APGA LEADERSHIP CRISIS:: I'VE NO PERSONAL QUARREL WITH OKORIE -UMEH
For over eight years, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has been embroiled in a protracted leadership tussle that has raged between the founding Chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie and the National Chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh.
As the two chieftains lay claims to the party's leadership, Okorie believes that no court in the country has pronounced Umeh as APGA chairman while Umeh says the Supreme Court like the other lower courts in March this year sealed Okorie's hopes by upholding his expulsion from the party.
However, despite the fight, APGA's electoral fortunes brightened with its win of the Imo governorship election recently to make it two of the states it now controls in the country.
In this exclusive interview with CHIDI NNADI, Umeh revealed the root cause of the crisis rocking the party, heaping the blames on the doorsteps of Okorie.
How APGA leadership tussle began
Before now you can say that APGA had a raging leadership tussle, what I disagree with is the personalization of the disagreement in APGA, by reducing it to a disagreement between Victor Umeh and his friend, Chekwas Okorie, it was not. I have decided not to talk about this issue again if not that you asked. A collection of dates will be important here so that people will appreciate the reason for the crisis that plagued the party for some time now. I have no personal quarrel with Chekwas Okorie; when he was the chairman of APGA I was his pillar of support.
Today, if he reflects overtime, he will realize that he made very unpardonable mistakes. I had nothing to disagree with Okorie until after the 2003 general elections. I was within the party the strongest member of APGA, he can attest to it himself, there were difficult times I gave out bail out loans to the party, sometimes N2 million, my own money. So, it was that level of support that I gave to his leadership. But after the 2003 general elections when we were robbed of our victories in the South-East, we had no alternative than to head for the tribunals.
Everywhere in the South-East, we had nothing recorded for us, we had no governorship victory, no senatorial victory; House of Representatives, we had only two seats, one from Anambra, I was the one who fought for that – Hon. George Ozodinobi, who represented Aniocha/Njikoka/Dunukofia Federal constituency; then we had Uche Onyeagocha in Imo State; only these two people, no House of Assembly member in Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states; it was only in Anambra that APGA had two House of Assembly members in the whole of the 2003 general elections when Ojukwu stood in his full might as the presidential candidate of APGA.
So, after the elections, the robbery was so painful that we had to meet in Abuja where we decided that all our candidates should go to the tribunal in the various states. In Anambra State where I come from I was actually the field leader of the APGA struggle; Ojukwu was our leader and our presidential candidate, but in terms of operations, I was the anchor person and I was then the national treasurer of APGA. So, we fought very passionately for this.
When we headed for the tribunal I was the PW1 in Peter Obi's elections petition at Awka, I was on the witness box for one whole month, from September 1 to September 29, 2003. I was the one that tendered all the results of the governorship election; I was cross-examined by the Senior Advocates engaged by INEC and Ngige's PDP then. So, I had no rest in trying to prove that our party won that election. So, overtures were made to me by Ngige to abandon that struggle which I was spearheading for Mr Peter Obi, our candidate who was a new person in politics then.
So, I was the person who was coordinating the activities in the media, in the court and all that and I resisted all those overtures made to me. At one point Ngige wanted me to be commissioner for works in Anambra and that I should bring two other persons he would make commissioners too as a deal to sabotaging APGA's efforts at the tribunal, but I refused, I have said this before and he couldn't contradict them. It was because our matter at the Anambra State election tribunal was so strong and debilitating to the efforts of Dr Chris Ngige that brought the things that led to the open disagreement in our leadership.
It was at that time that Ngige had to turn to Okorie for use, to be able to frustrate our election petition. When he started this Okorie dissolved the state executive of APGA in Anambra State in his parlour unilaterally and constituted a caretaker committee and gave them open powers to go and restructure the party in Anambra State without reference to me, without reference to the governorship candidate of the party that was in a tribunal and other major stakeholders. This was the genesis of the crisis that plagued the party.
Then it got to a point because the party in Anambra State was thrown into turmoil, the care-taker committee started expelling members of the party that had testified in the election tribunal in favour of Governor Obi. When the crisis was rocking the party, Chekwas had to openly tell a panel we sent to Anambra State on a fact-finding mission while the party was in crisis in Anambra State, after a meeting we held on the 22nd of November 2004 at the party's headquarters.
When they got there Okorie called them and told them that he had concluded arrangements for Ngige to come into APGA, that the party was no longer interested in the election petition of Mr Peter Obi at the tribunal. His reason then was that no political party had been able to remove a sitting governor through the election petition tribunal; therefore, he didn't see any hope in Peter Obi's petition. I will say that it was an error of judgment on his part, so he told them to go and meet Ngige that he was the one who paid for their hotel accommodation in Awka and in the morning they should go and pay him a visit at the Government House in solidarity because Ngige was having a running battle with his estranged godfather in Anambra State then, Chief Chris Uba.
