We’ll sack you in two weeks- Okwu
In this interactive session with journalists, Barrister Maxi Okwu, who walked in as the Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) before INEC recognised Umeh, speaks on the internal crises in the party and how his executive is strategising to ensure the party wins the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State and also expand its scope in the South East region. GEOFFREY EKENNA was there
Who is Barrister Maxi Okwu that was elected as APGA's National Chairman at the party's recent convention in Awka?
Maxi Okwu is a radical lawyer, a politician, with proven records and one of the patriotic Nigerians of our time. I am a strong believer in constitutional democracy, due process and rule of law. I have held several political offices, the last being the National Chairman, Citizens Popular Party (CPP). I am poised to raise the standard of partisan politics in the country.
I did not just jump into politics; my father is Senator B. C. Okwu, who was a Minister in the government of Eastern Region in the 1960s (First Republic). I have learnt a lot from my father's political acumen, tactics and strategies to excel in partisan politics in Nigeria. I have a vision for APGA as a party and very soon, my leadership in the party will show the nation that there is a new man at the helm of affairs in APGA.
A lot of people are confused when after the Awka Court order, you issued a statement saying that you are going to respect that order on you. But you're still laying claim to APGA chairman position. How can you explain this?
Victor Umeh did not win any Appeal as people were wrongly made to believe. What he got in the Appeal was a stay of one of the four orders by the Court of Appeal. I wish I came with the document; I would have made a copy for you to read through. Out of the four orders that Enugu State High Court made, only one was stayed. They stayed that aspect that restrained him from parading himself as the chairman of our party.
The Court of Appeal agreed that all issues have been overtaking by events. Number one; that there was no convention. Second, that there should be a convention and that the NEC of the party should have met and ordered a convention. I think there are about four issues raised and we have done all that. The court never said there was non-existence convention. It never said that.
The court said once a matter is declaratory, we cannot stay it. The only angle of executor issue of not parading himself is what the court did not release. Every lawyer knows that you don't stay what has been done. The deed had been done already; judgement has been executed by the NEC of the party, convened a convention in Awka and elected its national officers.
I said clearly, Umeh's activities against the party is an exercise in futility. One of such Umeh's activities is the Federal High Court in Awka that granted a midnight exparte order restraining me and my executive officers from parading ourselves as such. 14 days after, on 15th April, 2013, the motion was filed, argued and granted. Days after that exercise, we filed a motion to vacate the order. It has lapsed. Yes! I said it that time I will respect direct order on me by the Federal High Court, Awka. I have done that already.
On the eve of your party's convention, the court gave order restraining you from conducting the convention. Why did the party bring forward the convention date as against the earlier chosen date?
That is not true. The notice to INEC from the party is 8th of April. You should understand that INEC doesn't work on sentiments. A party must put everything on paper before INEC, which we did. The only shift we made was the venue from Enugu to Awka. INEC was given adequate notice by our party. We gave 21 days notice. That's what electoral guideline says. We gave INEC the date and time. The only change is from Enugu to Awka. Normally, if you want to hold a convention, you should conduct proper accreditation. We did this as we began around 9pm and cleared it before we go for election proper. And I won at the end of the counting of votes.
In Imo State today, it appears there is nothing like APGA anymore on ground as Chief Rochas Okorocha has taken APGA in Imo to APC. How do you see future of this party in Imo State?
Our party has issued a statement last night in this regard and we urged Governor Rochas Okorocha to rethink. Actually, we see his challenges and dilemma but we are saying he should take it calmly. APC is not a registered party; this is a fact as at present. Okorocha is gambling on a quantity that may collapse. I wish APC well but it's obvious it is not yet in a bag. It is still in the offing. It has not been registered by INEC.
For Okorocha to jettison a party that gave him the platform he used to become a governor and started to gamble with an association that its composition is worrisome, we advise him to rethink. Position of governor of a state is not a small thing. We would not be talking of sanction or disciplining him. We'll wait and see whether sanity will prevail through diplomacy and behind the scene discussion. But, at the end of the day, he would decide.
His issue will become a legal thing if APC is finally registered and Okorocha collects an APC card. For now, by position of law, he is still a card carrying member of APGA. Politically, APGA is there before Okorocha became a governor and the party will continue to exist after him. Rochas has been with other parties in the country before he used APGA platform. He owed this party a lot. There is a moral burden for him to carry at this juncture.
Obviously APGA is a divided house at present. With the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State the base of the party and general elections in 2015, don't you think differences of who is who in APGA should be sorted out now for the party to be a united front?
I have been trying my best to bring every aggrieved member back to the fold of the party. The truth is that there is also enmity in heaven. A political party cannot isolate itself from crisis. As we sit here today, there are various internal crises in PDP which is even worse than what we have in APGA. What we suddenly realise in our party is that Chief Umeh is now like a bull in China shop.
From his approach of things and activities, he likes to destroy APGA rather than to allow the House to stand. We will not allow that to happen. We are going to ease him out. If a 26 NEC member that he lead has left him except two or three of his cronies, he should have seen the hand writing on the wall and resign. In a much more civilised society, Chief Umeh should have resigned honourably without being asked to quit. Be that as it may, I have extended a hand of fellowship to him thrice.
I recall I did that at the convention venue, later at the Town Hall meeting in Abuja and before the Abuja meeting. I have said it times without number that I will give him soft landing but he has refused to accept my hands of fellowship. Instead, he has been fighting harder.
