On The Heels Of APGA’s Search For Renewal At The Supreme Court
MANY objective commentators have noted that the current protests by Igbo youth, especially the members of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and their demand for the dismemberment of Nigeria, could be traced to political frustration and absence of credible leadership in Igbo land. To that extent, the vortex of nostalgia for an Eldorado, which the resurgent call for a State of Biafra has thrown up, calls to mind the nature of politics and political preferences in southeast geopolitical zone.
In a bid to quench the raging fire of the protests, those with long-range vision embarked upon a search for Igbo leaders. But in the search for the leaders, the merchants of peace came with the antiquated stratagem of employing carrot, believing that all that was needed to get the Igbo mind was money and nothing but money. However, as the last meeting of Southeast governors and stakeholders in Enugu showed, such gambits no longer work. The boys could not be reined in or appeased by either the old methods or even the same political and traditional leaders that have failed them.
Yet, beneath the agitation of the youth lay critical issues about restructuring the nation’s polity and need for inclusive political platforms for their active participation. In the complex interplay of the issues fueling the animosity and call for Biafra, the extra-legal incarceration of the Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, and the impotent electoral system form a major theme. As superior courts continue the review of outcomes of election petition tribunals and therefore the 2015 election, there is no doubt that the perceived impotence of the election to give the Igbo youth a voice exacerbated their feeling of alienation.
In a bid to quench the raging fire of the protests, those with long-range vision embarked upon a search for Igbo leaders. But in the search for the leaders, the merchants of peace came with the antiquated stratagem of employing carrot, believing that all that was needed to get the Igbo mind was money and nothing but money. However, as the last meeting of Southeast governors and stakeholders in Enugu showed, such gambits no longer work. The boys could not be reined in or appeased by either the old methods or even the same political and traditional leaders that have failed them
It is against that unnerving background that the evolution of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) demands critical analysis. To all those who are conversant with its formation, starting from Igboezue Cultural Association through the Good Friday Conclave at Engineer Chris Okoye’s residence in Enugu, APGA came into being to serve as the clearing house for Igbo political interest in the Nigeria project. Virtually every Igbo of substance, both in politics, academia, commerce and industry, contributed one way or another to the founding of APGA.
The founding national chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie, with a correct reading of the political temperament in Igbo land, raised the banner of APGA further aloft by conscripting the legendary Biafra leader, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, into the presidential election of 2003. Speaking while announcing the entry of Ojukwu into the presidential fray, Okorie noted that through APGA, the third leg of the political tripod that defines Nigeria’s politics had been restored. Coupled with Ojukwu’s persona and public appreciation, APGA electrified the political atmosphere, particularly in the Southeast, with reasonable spread across Nigeria.
Many perceptive voters in the area still believe that APGA actually won the governorship elections in Imo, Abia, Anambra and Enugu States. Add to that, Ojukwu, who was somewhat harnessed in the All Peoples Party (APP), brought back the Igbo into political reckoning in the country with warmth and wit. That the pioneer presidential candidate of APGA came third in the 2003 presidential election could be explained by the dubious electoral process; twisted by the garrison political strategy of the then incumbent president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
Some analysts thought that the 2003 presidential election should have gone into extra balloting for lack of an outright winner in the first ballot. The fact that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) courted some members of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) to diffuse the election petition by the party’s presidential candidate in the election, General Muhammadu Buhari, seemed to support that speculation. Another intriguing aspect of the 2003 presidential election was that the Right Honourable Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, a former president of the senate, who appeared on the joint ticket of ANPP with Buhari, was one of the eminent strategic resource persons of the APGA think-tank.
But perhaps on account of the instant success story of APGA, the malaise of extreme individualism and iconoclasm that afflict Ndigbo crept into the running of the party. To this day, no valid explanation has been put forward by anyone living or dead to situate the sudden and unconstitutional translation of the party’s treasurer, Chief Victor Umeh, to the position of national chairman that cold December morning in 2004.
