
We recall that the governor mentioned some names, including yours, as the sponsors of the attacks in Ebonyi State. What is your comment on that?
The attacks are beyond Ebonyi. The same thing is happening in the entire Southeast and beyond and it is unfortunate that he, as the chairman of the Southeast Governors’ Forum is politicizing the matter by attributing the attacks to political opponents. Are we also responsible for the attacks in other parts of the Southeast and the Southsouth? There are things you do not politicise; insecurity is one of such things because we are talking about human lives, so politics should not come in here. He does not have any justification for linking us to the attacks taking place in this state. So, the point remains that Governor Umahi has lost direction in recent times. He should face governance and leave us alone.
Are you not excited that the governor defected to APC to actualise the dream of the Igbo presidency project?
That is laughable. Even if he gets the ticket, is the APC going to win the next presidential election? How can somebody be moving from frying pan to fire? Is it not the same APC that created all the problems we are grappling with in the country today? He is not a good soldier; if he were a good soldier, he would have remained in the PDP to fight on. Yes, we lost the presidential election in 2015 and 2019, but how did we lose the elections? Those that made us lose the elections, are they finding things easy within the APC today? He should just finish his tenure and become whatever he wants to be, but he should just leave us alone in our PDP.
Politicians in the Southeast have been accused of not taking a categorical position on IPOB at the outset and in the process they allowed Nnamdi Kanu to gather a big following in the region. How would you react to that allegation?
Nnamdi Kanu is an Igbo man. He has his own foresight; he has his own dream about Igboland and his own dream about Nigeria. So, whatever he is doing, he has his own followers. So, nobody should blame him for whatever he is doing; if you look at the level of marginalization that the Igbo has suffered following the civil war, you will not blame him for whatever he is doing. If there is a positive change in Nigeria today that would affect the Southeast positively, everything would change. They should give us the chance to produce the next president or take steps to restructure the country. Those are the two factors that can reverse what is happening in the country today. Nnamdi Kanu comes from a royal family; he is a prince. Our people can talk to him and he will accept whatever advice he is given. But, it is not for nothing that our people, up to 95 per cent, usually obey his sit-at-home order to observe Biafra Day. So, I would not join those that would blame him for what he is doing.
Since we have organized groups like yours and other groups like the APC, is it not possible to tackle this marginalization through a more peaceful means?
I am not part of the IPOB; I am a member of the PDP. Indeed, I am the chairman of the party in Ebonyi State. I have never met Nnamdi Kanu one-on-one and he has never consulted me; we have never spoken and I don’t have his contact. So, I am just trying to tell you that he has a big following in the Southeast. My take is that our people should be to talk to him; listen to him and convince him to abandon the use of force; he has no need to match force with force. That is not the solution to the problem. If we can just sit down with the young man and exchange views, then talk to the Federal Government to grant some level of amnesty to some of our people, particularly those that are out of the country. Sending soldiers to intimidate ordinary folks who know nothing about the matter is not the solution to the problem either. The current situation in the Southeast requires dialogue.
You were one of those instrumental to the emergence of David Umahi as governor of Ebonyi State. Do you have any regrets for the role you played in making him governor?
As a Christian, we pray for things to work out the way we want them, but it is God that decides what would eventually happen. So, if it fails to work out the way you wanted it, it is the Lord’s doing. I fought on the grounds of principle to make Umahi governor because I felt it was the turn of Ebonyi South to produce the governor. Ebonyi North had done eight years, followed by Ebonyi Central with another eight years. At that point, Ebonyi North wanted to hijack power by producing the governor once again. But, people like me stood their ground, to ensure that it doesn’t happen. It was no particularly about Umahi; he was the strongest aspirant then, so I had to support him. It was also based on the fact that we were friends then. I was also instrumental to his emergence as deputy governor. I first convinced my uncle, former Governor Martin Elechi to make him the chairman of the party. From there, I made a strong case for him to be picked as deputy governor. He was a level-headed character then. But, I can tell that from the point he was sworn in as governor, he started behaving differently. Nevertheless, it was good he came on board. At least, the Abakaliki clan, which is the biggest, is now united because of what Umahi has done. So, I do not have any regrets that I assisted in making him governor. But, his tenure would soon come to an end and he will not have any opportunity to pick a successor.
Is there any step he has taken as governor that you believe is not in the interest of the people of Ebonyi?
Yes, there are many of such steps, but let me mention one briefly. In the last six years, he has not recruited a single person into the state’s civil service. This affects the monthly allocation that accrues to the state from the Federation Account, because the number of civil servants employed by the state is one of the criteria used to determine the amount paid to each state. In spite of the fact that the chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is from Ebonyi, lots of things would go against the state in the nearest future because of the step Umahi has taken or failed to take. It was out of selfishness that he refused to employ Ebonyi people into the civil service. We don’t have enough manpower in the civil service anymore; the civil service is dead.