The Court of Appeal sitting in Kano, on Tuesday, ended the leadership squabble in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), when it quashed the verdict of the Jigawa State High Court that had affirmed Jude Okeke as the national chairman of the party against Victor Oye, who was duly elected in May 2019 for a second term of four years after successfully completing his first tenure.
The appellate court justices, in their judgement, unanimously disagreed with the lower court, which directed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to acknowledge Okeke’s faction, pronouncing that it had no territorial jurisdiction to entertain the case in the first place. Led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, they reportedly declared Okeke and his group as “meddlesome interlopers” and asked the electoral body not to accord recognition to their faction.
In laying claims to APGA leadership, Oye and Okeke had conducted separate primaries for the Anambra State governorship election holding on November 6, 2021. While the Oye camp produced Professor Charles Soludo, erstwhile Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as the party’s candidate, Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji, a serving member of House of Representatives, emerged from the Okeke’s group.
The Okeke group sprang up recently in June this year and announced the purported suspension of Oye and Edozie Njoku, who has been parading himself as APGA national chairman since Oye’s re-election over two years ago. Okeke claimed to be APGA’s acting national chairman after the so-called suspension of Oye and Njoku. He travelled all the way to Jigawa to secure a bizarre judgement to validate his claim. INEC, on account of that judgement, accepted and published the name of Umeoji as the recognized candidate of APGA.
Njoku, said to be from Imo State, had also conducted his own primary in which he crowned himself APGA candidate for the Anambra guber election. His application seeking for leave to appeal the Jigawa High Court ruling in favour of Okeke was struck out by the appellate court in Kano. By the dismissal of Njoku’s application, the battle at the Kano Appeal Court was left between Okeke and Oye whose request to appeal the Jigawa court verdict was granted.
With the pronouncement of the Kano Division of the Court of Appeal, observers believe there should be no contention any more as to who is APGA’s authentic national chairman that INEC should relate with for the purpose of the forthcoming Anambra guber election. Analysts see the appellate court judgement as a clear and outright affirmation of Oye’s leadership and Soludo’s candidacy for the party in the gubernatorial poll.
In his immediate reaction to the ruling of the Appeal Court, Senator Victor Umeh, former national chairman of APGA and one of the strongest pillars of the party, said the legal war instituted against Oye’s leadership was merely designed to cause needless distraction to Soludo’s campaign.
At a press conference in Awka, Umeh, a political juggernaut and master strategist, who is indisputably a force to reckon with in Anambra politics, averred that APGA had never wavered about the authenticity of Oye’s leadership.
His words: “We were convinced that the High Court judgment of Burnin Kudu in Jigawa State should have been a nullity, but some people including the INEC used it to torment us. Not only has the judiciary redeemed itself, it has also shown that it is the hope of the people. Nothing in that judgement (of Jigawa High Court) should be allowed to be alive. The judges of the Court of Appeal were thorough and there was no flaw.
“With this judgement, we have now rebounded. Previously we had said Soludo will contest and it has come to pass. He is our candidate and the person that the party nominated.”
Continuing, the ex-Anambra Central Senator, added: “We saw the judgement coming, and it was based on sound principles of law. The attempt was simply to derail the momentum of APGA, but the judiciary has intervened. Let’s not lend credence to non existing problems. Oye leadership has been in place all the time, and will always be.”
Expressing confidence that Soludo as APGA candidate would win the Anambra guber poll, Umeh maintained that his party has been consistent in offering Anambrarians the best of leadership.
He said: “We are very optimistic that Anambra people will understand the various reasons why they should vote for APGA. In terms of performance, this party has done so much for Anambra State despite the antics of the opposition. We have solid achievements in place. We have a very strong scorecard. No sensible person would want to vote out APGA in the forthcoming election. Before September we are certain that commercial flights will start operation at Anambra State international cargo and passenger airport in Umueri. When Governor Obiano muted the idea of building that airport, initially, in partnership with Chinese consortium, but the partnership didn’t work. He took it up and now it is the best airport in Nigeria. It is a state-of-the-art airport delivered by APGA government. That achievement is one that is going to be there in a lifetime.
“So, if APGA, for all it has done over the years, is also able to give us an international airport, what are the other parties coming to do for us? What are they going to promise us? Are they going to take us to the space? Is space mission going to be the agenda of the other parties? We have done well and without being immodest we can beat our chests to say that we have served our people with all our might and with enormous sacrifices by the party members.
“This is the only party you can be sure does not interfere with governance. APGA has never interfered with governance. If you leave other parties to take over Anambra State, they will fight over the resources of this state for their selfish interest and that will stultify development. Yes, we may not have made everybody happy. It is not possible for a government to make everybody happy, but on the average I can score APGA 85% starting from 2006 to the present day. We have never diminished the welfare of the people.”
Speaking on the unanimous ruling of the justices of the Appeal Court through Tex Okechukwu, APGA national publicity secretary, Oye asked the electoral umpire to immediately do the needful by publishing Soludo’s name as the rightful candidate of the party for the November 6 Anambra governorship poll.
The APGA helmsman described the judgment as a watershed in Nigeria’s political life. He lauded the Justices for their courage, uprightness and commitment to the promotion of justice, equity and fairness. Oye further noted that the appeal court ruling has renewed the hope of the people in the country’s judiciary.
Okeke and Umeoji rejected the Appeal Court judgement describing it as a temporary setback which will be set aside by the Supreme Court as quickly and easily as possible. The duo in a statement by the national publicity secretary of their faction, Comrade Okechukwu Chukwunyere, said: “The Hon. Chukwuma Umeoji campaign will therefore continue unhindered pending the judgment of the Supreme Court where victory is assured.”
In his capacity as the Chairman of the party’s peace and reconciliation committee, Umeh advised Umeoji not to bother himself going to the Supreme Court, as the appeal court verdict is unambiguous, apt and sound enough for anyone to think it will be overturned by a superior court.
He remarked: “As the chairman of the peace and reconciliation committee in our party, I want to call on Umeoji to come over to the party.
“We supported him when it was necessary to support him, but now the party has resolved that another person should be the candidate, we are calling on him to come back. We are not seeing him as being defeated, rather we are calling on him not to strain himself further by going to the Supreme Court.
“Well, it is normal for Umeoji and his people not to want to accept defeat, but in the coming days the reality will dawn on him. We are offering him the opportunity to return to the party, else he would look back one day and not see his supporters.”
Michael Jegede, a journalist writes from FCT, Abuja