In a very intriguing and cavalier manner, the founding national chairman, Chief Okorie, was removed from office while the then treasurer, Umeh, assumed the mantle of national chairmanship of the party. Despite various versions of reasons of why Okorie was ousted from office, the predominant allegation was that the APGA founder planned to trade-off the mandate given to the party in the Anambra governorship election. But apart from accusing Okorie of hobnobbing with the PDP candidate, Dr. Chris Ngige and Obasanjo, nobody cared to explain why it should be the treasurer and not the deputy national chairman that should take the place of the ousted chairman.
This was because Okorie’s Deputy national chairman, Barrister Maxi Okwu, who ought to have stepped into the position was also removed as an afterthought. That may be why Okorie described his removal as the equivalent of a civilian coup d’état. For the next ten years, Okorie and Umeh tangled in legal strife through the courts for the correct interpretation of the APGA constitution and what it says concerning the office of national chairman. But what was considered a lifeline came in 2006 when the Appeal Court removed the PDP and its governor in Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige.
The APGA governorship candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, was declared the rightful winner of the 2003 election. The general belief then was that a deal may have been struck between Peter Obi on the one hand and the Uba brothers with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on the other hand, to remove the recalcitrant Ngige.
In Peter Obi’s unique position as the only state governor produced by APGA, a lot of people expected that it was but a question of time before the party controls the other four states in the Southeast geopolitical zone. But did Obi, Anambra and APGA live up to that expectation? The answer is no. Obi was funding Umeh for the legal and other battles.
However, while the leadership crisis in the party dragged on, two general elections were held. In 2007 APGA had a woeful outing. As was evident, the crisis did much to reduce the allure and strength of the party. So much did the party shrink in size and strength that many people began to deride APGA as Agulu Peoples General Assembly, due to the leadership style of Victor Umeh and the fact that Umeh and his brother Peter Obi are both from Agulu.
In constricting the political space in APGA, the Umeh leadership made it impossible for the party to blossom beyond Anambra State. It was as if the latter-day party leadership was content with the lone governor it produced. Matters came to a head after Obi was elected for a second term due to Ojukwu’s plea to Anambra people to grant him that as a last wish. As the chairman of southeast governors’ forum, Obi egoistically agreed with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors that he would not campaign for APGA governorship candidates during the 2011 election. However, a massive political uprising against the erstwhile governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, who was elected on the platform of Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) but later, defected to the PDP, presented a golden opportunity for APGA.
It could therefore be rightly said that Owelle Rochas Okorocha was elected governor on the platform of APGA, not out of the enterprise or artifice of APGA leadership. Rather, Okorocha mounted the saddle on the crest of public acceptability of the party and angst against the then incumbent. Having come into the party, Okorocha obviously observed immediately that the party had been reprogrammed to serve the political and economic interests of a few individuals. And being himself a political wayfarer, the Imo governor did not waste much time before he jumped ship, abandoning the party he once described as a kind of religion for Nd’Igbo.
But despite the heavy wound left on APGA image and profile by Okorocha’s defection, another round of leadership squabble came up to damage the party further. Umeh, who had been carrying on as if he was an anointed sole administrator of the party, schemed to keep extending his tenure.
Alarmed that the national chairman was taking the party for a ride, in contravention of constitutional provisions, Obi, as an ex-officio and critical player in the rump National Executive Committee (NEC), summoned an emergency meeting during which a date for fresh convention was announced. The NEC was decimated as a consequence of an Enugu High Court judgment.
Prior to that meeting, a member and former Udi local government council chairman of the party, Chief Jude Okuli, approached the Enugu High Court presided over by the state Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, praying the court to determine whether in the light of APGA constitution, Umeh was validly elected as national chairman, contending that the national chairman had exceeded his two terms of four years each.
In his ruling, the Chief Judge not only sacked Umeh but ordered him to stop parading himself as the national chairman of APGA. Dissatisfied with the judgment, Umeh approached the Court of Appeal seeking a review as well as a stay of execution of the judgment pending the determination of the substantive suit.
