Dave Umahi, the governor of Ebonyi State, reminds me of the historical figure called Vidkun Quisling. Between 1940 and 1945, Norway, the Scandinavian country, faced a certain misfortune. It was ruled by Quisling, a Norwegian military officer and politician, who collaborated with the Nazis during the German occupation of Norway.He nominally headed the government of Norway after
the country was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Quisling was a puppet of the enemy and was responsible for many of the atrocities visited on his people by Nazi Germany. He was shot for treason after German defeat.
In modern, everyday parlance, a quisling is a traitor who collaborates with an enemy force occupying his country. Umahi may not come away as a typical Vidkun Quisling. But he has exhibited tendencies that can easily give him away as someone who prefers to fraternize with those who do not mean well for his people to identifying with his people’s cause. Let us attempt a random roll call.
In April 2016, Enugu State came under attack. Guntotting, trigger-happy blood suckers who were passed off as herdsmen had invaded Nimbo, a sleepy community in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of the state. By the time the night marauders were through with their concert of blood, over 50 people lay dead. Property worth hundreds of millions of naira, including places of worship, were destroyed.
The midnight invasion was trailed by outrage. Drums of war were beaten. The Igbo felt that a fresh war was being waged against them. They were not prepared to accept that assault on their sobriety and they said so. The anger and outrage that the cold-blooded massacre of the innocent people of Nimbo elicited threw up a number of issues. Paramount among them was that everything must be done to ensure that the ugly incident did not repeat itself. This led to calls in certain quarters that the cattle rearers should be banned from Enugu State and, possibly, other parts of the south east.
The mood of many across the length and breath of Igboland supported this thinking. But Umahi, acting as an opposite man, and clearly unmindful of the mood of his people at that point in time, was quick to issue a disclaimer. He said he would not ban the herders from Ebonyi State because his people had no problem with the cattle rearers. He said the herdsmen were welcome to his state any day.
With this interjection, Umahi dissociated himself and his government from whatever anybody was saying about the organised massacre in Enugu State. He did not appear bothered by it all. He was more interested in what would sound pleasing to the murderers than what would assuage the anger and grievance of his people. This lack of solidarity with his Igbo kinsmen over a matter that touched on their survival as a people said a lot about Umahi. It was a disappointing response coming from the governor of a sister state.
In September 2017, Igboland came under another attack. The Nigerian Army had, on September 10, invaded Umuahia in search of Nnamdi Kanu and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). By the time they were through with the exercise, several members of IPOB were killed. Again, the massacre elicited angry reactions and responses from men and women of goodwill within and outside Igboland. Many disapproved of the massacre of unarmed civilians who were peacefully agitating for a separate republic. The situation was a testy one. It called for caution and circumspection on the part of those in positions of responsibility. It was the time they were expected to show maturity and leadership. But we did not get this from the South East Governors Forum, led by Umahi. The governor exacerbated the pains of the military assault on his people by announcing a ban on the activities of IPOB even as blood was still flowing in Umuahia. It was such an insensitive pronouncement. It emboldened the invading soldiers the more and gave them and the government the temerity to declare IPOB a terrorist organisation. In this matter as well, Umahi did not stand with his people. He did not query the massacre in Umuahia. He did not interrogate the military for swooping on and killing defenceless civilians. But he made a promise: that the South East Governors Forum would investigate the killings in Umuahia and make their findings public. Nearly 10 months after the gruesome massacre, Umahi has not said anything to anybody. The matter has ended. Those who were killed have gone down unsung. By his studied silence, Umahi has labelled the dead as outlaws whose lives do not matter. A huge stigma is hanging around the governor’s neck over this matter. But he is carrying on unperturbed.
We do not have all the space to say more on Umahi’s fraternity with people who have shown open dislike and resentment for his people. But the beneficiaries of his quisling disposition have been taking note.
Now, they have begun to adopt him. He is being gradually accepted as one of their own. They now feel comfortable entrusting him with odd national assignments in the belief that he will not disappoint. A case in point is the presidential committee on farmers/herders’ clashes, which he is heading. What on earth should qualify Umahi for this assignment? An odd job that should have been reserved for those who have something at stake is assigned to a governor whose state is potentially under threat because they know that he is a friend of the establishment and will not, therefore, rock the boat.
After months of operation, Umahi’s committee may have sent a report to government. That may have informed the pronouncement made recently by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to wit, that the federal government would establish cattle ranches, for a start, in 10 states of the federation. Ebonyi is the only state in Eastern Nigeria captured in the plan. Since the announcement was made, strident voices from southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt have risen against the move. They see the plan as a surreptitious attempt by the Fulani-led presidency to establish Fulani hegemony across the states of Nigeria using cattle ranching as a subterfuge. Those who have seen through the mischievous plot have stepped out boldly to oppose it. In fact, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has denounced the plan. He has told those who want to hear that Benue has no land to give anybody for ranching. While those who mean well for their people are speaking up, Umahi has maintained a suspicious silence, except that one of his commissioners feebly quipped the other day that Ebonyi has not provided any land for cattle ranching. Significantly, the governor’s Igbo kinsmen have rejected the idea of government established ranches. But the man whose state was mentioned as one of those to be used for the pilot scheme has remained silent. A good number of the concerned governors have made their position on the matter. They said they do not have any land for cattle ranching in their states.
The idea of cattle colonies, which government plans to set up in every state of the federation, is vexatious. That is why virtually all southern states have rejected the idea. But Umahi is yet to speak against it. His silence could mean an endorsement of the federal government’s position. Those who appointed him to head the presidential committee on this issue know where he belongs. They know that he is not opposed to the idea. That explains his choice. Umahi could be imagining that he would provide land for the Fulani to set up a military base in Ebonyi State in the name of cattle colony. Somebody should wake the governor up from this bad dream. Umahi and others like him may escape the judgement of the moment, but they have posterity to contend with. Sooner or later, he will come to terms with Chinua Achebe’s eternal truth, to wit: that no man, however great, can win judgement against his people.