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HOW WE CRUSHED OHAKIM - UMEH

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Umeh
In the recent general election, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) achieved what many would consider a rare feat by winning the governorship seat in Imo State. How did it happen?

In this interview, the APGA National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, revealed how the plot to unseat the immediate past governor of the state, Ikedi Ohakim who ran on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was hatched.

Excerpts…
APGA's final onslaught in Imo
I will start by giving glory to God who made it possible. One is that it is God that creates opportunities that man exploits at any given time. The last general election in Nigeria can be viewed by people from different perspectives. One was that it was generally agreed that the election was largely free and fair.

But those people who were involved in the field of the elections will note that victories were recorded at various places not entirely because the elections were set out to be free and fair but as a result of very strategic approach to the elections by those concerned. Imo State seen as a segment of that election, I will tell you that APGA won that election, but not without a very serious fight.

In 2003, APGA won the election in Imo but we were denied. In 2007, we won with a landslide margin, we were denied again. And in 2011, there was a near repeat of this, but like the Igbo people say, when something gets to the third time it will stick. A lot of factors played out in 2011 to make the victory of APGA in Imo inevitable. One was that the people of Imo were thoroughly disappointed by the government they had at the time and the governor also made a lot of mistakes that made his removal from office a matter of consensus by the people. APGA was equally lucky to have a candidate that was well known in the state and a lot of people respect him for identifying with the less privileged in society. So, he became a clear alternative to the then incumbent governor, not minding that there were other contenders.

Before that election proper, APGA had prepared itself to fight for the governorship seat and, indeed, the rest of the political seats in Imo. Before our primaries we had to make strategic preparations to ensure that we come into the election united. Our candidate that won in 2007 that was denied victory, Chief Martin Agbaso, who went through the courts up to the Supreme Court severally to get that mandate back without success, was also preparing to run for the election again. Okorocha joined the party in December to also run for the same office and the primary was to take place in January. So we had challenges in our hands ahead of the primaries. But looking at the way things stood at the time, I decided to bring Agbaso and Okorocha to the table.

We discussed and agreed that instead of going out there to fight and dissipate energy against each other, the best thing was to have a common front to be able to take on our opponents. I think it was that strategic meeting we had on the 4th of January 2011 that made the ground strong for APGA to go into the election in Imo. In that arrangement Agbaso had to excuse his governorship interest to step down for Okorocha and that singular effort brought out the full strength of APGA in that election. Agbaso had to mobilize all the efforts in his possession and Okorocha had to deploy his universal goodwill to the campaign.

Going into the election, APGA came as one indivisible family. So we have to give the Imo people what they have been yearning for in terms of campaign issues. While APGA, apart from being a party of choice for them in the previous elections in the state, this time around it was a matter of going all out to ensure an APGA victory. So, the whole state ahead of the election had queued behind the party and its candidates. Therefore, before the election proper it was common knowledge that APGA was set to win in Imo. The major challenge then was how to go through the electoral process and translate the goodwill into electoral victory. That was were problems came up that almost led to the repeat of what happened in the past.

How we battled PDP and Ohakim
One of challenges in the electoral process was that the then incumbent governor had declared himself Ikiri (bush baby) , which is an animal you cannot easily remove his hands from anything it clutches. He was well entrenched and being a candidate of the PDP it would require an extra effort for any person to dislodge him in that election. So, APGA had to operate within an environment where the managers of the election, the security agencies, were all on the alert to ensure that if the then incumbent had a chance of winning he should be aided to win. That was actually what we saw.

But the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) under Prof (Attahiru) Jega was prepared to listen. Ahead of the first election on April 26 at our meeting with Jega in the INEC headquarters, I drew his attention to Imo, that the state should be classified a red light zone for that election because based on the feedback we were getting, we knew that the incumbent governor then will require extraordinary people to get him out of office despite the fact that the people of Imo were desirous of voting him out. I pointed out to the INEC chairman that the recruitment of ad hoc personnel for the election in Imo will be a very serious challenge he will face.

True to our predictions, the ad hoc personnel almost marred that election. The bulk of the ad hoc staff INEC used in that election were recruited from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, and the running mate to Ohakim was Prof Viola Onwuliri, who at that time was a lecturer in the university. So, with her colleagues everywhere in Imo acting as one strategic INEC officer or the other, the sympathy was actually there for the incumbent governor to win. But that was going against the wind as the voters were eager to get Okorocha into the governorship seat.

