Correspondent Fidelis Chima analyses endorsement racketeering in Ebonyi and efforts to draw in elder statesmen into the fray.

Discerning minds with passing or keen interest in Ebonyi 2023 polls must have been taken aback by social media reports of alleged endorsement of Ebonyi Assembly Speaker, Hon. Francis Nwifuru, by Ebonyi Founding Fathers Forum. Nwufuru is the two-term Speaker of the State’s House of Assembly as well as flagbearer of All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Governorship election. Shopping for endorsements by Ebonyi State candidates could be likened to a cancerous tumor that has refused to heal permanently.

The founding fathers themselves must have been rudely shocked by the “news.” Curiously, it was announced on the Facebook page of Leo Oketa, Govermor Dave Umahi’s- Chief Press Secretary. If the alleged endorsement is true, it truly calls for chest beating. This is because Forum members are leaders and elders with varying degrees of accomplishments in several fields of endeavour. They are learned, knowledgeable and attributed with certain conducts that betray deep knowledge of Ebonyi polity and the politics of Umahi’s succession. Those who follow the trajectory of their public engagements will wonder at the intent and purpose of this propaganda against a group of respectable and thorough-bred elders.

For introduction, the Founding Fathers is a forum of elderstatesmen and a few women who championed the creation of Ebonyi State. They are reputable men and women who played momentous roles in other Southeast States from where the two blocs of Afikpo and Abakaliki were carved out in 1996. Their struggle spanned a decade before Major Gen. Sani Abacha created Ebonyi State in 1996. Once a member of this forum, one remains a member for life! Members can never be characterized as political jobbers with periodic recruitment of memberships. The membership is known and static. So also are their struggles and subsequent contributions to Ebonyi development which are matters of historical records.

The curious news of Nwifuru’s endorsement is therefore considered by many as an attempt to draw the elder statesmen into the murky waters of Ebonyi politics, especially at this time. But will they succeed? These are accomplished statesmen and women who are in the late summer of their lives. Many Ebonyians anticipated a well-publicized rebuttal but they wisely chose to ignore the “news.” Doing so would have drawn them in one way or another.

The elders have also participated actively in shaping the governance of Ebonyi State, including the mandate given to one of their members, Chief Martin Elechi, to govern the State between 2007 and 2015. Elechi became the second democratically elected Governor of the State.

This writer considers himself as a ‘founding son’, being a close relative of one of the founding fathers. He has also followed in their meetings and therefore sufficiently understands the workings of the forum. On the basis of this, one can conclude that the malicious falsehoods being peddled about the endorsement of Nwifuru is hogwash. It is probably meant to either pull their legs or pitch them against the government, given the known antecedents of the Umahi administration since inception.

How so? First, Gov Umahi publicly expressed disdain for members of the forum upon his emergence as Governor. He could do so because he triumphed without the support of majority of the members in 2015. Typical of his egoistic style, Umahi had called a bluff of the forum, publicly stating that he has no need for their counsels and words of wisdom as elders while piloting the affairs of governance in Ebonyi.

Second, fast forward to November 2020 when the Governor defected to the APC instigating a crisis between him and estranged PDP leaders who refused to jump ship with him to the broom Party. The founding fathers intervened to douse tension in the ensuing public spat between him and the PDP leaders. Ranged against Umahi were the likes of former Senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, first Executive Governor of Ebonyi State, Sen. Sam Egwu and other PDP leaders. Umahi had cheekily labelled them as ‘IPOB sponsors’ and “terrorists” and they responded in kind. The quarrel climaxed with an open letter from Anyim to Umahi wherein Anyim levied weighty allegations. He characterized the administration as “fetish, callous and very high-handed.” The writer is fully briefed on one of the reconciliation meetings held at the Pastoral Centre, Abakaliki. The then Bishop of Abakaliki Diocese, Bishop Michael Okoro, presided. At the meeting, some of the interventionist founding fathers took turns to upbraid both the Governor and the PDP elders as they called for a truce. This was one of the rare occasions where truth was spoken to Umahi – a man who completely detests contrary opinions.

Peace gradually returned to the State.

It was after this that Umahi, now in the same Party (APC) with elders like his predecessor, Chief Elechi, began ‘consulting’ the founding fathers on a few issues. But observers believe that he engages with them only when he feels he needed his ego massaged by the elders. Unfortunately, some of the elders pander to Umahi possibly because he began assisting them from time to time with government support for their medicals and upkeep.

The first time that Umahi pleaded with the elders for endorsement of Hon. Nwifuru was at a burial ceremony in Okposi in April of this year. This is now referred to the “burial ground endorsement.” At the event, he pronounced Nwifuru as “the next Governor” of Ebonyi State. He asked the founding fathers to view his body-language and make a public statement backing his choice.

This however did not happen!

The Speaker also consulted the elders in July after he emerged as APC candidate following the Party’s primaries. Nwifuru appeared in one of their meetings in Ezeogo Agom Eze’s residence, off Ezza Road, where the forum usually convenes their meetings. An inside source disclosed that long after a long address by Speaker Nwifuru on the need for the elders to support him in his equity agenda, he failed to secure the nod of the elder statesmen. They told him that the elders preferred to play only advisory and counseling roles.

Prior to the meeting, the founding fathers were ‘summoned’ by the Governor to his new palatial office at the new Government House Abakaliki. He operated under the guise of a courtesy visit to ‘congratulate him for his contest for the APC Presidential ticket’. During the meeting, Governor Umahi reportedly tasked the elders to go home and spread the gospel according to equity and power return to Ebonyi north, precisely Izzi (with his handpicked candidate Nwifuru in mind). In mid-August, media reports suggested that there was an attempt to extract a public endorsement of Nwifuru by the founding fathers. But there was sharp division amongst them especially against persons who were already in the race, political parties having concluded their primaries. Other reports corroborated existence of a split among the elders.

This is the true picture of the insipid desperation of the APC to retain the Government House tenancy in 2023 with the founding fathers as a climbing ladder. But it does appear the elders are not ready to engage or dignify Umahi and his cohorts in any form of rebuttal whatsoever.

For them, their records, antecedents and modus operandi should be well known to Ebonyi people, as follows:

  1. Whenever it’s time for them to speak on matters and issues affecting the state, they either issue a statement, sign a Press Releases, or speak directly to the Press through Press conferences. Reasonable Ebonyians wonder whether Oketa who marketed news of the endorsement has officially or even unofficially designated the Spokesperson of the Ebonyi Founding Fathers?
  2. Where and when did the elders meet to endorse Nwifuru? Who and who were in attendance?
  3. Was there any formal or even informal communique on the matter as it is commonly traditional of the Forum? Who and who were the signatories?

Anyone who understands Umahi’s media hatchet men will know that there is a desperate search for or racketeering of endorsements for political power. But they also know that answers to the above questions can never be provided!

However, the silence of the elders cannot be considered golden even though it is potentially dangerous to engage with the harbingers of falsehoods and deceptions.

This is despite the fact that Ebonyi elders are not the class of people any youngster should toy, joke with or even outrightly lie against!

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