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Umeh vs Okwu: The APGA Crisis Rages On

By Apga Uk

Christopher Isiguzo examines the way forward for the All Progressives Grand Alliance after last Monday's appeal court resolution of the party's leadership tussle in favour of Chief Victor Umeh on a day another faction of the party elected Maxi Okwu as its national chairman

Last Monday presented a defining moment for the All Progressives Grand Alliance since its leadership crisis broke out. The Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal reinstated the party's National Working Committee under the leadership of its National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh. The NWC and Umeh had been sacked by the Enugu High Court presided over by the State Chief Judge, Innocent Umezurike, on February 8.

On that same day, some members of the party loyal to the Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi, held a national convention in Awka, where they chose Chief Maxi Okwu APGA national chairman.

History of Crisis
Since the demise of APGA leader and chairman of its Board of Trustees, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the party has been embroiled in crisis. A faction pledges allegiance to Obi while the others, including chairmen of the state chapters, continue to file behind its Umeh. This is not the first the party has faced such situation.

APGA has experienced various crisis moments since its registration by the Independent National Electoral Commission on June 25, 2002, resulting in crossfire of court cases among its leaders. At a point, the problem was between Umeh and the party's founding chairman, Chekwas Okorie. Their legal tussle lasted several years before the Supreme Court finally settled it in favour of Umeh.

The latest crisis has pitted Umeh against his erstwhile friend and governor of Anambra State, Obi. Their disagreement assumed a frightening dimension when the Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice Innocent Umezurike literally strangulated the party by not only sacking Umeh, as demanded by those loyal to Obi, but also throwing the entire members of the NWC out office. The judge held that the process that brought them to office in 2011 was fraught with illegalities.

The case was brought by a former chairman of the party in Udi Local Government Area of Anambra State, Mr. Jude Okolie. The court ruled that Umeh should stop parading himself as the national chairman of APGA because “his tenure actively ended on December 2, 2010.”

In addition, the judge said members of the party should take immediate steps to convene a national convention for the purposes of electing members into its executive committee in line with the APGA constitution.

Umeh's Second Term
However, Umeh had on February 10, 2011 in Awka sought the endorsement of the party to continue as its national chairman after the expiration of his first four years tenure, which began in 2006 after the expulsion of Okorie from APGA. The convention endorsed the Umeh-led national executive for another four years. The affirmation was sequel to a decision of the National Executive Council, which had met earlier to ratify the issue.

It was the manner in which the convention was conducted that became the subject of the court case before Uwazuruike. He held that the process was faulty and unconstitutional. He, however, cleared Umeh to stand for re-election as chairman in a properly fixed national convention to be held at the party's discretion.

Section 18 (4 & 5) of the APGA constitution provides that there must be a national convention properly fixed to elect the national leadership of the party by secret balloting. It also says any member seeking re-election into the office of national chairman must vacate 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,” had Uwazuruike held while nullifying the February 19, 2011 convention that returned Umeh for a second term.

Umeh Appeals
Expectedly, shortly after the ruling of the Enugu high court, Umeh proceeded to the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, seeking to set aside the said judgement.

Umeh prayed the appellate court to stay the lower court's order, which had sacked him APGA national chairman, pending the determination of his appeal.

In a 25-paragraph affidavit in support of his motion on notice for stay of execution of the lower court's decision filed before the appellate court, Umeh stated that he had on February 11, 2013 applied to the lower court for an order of stay of execution pending the determination of his appeal.

“Despite my request for a date to be assigned for the hearing of my Motion on Notice dated and filed on 11 February 2013, the said Motion on Notice for Stay of Execution was not heard nor attended to by the lower court before the Record of Appeal was transmitted to this Honourable court and the appeal entered as no. CA/E/84/2013,” Umeh told the court.

The APGA chairman told the appellate court that by the judgement of the lower court, “the monitoring/approval of the APGA National Convention held on 10 February 2011 by INEC, in exercise of its (INEC's) statutory function under the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), was vitiated/annulled in the absence of INEC and in total disregard of the statutory limitation prescribed by the Public Officers (Protection) Act.”

He stated that unless the appellate court granted the order for the stay of execution, “the strangers to the suit acting under the false description of 'National Caucus of APGA' will not relent in depriving me of the exercise of my constitutional right of appeal as well as creating confusion, disharmony and chaos within our party, APGA.

“Unless by an order of this Honourable Court, the persons 'elected' as 'Acting National Officers' of our party (APGA) vide the communiqué dated 16 February 2013 will continue to usurp my functions under the constitution of APGA and render my appeal utterly impotent.”

