2023: Why Umahi should be held responsible for electoral violence in Ebonyi – Ex-commissioner

Recently former Deputy National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Abia Onyeike, was allegedly brutalised by Ebubeagu allegedly on the orders of Governor Dave Umahi. In this interview, former Commissioner of Information, explains why the governor should be held responsible for electoral violence in Ebonyi state. AMARACHUKWU EGWU-AGHA in Abakaliki reports

How is your candidate and the party preparing for elections especially in the face of executive order banning the use of public places for rallies in the state?

We are doing our best; we have been involved in a lot of strategic consultations. The All Progressives Congress (APC) has not done more campaigns or more rallies than us. We are on ground and so we don’t intend to lag behind. More importantly, let me tell you there is nobody that has the power to stop the opposition from engaging in campaigns, nobody has the statutory capacity to ban other groups or political parties from the use of public places or public institutions. As far as I’m concerned, the executive order that was promulgated by Governor Umahi, to my mind, is very selfish and self-centered, he doesn’t have many powers. The schools in question were not built by him, these schools were built as far back as the 1930s and 1940s during colonial times, and they have always been used. So why is he coming now to tell us this story about having to go and deposit N5million with one of his commissioners before a place will be left for us to use? Even the South African apartheid government, as vicious and as wicked as it was, never banned the use of public places for campaigns and rallies. So where did he get these ideas from and why is he so desperate to stop the opposition from campaigning? 

You see, because some of us who have been criticizing him and his style of governance had known that a day like this will come because of his half-hearted policies, the ill-digested policies, policies that never cared about the welfare of the citizens, policies based on white elephant projects, policies that will not be based on priorities. 

Now it is very obvious to him that he is lagging behind and that in the event of any elections as it is now that he will lose and his party will lose, that’s why he is becoming desperate, and that’s why he is employing violence. That’s why he requires a personal militia like Ebubeagu to threaten people, to cow down people. And one thing he doesn’t know is that the more he does that the more helpless his situations becomes because it is becoming quite obvious that he is not prepared for the elections. Because he is always getting himself, through certain ways that are not clear. 

For instance, in 2019, my personal opinion is that he never won any elections because when he was contesting with Sunny Ogbuorji, Ogbuorji was in APC, he (Umahi) was in PDP. He went and traded off the state with leaders of APC at that time and one powerful personality who was in Aso Rock and at the last minute Ogbuorji was not given the logistics for his election and that was how he was declared winner. So everytime there is an election there is always that fear in him. He is so unpopular the way nobody goes to that his Filling Stations at Afikpo road is the way nobody is ready to patronize him for anything. Let him go and ask himself a personal question about what is wrong with him. If he can do that, then he should allow the opposition to be because in a democracy, there must be opposition. Opposition is fundamental in a democratic state and Umahi is not the person that will stop it. He cannot reverse the theory of political parties and the role of opposition in a democratic government. So even if he decides to kill everybody, there will still be opposition. The few people who will survive the killings will continue to oppose him. so let him just jettison that useless strategy and let us face our election squarely because Ebonyi people want to be respected, they must be allowed to exercise their fundamental right, that mandate to elect whosoever they want as their leader is a sovereign mandate nobody has the capacity to remove it, even the whiteman that colonised us despite all their might and power, never stopped our people from choosing whom their leaders, so Umahi cannot be an exception.

What measures are your candidates and the party adopting to ensure your supporters are safe during campaigns and the elections proper, giving the attacks on opposition parties in the state?

The state is not Umahi’s village, the state is much bigger than whatever he imagines so this whole idea of using Ebubeagu to cause tension here and there, to chase people about, and then people will become afraid and they will not come out to vote and they will not identify with the oppositions. All these are his stupid imaginations. When the time reaches, when the masses will begin to come, when the become comes to become, then we shall see how the games will play out. Umahi has never faced a major mass political force in his life because of the type of political orientation he has and the way he was recruited into politics. He has never been a student activist like I was and I also played a role during the democratic movement in the 1990s. We fought against the military and we were able to pass  the military era, is Umahi a military detector?  Does he have any training in military detectorship? So all these things he is talking about will not work for him. Even the Ebubeagu he is talking about is not even visible as they are just a militia force. It was an idea that was sighted by Ohanaeze Ndigbo that the Southeast should have regional security to contend with the excesses of herdsmen, now being an agent of the Fulani caliphate in Nigeria, he shied away from it and he has now criminally decided to turn that regional instrument into a personal militia to create a terror in Ebonyi state so that people will now hand off and allow him to declare his candidate, the man he has imposed to become the governor. It’s not as easy as that, when the chips are down, he will learn a bitter lesson.

How did you feel when the Ebubeagu security outfit of the state claimed that they arrested and manhandled you in error?

Well, that is their propaganda. They can say anything and get away with it. They are in power and Umahi is enjoying immunity. Whatever they are claiming is false, it was a plan Umahi planned and asked them to implement it. Why is it that the APC chairman in the state is the grand commander of Ebubeagu? He was the one who formed Ebubeagu for people and you have seen the latest development where he brought Ebubeagu and came to EKoli Edda in Afikpo South local government on Saturday and the convoy carrying Ochiri and one other prominent man from Nguzu Edda, Professor Iduma Orji, they were in that convoy and a member of Ebonyi state House of Assembly, Chidi Ejem. Now that Mr. Stanley Okoro Emegha who is the state chairman of APC was there, they blocked the road and started firing at the convoy and two boys were fatally wounded. It is only through prayers that they may survive.

Judging from recent developments, will you say that 2023 elections will be marred by violence?

It will not be bloody in any way it will be stopped at the the appropriate time. Is Umahi ready to bring his children to go and die in the street, so no one is going to contemplate whether it will be bloody or not. All we know is that at the appropriate time, peace will reign and rationality will prevail. The people of the state must be given their rightful place to enable them to vote their choice in the election. Nobody will have the opportunity of imposing his will and good a thing INEC has worked very hard with the Electoral Act of 2022. Rigging of elections have been minimised, if not thoroughly eradicated. And that is the fear of people like Umahi because he will not have the opportunity to rig the election and given his records, who will vote for him, is it the teachers? Is it the civil servants that are being paid half their salary or is it the retired civil servants that he embezzled their gratuities? Are they the people that will vote for him and his party? Or is it the traders whose shops were taken away from them and some of them developed hypertension and died? So where is his support base coming from? Is he a popular leader? He is not because he is selfish. All the projects he did are white elephant projects, the shopping center has started, they claimed they spent N8 billion on it, so after spending the money since 2015 to date is getting to 8 years and you just leave it like that, what use is the shopping center? This is a state where Umahi has refused to employ even a single young person into the state civil service, then you spend N7 and you are building Ecumenical Centre, what is that Ecumenical Centre for? Then you went and started building a new Government House. These white elephant projects were conduit pipes for looting public funds. So what we are saying in effect is that Umahi’s governance in Ebonyi state is a terrible development, it’s cataclysmic and nobody is happy about that, he knows it. Even in the senatorial election, he is running, who will vote for him? Is it Onicha local government or Ivo? If you come to Ohaozara, is it Okposi that will vote for him or Ugwulangwu, even in Uburu who will vote for him? He is a land grabber, he has seized the land of people in Uburu, or is it Edda people my local government? These are the reasons why he is desperate, he is very aggressive and he’s going for violence. But if he continues to push for violence, it is also possible that they may declare a state of emergency in Ebonyi state.