Ojukwu’s Endangered Political Family
One year after the demise of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the widely revered Igbo leader and national figure, principal members of the political party he left behind are at daggers drawn, a development that might have grave political consequences for the race
Like other ethnic nationalities in the country, The Igbo are yearning to take a shot at the Presidency come 2015. The refrain from all quarters has been that after the tenure of the current President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, it is the turn of the Igbo. But since zoning is not a constitutional issue within the more broad-based Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which canvasses such notion and which remains the party to beat, it might not be an easy ride for the group. Besides, the ruling party at the centre has been in a quagmire over the issue of zoning since Jonathan contested the 2011 presidential election. Within the ranks of the opposition parties, it is even more far- fetched, because most of them are regionally based and have not shown a serious inclination towards coming together to fight the common enemy in the next presidential election in 2015.
Of all the existing parties, the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu's All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, which has its roots in the South-east geo-political zone where the Igbo holds sway, appears to some to be their best chance of realising that ambition. But the political family left behind by the late Ojukwu has boxed itself into a corner, with the crisis that is currently tearing the party apart. The recent church service to mark one year of Ojukwu's death at the Michael De Archangel Catholic Church, Umudim, Nnewi, Anambra State exposed how deep the divisions between the two factions of the party have become. At the event, which was attended mostly by both the biological and political family, the camaraderie that existed among principal members of the party such as Victor Umeh, the APGA National Chairman, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and Bianca Ojukwu, the widow of the late war leader, was lost at the ceremony. This became evident as Governor Obi tried to exchange pleasantries with those sitting on the front row of the church. Not one word was exchanged when he got to Umeh; Obi merely shook the hands of the APGA Chairman, who had an inscrutable expression on his face, and moved on.
APGA does not have any functioning leadership at the moment, following the court order that restrained the leadership of both factions of the party from operating. Even at that, each side is still claiming that it is in charge. While Umeh and Sani Shinkafi, his national secretary, claim they are still in charge, the duo of Sadiq Masalla, the suspended national deputy chairman (North) and Ifedi Okwenna are equally insisting that they are the new national chairman and secretary of the party respectively.
The major gladiators in the crisis are Obi, who is the leader of, what some call – the rebel faction. In the absence of Ojukwu, Obi probably sees himself as de facto leader of the party. Obi, who combines his primary duty as Anambra State governor with being an honorary adviser to the PDP-led federal government, is believed to be playing a dangerous game. The presidential advisory job and his closeness to President Jonathan generally, are widely seen as a compensation for APGA's adoption of the candidature of Jonathan for the 2011 presidential election. Bianca has closely pitched camp with the Obi faction. Like Obi, Bianca, who is currently Nigeria's ambassador to Spain, is a beneficiary of the party's alliance with Jonathan's PDP during the 2011 presidential elections. Critics say there are strong indications that he may be dumping APGA finally to join PDP before his tenure expires in 2014.
Besides Umeh, who is obviously a key character in the ensuing drama, Rochas Okorocha, governor of Imo State and a member of APGA, is another popular gladiator. Okorocha was conspicuously absent at the recent church service to mark one year of Ojukwu's demise. In fact, the magazine gathered that Okorocha has been trying to distance himself from the crisis. For instance, it is said that he has been very careful with his utterances, so as not to be seen as aligning with one of the two factions. But he is perceived to be the major beneficiary of the power tussle between the Umeh-led faction and the Governor Obi faction. It was with the above characteristic manner that he dismissed the crisis between the two factions in an interview with the magazine last Wednesday in Owerri, the Imo State capital, insisting that it is over bloated.
“Crisis between two individuals cannot amount to crisis in APGA. APGA is bigger than any one or two individuals,” he said, adding, “In the next two months, am going to call a meeting for APGA to move ahead.” Okorocha said based on the performance of Umeh, he is doing well and that it is wrong for people to use his style to judge him, rather than his output; having produced two governors during his tenure so far. He dismissed any form of misunderstanding between him and his Anambra State counterpart, saying, “we are best of friends; we are brothers.”
But those who are familiar with his body language say the Imo State governor is in league with Umeh. In fact, it is said that Okorocha, who is interested in wresting the party structure from Obi, is the power behind the throne of the Umeh camp.
Thus, there is clearly a conflict of interest between the two factions. This is evident from the utterances of Umeh who has stated unequivocally that it is the turn of the Igbo to produce the country's president in 2015 and that of Obi who recently declared support for President Jonathan for a second term in 2015, during the latter's visit to the state to inaugurate some projects. Umeh was reported to have gone further to threaten that the Igbo would go the extra mile by aligning with other parties to realise the ambition; though he was cautious last Wednesday, when he told the magazine that 2015 is still more than two years away and that APGA would bid its time and make the right move when the time comes.
The possible collapse of APGA had been one of the questions that bothered many supporters of the party, when Ojukwu departed this world a year ago. This was based on the fact that it was Ojukwu's enigmatic personality, particularly, the respect he commanded from all and sundry that held the party closely together during the last days of his life. One year after Ojukwu's death, that fear appears to have been well founded. Things have so far fallen apart to the extent that the relationship between two of his trusted lieutenants, Umeh and Obi had deteriorated badly. When Ojukwu was alive, both men were the best of friends, working together for a common cause. Then, Umeh was a frequent visitor to the Anambra State government lodge in Amawbia, Awka South Local Government area and the Government House in Awka, the state capital.