As it played out in that election, APGA recorded massive support from voters across the state. But because of the lack of care in recruiting the ad hoc personnel, the entire Okigwe senatorial zone was manned by people who were sympathetic to the incumbent governor and the election was largely manipulated there. The results will show you that when you analyze them. Our candidate was not able to score even 10 per cent of the votes cast in any of the six local government areas of the Okigwe senatorial zone.

In some other strategic local governments like Mbaitoli, Ikeduru, the collating officers for these local governments were all staffers of FUTO and they were on duty in various places.

So, on the first day of the election on April 26, what sustained APGA was the overwhelming support the electorate gave to Okorocha and the party and they were not able to overrun us. When the results started coming in during collation, it became obvious that APGA had won the election again and certain things needed to be done to stop the party. So at the final collation at the state level, the state returning officer refused to accept the result of Mbaitoli Local Government Area where APGA had won with 17,757 votes against PDP's 12,400 votes.

It was at that point of collation we noticed that the returning officer, Prof Enoch Akobundu, was being given directives through his phone via text messages to stop the final collation of the results of the elections. So, when the Mbaitoli result came that would have given APGA a clear victory and the 25 per cent in 18 local governments that will enable it satisfy the requirement of law that you score 25 per cent or one-quarter of the votes cast in two-thirds of the local government areas in the state, that was a very critical moment in deciding the election.

So, when they saw that APGA was leading with the majority of votes cast and was also scoring the mandatory one-quarter of the 25 per cent of the votes in 18 local governments that would have two-third of the 27 local government areas, they had to direct him to halt the exercise. It was at that point that he sought for adjournment and when he returned, the Mbaitoli man who came to submit his result was hushed out of his seat that what he came to declare was a fake result. By that time I was watching the development on television from Anambra.

I wasn't in Owerri. I knew from the reports that I was getting from the field in the early hours of the morning that APGA had actually won the election and when the returning officer declared the election as inconclusive without doing the proper things he was supposed to do by law and guideline, the next morning I relocated to Owerri. I arrived about 8am on April 28 because the collation was on the 27th and from then I became part of the proceedings. I knew that what they were trying to foist on the people was what they did in 2003 and 2007 and as a party we felt that would be the last time such a thing should be allowed to happen.

We had to mobilize to Imo. It was from there I became part of the strategic group, challenging both INEC and the security agencies, particularly the police on their conduct. Because INEC had declared the election inconclusive, it gave rise to a supplementary election. So we took our matter to INEC in Abuja and we were able to prove that we clearly won the election. Having been denied that declaration, we had to take very important steps to put INEC back on track to ensure that the right thing was done. We gave INEC conditions for our participating in the supplementary election. Elections were cancelled in Oguta, Ohaji/Egbema and Mbaitoli local government areas. There was no election at all in Ngor-Okpala Local Government Area. So, a supplementary election was fixed for the four local government areas and Orji Ward in Owerri North Local Government Area. We looked at the scenarios and a lot of people were saying that APGA should go to court and force INEC to declare the APGA candidate winner.

I thought otherwise because I have been involved in elections previously. Because INEC had not made a return, if you go ahead to compel it to make a return in court, INEC will be at liberty to admit those problem results that came from Ohaji/Egbema and Oguta that would have given Ohakim victory. So I thought otherwise. I actually took that decision against the preponderant views of our members in Imo. But I didn't want to be emotional about that. So, I felt we will go to the election and certain conditions must be met.

We put those conditions in writing to the INEC chairman and by then INEC had produced a list of four resident electoral commissioners that were detailed to go and conduct the supplementary election. We raised objection on the resident electoral commissioner, Mr Austin Okogie, who was the resident electoral commissioner in Abia State. We objected that he should be part of that team. The reason we gave was that he was the resident electoral commissioner in Imo in 2007 when we won the election and through him INEC annulled the election that we won. Two, we reasoned that since INEC had completed the elections in other areas of the country, there was no longer need for the ad hoc staff to be used in Imo.

So we demanded that for APGA to take part in the supplementary election, no person from the state should be part of the conduct of the election in those four local government areas plus the Orji Ward in Owerri North. We demanded also that INEC should use its permanent staff so that they would be responsible for any misdirection of activities on the day of the supplementary poll. I held press conferences in Abuja on this and then submitted it formally to INEC and it was acknowledged. That was the turning point in that election for which I and our party are very grateful to Prof Attahiru Mohammed Jega.

