Recurrent issues in APGA leadership conundrum
•Likely implications of apex court ruling on Southeast, 2019
When the Supreme Court sits on July 13, 2018 to deliver judgment on the cyclical leadership squabble in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), it would be the 4th time such appeal would receive the apex court verdict.
The tortuous legal journey that led to the uprooting of the founding national chairman of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie coursed through the apex court in several appeals, including interlocutory prayers. In the course of the eight years of legal tangle between Okorie and former treasurer of the party, Chief Victor Umeh, despite the fact that no court of law ever pronounced Umeh as the valid national chairman, he carried on in that office going in and out of various courts clutching technical rulings.
That was the state of APGA such that by October 2012 when Okorie discontinued further interest in the litigations, the party had no less than 23 cases pending at various courts in the country.
Against that background, come July 13, the apex court’s decision would therefore seek to dispel or sustain some ingrained issues surrounding the leadership instability of the sixteen year-old political party. Some of the questions that the Supreme Court’s ruling would possibly answer include: To what extent did judicial corruption aid the unending leadership crises in APGA? Are reports or inputs from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) given due probative value in these crises?
Will justice be served or denied by the judicial pronouncement and to what extent would either tendency affect the structural health of the party, going forward to 2019 election?
On the way to 2019
APGA has gained relevance in Nigeria politics as a fringe party adept at playing second fiddle to ruling political parties, a development helped by its leadership volatility. Last year, in the euphoria of Governor Willie Obiano’s electoral victory and in apparent attempt to court the support of the ruling party, embattled factional chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Oye, declared that the party’s national executive committee would meet to take an official stand on the issue of support for President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term.
Although Oye was severely rebuked for that emotive outburst, his action was in line with APGA’s tradition of siding with any party in power during elections in search for its own relevance and stability. That ignoble tradition came into great show in the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, when Okorie was being edged out of the party, for drafting the late Ikemba Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu into the Presidential race in 2003.
As Okorie observed during the several litigations that trailed his removal, based on the stiff challenge APGA presented in the election, Obasanjo decided to use a dubious weak link in APGA to ensure that southeast does not have a strong platform to engineer a bloc vote.
So, by announcing albeit prematurely, the possibility of endorsing Buhari’s second term, Oye was merely lifting survival tactics from Victor Umeh’s book of tricks in the mistaken notion that as it was in Obasanjo’s era, judicial officers would interpret the body language of the Presidency to phrase their ruling.
However, there are strong indications that APGA might suffer terrible defeat in the southeast if it toes the easy path of endorsing the Presidential candidate of a rival party, particularly the All Progressives Congress (APC), in 2019. The outcome of the 2017 Anambra State governorship poll was a combination of two major factors including, disdain for APC and the manner in which PDP chose its flag bearer.
By the time the Anambra gubernatorial election held, a greater percentage of voters in Southeast seemed to have become weary and wary of the politics of self-survival and internecine leadership squabbles in the party. APGA was also losing its earlier mass appeal due to the insistence of some narrow-minded politicians to domesticate its leadership in Anambra in contravention of the founding ideas of the party as platform for Igbo ideological expression.
It was therefore in a bid to extinguish such narrow mindedness that seems to have greatly obfuscated the party that members of the APGA national working committee led by late Nwabueze Okafor, who hailed from Enugu State, decided to sack Oye. Oye was also accused of personalising the office of national chairman of APGA and running the party as if it were his personal estate, which culminated in some financial misconduct.
The fact that that singular change of leadership in APGA received widespread commendation, showed the depth of public revulsion at the lack of internal democracy in the party, as well as, attempt at entrenching Anambra hegemony on its leadership. Consequently, the sack of Oye and subsequent takeover of the party chairmanship by Okafor, who was the former national President of Association of Local Government Chairman of Nigeria (ALGON), brought a new lease of life to APGA.
Unfortunately, Okafor’s leadership did not endure to carry out the institutional reforms the NWC envisaged before death snatched him away. However, in his place, the 2007 Imo State governorship candidate of the party, Ochudo Martin Agbaso, was selected in the spirit of diversification and deregulation of APGA chairmanship.
Nonetheless, with eyes on another general election in 2019, some Anambra politicians that see APGA as a trading company and their money making machine, decided to fight the ensuing reforms, thereby waking up another cycle of litigations with the attendant financial transactions.
