The 2019 general elections are one year away and every elected political office holder is either preparing to seek re-election or handover to a successor. The political heat is already rising in every state of the federation and at the center, with political realignments and performances being measured by the electorate. It is a normal phenomenon that every election throws up challenges that often create tension and confusion. But at the end, congratulations are exchanged and the political pressures would gradually calm down. The 2019 may not be different. In fact, the year is projected to witness another keenly contested poll. But our prayers are that the elections will come and go without the loss of the lives and properties of the citizenry.
Such elective positions in 2019 are basically the representatives for the three senatorial districts of every state of the federation, representatives of every constituency of states of the federation, differing from state to state at an uneven proportion, and the state governors for those states whose tenures are to expire on May 29 2019. In Ebonyi, these positions are open, though the vibrancy of the electioneering processes in the state often calls for caution. And Governor Dave Umahi has already indicated interest for a second tenure of four years.
Though like other past governors of the state, there are a few things that distinguish him. Ebonyi state has been in the fold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) since 1999. All the past executive governors enjoyed very cordial relationship with the federal government. It was normal because the central government was then controlled by the PDP. Except for the turbulent period of Umahi’s predecessor, Elechi, who was defeated by Umahi, his former deputy. Another thing is that each governor of the state in the past had to contend with Ebonyi political block in Abuja which had often been in different direction with the state government. The economic and political losses which such staggered faceoff between the Abuja and Ebonyi-home political blocks caused the state can only be imagined.
In addition, the past two executive governors of the state emerged from the other two senatorial zones. The first, Dr. Sam Egwu, was from the north; the second, Chief Martin Elechi, was from the central and Umahi is from the South. Each of the first two had two uninterrupted tenures, performances aside. However, every governor was adjudged according to the SWOT analysis. Ebonyi, being a teen state with acute infrastructural demand, whatever effort put in place made a difference.
But Umahi, since inception, has kept the hopes of the Ebonyi people high. He is politically broadminded as, unlike some other governors of the PDP in Southern Nigeria, he maintains a cordial relationship with the federal government. His loyalty to the President who is of the ruling APC is commendable. That cannot be unconnected to the visit of the President late last year, which was possible even as the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu is from the state. At many fora, Umahi, though in PDP, has declared to vote for President Buhari of APC because he believes in integrity, incorruptibility and fair sense of judgement. Uncommon reality, indeed!
Umahi’s rising political profile in Nigeria, his political will to deliver dividends of democracy and his doggedness in fulfilling his electioneering campaign promises have put him in the minds of majority of Ebonyians. There can be no doubt that he has the greatest opportunity to be re-elected for the second term. Why not? After all, past governors from other senatorial zones had their second tenures without quarrel. The turn of Ebonyi south should, therefore, not be compromised.
In reality and in consonance with the voices within the state, Umahi is performing and the next four years are required to further strike harder in developing the state. The giant strides he has made since he took over are speaking for themselves. His administration has undertaken some gargantuan projects that will put the state ahead some of the states of the federation which were created with Ebonyi in 1996 by late Gen. Sani Abacha. Look at the 14.5 Kilometer Abakaliki-Afikpo Road, a federal road reconstructed by him; the two overhead bridges, Sir Francis Akanu Ibiam and Sen. Offiah Nwali flyovers as well as the new tunnel in the state capital.
During his visit to Ebonyi in November, 2017, President Buhari recognized the efforts of Umahi in transforming Ebonyi. He expressed gratitude to Ebonyians and commended Governor David Umahi for his “vision and commitment to the development of his state”. He acknowledged Ebonyians and the people of the South East for ingenuity, industrial and commercial talent, saying, “There is no part of Nigeria where you will not find Igbo entrepreneurs, both men and women, contributing to the development of their adopted communities.”
President Buhari was full of happiness to have the privilege of commissioning these projects and unveiling the statue of Sir Akanu Ibiam whom the President described as a great Nigerian whose notable records of humanitarianism, advocacy of free primary education and rural development will continue to be an inspiration to all Nigerians.
