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Court Sacks Umeh, APGA NEC

By The Citizen
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An Enugu High Court, headed by the state Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezurike, yesterday declared that the tenure of its National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, elapsed on February 10, 2011.

He also declared that all those who emerged into the national executive of the party from the stated date at its national convention held in Awka, the Anambra State capital, were illegally elected, as their election negates the spirit of Section 18 of the party's constitution.

Umezurike, therefore, asked members to take immediate steps to elect officers into the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party, stressing that Umeh and others ceased to be at the national leadership of APGA two years ago.

He also barred Umeh from parading himself as the national chairman of the party or summoning meetings of the party, adding, however, that he could seek re-election for the position in a properly fixed national convention to be held at the party's discretion.

But in a swift reaction, Umeh said: 'I am going to take it immediately on appeal and put a stay of execution on this judgment until the Court of Appeal reviews it.

'I also have a right of further appeal to the Supreme Court.

'So, the sponsors of this ignoble act against me have nothing to profit from the judgment of this court, because the judgment has not created alternative leadership for APGA.

'He is still directing the NEC of APGA to meet and elect new leaders and by the time he is talking about the expiration of tenure, of the chairman of NEC, I was the chairman of the convention and no other organ of the party is empowered to do this.

'The BoT (Board of Trustees), which we had, had only one surviving member (Dr. Tim Menakaya), whose tenure also expired on January 11, this year.

'So, I do not know who will activate this order he made to fruition. He has finished his business and we will test it at the appeal.'

He added: 'By sacking the National Working Committee (NWC) of APGA that was elected at the national convention of February 10, 2011, which the court declared null and void, Justice Umezurike has completely decapitated APGA and left it without a leadership.

'This is like removing the head of a trailer and the body of the trailer can no longer move.

'By this his judgment, there is no organ of the party left to execute the orders he made. Therefore, the orders are in vain. Nobody, including Governor Peter Obi (of Anambra State), the sponsor of this suit, can derive any benefit from the judgment until the matter is determined at the two levels of appeal available (Court of Appeal and Supreme Court).'

He called on the party's supporters to remain calm, adding that the sacking of the entire executive, from national to ward level,  would not hold.

Delivering the over one hour judgment in a case filed by Chief Jude Okoli, a former council chairman of the party in Udi, Enugu State, asking for interpretation of Chapter 18 of the party's constitution and determination of the tenure of Umeh as national chairman of the party, Justice Umezuruike held that though the party was not joined in the suit, the court had the right to interpret its constitution as called upon to do.

'It is merely desirable that APGA be made a party, but failure cannot prevent a court from exercising its interpretative function of giving meaning to Section 18 of the party's constitution in the circumstance.

'The party, APGA, is therefore not an indispensable party, such that an action cannot be taken without it,' he said.

Quoting Kalu Vs Uzor (2004), Nigeria Weekly Reports, the Judge said the party's constitution, which he was called upon to interpret, was before the court, adding: 'Letters of the said constitution are clear and unambiguous.

'They were drafted in English language and not Spanish or French. I cannot see how the presence of APGA was necessary that it can assist the court one way or the other in interpreting Section 18 of the party's constitution.

'The holding of this court is that APGA, as a political party, is not indispensable in the interpretative exercise we are called upon to decide.

'The conclusion that follows the above analysis is that the inclusion of APGA cannot doom the plaintiff's action, having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case,' he said.

The Judge moved further to resolve other objections raised by Umeh against the matter to wit: 'That plaintiff has been expelled by the party and no longer a member of the party and lacked the locus standi to commence the action; that the subject matter of the suit is the exclusive reserve of the political party and therefore non-justiceable; and that the instant case is an abuse of the judicial process and therefore defective and incompetent.

On whether APGA, as a political party, should be joined in the case, Justice Umezurike said he had read all the utterances of the parties and it was necessary to separate the essentials from the incidentals relative to the subject matter of the suit.

On the locus standi, he said the synopsis of the argument of the defendant's counsel was that the plaintiff had been expelled from APGA and no longer a member of the party and therefore lacked the locus standi to commence the action.