One notorious political jobber from Anambra State, in a state of obscene revelry gloated that substantial part of billions budgeted for programming judicial and INEC officials helped him set up his sprawling business enterprises in Awka.
The politician narrated how some judges were compromised to parry justice in most of the court cases involving contending parties in the APGA leadership crises. He disclosed how some judges had to travel to nearby Benin republic, faraway London and Dubai to collect their price for vending judgment in the APGA imbroglio.
The question that comes up is whether if those practices took place in the past, such interference could happen in the present dispensation.
July 13 judgment
The Supreme Court fixed July 13, to rule on the appeal filed by the Agbaso group challenging the decision of a lower court to grant the prayers of Oye, who was not a party to the originating matter regarding the order of mandamus on the Police and INEC to deal with Agbaso-led NWC as the authentic leadership of APGA.
It should be noted that prior to the Enugu High Court ruling, Oye was still in court trying to quash his removal from office by other members of the NWC at a meeting that was properly convened by him as chairman in line with the provisions of the APGA constitution.
In a bid to avert confusion and arrest INEC’s indecision over the leadership position, APGA deputy chairman in Enugu, Mr. Mike Alioke, approached the State High Court with a motion praying for an order on INEC to abide with a resolution of the stakeholders of the party appointing Agbaso as the acting national chairman to fill the void thrust on the party by Okafor’s sudden demise.
Alioke’s case seem to mirror similar motion by Jude Okude, before the then Chief Judge of Enugu State, Justice Innocent Umezulike, seeking the court’s interpretation whether by virtue of expiry of his tenure, Umeh could convene a national executive committee meeting of the party. Going by a rotation arrangement in the party, Enugu State was on line to succeed Umeh as national chairman.
In the instant case, no sooner than the court granted the order than Oye went to the Court of Appeal, Enugu division, which reversed the order of mandamus on INEC and the Police to deal with the Agbaso-led NWC of APGA.
Surprised that the Court of Appeal should grant Oye’s petition, not minding that he was not a party to the case, but was joined as an interested party, Agbaso went to the Supreme Court challenging the Appeal Court ruling on the grounds that Oye failed to obtain the leave of the court before approaching the appellate court as required in law.
In his brief of argument through his counsel, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), Agbaso contended that Oye ought not to benefit from the judgment of the court without seeking and obtaining the leave of the court to proceed on appeal.
Agbaso’s counsel averred that Oye suffered legal deficiencies by not aligning with the provisions of the constitution, which stipulate that not being a party during trial at the lower court, “coming to appeal as an interested party requires him to seek and obtain first the leave of the court before appealing.”
Citing the case of Ani vs Oni, Erokoro (SAN) further submitted that the Court of Appeal in its ruling failed to consider the crucial provision of the law that leave must be obtained first before an interested party goes on appeal.
Nonetheless, either on the basis of his counsel’s dismissal of Agbaso’s counsel’s submissions as mere academic endeavour, Oye and his supporters rolled out the drums in celebration, saying that Governor Obiano has assured that victory would come their way for strategic reasons.
How apex court ruling might shape APGA, Southeast and 2019
Being the court of final instance, it is possible that the July 13 Supreme Court judgment would put paid to the endemic leadership squabbles and serial litigations in APGA. But, the outcome could influence the party, southeast politics and the run up to the much talked about 2019 election in diverse ways.
For APGA, if the judgment serves the cause of justice, it would mark a new beginning for the party. The new beginning could be seen in the possible reunification of Igbo political elites under one umbrella in preparation for the 2019 poll as a harbinger for the build up to 2023.
Such collaboration could set the stage for serious interrogation of political options and expression of group interests, particularly on issues like restructuring, economic integration and self-determination or even secession.
On the other hand, a superficial judgment could deepen the monolithic leadership structure of the party and further alienate other Igbo states from APGA. Such tendency might enhance the position of Governor Obiano as an emergent emperor, thereby positioning him and the party effectively to continue the tradition of pandering to whims of ruling platforms.
In the event such an untoward development, southeast could aggregate in PDP for national political cum electoral relevance. Thus, APGA would remain as a visceral party for Anambra politicians.
However in the final analysis the July 13 apex court ruling, could become a talking point for Nigerians to discuss the place of the judiciary in internal democracy in political parties, as well as, the other deleterious imputation that although the law rules, it sways to the power of fiscal and social influence.
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