At that time he was not seeing anybody no matter who you are. If you have any complaint you put it in writing and register it. He did not receive me in his office even though I forced myself in. But I registered my letter of protest and he went through it and agreed with all the demands we made and actually surpassed them. He posted four national commissioners to supervise the four resident electoral commissioners and also directed that all collation officers, all the presiding officers in the various local governments and ward should not be from Imo and further directed that INEC should move its personnel from Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Ebonyi to Imo. So, that was the stage we got the matter to that turned everything around. At the end of it all it was victory for APGA.

But before that, because I saw what happened at Mbaitoli, I noticed that it was a difficult local government; it is a local government you have top PDP stakeholders. So I decided to go there to be the APGA collation agent. That was my duty on the day of the supplementary election. I was there with them all day, all night to ensure that they couldn't use that local government to truncate the election one more time and it paid off because too many issues came up during collation and I had to stave all of them off.

They were surprised that the national chairman of a party can come to the local government to be a collation agent. But I said it was my right and what my party had chosen. When I got there on May 6 about 8pm to resume duty for collation, the governor, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Chief J.C. Odunna, Chief Marcon Nlemigbo, former PDP chairman in the state, were all there. Hon Bethel Amadi, who is also from that local government area, was there. There were hordes of PDP henchmen all there trying to intimidate the people.

But I arrived with my long red cap and they knew it was not going to be a joke. After about an hour, Ohakim drove off and it didn't take time most of the others left, leaving behind their operatives. But I ensured that no result written outside was accepted in that collation centre; results that were not accompanied by certified INEC officials accompanied by soldiers. That was what happened and by 9am the result of that local government was ready.

In the first election of April 26, APGA got 17,757; PDP 12,400 and you know that local government also produced the majority leader in the House of Assembly for the PDP. So they were all there and at the end of the day, APGA in the governorship election got 24,305 while PDP got 12,278. My presence there ensured that they had no room to mismanage that election and I was also on the phone with all the INEC officials on duty. Any place I received any complaint across the four local government areas I reported instantly to the national commissioners, to the resident electoral commissioners, telling them that if anything happens to this election I will tell Nigerians what happened. So everybody were on their toes all through.

That was how it happened that in Ohaji/Egbema where the former Speaker of the House of Assembly held everybody hostage, he did not only lose the House of Assembly there but APGA won in the governorship election there. We got 15,000+ and PDP got 10,000+. In Ngor-Okpala we won outright. We got 17,000+ and they got 9,000+. In Oguta where the PDP had started the process of rigging the election again, some people were caught in the morning with election materials that had been stuffed in the house of a PDP stakeholder. I insisted that that election be cancelled.

So, every effort to get us back to the field, we refused that we would not take part any more. That was what we did in the previous exercise and we will not allow that to happen. That was what led to the cancellation of the result in Oguta. You know when we were going into that re-run we were leading the PDP and its candidate with 20,330 votes already. So with the tight management of the election by APGA and all concerned it was very difficult for them to offset that lead and at the end of the day, we won with about 46,000 votes.

Spreading Imo gains to other South East states in 2015

I have said this severally. In the past when people derided APGA for poor performance in 2003 and 2007 in the South East, I always laughed and posited instead that the bane of the party in the South East had been fraudulent elections. I had stated clearly that any time you hold credible elections in this country generally and in South East in particular that APGA would surprise everybody. The victories APGA recorded in 2011 were a confirmation of the belief I earlier held, but the problem had been the non-conduct of credible elections.

The South East is a peculiar zone in Nigeria where we have people who monetize politics a great deal. It is only in the South East that once elections are scheduled, the efforts of stakeholders in the various political parties will be how to get the police, the electoral commissioners, other security agencies on their side and the only way is by giving them money. So, elections are usually difficult in the South East. Apart from the INEC being in the mood to conduct credible election this year, we still had the attitude of the moneybags in the South East to deal with. These things had combined in the past to hold APGA down in the region.

But in 2011 because of the general disposition of Prof Jega-led INEC, it wasn't easy for pre-planned rigging for the dominant party in the South East any more unlike what happened in 2003 and 2007. So, in 2011 Nigerians can safely say that people were allowed to cast their votes and these votes were largely used to determine who won. However, in the South East, it is a situation of mixed feelings. If you read the reports of that election, you will agree with me that it wasn't that perfect in the South East. There were reports from the audit checks we have done for our party members that elections were not smooth in some states in the region.