The defendant's counsel had said that the plaintiff was expelled from the party for gross misconduct, violence and anti-party activities, as stated under paragraphs, 4, 5, 6 and 8 of his affidavit.

But the plaintiff had denied being expelled from the party, insisting that he remained a card-carrying member of APGA.

The judge added that from evidence available to him, the plaintiff was accused of violence, gross misconduct, anti-party activities, which gave rise to his expulsion, adding that a three-man disciplinary committee had looked into the matter and recommended his expulsion and carried out.

In resolving the issue, the judge held: 'Quite frankly, Exhibit A1 has no foundation; it has no basis.

'The recommendation of the disciplinary committee, upon which the purported expulsion was made, was non-existent or simply was not there.

'My inevitable surmise is that Exhibit A1 is suspicions or merely contrived for the purposes of this suit.

'It is, therefore, a nullity and cannot be taken into law as being used to expel the plaintiff. The record of proceeding from the three-man committee would have shown reports of it at a glance, whether the plaintiff was accorded fair hearing and appeared before the committee.

'In the absence of all these, no discerning court can hold that the plaintiff was lawfully expelled by Exhibit A1,' he said.

Justice Umezurike noted that if the plaintiff and others were involved in acts of violence, which comprised other roster of 'criminal offences and activities ranging from kidnapping, armed robbery, assault, among others,' as alleged, there is no evidence in the affidavit that the plaintiff's act of violence was reported to the Police or where it had been prosecuted successfully to enable APGA to expel him or terminate his membership of the party…'

'I, therefore, hold that the plaintiff still remains a member of the party and that his membership of the party automatically confers upon him the requisite locus standi to commence the action.'

He said that the plaintiff was merely asking the court to interpret constitution of party, which he reserved the right to do as a member of the party and that the provisions of the Section 18 (4 &5) were that there must be a national convention properly fixed to elect the national leadership of the party by secret balloting and member vying for re-election into office of the national chairman must have vacated office at least two months before the convention.

'In the instant case, it was gross travesty of Article 18 of the party's constitution; the meeting of the NEC was not convoked by party executive; no secret balloting, as prescribed as the officers, had to be returned by voice vote, as recorded by the minutes of the convention before the court.

'As I hinted above, when things are done regularly in accordance with constitution, the court has no business. But when it is the other way, there will be an invitation of court. The court cannot run away in terror because it is the domestic affair of the party. The court has a duty to protect law and order,' he stressed.

Justice Umezurike, therefore, declared that the February 10, 2011 convention that elected Umeh was 'unconstitutional, null and void,' adding that there was no valid national officer elected at that convention.

'Umeh's tenure came to an end on February 2, 2011 and he was not re-elected in accordance with Article 18 of the party constitution.

'He is not, however, banned from presenting himself for re-election,' he said, adding that such must be done at a national convention properly constituted with the provisions slated thereof complied with.

Also reacting to the ruling, Special Adviser to Governor Peter Obi on Markets and Parks, Chief Sylvester Nwaobu-Alor expressed happiness with the ruling, which according to him, would help move the party forward.

He said leaders of the party would move immediately to assist the Sadiq Masalla-led executive to rebuild the party.

Neither Umeh nor his counsel was present in count, but reacting to the judgment, the plaintiff, Jude Okuli said the judgment was a sound one explaining that it was a victory for APGA since according to him, the party would begin to experience new lease of freedom and reorganization.

Reacting to the judgment, Okorie who is now national chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP) told The Guardian yesterday that he had been vindicated by the judgment.

Okorie said 'I have said it several times that Umeh was never elected national chairman of APGA by the constitutional provision of the party, but his media apologists and INEC ignored my outcry and partnered with Umeh for years to deceive Nigerians.

'Now that the Court has delivered a judgment that Umeh was never the national chairman of APGA, what would INEC and the media tell the world for deceiving them over the years? What will be the fate of all those Umeh nominated for 2011 general elections, including Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and others. Where is the Supreme Court judgment in which Umeh claimed he was declared national chairman of APGA? This judgment has exposed the corruption and hypocrisy of some INEC staff that connived with Umeh for years to commit illegalities.

The founding National Chairman of APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said while returning the party's certificate of registration, that he was leaving with the spirit and soul of APGA. (Guardian)