APGA: AN ENDLESS BATTLE FOR ITS SOUL
It began as one of the usual disagreements in political parties, and expectations were that it would fizzle out in no time. But the crisis in the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, has defied all permutations and logic, knocked on intra- party schism, spinning-off confusions and ribaldry. For over five years, the crisis has dragged on, it has created sizzling media sensations. Political drama, and legal gymnastics.
The heart of the matter is the resilience of the combatants, who have tenaciously held on to their sides of the argument. And the party, in spite of its resurgence in some parts of the South-East geo-political zone has been greatly weakened.
Affirming the confusion the crisis has engendered its lone House of Representatives member between 2003 and 2007, Barrister Uche Onyeagocha, described it as 'unmitigated, intractable, and self-inflicted'. Onyeagocha, who has since dumped the party for the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, said he was reluctant to be drawn into a crisis, the head or tail, he could not properly distinguish. Noting that the party at inception had the potentials to be among the leading political parties in Nigeria, he regretted that the unfortunate feud has boxed it into reticent stagnation.
Onyeagocha is not alone on this. Another pioneer member of the party who ran unsuccessfully for a House of Assembly seat in Abia State, Chief Uche Ndukwe fixed the problem in the party on the activities of 'Fifth columnists, outside the party. He told Daily Sun that it was evident that APGA overran the South-East geo-political zone between 2003 and 2005, when the 'envious outsiders struck, using people within.' Ndukwe, who is now a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP)accused leaders of the party in the contending factions of spurious alliances and self-interest.
'They are all selfish. They see their interest above that of the party and the consequence is that none wants to yield to the other. Nobody knows when the crisis will end, as new issues come up everyday, when you think things are dying down. I left to pursue my political career elsewhere,' he explained. The long drawn crisis has not only recorded losses in membership strength, it is believed that the lack of united effort in the pursuit of it's claims of victory in the 2007 governorship polls in Imo State led to it's loss of the state.
The standard bearer of the party in the state, Chief Martins Agbaso, fought a high budget legal battle against the PDP governor of the state without a united strength and financial support. Indeed, he told Daily Sun that he sold off a few of his land assets to stay afloat while the legal proceeding were on.
'The legal cost were enormous. I bore it all alone.'
Other party bigwigs like acclaimed industrialist Chief Onwuka Kalu, and Chief Meribe Emetole also have tales of woes over the crises. Both men have either 'washed up'in other political parties or are sitting on the fence. Kalu said in his legal battle for the governorship seat in 2003. 'I enjoyed no logistic support'. But how did the rain begin to beat the party? How arduous is the journey? And what does the future ported for the party in the face of the landmines on its path.
Founded on deep Igbo roots, but with pan- Nigeria outlook, the party, at inception in 2003, was a natural replacement for the National Council of Nigerians Citizens, NCNC, led by the great Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, in the Second Republic. Chief Chekwas Okorie who is seen as the visioner deftly engaged former secessionist, leader Dim Odimegwu Emeka Ojukwu as leader and it became an instant hit in the zone. According to the Abia State chairman of the party, Mr. Emeka Nwachukwu at a recent rally 'we are going to sensitize our people and make them understand that APGA is indigenous to them and was founded on the ideals and political doggedness of Nnamdi Azikwe and Micheal Okpara, all of blessed memory.'
The consciousness already live with our people and what we only need to do is to reawaken it through a mass rally'. The crisis that has enveloped the budgeoning party has it's roots in Anambra State.
According to Okey Umeano, factional chairman of the party in Anambra State, 'It was the ambition of Umeh to become National Chairman.
The trouble started when Chief Okey Nwosu emerged the winner of the gubernatorial primaries in Anambra State, which was held at Mano Hotels, Awka. Nwosu was preparing his campaign machinery when the so called National Executive Council of APGA announced that Mr. Peter Obi is the flagbearer of the party in Anambra State. The plot was hatched by Sylvester Nwobu-Alor, Obi's Uncle and Campaign manager, Victor Umeh and Ojukwu himself.
'Infact, it was our party leader that convinced Chekwas to pick Mr. Peter Obi as our candidate. Nwosu was not happy, and he joined the ANPP to become running mate to Chief George Muoghalu in the 2003 gubernatorial elections. After that, I knew that the next victim would be chekwas Okorie, and it came to pass.' The battle by Dr, Chris Ngige to retain his seat as governor of Anambra State opened more flanks in the debacle.
The allegation was that Okorie had prevailed on Obi to drop the petition he filed at the tribunal and open up negotiations with Ngige. Obi reportedly turned it down. Another twist in the story was that Umeh was used as pawn by the presidency to set Okorie up.
Umeano again speaks; 'Umeh was promised a seat at the constitutional review congress (sic) as national party chairman. Ojukwu was also to be there as government nominee. When after they had announced the suspension of Okorie, the powers that be in Aso rock failed to meet with their own side of the agreement'
An angry Okorie was said to have reacted by visiting Ngige with his executives and declared that APGA had withdrawn its petition at the Awka tribunal. He further informed that APGA would no longer support Obi in his legal pursuits and extended a hand of support and fellowship to Ngige.
Umeh reacted furiously to the visit describing Okorie actions as unbecoming and desperate 'what Okorie went there to do is indeed laughable. He has been suspended from the party and that stands. We have already withdrawn APGA from the petition. So what he is doing is belated. APGA cannot compromise any form of sabotage or anti-party activities because the party ensures discipline and that is it . Anyone having anything to do with Okorie is doing so at his own peril.'
Obi's eventual victory at the election tribunal instead of boosting the fortunes of the party became it's albatross.
