We Were Embarrassed By Kafarati’s Judgment—Umeh
The National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, in this interview with journalists, including Assistant Editor, Abuja, Joe Nwankwo, barred his mind on the leadership crisis plaguing the party and other issues. Excerpts
Your appeal challenging the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which had removed you and your entire leadership of APGA from office, has been slated for hearing for April 29; why are you on appeal and what are the major issues for determination?
Well, on the 15th of January, 2014, Justice Abdulkadir Kafarati of the Federal High Court delivered a judgment sacking my leadership of APGA, and made an order that Maxi Okwu and his group are the authentic leaders of the party, he also made an order that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should start dealing with his leadership of APGA.
That is the judgment that we have appealed against. We consider the judgment as totally wrong, because the judge did not consider the subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, delivered on 15th July, 2013, on APGA leadership before he arrived at his conclusion. It is important to give a brief history of this matter so that the reading public will follow it logically. APGA had a convention on the 10th of February, 2011, at the Women Development Center, Awka, where my present leadership of APGA was elected for another four years which will expire on 10th February, 2015.
In July, 2012, a former member of the party in Enugu State sued me at the Enugu State High Court contending that my tenure has expired, the Chief Judge of Enugu State who tried the matter, delivered judgment on February 8th, 2013. In his judgment, he voided the convention conducted by APGA in 2011, and ordered that a fresh convention should be conducted to elect new officers of the party. I went to the Court of Appeal because I was the one that was sued, my colleagues were not sued. But in that matter he sacked the entire leadership of APGA, I took the matter on appeal to the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, where I raised the issue of jurisdiction on the matter.
Two, I raised the issue that APGA was not a party in the suit. Three, I challenged all the decisions he made in that judgment. When I filed the appeal, I also filed a stay of execution of that judgment. On the 25th of March, 2013, the Court of Appeal Enugu Division heard my motion for stay of execution of the Enugu State High Court judgment and reserved ruling for the 8th of April for ruling of the stay of execution. On the 8th of April, the Court of Appeal granted the stay of execution and granted an order staying the order of the Enugu State High Court and also granted an order for the maintenance of the Status Quo ante Bellium pending the determination of the appeal pending before it.
By that order, the Court of Appeal restored the leadership of APGA to the position it was before the judgment of the Enugu State High court. On the same April 8, Maxi Okwu purported, with his group, to have held a convention where he was said to have been elected the National Chairman along with some people. In the first week of May, 2013, Maxi Okwu now took that convention he had in breach of the subsisting orders of the Court of Appeal - he took it to the Awka High Court, the Awka High said that the convention was valid and that he was now the National Chairman of the party.
That judgment was delivered on May 27th, 2013. On the 15th of July, 2013, the Court of Appeal now delivered judgment on my appeal and nullified the judgment of the Enugu State High Court presided over by Justice Innocent Umezurike, and set aside all the orders contained in that judgment which included that APGA should conduct another convention. So, with the judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on the 15th of July, 2013, the originating judgment that gave rise to all the actions taken by Maxi Okwu and his cohorts were flushed out, the judgment of Umezurike were completely set aside and all the orders he made completely set aside. There is no appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal before the Supreme Court till date. So, as we speak, that judgment of the Court of Appeal delivered on July 15th, 2013, subsists till today.
Now on the 19th of August, Maxi Okwu sued me and all the people elected in the convention of 2011 at the Federal High Court Abuja. He sued us claiming that he is the National Chairman, with some of his colleagues. On the 15th of January, the Federal High Court delivered judgment. In his action, he relied on the decision of the Anambra State High Court, Awka, which validated his convention to claim that he was the authentic Chairman of APGA. Justice Kafarati agreed with him that, based on the Awka State High Court judgment delivered on 27th of May 2013, in flagrant breach of the subsisting order made by the Court of Appeal on April 8th,2013, he said that they were now the authentic leaders of APGA. In that suit before Kafarati, APGA was not a party.
So, looking at the judgment, we were embarrassed that Kafarati could deliver a judgment that would render the subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal nugatory. If there was no vacancy in the leadership of APGA as at April 8, 2013, what vacancy were Maxi Okwu and his co-travelers filling in that convention? A High Court of Anambra State cannot validate a convention which was purported to have been conducted in breach of a subsisting order of the Court of Appeal. So, these are the major issues before the Court of Appeal in Abuja. So, we have challenged that judgment, because we challenged the jurisdiction of Kafarati to hear the matter for the simple fact that APGA was not a matter. Secondly, the binding decision of the Court of Appeal was completely ignored by Kafarati.
The question we are putting before the Court of Appeal is, can a Federal High court disregard a binding and subsisting decision of the Court of Appeal on APGA leadership, particularly as Maxi Okwu approached the court, claiming to be the National Chairman of APGA, the title he purported to have acquired through a convention that was conducted in breach of a subsisting order of the Court of Appeal? APGA was not made a party in that same action which also robbed Kafarati of jurisdiction. Thirdly, Maxi Okwu was expelled from APGA in 2005 along with Chekwas Okorie; they took the matter on appeal, they lost at the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court upheld their expulsion.