There is a limit which you can push a horse to drink. I've extended hand of friendship to him, only he just wants to be the clog in the wheel of progress of the party.....So, we know what is happening particularly when Umeh and his followers have one leg in APC arrangement. As I am speaking to you, Chief Umeh is the Director of Publicity of C21 group founded by Rochas Okorocha. All of them are in APC.
For instance, have you ever heared the likes of Umeh condemn Okorocha's romance with yet to registered APC sponsors? Again, when Umeh got the court order against the party, we all saw Okorocha embrace him. They are working hand in glove. Umeh plays active role in negotiating formation of APC. C21 group have been masquerading as APGA in the negotiations with ANPP, CPC and ACN to form APC. Our party has not involved in that association. This is the fact. We have not sat down either and fold our arms.
Immediately we sort out the main legal issue before us which we believe should be over latest by two weeks from now, we'll roll out action for the elections like the council election and governorship election in Anambra State.
In your own view. What do you think is energising him?
I am aware that Umeh has tasted power for long being a chairman of APGA. He was empowered by the party's constitution. I am also aware that a fat pocket is giving him a full backing. So, there's a lot at stake being the chairman of a strong party like APGA. For instance, I was once a chairman of Citizens Popular Party between 2005 and 2012.
Then, nobody reckoned with me that time....(Laughter) but now that I have become Chairman of APGA, a party that can boast of having a serving governor and members of National Assembly, everybody is coming to me. I received more calls now as National Chairman APGA unlike when I was the National Chairman of CPP. So, you can see why Umeh was fighting tooth and nail to remain the party's national chairman.
Chief Umeh has said he was elected for four year tenure and that his time is yet to lapse. What's the basis for your party to kick him out and say he is no more the national chairman when he did not resign from office?
People have forgotten that Umeh started as Acting National Chairman of the party since December 2004. Now, we are in 2013. He has been parading himself as APGA Chairman for almost nine years.
There was a time he took Chekwas to court when Chekwas said he won't stay beyond eight years. The basic fact is that Umeh has been APGA's Chairman for nine years uninterrupted and he still wants to continue in that position. If his tenure is four years, that is renewable, by January 2007 when the convention that court nullified was held, Umeh's tenure has expired. The court had said so. On 2nd December, his tenure has expired.
The court said he has no capacity by January 2011 to hold convention. The convention he coordinated in 2011 was nothing but illegal. That's the fact of the whole issue. He has stayed beyond his tenure. Normally, before your tenure expires as chairman, you need to conduct fresh election but he did not do so because he cares to remain as APGA Chairman forever.
So, it is not a personal thing. There are rules of engagement in democracy. You finish your first four year tenure and go back to the party for a fresh mandate of another four year term- end of story. The fact is that Umeh wanted to be APGA Chairman forever simply because of the benefits that are accrued to him.
Even the PDP that people have condemned on so many occasions have changed its national chairman more than once since 2004. Yet, the likes of Umeh have been throwing bricks to PDP on many issues. Whereas, here at APGA, he wants to be the chairman forever. Leadership is not what you say but what you do that matter.
INEC has written to Chief Umeh and recognised him as the authentic APGA's National Chairman. What's your reaction to this development?
Is that so? Okay, I have not seen copy of the letter. As soon as I see it, I will react.
What would be the next line of your action to this development?
I will like to see the hard copy of the letter because in Nigeria, anything is possible. I don't doubt you. By the time we finish here, I will make my contact in Abuja to confirm. Then I will react publicly.
Can you clarify what you said in Awka concerning Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu? The impression people had was that you are leaving Ojukwu's legacies for Ziks?
No! I don't think I ever said so. At Awka, reporters asked me about certain comment I made against Zik and reconcile it with Ojukwu's. I couldn't recollect the exact comment but I know I responded by saying the two are great Igbo sons. Late Zik is known for his Fabian tactics in tackling political challenges.
He is always for compromise and for the possibles as a consumate politician. That is in nutshell of what I said about Zik. However, I said Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu is a man who is firm in his views and he usually knows where he stands at a particular time.
Once a matter comes up, Ikemba is known for taking position and remain with such position. The interpretation is that he is doctrine. If you interprete it to mean this is my story, then you will not be fair to me. I don't withdraw what I said that Ikemba is one who is firm in his decision or position on a given issue. You will know where he stands. But Zik is known with his Fabian tactics. Now, when a reporter decides to interprete what I said, he is making his own comment and not my comment.
As an elected National Chairman of APGA, what is your mission?
Honestly I don't see myself going beyond two years in office as APGA Chairman. I wanted to contest election in my state, Enugu State. That was why I am in this business; to make APGA formidable in Enugu State to enable me contest and have a chance of winning.
There are so many political offices I can vie for like the Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly and even governorship position. There are so many to choose from.
Where exactly do you hail from because there is the rumour that you're from one village in Benue State?
I won't answer that question. I won't answer that. It does not worth answering. How can anybody stand up and say that to me? I am from Orji River in Enugu State. It's so clear, it is not arguable. My father is not a hidden person. He was a Senator, Minister and everything. I am from Achi in Enugu State. I found the insinuation laughable.
Governor Peter Obi has not conducted Local Government election in Anambra State. Now, as the party's chairman, will you assure he will conduct the council election before he leaves office?
I can assure you that local government election will take place in Anambra State this year. The Electoral Commission has assured me that they will do that. The arrangement had been on ground even before my election. The legal constraints have been removed to ensure the council election takes place mid-this year. Once I am involved, Governor Obi is going to give his own assurance.