Although the 2019 gubernatorial poll in Ebonyi State has come and gone, the lessons and experiences it left in the minds of both the political class and the electorate will linger.
The election results as announced by the Returning Officer, Prof. Chukwuemeka Eze, showed that Governor David Umahi of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled a total of 393, 343 votes to defeat his closest challenger, Senator Sonni Ogbuoji, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, who scored 81, 703 votes.
Senator Ogbuoji’s votes fell almost 10, 000 short of the over 90, 000 votes polled by President Muhammadu Buhari in the state, forcing many to ask if Ebonyi voters love Buhari more than their own son.To an extent, it was a remarkable landslide victory, the type that was not common, especially for incumbents seeking re-election in the state. But what was more stunning is that Afikpo South Local Government Area gave a historic 27, 720 votes to Governor Umahi as against the 9, 245 votes secured by the APC candidate, Senator Ogbuoji, who ironically hails from there.
How the battle began
In the Southeast geopolitical zone, Ebonyi, which has been under the firm grip of opposition PDP since the return of democracy in 1999, is one of the first few southern states that witnessed massive defections of some political stakeholders from Labour Party, PDP and APGA to APC just a few weeks after the 2015 general elections.
The defectors, comprising of former appointees under the then outgoing Governor Martin Elechi administration, party executives and their entire structures cum support-base, who battled in vain to stop Umahi in 2015, were received by Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, in a rally held in April 2015 at Abakaliki.
It should be noted that Labour Party in the state had the unofficial backing of Elechi, who did not hesitate to give what many saw as a sympathetic analogy that as a captain of PDP ship in the state, he would not stop his supporters from leaving PDP’s ‘sinking ship’ when he fears the ship was about to be wrecked.
But alas, the ship did not wreck as PDP did not only clinch the governorship, but also got 22 out of the 24 member Assembly seats in the state, leaving only LP and PPA with one seat apiece.Pundits had felt that the opposition in the State had not only woken up from their ‘political slumber,’ but were now more prepared to fight collectively to stop PDP’s dominance ahead of the 2019 elections. Two principal leaders of APC before the 2015 elections, Dr. Onu and Senator Julius Ucha, were enmeshed in a supremacy battle right from the party’s early days over what leadership structure to adopt for the party.
While Onu felt he was one of the cardinal pillars of the party at the national level, Ucha, just like some other stakeholders, held a contrary opinion, arguing that his popularity should begin at home.
The rally in Abakaliki in April 2015 was the first time since the days of the minister as the leader of the defunct ANPP that he would be hosted to a grand political honour and reception in the state. Onu, who was later appointed minister, was being touted as a possible candidate for Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Some other APC stakeholders in the state, both old and new, also got federal appointments, giving the impression that there could be a show of federal might ahead the 2019 elections.
Umahi’s early counter-strategies
Governor Umahi, being a good political strategist, also began early to reach out to some of those who lost out at the polls that enjoyed massive followership and popular support. Among those cornered quite early even before his own election was the serving chairman of Afikpo South Local Government Area, Hon. Eni Uduma Chima, who had lost his bid to represent the people of Afikpo North and South Constituency in the federal House of Representatives election to PDP in 2015. Another was Hon. Eni, a former state lawmaker, who was one of the strong pillars of Labour Party campaign, did not hesitate to accept the governor’s hand of fellowship and joined forces with the Umahi train to ensure PDP’s victory in the polls in Afikpo South Local Government Area.
Though this was in stiff opposition to the wishes and desires of some of the so-called ‘critical stakeholders’ of PDP in Edda in 2015, Governor Umahi insisted that he wanted Eni since he was the ‘most dreaded’ by major stakeholders in the ruling PDP in the state.Others such as former Chairman of Abakaliki Local Government Area, Mathew Uguru, who was also one of Labour Party henchmen in the Izzi clan, Ebonyi North Senatorial zone, a former ALGON chairman and former Chairman of Ikwo Local Government Area, Igberi Nweme, among others, all joined Umahi’s PDP in the state.
These stakeholders alongside numerous others, who had already joined his camp before and during the 2015 elections, pulled most of their supporters to PDP.Again, Umahi began early enough to prepare for his re-election by not only wooing some other key opposition politicians, but also commenced massive road construction and rehabilitation among other key infrastructural projects. This was evident in the remarks he made upon his inauguration of some key projects of his administration particularly when he laid the foundation stone for the flyover projects in the capital city.
Often times, the governor would disclose that the reason his administration was embarking on many ambitious projects was because he would do another term in office. Some of his opponents would often dismiss them as an early boast. But Umahi, while concentrating on his infrastructural works, was also playing politics by setting up political structures and platforms in place for the actualization of his second term ambition such as Akubaraoha Youth Assembly, Rachel Umahi Women for Akubaraoha 2019, Dave Umahi for Second Tenure among numerous others, including the Grassroot Development Initiative.