Umahi has been a shining star at the national level. He was one of the selected PDP governors who visited President Buhari while the latter was in London on medical vacation. He has accompanied the President on international assignments. He has maintained perfect peace and to an extent religious harmony in the state. Recently, he was appointed as head of a sub-committee to dialogue with the leadership of herdsmen, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) and other groups of cattle herders in a bid to end the clashes between herdsmen and farmers across Nigeria. A lot more recognitions for his services to the nation and humanity!
A scenario played out when President Buhari visited and Alhaji Ibrahim Ogbonnia Amah, an Igbo Muslim from the state offered prayers for the state and Nigeria in both Arabic and English Languages. Amah made the Islamic prayers at the gala night held in the Banquet Hall in honour of Mr. President. Earlier that day at the Stadium, Amah also offered prayers while the representatives of the Hausa and Yoruba communities who have already been offered appointments by the governor, made separate paper presentations. But the governor offered Amah mere verbal appointment which till today has remained a nightmare because of his religious affiliation.
Yes, the governor recently swore-in 171 liaison officers. He was quite magnanimous to the Hausa and Yoruba Muslim communities in the state for the first time in the history of Ebonyi state. Like former governor of Abia state, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, about six resident Muslims were appointed. Kalu has been a core politician with perpetual presidential hope. And appeasing national interests was paramount for such a national position. Again, 2003 was an electioneering period, the first transition from democracy to democracy under for President Olusegun Obasanjo’s watch.
Among Umahi’s appointees are Alhaji Salisu Mohammed and Alhaji Haladu Ismail as technical assistants to the governor on herdsmen; Alhaji Sule Mohammed as technical assistant to the governor on sports; Hajiya Asmau Gambo and Lawal Hamajoda as liaison officers to the governor. The Hausa community has celebrated this gesture. I made mention of Hausa Muslims because there is a large chunk of Hausa Christians living across the Southeast states enjoying warmth and vast opportunities from the state governments and their brethren. It can really be a thing of joy if real human feelings can permeate Nigerians!
One of the appointees during the celebration, Sule Mohammed, observed: “For the first time, we have witnessed this kind of benevolence. We feel at home in Ebonyi state. I implore northern governors to follow this kind of attitude…Governor Umahi has demonstrated his faith in the unity of Nigeria. No wonder he is the Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum.” Why not the celebration! The Igbo are honoured likewise in the north. But never, any likelihood, the Igbo Muslims!
Umahi cannot act differently. There is no assurance that he can break the jinx in reversing the deeply-rooted, carefully-outlined and executed plot against Igbo Muslims. He is surely of the thick Igbo blood. And Ebonyi Muslims will vote again for him, assuredly, probably on the accounts of his performance or due to no better option. He is on the path to victory for another four years. Only God knows why the old tradition against Igbo Muslims in Igbo land, as undesirable as it is, cannot be broken easily. They are seen as hungry baggers who left the religion of their people “Christianity” for the Hausa religion “Islam”. That is why the governors of the Southeast, including Umahi, do accommodate the resident Muslims living in their respective states because they are the true and original owners of Islam.
It is unlikely that this trend will change soon. I do not think it is necessary to end it because those in the comfort zones have been fooled by complacency and superfluous existence. And life, being itself a permanent teacher, is contentious with the byword that “no condition is permanent.” But it is a reality that the minority Igbo Muslims have never constituted a nuisance or threatened the peace and progress of their birth-places or any state or community where they live and seek legitimate opportunities to survive. Who knows and hears them? Besides, who cares about them?
For equity and fairness, Governor Umahi should find spaces in his government for qualified Igbo Muslim from Afikpo, Ikwo, Ohaozara, Ezza, Izzi, Abakaliki and all nooks of the state. They are also his subjects. He should also recognize Muslim scholars and organizations in the state to build love, peace and understanding amongst all Ebonyians. Only then, he can distinguish himself the more and receive more applauses as the most non-judgmental, accommodating and forbearing governor of Ebonyi state in particular and nay, the Southeast in general. But whatever the Muslims under him meet, they should be comforted with the strong belief that God Almighty is there.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja.