Humphrey C. Nsofor
The people of Ebonyi and Anambra states have always enjoyed a wonderful relationship. It could not have been better. The media war, which the government of Engineer Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State launched against Anambra State over the renaming of the hitherto obscure Abakaliki Street in Awka is gratuitous and serves no useful purpose. If there is any of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones where press attacks within could be tolerated, it should not be the South East, which has suffered enough discrimination from the current federal administration.
After reading Honorable Echezona Okechi’s “Abakaliki Street: Umahi is wrong” (Sunday Sun, July 1), it became compelling that those who care about the unity and destiny of the Igbo in particular and Nigeria in general counsel the Ebonyi State chief executive. Hon. Okechi, by the way, was my colleague in the Anambra State House of Assembly from 2003 to 2007. We both belonged to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While he was chairman of the Committee on Information and Committee on Public Petitions, I was the Majority Leader. He has always been a man of candour and penetrating intelligence.
Governor Umahi was in error to have gone to press with his grievance over the change of the name of the street in Awka named after his state capital before attempting to let his brother governor in Anambra State know about his feelings. The normal thing for a state governor to do if he is not satisfied with the action of a colleague is to discuss the matter with him in private. He can go public only after his counterpart has failed to provide a satisfactory explanation. As everyone knows, Umahi did no such thing. To worsen matters, Umahi’s press secretary, Emmanuel Uzor, told the press that his principal had already discussed the change of the street name with his opposite number in Anambra State.
Commentators like Hon. Okechi have argued that Umahi indulged in this unnecessary public show because of his obsession with reelection in the 2019 general election. They seem right. Umahi is ordinarily a level-headed person, well meaning. A fellow civil engineer, he has given me the privilege of doing a comprehensive study of erosion problems in Ebonyi State and even made it possible for me to address the state Executive Council on the environmental issues. But it would appear that with the 2019 election fast approaching, he has surrounded himself with all kinds of people. The result is a changed Governor Umahi.
His press secretary looks like one of those egging him to claim in public that the name of Abakaliki Street was changed because Anambra “people are arrogant and do not care about other Igbo-speaking people, especially those from Ebonyi, the smallest and youngest state in the South East”. If Uzor is peddling this false rumour, it is most unfortunate. He had been a correspondent of The Sun correspondent in Anambra State.
To sustain the false narrative of Anambra not caring about the feelings of Ebonyians, Uzor has obviously failed to inform his people that Governor Obiano named a much longer and more strategic road after Abakaliki as he was changing the old street name. He has refused to tell his people that Abakaliki Street strikes an awful image in the minds of Awka residents, despite the superb facelift the street has received in recent years. It was located in a dungeon, a swamp known for crime and prostitution and occupied by those doing menial jobs and living in shipping containers abandoned there. Even with the facelift, commercial sex workers have taken over the place, hawking their flesh in the number of night clubs which emerged overnight.
The impending general election in Nigeria in which he is contesting has made Governor Umahi change profoundly. He relates to President Muhammadu Buhari in a way which makes very Ebonyian believe he is a member of the opposition PDP only in name; his soul appears every inch with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). They say he wants to prove to Buhari that he is more loyal to him than Ebonyi APC leaders like Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology, who may run against Umahi as the APC candidate.
No wonder, Umahi failed to attend the historic Ohanaeze Summit on the Igbo position on Nigeria’s restructuring held at Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka on Monday, May 21, 2018. Not even his position as Chairman of the South East Governors Forum could make him attend. He could not send even his deputy. Umahi was afraid that the meeting on restructuring would upset President Buhari. Igbo people love courageous and bold leaders like Governor Obiano who hosted the summit because of
his unflinching loyalty to the Igbo people. It seems Umahi’s handlers decided to take on the Anambra governor because of his reputation as a dove. His aversion to controversy makes him reluctant to grant media interviews frequently. He sometimes complains about media’s predilection
for sensationalism rather than societal development. It is instructive that he has refused to this day to lift a finger publicly in protest against the accusations from Ebonyi politicians.
So committed to peace as the first step in accelerating development process is Obiano that when his predecessor, Chief Peter Obi, began a vicious campaign against him he refused to respond and even warned his aides against replying the former governor. In fact, Governor Obiano apologised to Chief Obi on Friday, August 4, 2016, right in the church before a very large congregation attending the burial of a well aknowledged educationist, Reverend Father Nicholas Agbo, principal of Christ the king College, Onitsha, when he and Obi were students there. Obi refused the entreaty for reconciliation and peace in the state, only for Obiano to defeat him and his candidate by a landslide in Obi’s ward in his native Agulu in the November 17, 2017, gubernatorial election in Anambra State.
Politicians underrate Obiano because of his dedication to peace. But, as Pope John the Second stated in his homily at the beatification of Blessed Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi at Oba in Anambra State in March, 1998, belief in peaceful co-existence is no cowardice but rather a mark of sophistication. God fights for peacemakers, as the result of the recent Anambra governorship poll has demonstrated.
The unprovoked media attack which some Ebonyi State officials, including some state lawmakers, launched against Governor Obiano is misguided. It is counterproductive. Igbo elders and leaders need to warn against such unprovoked attacks in the interest of Igbo unity and solidarity.
• Nsofor, member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, was until last October chairman of the Anambra PDP. He is running for the Nnewi Federal Constituency.