Another huge point that worked for Umahi, according to his close allies, was his open support and admiration of the Buhari presidency, which must have endeared him to the ‘cabals’ in Aso Rock. It is alleged that they played a role in dousing whatever fire the opposition in Ebonyi must have planned against Umahi, especially because of the fact that they all profited from his ‘uncommon largesse’ which often came either by cash or trailer-loads of rice, yam and other Ebonyi farm produce.
Governor Umahi got himself so endeared to the Buhari presidency that many of his Party men wondered where his loyalty lay. It never bothered him that many called him a political hermaphrodite and condemned him for not criticizing Buhari like some of his PDP colleagues did. To such persons, Umahi would always reply that President Buhari remains my boss!
Three Ekoli wards as game-changers for Umahi
As the 2019 elections drew closer, some pundits had predicted that the APC governorship candidate, Sonni Ogbuoji- a two-term Senator, would have at least garnered more votes than his PDP opponent in his Afikpo South Local Government Area. But the final results of the LGA shocked many. PDP polled over 80 per cent of the total votes cast in the area for both Governorship and State’s House of Assembly elections.
Ekoli, the largest community in Afikpo South West State Constituency, otherwise known as Upper Edda with three federal wards, contributed 20, 208 votes out of a total of 27, 720 votes cast for PDP in Edda. This staggering figure represents 73 per cent of the total votes cast in the entire Local Government Area. APC got only 175 votes in the three federal wards in Ekoli, while the ANN scored 815 votes in the final result for Afikpo South West state constituency.
In Afikpo South East Constituency also referred to as Lower Edda, PDP garnered 6, 367 votes while APC scored 3, 504 votes with the SDP polling just 36 votes. Afikpo South Local Government chairman, Hon. Eni Uduma Chima, while briefing newsmen in Abaklaiki on the outcome of the election, said the journey to his party’s historic electoral success in the council area began with the mobilization of Edda people from outside the state to return en masse and vote for Governor Umahi.
According to Chioma, “From Aba in Abia State alone, 70 buses of 42-Seater capacity each brought Ekoli-Edda people back home to vote in the elections. There was also mass return of people from Eket, Uyo, Port Harcourt, Obigbo, Onitsha, Enugu, Calabar, Lagos, Abuja among numerous others.
“This move was strategic in two ways: Ekoli-Ukwu has three out of the 11 Federal Wards in Afikpo South LGA with a total of 21, 354 out of the 79, 150 voters constituting more than a quarter of the total voting strength in the council area. This area is under the immediate influence of the council chairman and the biggest stronghold of the Umahi administration in Edda.”
However, diligent investigation revealed that APC gubernatorial candidate, Senator Ogbuoji, had an ‘unsettled issue’ with the populous Ekoli-Edda community over alleged complicity in the boundary crisis, which erupted in April 2018 between Ekoli-Edda in Afikpo South LGA and Egbor in Biase LGA of Cross River State where the Senator’s grand-mother allegedly hails from.
Sources confided in The Guardian that “It is widely alleged that the senator took sides with his ‘mother’s people’ and allegedly mobilized resources and logistics to sponsor their foes from Egbor, who had been encroaching on Edda lands and invading the community to kill, maim and destroy.
“This belief became stronger when he couldn’t visit the community when two of her illustrious sons were murdered and over a hundred of their plantation buildings were razed with their palm produce worth hundreds of millions of naira looted by the hoodlums,” the source said.
Another reliable source hinted that on the contrary, the first attack on Ekoli and killing of one Mmecha Ibe, occurred on June 12, 2018. The next day, June 13, 2018 when governor Umahi, represented by his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, visited the mourning Community and touched Ibuo, a remote part of the Ekoli Community to see things for himself and sympathize with the community.
“But Senator Ogbuoji, who represents Edda first as his primary Senatorial Constituency only attempted to pay such a “sympathy” visit on December 25, 2018 after six months and during his campaigns. This was seen for the hollow ritual it was and the community vehemently rebuffed it. Consequently, on March 9, every Ekoli-Edda indigene heeded the call to come home and protect Ekoli land,” the source concluded.
APC’s internal squabbles
The controversy over an alleged falsification of delegate’s lists for Ikwo and Ezza South during the September 30 and October 1 primaries of APC in Ebonyi forced Odoh, a former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), who was regarded as the most preferred candidate to pursue his ‘stolen mandate’ from the Electoral Appeal panel set up by APC to the Federal High Court, Abakaliki. The suit was dismissed the suit for want of merit just 48 hours to the governorship election.