The gordian knot
The APGA constitution had formed the rallying point for both factions in the conflict. For Umeh, the APGA National Convention in Enugu on December 2, 2006 ratified his position as the substantive and not acting national chairman. He has always insisted that Okorie's expulsion is in line with the provisions of the party's constitution.
According to him, they relied on Article 19(3) of its constitution under special circumstance to remove and later expel Okorie. A decision, according to him various courts have affirmed. He would flash documentary evidence to support his claims that indeed the convention that routed Okorie was real under the eagle eyes of INEC officials. But Okorie argues that his removal was unlawful and unconstitutional. He insists it contravenes the said section 19(3) of the party's constitution, under the provision on special circumstances.
The courts have not helped matters in the logjam. In the suits where Okorie lost to Umeh, the courts did not expressly declare Umeh, as the National Chairman of APGA.
There is also the recurring issue of Okorie's name being in the constitution that is registered with INEC, which has spurred speculations that the only way that the chairman can be removed is by suspending the entire constitution.
Several attempts by several individuals and organizations to reconcile the warring factious have failed. INEC with Prof. Maurice Iwu as Chairman initiated moves at reconciliation in 2009. It failed because both parties failed to shift grounds. Ohanaeze-Ndigbo, the apex socio cultural organization of Ndigbo also made a feeble attempt in 2008, but backed down fearing allegations of involvement in partisan politics. Also in September 2006, a stakeholders meeting of the party in Enugu, to resolve the differences further deepened it.
It resulted in the expulsion of Uche Onyeagocha by Umeh's faction. The meeting which was widely attended by members of the party including the presidential runningmate of Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu in the 2003 election, Alhaji Sanni Babayaro failed to convincingly douse the ragging inferno. One of the resolutions at the Enugu meeting was a call for the removal of Umeh as National Chairman. Onyeagocha was accused of using the name of the National Leader of the party, Ojukwu to summon the contentious meeting , and for allegedly misleading members of the public by declaring himself a leader of APGA. Onyeagocha dismissed the allegation as untrue.
Similarly, its Enugu State governorship candidate in 2003, Chief Ugochukwu Agballah was expelled for attending the said stakeholders meeting.
Tantrums from both sides
'Chief Chekwas Okorie served as APGA National Chairman between 2003 and 2005. INEC as the supervising agency investigated the case, formed its opinion and used the EFCC report to endorse APGA National Executive Committee resolution which sacked Okorie, and appointed Umeh as acting National Chairman. INEC thereby recognized Umeh as APGA's acting national chairman in 2005. Since then Umeh has been in charge of APGA,' Shinkafi.
'Governor Obi's continued recognition of our former treasurer, Chief Victor Umeh, his kinsman, as a parallel National Chairman of APGA inspite of the existence of a valid and subsisting order of the court that the status quo in the leadership of the party be maintained and inspite of the concurrent compliance with this order by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) smacks of indiscipline, ingratitude, gross disloyalty and unpatriotism' Chief G. U Uba.
'Before INEC recognized Chief Umeh as the acting National Chairman, it conducted a thorough investigation of the party's accounts at Manny bank. It was after the said investigations that INEC upheld the decision of the National Executive Committee of the party that expelled Chief Okorie as its National Chairman on January 11, 2005,' Shinkafi.
'It was the ambition of Umeh to become the National Chairman. The trouble started when Chief Okey Nwosu emerged the winner of the gubernatorial primaries in Anambra State, which was held at Mano Hotels, Awka. Nwosu was preparing his campaign machinery when the so called National Executive Council (Sic) of APGA announced that Mr. Peter Obi is the flagbearer of the party in Anambra State. The plot was hatched by Sylvester Nwobu- Alor, Obi's uncle and campaign manager, Victor Umeh and Ojukwu himself.
'In fact it was our party leader that convinced chekwas to pick Mr. Peter Obi as our candidate. Nwosu was not happy and he joined the ANPP to become running mate to Chief George Muoghalu in the 2003 gubernatorial elections.
After that, I knew that the next victim would be chekwas Okorie and it came to pass'-Okey Umeano, factional chairman of the party in Anambra State.
The way forward
Many observers of the crisis have called for the emergence of a neutral person, at a unified National Convention as National Chairman to bring the protracted crised to an end. This contention is against the background of serial failures by the courts, INEC, Ohanaeze-Ndigbo, and other interest groups to end the stand-off. APGA is a party in deep comatose, in need of urgent revitalization. Today, APGA is in charge in Anambra State. It is easy to discern the Ojukwu factor in the renaissance.
Culturally, the name Ojukwu is ascribed to a vengeful Igbo god, whose commitment to moral uprightness is unquestionable. Within the Nigerian context Ojukwu is an enigma, a folks hero, an establishment person par excellence'. According to Dr. Tunji Braithwaite , a childhood friend of Ojukwu, who chaired the public presentation of ' Because I am involved' ' No doubt, as it is today, Ojukwu is the leader of the Igbos (sic), but it is by default. It is because. Zik is dead an there is no replacement for him, since Ekwueme does not want to suffer. Ojukwu will not mind suffering.
He is ready to support a just cause, if he finds any. But he will later abandon those with whom he struggled, because he is opportunistic and has ego problem' Former Chief Press secretary to military President Gen Ibrahim Babaginda, Chief Duro Onabule agrees no less. The ego problem and the propensity to self create seems to be at the root of the crises in APGA and has deflated it's essence. Will Ojukwu, who is presently ailing rise up to the occasion after recovery ? or will he continue to take sides and fiddle like Nero, while APGA, which represents the Igbo essence burns ? Rr would it be safe to conclude with Dr. Rakia Cengiz, a political commentator that the party has had its time.