At the centre of the current crisis is the quest by both men to control the machinery of the party in Anambra State, ahead of the 2014 governorship election in the state. What triggered it, is the demand for local government election in the state, as well as a restructuring of the party. In the first tenure of the governor, they could not have raised these issues, due to their respect for the departed leader. But as soon as he (Ojukwu) passed away, the disagreement between the two principal leaders of the party broke to the fore. While Obi demanded that Umeh should urgently restructure the party, the national chairman in turn insisted that the governor should first conduct local government polls in the state, being the first APGA state. There seems to be a consensus within the party that conducting the polls would help APGA to entrench itself at the grassroots level in the state.
But Governor Obi had his own designs. All along he has resisted the pressure to organise the polls which started mounting in 2010. He had argued that it was better to wait until after the 2011 general elections before doing so. But in the interim the issue of restructuring the party also came up and muddled up everything. All these have been simmering before Ojukwu died, but it was only after his demise that it degenerated into an open confrontation between the duo. The fear is that if Obi conducts the local government polls with Umeh still on the saddle, the governor would have to cede about 50 per cent of the local government chairmanship seats to Umeh; a development that would put Umeh in a strategic position. A source in Enugu told the magazine that this move is significant in the sense that, according to APGA's constitution, it is delegates to the convention which includes local government party chairmen that would produce the party's governorship candidate to succeed Obi in 2014.
To buttress his point, the source said Umeh contributed more than 50 per cent of Obi's cabinet in both the first, and early in the current term. Immediately the crisis came into the public domain, the governor quickly dissolved his cabinet in May 2012, the first time he would be doing so since he came to power in 2006, and replaced commissioners nominated by Umeh. This is because those commissioners and other cabinet members nominated by Umeh will vote for national chairman's governorship nominee, since they are among the delegates that will vote in electing the APGA governorship standard-bearer in the state.
In what was considered to be a mischievous declaration, Sullivan Chime, Enugu State governor, in June 2012 pronounced APGA a dead party. Chime's reasoning was that the party has no chance whatsoever at the forthcoming 2014 Anambra State governorship election and future ones in the country because it no longer has a system and a succession plan. Curiously, at the time he made that statement, the situation in APGA had not become so hopeless. But it might be a bit of exaggeration to say that APGA is a dead party, in spite of the current crisis threatening its existence. Optimists insist there is still ample time to mend fences, provided the will to do so on both sides is genuine.
Incidentally, this is about the only point both sides share in common. Tim Menakaya, the only surviving member of the party's board of trustee, BOT, who is backing the Obi faction, was very optimistic that the disagreement would be resolved soon. His words: “Have you ever been so pessimistic that the problems you have cannot be overcome? It borders on one single thing, as soon as the party is well organised and all the functionaries are in place, the crisis will be over and we will move on.” Similarly, Umeh described APGA as a spirit that would never die, insisting that the matter is on the verge of being resolved. “I don't expect that everybody would share the same viewpoint on any matter,” he told the magazine.
From inception, APGA, like most Nigerian political parties, has been built around individuals. Like most of the nation's political parties, the party has no ideology that binds its members; the only objective that holds them together however is the quest to grab political power.
Since the current crisis evolved, both sides have been consistently trading blames and glorifying their respective factions. For instance, Chukwuebuka Nze, a chieftain of APGA in Enugu, who spoke in defence of Umeh, recalled the many battles of the national chairman to save the soul of the party. He said that Umeh won many legal suits in the court to stabilise the party, adding that even recently it was Umeh that stood against the registration of the formerly proposed UPGA, a party that would have sounded like APGA and would have had to battle for the soul of the South-east with it. Menakaya disagrees, blaming APGA's dwindling fortune on the dictatorial tendencies of Umeh. His words: “In this country, one of the basic problems we have is people sitting on the throne and refusing others to come in; they block all the avenues and I told them that we have reached a stage in APGA where all the windows and doors should be kept ajar, so that Nigerians can come in.”
Umeh noted that the lack of unity of purpose currently being displayed within APGA has always been the bane of the Igbo in forging ahead in politics. He said democracy has been compromised because political parties are not doing what is expected of them. He said the Obi faction is not projecting the legacies of Ojukwu, “with all this idea of adopting presidential candidates of other parties.” He added that Ojukwu's vision was for APGA to field a presidential candidate at all elections. “He first contested the presidential election under the platform of APGA in 2003; but even in 2007, when he was not feeling to well, he still ran,” Umeh said to buttress the point that the party had a focus under the late leader.
Barnabas Nwafor, an indigene of Oko, Anambra State, said with Ojukwu's exit, it will be difficult for the current APGA bigwigs to agree, particularly when it comes to primaries. “In short I see a bleak future for the party unless there will be a resurrection of another Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Do not forget the fact that majority of Igbos see APGA as their party because the late Ikemba was involved, he told the magazine, adding that the party's future is gloomy. He said those intra party crises have been there when Ojukwu was around, “but he was able to calm all flexing nerves and ensured that peace reigned in the party