Interview: 2023 Presidency: Why Gov Umahi Must Support Peter Obi Now -Christian

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Chima Christian, member of opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Anambra state contested for the office of the State Publicity Secretary of the party. In this interview with our correspondent, the public policy analyst says Ebonyi state Governor, David Umahi must leave the All Progressives Congress (APC) now to join forces with Canidate Peter Obi’s Labour Party, the only party that has presented a credible Igbo candidate for the 2023 presidential election as the only proof that he (Umahi) indeed earlier left PDP to APC to pursue genuine “Igbo agenda” as he claimed. Christian spoke on wideranged primaries, defections, separatist movements and insecurity in the southeast.

Can you provide us with some insights into some of the developments at the PDP that led to the exit of some members like Peter Obi?Political participation is a voluntary one. And people have different reasons for joining or leaving political platforms. This is especially more so in Nigeria where there are no clear ideological markers of identity that separate party A from party Z.

As an upcoming leader in the party, what’s your personal assessment of the processes that produced Atiku Abubakar as the party’s presidential flag bearer for the 2023 election?

PDP presidential primaries did not produce the outcome I and many young Nigerians wished to see. That milk has been spilt and I see no need to cry over it. I have however taken notes of the missed opportunity and lessons learned.

Many believe the PDP appears to have betrayed the southeast by not keeping faith with the zoning arrangement. What’s your take on this?

The sentiments are there. My feeling is that the PDP placed petty partisan interests ahead of weightier considerations of fairness, equity and justice. Even while we south-easterners lament, there is also a need for us to ask heady questions. For instance, what role did fellow south-easterners play or did not play that guaranteed this electoral outcome?

The likes of Ebonyi Governor, Dave Umahi left PDP when he discovered that the party was not ready to zone its presidential ticket to the southeast. Don’t you think he has been vindicated?

My appraisal is that Gov. Dave Umahi outperformed his southeastern peers on several indices of governance. That personal assessment of him has not changed simply because he decided to leave our party to try his luck elsewhere. What I did not appreciate is the way he went about speaking ill of the party that gave him all his political opportunities so far, including the one he currently enjoys.

That said, the relationship that exists between Gov. Umahi and President Muhammadu Buhari is not a secret. In leaving the PDP, Umahi made a calculated attempt to leverage his relationship with Buhari to further his presidential aspirations on the platform of the APC seeing that his chances were not as bright in the PDP. That is political pragmatism and I do not fault him for that. His gamble did not pay off however. Not for him personally nor indeed for the other presidential hopefuls of southeast extraction in the APC.

As to your question of whether Umahi has been vindicated, result of the presidential primaries of the APC does not suggest so.

If indeed Umahi left the PDP to pursue “Igbo agenda” as claimed, he would have also left the APC to join forces with the only party that has presented a credible Igbo candidate. Umahi was and is still pursuing a personal, not a collective aspiration. That does not make him a bad person. The weak attempt to present himself as a champion of the Igbo race should however be consigned to the dustbin of history where it rightly belongs.

Governor Nyesom Wike accused southern governors of betrayal in the aftermath of his loss of PDP presidential ticket to Atiku. Do you think his position was justified given that many expected them to rally behind the return of the ticket to the south?

My interpretation of Gov. Nyesom Wike’s interview during which he heaped blame on his southern brothers but went silent on the shocking betrayal of his friend Aminu Tambuwal is that Wike missed a huge opportunity for self-introspection.

The manner Gov. Wike went about his campaign in the south was widely reported. His comments, for the most part, lacked the grace expected of a presidential aspirant. Instead of closing ranks and building consensus with his southern brothers, Wike went about as if he did not need the support of the south or if he can commandeer such support with brute force.

Wike’s approach reeked of arrogance. He had issues with nearly all his brother governors and presidential aspirants from the south. Instead of lobbying and watering the ground for future collaboration, Wike carried on with so much hubris as if he had not only won the primaries but had been sworn in as the president of Nigeria already.

If Wike is looking for who betrayed him, he should first look into the mirror. His presidential ambition was largely betrayed by his untamed character and uncouth language. Secondly, Wike should point some fingers up north where he had spent a considerable amount of resources and goodwill in the service of the 2019 presidential aspirations of his friend Aminu Tambuwal. Given what Wike had spent in the service of his friendship with Tambuwal and how Tambuwal returned the favour, it should be obvious who betrayed Wike in Abuja. Wike remains our brother nonetheless. A loss of this magnitude could be devastating, especially given the confidence that preceded it. I am praying for him. I hope he finds the time to reflect and mend fences with some of his brothers and sisters whom he roughed up in his quest for power.

Given that a large chunk of PDP faithful in the southeast seem to have followed Peter Obi to the Labour Party, what do you think of the party’s chances at the next presidential poll?

I believe that our party the PDP threw away a huge opportunity to reclaim the power it lost in 2015. The damage done, especially in the southeast which has all the while been its most loyal voting bloc is nearly irreparable.

However, the general election, in my estimation, will go to who works the hardest. Peter Obi’s Labour Party has a lot of organic energy and goodwill going for it. The PDP will have to work extremely hard to roll back certain disadvantages. Even while we work hard to win, my prayer is for the peace and progress of the country regardless of the outcome of the general elections.

The PDP in Anambra State and southeastern states appear to be battling to remain united ahead of the 2023 general election. Do you see the party faring better than 2019 in the geopolitical zone?

