By Chuka Nnabuife
LIKE Brutus, I have not set out to praise any Caesar. Rather, I am here to tell the tale of a brave man and a victor, who, like Jason got the fabled Golden Fleece after feats in near impossible battles against principalities and powers.
For productive hard work, tenacity, dexterity in politics and social sagacity, Victor Umeh, the latest senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, earns his place in public space and in this column too. I dwell on him here because, to me, he represents the ideal politician for current time, at least in Nigeria. I find Chief Umeh’s politics fitting the foxes we seek here in the political turf. I hail him more so, for having a discernible political ideology, a visible personae and a nuanced guile that goes with his conducts in the social space. So, I know he is not a saint (not even near there) but I see him as one ‘book’ the public can read without too many complexities even as he is adept in many of the antics and shadow-boxing techniques of dyed-in-the-wool Nigerian politicians. Being one who appraises politics and political issues from the perspective of Mahatma Ghandi’s notion of deadly sins – Wealth Without Work; Pleasure Without Conscience; Knowledge Without Character; Commerce (Business) Without Morality (Ethics); Science Without Humanity; Religion Without Sacrifice and Politics Without Principle – I get attracted to politicians in whose tracks I sense clear direction and guarding purpose – principles.
Given my not being able to work within the East in the military era in my journalism practice, I did not encounter Sir Umeh as a newsman in Igboland. I encountered him, (first through a curious note of his unique long red cap) alongside professional colleagues, most of who referred to him as “that your brother.” But he never disappointed me, particularly, when we (newspaper editors in Lagos) occasionally engaged him (with the goal of knowing ‘how far he can really engage us’) on core national issue of the period. I eventually developed a keen interest in the senator’s political path when he emerged in national glare as a national executive member and utility chieftain of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the party founded in 2003 by Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu under the enshrined ideology of progressivism. When he later became the national chairman of APGA amid a plethora of contentions and events that marked the ouster of the founding APGA helmsman, Chekwas Okorie and the many more issues, I saw a man of tough quality. I found him evolving, stoically and brilliantly, almost with every challenge thrown at him. I closely followed Umeh’s participation in APGA’s studious struggle through courts in the many suits that it tooled to claim her mandate which was won in the polls via the former governor, Peter Obi.
I equally knew about his roles in the various roles in quelling or sorting out the battles that sustained Obi for two terms in the Governor’s Office, Awka. Even when it appeared he was out favour with Obi’s government house, his conduct during that period of his silence was notable. His silence was so politically loud that when he reunited with Obi ahead of the latter’s campaign for a second tenure, he appeared with the former governor in a series of media tours. During one of such meetings with editors in Protea Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos in 2010, a flurry of complex questions were darted at Obi and the leaders of the party. Despite the brilliance of the delegation, Umeh came out the brightest of the team. It was so obvious that after the event, one journalist gave a veiled hint that the then national chairman of APGA saved the day in the press interaction. Not known for shying away from his prize, Umeh spoke to the journalists on his lunch table, most of who are Igbo, in vernacular thus: “O bu ka unu na afu. Emesia, fa nwetesia ife fa cholu, fa abia si unu na ewero ife melu. Ma na aga m eme ife nkwesili imelu pati m.” (This is just for you journalists to see. After all these my efforts, if they get what they crave, they will come to tell you people that I did nothing. But I have to do what I should do for my party)
Indeed, Umeh is a quintessential party man. He believes that a politician should live and if need be, die for his belief (in his case, Igbo renaissance); his party and his mission. He fights without blinking whenever he feels he has a good cause with victory in sight. A clear trend in all his political encounters is a penchant for documentation of even the most minor details and his calm skill in serving them succinctly when needed. Even as he is not a lawyer, if you appraise him after every interview in print or presentation in television or radio, especially on elections and political parties’ issue, you would marvel at his grasp of the nitty-gritty. You would think he took a special study in electoral laws when you behold him argue a point in it. Same, when he picks holes on a poll, particularly one he faults. I often wonder how he was able to pick the evidences to buttress his arguments against the polls that drew his flaks, because ordinary politicians would hardly notice the developments when they happen – some very early in the electoral cycle.
His rare gift in foreseeing legal landmines and avoiding them before they emerge does not strike me as just a result of having a good backroom team of associate or aides. I think he really does well in the chessboard of intricate political simulations. He seems adept in mastering the matrix and webs in electoral calculus. He equally makes his cases from seldom contemplated quarters of the matter. This part of his politics is evident in the several suits he was involved in within the past two years ahead of his eventual victory in the Saturday, January 13 election and acceptance into the red chamber of the National Assembly on Thursday, January 18 where he now occupies the long vacant, Anambra Central Senate seat.
What intrigues me about his politics is his style which embodies some puzzle. Viewed from one angle, he is overt about his political thrust from another viewpoint, he is very covert, if not coy but tactically calculative. He brings to mind Robert Green’s notion that planning distinguishes the successful politician from the unsuccessful in the Third Law of his book, ‘The 48 Laws of Power’.
According to Green, in the game of politics, half of the politician’s “mastery of power” is a result of what he does or does not allow himself to be dragged into. Hence planning and plotting the scenario is essential.
“Nothing should catch you by surprise because you are constantly imagining problems before they arise,” Green urges. “Instead of spending your time dreaming of your plan’s happy ending, you must work on calculating every possible permutation and pitfall that might emerge in it. The further you see, the more steps ahead you plan, the more powerful you become,” Green reasons.
He goes into the Senate, drawing keen observers such as me as fans who believe he can make a good mark in the red chamber notwithstanding his late arrival. There is precedence for the hope. In the March to August 2014, he arrived late at the National Conference but his impact was well felt.
Anambra Central people who gave him the mandate know he can salvage some of the lost time for them. They know him for articulation, boldness and direct impact. I have no doubt that he is very conscious of that huge burden. Remarkably, the traditional title bestowed on him, long before now is ‘Ohamadike’ (people recognise the hero) and his a noble knight of the St. John order of the Catholic Church, so he has been equipped in knowledge, talents, skills and public. Being naturally endowed with the required and political sagacity, I think his task is well set out. He worked hard for it. He was best fit for it and he got it. I wish him success. Sure, the cap fits him.