However, while the legal contention lasted, APGA held a National Convention at Women Development Centre (presently, Prof. Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre), Awka; on April 8, 2013, with virtually all the members of the party, including the then Governor Peter Obi, in attendance. Other notable APGA big wigs that supervised and participated in the convention, included the then deputy governor, Emeka Sibeudu; then acting BoT Chairman, Dr. Tim Menakaya; Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu; then SSG, Oseloka Obaze, late Prof. Dora Akunyili, then Chief of Staff, Prof. Stella Okunna; Iyom Uche Ekwunife, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, Barrister Chinedu Idigo, Barrister Egwuoyibo Okoye, Dr. Chinedu Emeka, and all the serving commissioners in Obi’s cabinet. Nearly all the political appointees and elected members of both National and State Assemblies were present. Officially appointed representatives of INEC attended, supervised and approved the convention.
While the leadership crisis in the party dragged on, two general elections were held. In 2007 APGA had a woeful outing. As was evident, the crisis did much to reduce the allure and strength of the party. So much did the party shrink in size and strength that many people began to deride APGA as Agulu Peoples General Assembly, due to the leadership style of Victor Umeh and the fact that Umeh and his brother Peter Obi are both from Agulu. In constricting the political space in APGA, the Umeh leadership made it impossible for the party to blossom beyond Anambra State
From the convention, a 19 member National Working committee was elected with Barrister Maxi Okwu emerging as the chairman, while Alhaji Sagir Maidoya was elected as secretary. But shortly after the convention, a member of Victor Umeh’s group, Chief Mike Onwudinjo, went to challenge the convention at an Anambra High Court. The court upheld the convention, stressing that it adhered to the procedures laid down by the APGA constitution.
Yet, dissatisfied with the judgment, Onwudinjo headed to the Appeal Court. The Enugu Appeal Court threw out his suit declaring that his pleas amounted to abuse of court process. Armed with the legal victories in court, Okwu, the new national chairman, went to the Federal High Court, Abuja Division challenging the continued claim of the office by Victor Umeh.
Here again, the court presided over by Justice Abdul Kafarati ruled against Umeh’s continued claim to the office of the National Chairman and Alhaji Shinkafi as Secretary of APGA. In the judgment delivered on January 15, 2014. Maxi Okwu, Ibrahim Carefor, Dickson Ogu, Dr. Gbenga Afeni and Alhaji Abubakar Adamu, suing for themselves and other national officers elected at the national convention of APGA held at Women Development Centre, Awka on April 8, 2013; had filed the suit no FHC/ABJ/CS/563/2013 against Mr. Victor Umeh, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, (for themselves and on behalf of members of National Working Committee elected by a motion on February 18, 2011 at the Women Development Centre, Awka) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The plaintiffs sought for eight reliefs including a declaration that the 1st and 2nd defendants having been expelled from the party, whether lawfully or unlawfully, regularly or irregularly; cannot validly continue to lay claims to the positions of national chairman and national secretary respectively, when the suit they filed to challenge their expulsion had not been decided and in their favour. Reading his two-hour long judgment, Justice Kafarati after determining all the five issues set out in their grounds, granted all the reliefs sought by the plaintiffs as well as an order directing the 3rd defendant, (INEC), to deal with the plaintiffs and all those duly elected as national officers of APGA at the April 8, 2013 Convention.
The judge ruled that the objection by the defendants that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter being the internal business of a political party, does not hold water, pointing out that in so far as the court has been invited to interpret the constitutional provisions guiding the election of officers, the matter has become justiciable.
The Court therefore directed the 1st and 2nd defendants and all the other officers they represent to vacate their various offices forthwith not having been elected in accordance with Article 18 (4) of the constitution of the party, which prescribes mandatorily that elections into the offices shall be by secret ballot.
Chief Okwu had told journalists shortly after the judgment that “APGA now has the opportunity to reengineer, rebrand and recover again; there is no victor, no vanquished.” He said the party members would engage in “the rapprochement, reintegration and reconciliation, which we began but was stopped for some time now because of these developments.” Okwu added: “Today, I think APGA now has a chance to continue to pursue the visions of the founding fathers, particularly when you see that no party can survive ten years of litigation. I now appeal to my brother, Victor Umeh, to cease further litigations in the interest of APGA. Let us all meet at Enugu where APGA began and reconcile without preconditions and resolve this crisis once and for all; APGA must rediscover itself”.