If I am to be honest with you, the PDP will be lucky to get even 5 percent of the total votes cast in the southeast during the 2023 presidential election. This will not necessarily be so in other elective positions. The emergent reality is that many voters in the southeast presently have their favourites running for different elective positions on different political platforms. These favourites used to be clustered in one political party. That is no longer the case in the southeast. However, the southeast as a voting bloc is more sophisticated than it gets credit for. Voters down here know how to sort through the ballot and vote different parties for different elective positions. While the bandwagon effect may assist one or two candidates, nearly all of them will rise and fall on their individual capacities.

What’s your take on the security crisis rocking the southeast?

The security issues in the southeast were both foreseeable and preventable. But the political leadership of the southeast failed yet again. Abuja-controlled security resources became lethargic and unresponsive to the security demands of the country. This included the southeast which had an often exaggerated but potent threat of terrorists masquerading as herdsmen. Seeing how Benue state, for instance, had been overrun by terrorists and the accusations of federal government’s duplicity coming from the government of Benue State, it became apparent that the southeast needed a homegrown security outfit to fill in the gap.

While the southwest responded with Amotekun, southeast political power players did not show as much commitment and decisiveness. So separatists, who I suspect have always nursed an armed agenda, saw an opportunity to plant themselves as that credible alternative given the halting reaction of southeast political leadership. People like us forewarned that such amorphous non-state actors who are not accountable nor can indeed be held to account is an uncontrollable experiment.

Today, the chickens have sadly come to roost. Armed agitators and other mutants who their activities inspire, instead of becoming the promised solution, became in and of themselves the biggest security threat to the southeast.

Even as we make a little room for the oft-repeated excuse of foreign operators masquerading as agitators just to make nonsense of the agitation, those pushing fiery anti-establishment rhetorics in the pursuit of their stated political agenda must also take some form of responsibility for what is happening in the southeast today.

Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s government is now battling hard to tame the rampaging unknown gunmen. How would you assess the government’s intervention so far and the result?

Gov Chukwuma Soludo has since learned that problems like “unknown gunmen” do not respond to beautiful speeches alone. Thankfully, Soludo is already the chief promoter of what could be best described as “Akwaetenomics” or homegrown economics. There is no other way, Anambra state must go beyond merely giving support to federal authorities to independently acquiring state capacity to protect its citizens. As a necessary first step, the state’s vigilante services must be reinvigorated. Then after the country comes out from the governance distractions of 2023, Soludo should work with other leaders of the southeast to revitalise Ebubeagu or float a new regional security outfit. There is also a need for Soludo’s government to implement the recommendations of Anambra EndSARS Panel. The panel made far-reaching recommendations on some of the injustices that contribute to the insecurity we see in Anambra today.

Beyond Soludo, members of the National Assembly must find the boldness to review certain aspects of our laws. For instance, the Amotekun experiment is beginning to reveal the ineffectiveness of arming vigilantes with “pump action” guns while expecting them to successfully combat aggressors armed with AK-47s and even more lethal weapons. It will be a difficult conversation, but the south and the middle belt can muster the numbers to push through such important amendments to our constitution.

What do you consider the way out of this crisis?

There is an economic side to this. There is a legal side to it. There is a structural side to it. There is a justice and fairness side to it. There is a political side to it. There is information management and perception side to it. There is a citizen participation side to it. Unpacking these will take a standalone interview. My short answer is that all units must supply if we are to get ourselves out of this mess.

Between Igbo Presidency and Biafra which one do you think is the solution to the Igbo nation?

A president of Igbo extraction is not just another good idea that checks off the boxes of fairness and promoting harmony. Nigeria will derive many positives on the account of it alone.

However, a president of Igbo extraction, nation-building or independent statehood is not an end in itself. There are countless studies and historical pieces of evidence that point to the fact that mental depiction of a perfect state is an elusive eldorado. Even civilised nations still have several unmet needs to grapple with.

The thinking, which has unfortunately become popular in the southeast, that there is a one-size-fits-all solution is misleading. No one solution will permanently solve the agitations in the hearts of men. Political perfection is a constantly changing goalpost. As long as people still have breath in their nostrils, there must be yearnings in their hearts that will remain unsatisfied by the state, no matter how hard it strives.

Neither Igbo presidency nor Biafra, nor restructuring, nor the release of Nnamdi Kanu can satisfy the yearnings in the hearts of south-easterners. Not even all of them put together. That is not to say that good governance and equity demands should not be made. I have personally been making such demands and I encourage all healthy conversations that are aimed at moving the needle of governance and justice further.

We should however approach these matters with humility and the understanding that we cannot achieve perfection with one stroke, no matter how ambitious. That understanding alone will deal with a lot of the passions and extremism that have unfortunately characterised these discussions.

The call for restructuring of Nigeria vs self-determination which do you consider the best option to save the country from implosion?

Restructuring and self-determination are not mutually exclusive terms. Publicly discussing them, especially self-determination, should also not be treated as a taboo. All civilised discussions on the continued existence, peace, progress and governance structure of Nigeria should be accommodated.

But the issue with Nigeria’s civic space is that some discussions have been placed beyond the limits of civilised discourse. Since moderate voices have been practically barred from openly discussing these issues, extremist voices have stepped in and taken the lead.

If you think of it, it does appear that Nigeria prefers to deal with extremists than moderates. And that accounts for the several manifestations of extremism you see in Nigeria today. When Nigeria is ready, there are moderates available to engage in the difficult but necessary conversations that must be had about the future of this country. For now, it appears that we have to keep playing this dangerous game of brinkmanship.

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