So at what point did he become a member of APGA? In the suit before Kafarati, Maxi Okwu exhibited an APGA membership card signed by me as National Chairman and Shinkafi as National Secretary, so the question we are asking the Court of Appeal to determine for us is whether Maxi Okwu can challenge an APGA convention conducted in 2011 when he was not a member of the party? Assuming that membership card entitles him to be a member of the party, can he turn around in 2013 to challenge a convention conducted in 2011 when he was not a member? The answer is no. Even at that, the title he acquired through the ill-fated convention of 8th April, 2013, can he sue in that capacity as the National Chairman of APGA when the Court of Appeal does not accept such a situation?
What is your reaction to the planned invasion of the APGA National Secretariat by Maxi Okwu and his cohorts, to forcefully take over the office last week?
Firstly, I will say that I was shocked to hear that such a thing happened but I was not surprised because of the desperation already exhibited by Maxi Okwu, Dr. Chike Obidigbo and their co-travelers. In fact, he had almost three weeks ago threatened that he would take over the secretariat by force but I did not take him seriously, because I know that Nigeria is a country that is governed by the rule of law. But I was shocked when I received that report on Wednesday evening; this type of thing can only happen where people take laws into their hands.
Maxi Okwu and his trajectory into APGA in the past one and half years is something that was done in total disregard of the rule of law and the constitution of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, apart from the fact that he is an expelled member of APGA who lost in his appeal to set aside his expulsion, along with Chekwas Okorie, up to the Supreme Court, his strange attacks on APGA has always been done without any form of regard to the rule of law, apart from the fact that the judgment of the Court of Appeal in a Enugu did not give him any room to lay any claim to the leadership of APGA. Since 8th of April, 2013, we have continued to be patient to see how their fraudulent claim on the leadership of the party will survive.
But on their attack on the party secretariat, I will say that that was the most uncivilized and unlawful action anybody could take in this period of fledging security situation in the country. People should be very careful in the way they conduct themselves. There was a judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on January 15th, 2014, through which Maxi Okwu started laying claims to the leadership of APGA, but then there was a superior judgment of the Court of Appeal Enugu Division which removed completely the source of their claim, which was the judgment of the Enugu State High Court that invalidated our convention. But the Court of Appeal has since nullified that judgment and set aside all the orders that he made which included an order that another convention should be conducted.
We have appealed against that judgment, and we have a stay of execution of that judgment pending before the Court of Appeal in Abuja, Maxi Okwu and his group have been served. So I am surprised that he can rush to our secretariat with thugs to take it over. First of all, the judgment that he is parading, there was no order in it authorizing him to go and take over APGA secretariat. He has his own secretariat at Lozumba complex, Area 10, Garki, Abuja. That is where Maxi Okwu's APGA faction's office is. If he says that the court has declared him the Chairman of APGA he should be building APGA from his secretariat and not from another person's secretariat.
You can contrast this with the long leadership tussle with Chekwas Okorie. Chekwas never crossed our secretariat until he lost at the Supreme Court. What Maxi Okwu has done is condemnable. Luckily for him, I was not in Abuja, the National Secretary was not in Abuja, at the time they came, otherwise a serious breach of peace would have occurred, as people would have been killed as well, because this is like a gorilla attack - that was a gorilla attack on the APGA secretariat. As a lawyer we had thought he would have waited for the outcome of the Court of Appeal case and not to take the law into his own hands.
Sir, your tenure ends in 2015, what next? There has been this rumour that you are eyeing the Senate; what is your next plan of action?
If you go to my village now, you will see a big billboard put up by the youths asking me to go and represent them at the Senate. Everywhere you go in Anambra State, you will see such things. Last Wednesday, the Ohaneze Youths came to see me; for the past three weeks they have been asking me to give them an audience. They want to come and force me to run for the Senate. All the political office holders in Anambra Central Senatorial district had met and called on me to come and represent them at the Senate. My people are urging me to come and represent them at the Senate, but the way I do things, I take things orderly, we are now trying to disengage intruders from APGA, when we have dislodged them, we can now plan to take the party to an election.
When you get these things sorted out, then you look at the situation. I am 52 years old and I know that I have contributed enough to the service of our people. If not for anything else, I want to create another record, to be the first Senator to be elected from Anambra State on the platform of APGA. I want this party to be there forever, and the only way it can be there forever is by winning elections. If the party does not win elections, it will go extinct. So I am under that intense pressure to contest for the Senate. I don't find anything difficult about it sincerely speaking, because right now my Senatorial district is having zero representation at the Senate through Dr. Chris Ngige.
His being in the Senate is a disaster for my zone. The only thing he has been successful in doing is brewing controversy; everything about him is controversial. Remember that he went to the Senate in controversial circumstances, his case was still in the tribunal for the governorship elections in 2010, today he is in the Senate. He contested for governor; he is in all the tribunals and the Court of Appeal challenging the outcome of the governorship election. So he has been doing a great disservice to the state. He has been disturbing governance in Anambra State and our people are very eager to get rid of him from the political space, and they feel that the only way that can happen in 2015 is if I accept to run.
Have you accepted to run?
No, I will check, but I know that what I will not do is to disappoint my people. If it is what they want me to do for them, then I will go there to represent them, with their support, because I know that if I go there I will give an effective representation, because I know I will beat Ngige, and he knows that I will beat him.