Umeh had prior to the delivery of the judgement of the lower court filed an appeal no. CA/E/14/2013, against the proceedings, including the order dismissing his application seeking to disqualify the lower court from continuing with the hearing and determination of the suit, for alleged manifest violation of his constitutional right to fair hearing.

He had sought an order of the Court of Appeal “remitting this case for hearing de novo before another judge of the Enugu State High Court.” He argued in his appeal for stay of execution that by the lower court's judgement delivered on February 8, 2013, “the lower court has rendered impotent and overreached my appeal already entered in the Court of Appeal.”

Court of Appeal Decision
The Court of Appeal settled the matter in favour of Umeh last Monday, granting his application for stay of execution pending the determination of his main appeal challenging the judgement of the trail court. He was accordingly restored to his position as APGA national chairman along with members of his NWC.

In a unanimous ruling on Umeh's application by the three-man panel of justices – Justice Paul Galinje (chairman), Justice F. A. Kwasami, and JusticeTom Yakubu – the appellate court ruled that since the appellant (Umeh) duly appealed against the decision of the lower court challenging its jurisdiction and accusing it of bias, the status quo as at the time the said order was made should be maintained pending the determination of the appeal.

The panel chairman, who delivered the ruling that was endorsed by his brother justices, said that the court agreed with the submissions made by the applicant's counsels, Patrick Ikweto, SAN, and Chief Wale Olanipekun, SAN, that the injunctive order made against Umeh by the lower court was capable of causing him and APGA irreparable damages if the status quo was not maintained while the matter was still pending at the court.

According to the judge, the respondent, Jude Okuli, failed to file a counter-affidavit, adding that when the bailiff made an attempt to serve him the applicant's motion and other processes, he refused to accept the court processes, including the application for stay of execution. He said as a result of his refusal to accept the service, the processes were dropped for him. The court said it was convinced from the affidavit deposed to by the court bailiff that the respondent was duly served and, therefore, could not accept his excuses that he was not served processes in the matter and hence failed to file a counter-affidavit denying or accepting the facts presented by the applicant.

“I have taken note of the fact that there is no affidavit in opposition to the supporting affidavit filed by the applicant. The law is settled that upon the receipt of the applicant's motion paper together with affidavit in support and exhibits attached, the respondent is duty bound to file a counter affidavit if he intends to controvert the deposition of the applicant. Where a respondent to an application failed to deny the facts deposed in an affidavit through filing of a counter-affidavit, those facts are being admitted and the court shall rely on the facts so presented by the applicant,” Galinje said.

The court agreed that “an appeal per say does not operate as a stay of execution,” but the same law did not prescribe in favour of any execution being carried out during the pendency of an appeal.

“The section does not give any license directly or indirectly for the issuance and execution of any processes which might be offensive.”

The court faulted the group that attempted to conduct a fresh convention of the party while the appeal was pending.

“Whatever it is, it is the duty of this court to ensure that whichever way the orders are made upon the determination of this appeal, they are not rendered impotent. The applicant herein is exercising his right of appeal as provided for under section 240 of the Constitution and the rules of this court. It is therefore the duty of this court to protect the exercise of that right and to ensure that lawful and regular proceedings are not rendered useless by the actions of the stakeholders of the party,” the judge held.

Galinje, therefore, granted the stay of execution of the order of the Enugu State High Court restraining Umeh from parading himself as the national chairman of APGA, pending the determination of the substantive appeal.

Umeh Applauds
Umeh expressed happiness with the decision of the court, noting that the ruling had restored his confidence in the judiciary, which he described as the last hope of the common man. He said the attack on him was an attack on the party, accusing Obi of being the architect of the crisis in APGA despite being the greatest beneficiary of the party's fight for justice.

He insisted that Okwu remained expelled from the party, stressing that until his expulsion is quashed by the NEC, any APGA member dealing with him does so at his own risk.

Determined Not to Agree
Despite the court ruling, which restored Umeh to his position as national chairman, Okwu has carried on as though he is not affected, insisting that he was elected before the court pronouncement.

Okwu was quoted as saying that the new APGA under his leadership would adopt non-extremist philosophy of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe , adding, “The political reality in Nigeria does not favour extremism.”

According to him, the reality of the time must be faced, even though he would not like to completely abandon the late Odumegwu-Ojukwu's philosophy in matters concerning Ndigbo.

With the latest ruling of the Court of Appeal, the APGA leadership tussle appears to be nearing settlement. What is not clear is how much electoral worth the party would retain at the end of the day.