But you cannot win all the battles at the same time. We were able to use Imo as a demonstration state that APGA is the favourite of the voters from this part of Nigeria. There were problems in the other states but because it will not be proper to begin to castigate the elections at this point, I will say that we are going to build on our present strength to have a stronger showing in the next election. I know that if INEC keeps to this gear of allowing the people to choose their leaders in 2015, I can tell you that APGA will win virtually everywhere in the South East. By then about three governors in the region will be serving out their terms. In Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia states, they will contend with APGA and the people they want to succeed them. So, it will not be as vicious as it was in 2011 when they were fighting for second term for themselves.

From almost very poor level in terms of strength, because APGA went into the 2011 election with only Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State as a major product of the party, we were written off in Anambra that we would not do anything. But I can show that from what happened, APGA recorded some improvements in Anambra. We have been able to take over the state House of Assembly with the majority of members. In 2003, we had only two members in the House of Assembly. In 2007 we had nobody there out of the 30 members.

They were all PDP members. In 2011, where the people were allowed to vote and through our strenuous efforts, we were able to win 16 seats out of 30. Anambra has 11 seats for the House of Representatives and we won five. We will get back some more through the courts; I am confident about that. In the senatorial election, which was the first election, before the eyes of the people could be opened, the old system was used to take the three seats away from APGA. So, APGA has recorded remarkable improvement in Anambra. For the fact that we control the executive and legislative arms of government, Anambra will experience stronger harmony and peace in the affairs of its government.

On the question you raised that APGA had always ruled the state, yes, Anambra is an envy state for everybody. Anything you can think of in Igbo land, you will find them in Anambra. We have very strong politics in Anambra where we have businessmen that are wealthy. They are all involved in politics and most of them are pro-establishment businessmen and contractors. These are people who will always align with the Federal Government because they get contracts from the Federal Government and when elections come they come home to deliver the state to the ruling party at the centre. But most other states in the South East do not have this kind of situation. In Anambra, we have all kinds of moneybags.

Like Governor Obi will always tell you, he doesn't use his siren because in Anambra virtually every big man has siren and convoy of vehicles and when elections come because they must deliver to continue to be relevant in their businesses with the Federal Government they relocate to the state to see how they can use their money to ensure that they deliver the state to the ruling party. That is what we had suffered in the past. It has been a very resilient struggle in Anambra. But if we continue to sustain credible election the electorate will be empowered to decide who represents and governs them.

2014 and Anambra governorship election
Our election will be in 2014. We have a different electoral calendar; our governorship election will come in 2014 just the way it came up in 2010, so we are always a year behind the general elections. In 2014, the moneybags notwithstanding, if we have credible election, the ordinary people do not take instructions from the moneybags. In 2010, some of them who have private jets lost in the polling booths in front of their houses because the poor masses in the majority are always eager to take their pound of flesh from the nouveau riche in the society. So, it is only when you derail them by using intimidation from the police, the Army and the other security agencies that you will be able to sweep them out of the election. But anytime you allow them to participate, the result will be different.

Governor Obi has done a lot of work for the people of Anambra State. It is true that his style of governance is also novel as it is not the usual type where you have to patronize every rich man to be in authority. So, he has attracted so much trouble to himself because he had insisted that he would work for the people. And our people are not fools, in 2010 when we had our election on February 6, ahead of that time, opinion polls that were manipulated didn't give Obi and APGA any chance, but our people felt the impact of development projects he had executed.

We made them campaign issues, we were able to draw attention to our road infrastructure on what Obi was able to do through the APGA government, we looked at the school to see what he has been able to do, we told them what he did in the health sector and others and they appreciated all those things as they felt the impact of those actions of our government and they therefore came out to support the government. I am confident that in 2014 when the governorship election will be due again in Anambra State, we would have surpassed their expectations again and the votes of the people being what would determine who wins in 2014, APGA will remain in office in that state.

Okorocha's rescue mission and sack of council chairmen

Rochas Okorocha is on a rescue mission in Imo and his actions are very sharp and concise, he knows what he is doing. When he dissolved the local government councils, somebody called me and said look at the military dictator you have now put in Imo State and I said I did not put Rochas in Imo State, the people of Imo State voted for him to become their governor. But then, he told me there was a court order that stopped the local government election, but because it was an era of arbitrariness and brazenness, Ikedi Ohakim ignored the court order and went ahead and announced people as winners without actually conducting any election in Imo.