On July 15, 2013, the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu affirmed Chief Victor Umeh as the authentic National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). The validation of Umeh’s position by the appellate court followed his appeal to an Enugu High Court judgment presided over by Justice Innocent Umezulike.
The lower court had in its verdict on the case brought against the APGA national chairman by one Mr. Jude Okuli, ordered the removal of Umeh on the ground that his tenure had expired in 2010. It further pronounced as unconstitutional the 2011 National Convention, where Umeh and other National Working Committee (NWC) members were re-elected. Quashing the ruling of the lower court in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Tom Yakubu, the appellate court granted all the four reliefs sought by Umeh, and resolved all the issues raised for determination in his favour. He noted that the appeal filed by the APGA boss did not constitute an abuse of court process, as the respondent (Okuli, an expelled member of APGA working for the factional group) had claimed. Using the words of second Chief Justice of Nigeria, the late Justice Adetokunbo Ademola, Yakubu described the respondent as “a meddlesome person, a busy body, who lacked the locus standi to institute the case at the lower court,” maintaining that the trial judge assumed the jurisdiction he did not have. With his latest victory at the Court of Appeal, where his chairmanship position of APGA was duly validated, Umeh may have breathed a great sigh of relief and perhaps can now comfortably sleep with his two eyes closed. But then, we may not have seen the end of the protracted leadership tussle in the party, particularly, as the opposing camp believed to be loyal to Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, and led by Barrister Maxi Okwu has refused to accept the defeat in good faith. So, there may be more battles for Umeh to fight.
Though, many who see him as the cat with nine lives believe he is always equal to the task. Umeh, a dogged fighter with numerous awards in his kitty has had many legal victories in his lap, right from the time of his war with Chekwas Okorie, pioneer national chairman of APGA, whose expulsion from the party paved way for him (Umeh) to emerge as the party’s helmsman. But Okorie had insisted that he remained the national chairman of the party. And for over six years, he fought fruitlessly with Umeh who then had Obi fully on his side and was totally covered with the unflinching support of the party’s highly respected Leader and Chairman Board of Trustees, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, to whom he has dedicated his most recent victory.
However, the founding chairman could not go any further after Umeh defeated him at every stage of the legal battle up to the Supreme Court on March 25, 2011. At that point, most of us who had keenly watched events as they unfolded in the party had thought that would be the end of leadership crisis in APGA. We had thought then that the apex court ruling was going to open the door of consolidation,cohesion and oneness for a party that has been so bedeviled by leadership palaver. But alas! The ray of hope was dashed.
While Umeh was trying to consolidate and still basking in the euphoria of his triumphant outing at the Supreme Court, the landslide victory of APGA in Imo State in the governorship poll, of which he played significant role and his reelection at the national convention all in 2011, little did he know that he was going to be engulfed in another round of leadership fray. This time around with a man (Obi) who has been his very good friend, standing aloof and pitching tent with others to push him out.
First, one Alhaji Sadiq Madalla came on board as the national chairman and announced with the backup of Obi and his group that Umeh and the national secretary, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, had been suspended from APGA. The next thing we would hear again is that an interim leadership has been constituted to be headed by Barrister Okwu, who I used to know as the national chairman of Citizens Popular Party (CPP), since my days as a reporter with Independent Newspaper. And what followed was the kangaroo midnight convention that purportedly confirmed the imaginary leadership of the legal practitioner turned politician.
Reacting to the Appeal Court judgment in favour of Umeh, an estate surveyor by profession, Okwu insisted that the party under him remained the authentic APGA, describing Umeh as an emperor without an empire and a general devoid of army, while also disclosing that the decision of the appellate court will be challenged in the highest court of the land.
Rather than warming up to continue with the war, I think what should be paramount in the minds of the combatants in APGA now is the survival and sustainable growth of their party. How the party would remain in control of Anambra State should be of great concern to the members now more than anything else.
Therefore, I would implore the Okwu-led faction of APGA loyal to Obi to sheathe their swords, bury the hatchet and shelve any further fight to see how they can work together with the truly authentic leadership of the party under Umeh as the court upheld, so that victory can be sure to be theirs in the Anambra November 16 governorship ballot and other future elections. If not for the never-ending infighting that had characterized the party, APGA would easily have taken over the entire South-eastern region and even spread its tentacles to other parts of the country. A clear indication of what APGA could have achieved by now, if it had remained a one united party devoid of unnecessary resentment and division, was its impressive outing under the purposeful and focused leadership of Umeh in the 2011 general election. In that election, in spite of all odds, its candidate, Rochas Okorocha, won the gubernatorial seat in Imo State and a Senator emerged on its platform together with a number of lawmakers in the House of Representatives and State Assemblies.
Commenting on the development, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, a member of House of Reps on the ticket of APGA, who had stood staunchly by Umeh while the struggle for the soul of the party lasted, said: “With this judgment (by the Court of Appeal), I expect Governor Obi and Chief Umeh to come together. This judgment should form a basis for reconciliation. The gladiators should remember our late national leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and what he stood for. Posterity will not forgive us if because of crisis, APGA loses in the Anambra election.”