Umahi’s linkage politics

By Emeka Omeihe

Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State acted out a version of James Rosenau’s linkage politics when he gave the zoning of the 2023 presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP to Southeast as a condition for not defecting to the All Progressives Congress APC.

And like in all situations of this nature, his conditionality contained elements of coercion and threat inducement. But he was severely constrained in extracting from the party, the commitment required because he was bargaining from a point of weakness as the option available to him was clear.

The governor predictably defected to the ruling APC last week and justified his action on what he called the injustice being done by the PDP against the Southeast. He said, since 1998, the southeast people have supported PDP in all elections and “it is absurd that since 1998 going to 2023 that the southeast will never be considered to run for the president under the ticket of the PDP”.

Perhaps, Umahi offered the greatest insight for his action, when he further said that the APC is “amenable and is working for the interest of the southeast”.

This confers credence to earlier claims by the PDP that Umahi had in a meeting with its leadership demanded the zoning of its 2023 presidential ticket to the southeast as a precondition for remaining within their fold. Then, also the party had said it was premature to allot its ticket to any of the six geo-political zones as it needed extensive consultations with its critical stakeholders to arrive at such decision.

It was therefore little surprising that when Umahi made good his threat, the party was quick to accuse him of  defecting because he nursed a personal ambition to contest for the presidency come 2023. That immediately suggests that his new party will either offer him the presidential ticket come 2023 or someone from his zone. But the balance tilts more in his favour than any other person from the zone since he is the one at the centre of the storm.

However, Umahi got somehow confused as to whether he will be the direct beneficiary of that threat-induced concession or someone else from the southeast geo-political zone. His apparent confusion arose as he strove to stave off insinuations that personal ambition was behind his defection. And in his defence, he said no one had promised him a presidential ticket in 2023. But he failed to say whether any one has offered the southeast on whose behalf he is protesting the ticket in 2023. The situation became further confusing when he said “in 2023, if God permits, I will be quitting politics, and I’ m very satisfied,” adding he would be going back to his business.

That is where some of us get more confused on the campaign the Ebonyi State governor took upon himself to mount at the behest of the southeast. There is nothing wrong with him defecting if he feels so strongly either for the reasons adduced or on personal grounds. But if he has taken up the challenge to fight perceived injustice against his zone, the issues he is canvassing should not only have clarity of purpose but supported by verifiable and credible evidence.

As raised earlier, he had given a condition for his party to fulfill or he defects to the ruling party. The party rebuffed the conditionality on the grounds that it is premature. Having failed to accede to his demand, the man giving the condition made good his threat, hence the defection.

This at once, presupposes that he has chances of realizing that desire in his new party. Umahi gave that indication when he claimed that the APC is amenable and is working for the interest of the southeast. What can be deduced from that is that the APC is likely more disposed to offering its presidential ticket to the southeast and his defection is to enhance the chances of the zone.  If that is the case, one can then understand.

But he left every one perplexed when he said he has not been promised anything and he would be quitting politics in 2023. What is all the noise about the marginalization of the southeast in the PDP; its denial of the presidency since 1998 if he is unable to extract any commitment from his new party? What value does the membership of his new party add to his zone if all it takes is for him to resign from partisan politics after 2023?

These posers cast serious slur on some of the issues on which he sought to justify his claims of ill-treatment of the southeast by the PDP. Even then, the type of campaign Umahi embarked upon, though not out of place, is better approximated through a group level engagement. Because linkage politics involves coercion, threats and pressure, its value is highly diminished when it involves an individual against a group.

Umahi was in a very weak position to extract the condition he required of the PDP. This is evident from the position of the PDP National Assembly caucus from his state dissociating itself from his move. Even as they conceded him the right to join any party of his choice, they described his reasons for defecting as untenable. They faulted him on his umbrage against the PDP contending he has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the party with two of his younger brothers respectively ‘elected’ as national vice chairman (south east) and deputy state chairman of the party in his state.

Even then, Umahi had about a year ago, publicly confessed he had immensely benefitted from the PDP when faced with allegations that he was planning to jump ship. Some of the negative things he said about APC members in his state for which he cannot cohabit in the same party with them are still fresh in the public domain.  So who is really fooling and marginalizing who?

The position of the National Assembly caucus from his state leaves Umahi a commander without soldiers. It further gives credence to the accusation that he is propelled by self-serving reasons but chose to hide under questionable southeast interest possibly to gain undeserved sympathy. If he could not even carry the leadership of his state along as a sitting governor, it remains to be conjectured what value and impact he will make in his new party in getting the presidential ticket zoned to the southeast.

That is in no way to diminish the case for the presidency to naturally devolve to the southeast given that it is the only zone in the south that has not taken a shot at it since 1999. But that is not all there is to it. It is a complex matrix that will unfold with time.

However, there is the risk of trivializing that project going by the positioning of certain characters from the zone. It is true that the southeast has been complaining against marginalization right from the return of democracy.  But whatever complaints that were made in the past, pale into insignificance in the face of the deliberate exclusion of the zone since the Buhari regime came on board. The facts are there to countermand Umahi’s claims. But that is beside the point. The real issue is that even as the case of the southeast for a shot at the presidency cannot be faulted, that project stands being imperiled by some of the actions and inactions of some political actors from the zone.

The unanimity of purpose and collective action required to push that project through cannot be achieved by the singular action of an individual no matter how powerful. That appears the weakness of the campaign Umahi presumably set out to prosecute. It would have been a good development if his new party had promised him or his zone that ticket. Who knows? But since he said no such promise has been made, his campaign appears full of sound and fury but practically signifying nothing.

It is difficult to fathom how such a commitment could have been made when the matter is yet to come up for discussion in the major political parties. As an issue whose time is yet to mature, Umahi’s stand on conceding the presidential slot to the southeast now, amounts to a trivialization of that project. He would have made better sense if he had defected on personal grounds.