Some other stakeholders and aspirants, who contested the party’s ticket with Ogbuoji either walked away in anger over the way and manner he emerged, pretended to be working for him or hoped he would meet his waterloo in the main election.Others defected to PDP, SDP and other mushroom parties when they realised that the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, was not ready to yield to public opinion that the primaries were brazenly manipulated, elections not held at all in the Southern Senatorial zone and even names of popular candidates, who won in other zones, illegally substituted for unpopular persons.
The outcome of the party’s primaries only laid bare the supremacy battle between the leader of the party in the state and Minister of Science and Technology, Onu, National Chairman of defunct ANPP and his rival, Sen. Ucha of the defunct ACN which beset the party from its early formation. It was obvious that Oshiomhole, perhaps working on the instructions of Tinubu, preferred an unpopular Ogbuoji to any other choice. The coordinating force in the entire game was a former youth leader in Elechi’s cabinet, Comrade Chinedu Ogah who also benefitted from the alleged fraudulent use of fake delegates’ lists for his Ikwo and Ezza South LGAs as he grabbed the party’s ticket for the Federal House of Representatives seat, which he eventually lost to PDP candidate.
Whereas Onu, as one of the respected National leaders of the party, could have elicited some pity and attention from some of APC leaders in Abuja, the fact that he preferred to ‘impose’ his Personal Assistance, a certain relatively unknown Obasi Ogbonnaya Obasi, made many view his actions as the height of selfishness and his desperation to ensure power remained in his Uburu community. Those close to him said his defense was that he feared his people would not forgive him if he truncates Umahi’s second term ambition and another clan took what belonged to their son.
The minister’s body language clearly showed that he was not in support of Sen. Ogbuoji who also carried himself with so much pride and arrogance that he, and most of other APC ticket-bearers in the state never attended any of the post-primaries’ meetings organised by Onu. As a matter of fact, the party’s National Chairman, Adams Oshiohmole, in a mild drama, had publicly challenge the minister to declare support for Senator Ogbuoji as the party’s governorship candidate during the presidential campaign rally at Abakaliki Township Stadium.
Sen. Ogbuoji’s fate was further sealed by his over-reliance on the use of ‘federal might’ just the same way he grabbed the party’s ticket rather than engage in vigorous campaigns even when he knew that his opponent, Umahi, informally kicked off his re-election campaigns immediately he was sworn into office in 2015. The Senator was busy trotting from Abuja to Lagos, spending only a few days in Ebonyi. The calibre of men in his campaign directorate and the inability to effectively fund his campaign made it difficult for some stakeholders to really take him seriously.
In fact, Governor Umahi, during one of his local government campaign rallies, was quoted in the media to have told his supporters that he would give some money to Ogbuoji to produce better campaign posters. To many analysts, Ogbuoji simply lacked both the finance and the finesse needed to host and hold strategic and effective campaign rallies despite spending heavily to get APC’s governorship ticket. This led some to conclude, albeit very late before the general elections, that he was the political Pharisee that would not enter the gate of the temple but would also not allow others to enter.
In a poor and agrarian state like Ebonyi, where the incumbent was spending very big to secure victory, APC couldn’t mobilize various support groups with funds and neither were the party’s candidates for other elective positions many of who were grossly unpopular given money to carry-out substantial campaigns for the party. The team, simply put, had no force but believed in the ‘miracle of the centre’. As a matter of fact, it was authoritatively scooped that only about N22.8 million was realized a few days before the election among which Onu donated N10m, with another N10m came from a Northern governor while only a paltry N1.8m allegedly came from the governorship candidate. Divided across the entire polling units in the state, it could only go for a little over N5, 000 per polling booth as against the over N1m allegedly earmarked for each polling station by the incumbent.
But Ogbuoji, till the final official announcement of results by INEC, kept the people in stern suspense with his continued boast especially among his supporters that all was set for him to send Umahi packing from Ebonyi Government House. His much-touted ‘federal might’ floundered even before the polls with most of the stakeholders not really keen on coming out to join his campaign train. At the end, the defeat was so monumental that he was yet to utter a word about three days after official declaration of results by the INEC while the stakeholders and APC supporters continue trading blames on social media.
Ogbuoji’s reaction to the election, which held last weekend came on Tuesday wherein he rejected the results, called the exercise a sham and alleged that there was heavy compromise between the incumbent and essential instruments of the state such as INEC and security agencies to perpetrate fraud. To be fair to Sen. Ogbuoji, he told the party’s loyalists in a post-election review meeting held on Tuesday, March 12 that he was rather disappointed that certain individuals given specific tasks such as security to handle with funds released failed to execute same, thus the failure of the party.
In the final anaysis, it is apparent that only a few of APC’s candidates might challenge the National and State Assemblies election results at the tribunal, as many of them appear down and out morally and politically. The way forward for the party begins with the jostle for some federal political appointments by various stakeholders especially since the party retained power at the centre. The jostle for appointments, as many are made to understand, has already begun!