But the appeal for cessation of hostilities did not jell with Umeh, who headed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja. In a seemingly curious judgment, the Appeal Court set aside the judgment of the Abuja Federal High Court, saying that the court below erred in law by interfering in the internal business of a political party. Feeling that the judgment did not sound appropriate, Okwu and others went to the Supreme Court to further examine the disparate judicial pronouncements. The dingdong continued and APGA lay prostrate as a political platform.
Just when the Supreme Court was setting a date to hear the appeal, the Anambra governorship election approached. And given the precarious position of the party, members were divided on which of the two factions should organise the governorship primary election to select the party’s candidate. But earlier and in a sudden about face, Governor Obi had curiously and mischievously retraced his steps to the Umeh faction, leaving the Okwu group in the lurch. That ignoble move took most people by surprise, though insiders said he behaved true to type.
But in view of the upcoming election stakeholders saw the need for both factions to close ranks and called for understanding and cooperation. Genuine aspirants heeded the call and purchased expression of interest and nomination forms at the cost of N2m and N10m, respectively.
But, in a manner suggesting that the reconciliation was insincere and ill motivated, some aspirants were excluded on devious considerations. It became obvious that an underhand plot was afoot, awaiting execution. Such visible aspirants like Professor Chukwuma Soludo, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, Oseloka Obaze, Chinedu Idigo and others who identified with the Awka Convention were excluded for inexplicable reasons. Consequently, Okwu and the newly elected NWC saw through the façade and held a separate primary election from which Dr. Obidigbo emerged as the party’s flag bearer.
It should be recalled that following Governor Obi’s pronouncement that Anambra North Senatorial Zone should have a shot at the governorship of the state, the Anambra North Zone had earlier chosen Obidigbo as the zone’s consensus candidate. But, either out of fear, desperation to latch unto Umeh or any other additional hidden agenda, both Obi and Umeh connived and imposed Chief Willie Obiano on the party as the governorship candidate of APGA against the wishes of the majority of the members. It was obvious that a month to the election, Obiano was not a member of APGA, as such he was never in the contest.
So it took his sponsors, notably Peter Obi, only three weeks to bring him into the party and through the commissioner of works, Mr. Callistus Ilozumba, to purchase both the expression of interest and nomination forms on the closing date because Obiano was not back in the country by then.
All these were to perfect all the plans that will help impose Obiano on the people of Anambra State as governor, even when he never campaigned or made any promises to the people. But Obi had worked tirelessly and spent so much money out of his personal resources and state funds to give Obiano legitimacy, doing everything possible, imaginable and unimaginable; lawful and otherwise, to ensure that he forced him on the people of Anambra State as his governor.
The emergence of Obidigbo, the consensus candidate of Anambra North Zone; who was leading other candidates, as a strong rival governorship candidate of APGA, brought about new apprehensions. And after Obidigbo emerged as candidate from Okwu’s faction, he approached the Federal High Court Awka, and sought the court’s order to grant leave to APGA to submit two candidates.
Therefore, in a bid to abide by the September 17, 2013 deadline for the submission of forms CF 001 and CF 002 as provided in INEC timetable for the November 16, 2013 governorship election, the Federal High Court sitting in Awka was requested to grant leave to APGA to submit the names of its two governorship candidates to INEC.
In the suit, No. FHC/AWK/CS/219/2013; the plaintiffs/applicants prayed the Court to direct the fourth respondent, INEC, to also accept the name of the first applicant, Dr. Obidigbo; as the candidate of APGA (sixth applicant) “pending the determination of the motion on notice filed along with this application”. The plea was granted and INEC accepted and received Dr. Obidigbo’s nomination forms as signed by Maxi Okwu.
Two months ago, precisely on October 20, 2015; the matter at the Supreme Court to determine the authentic National Working Committee of the party was concluded. While the court fixed January 15, 2016 to rule on the appeal, one of the judges had expressed dismay that the leadership crisis in APGA had lingered, stressing that the attitude of the court is to hear such matters expeditiously and rule. Going by that assertion, it is left to be seen whether the judgment of the apex court could revive APGA and place it on a central position to drive its ideological interest. That judgment may usher in a new dawn and stem impunity and pecuniary interest in the party.