These were revelations made by the National Secretary, the National Organizing Secretary and the National Youth Leader; they called us in Enugu here; myself, Peter Obi and Dr Menakaya and told this story. So, this was the point of disagreement because we said that for him to have taken that action it was not for the interest of the party. We didn't see any reason when we had a petition that was already succeeding at the tribunal; there was no justification to abandon our candidate and go to support somebody who stole the mandate from the party; that was the disagreement.
For Chekwas to be removed and suspended from the party I want to tell you through this interview that it was a decision we reached; myself, Mr Peter Obi as our candidate, and some principal officers of the party, we met in a hotel here in Enugu and agreed that we will not accept it and that we should resist it and if he wanted to push it he should be suspended, it was a collective decision. Also the three-man panel that was sent to Anambra also went to brief Ojukwu as our leader of this communication between them and Chekwas Okorie.
So at the time he was holding himself as the chairman of APGA, all the stakeholders in the party were holding him as a saboteur, that was why when the actions got out to the public when he was suspended, all the people in the party were behind the group that suspended Okorie and he was alone. So, that battle was inevitable and if we had not fought that battle, this party would not have the chance of survival. For the fact that he was suspended and expelled by the party, he took the matter to the high court, he lost the case he instituted at the high court, he went to the Court of Appeal and lost, he went to the Supreme Court, he lost; it is a vindication of the struggle I have led with my colleagues to save the soul of the party.
Why we are not able to resolve the APGA crisis
It was as a result of the mental deception which Okorie suffered. He held himself out to the Nigerian public as the founder and owner of APGA as a party. So, he never told anybody the truth. If you have tried to find out the founders of APGA, you will notice that the people who founded APGA did not take off with the party. This party was founded through meetings nurtured in the house of Engr Chris Okoye here in Enugu and Okorie was attending meetings like every other persons. And there is no way you can form a party and you won't have other officers.
Okorie's name in APGA constitution as founder
That was the fraud that I fought because I was part of the process from day one of the formation of this party, I was the protem National Treasurer, he was protem National Chairman; these were foundation appointments made. So, when we got the party registered, INEC has a provision that all political parties will file their final constitution within 30 days of registration; the constitution which the association filed to INEC with which APGA was registered had no name of Okorie in it, there was no clause that somebody was a founder; there was no way people could have met for over a year, working hard to register a party and allow an individual to put his name in the constitution as founder and will be chairman of that party for eight years, for the first four years and another four years if he likes. No civilized group of people will have that clause in their constitution. When APGA was registered in 2002, INEC gave 30 days for final constitution to be filed, it was that time that Okorie doctored the constitution; he then inserted his Article 18 (1) and (2).
While he put in Article 18 (1) that Chief Chekwas Okorie is the founder of the party, then in Article 18 (2) he said that he will be chairman for four years and another four years if he so desires; that was what he did in his own reasoning to fortify himself because he had other intentions. So, in the convention we had on the 9th of January 2003, the party was registered in 2002 with its constitution deposited with INEC; with that opportunity he had he invited his men in the final constitution he filed 30 days after without the knowledge of any other person involved in the formation of APGA. At the convention where that constitution was to be adopted by the party he had printed copies of the constitution, the convention that took place there was no opportunity because the copies were not given to members before the convention.
So, at the convention nobody knew that he had tampered with the constitution; a copy of the constitution was brought out with a resolution to adopt it, the constitution was adopted and a copy was given to the INEC observers, which they took home and that constitution now bore his name as founder and the other Article that he would be chairman for four years and another four years. But the tragic thing for him was that he did not tamper with the other provisions of the constitution where there were laid down procedure for the removal of anybody who is an officer of the party, he was more interested in entrenching himself without overhauling the entire constitution.
So, when eventually I read the constitution and when we started having problems with him, I discovered that it was only his name he put and a clause that will make him a very strong chairman. When we had our first meeting to resolve the raging problem in Anambra APGA, I brought out the constitution and gave it to him and said, despite the fact you put your name there you cannot run the party the way you are running it with this constitution, it was a bet and eventually the same constitution was used to remove him. And when he challenged it at the three levels of courts in Nigeria, the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, it was determined that he was expelled in accordance with the provisions of that same constitution.
To answer your question you will see that his disposition was what made peaceful resolution of the disagreement impossible. At every material time, he was announcing amnesty for people who validly expelled him from the party even when he lost at the High Court he was still announcing amnesty to people. If you know the powers of the courts, you know that in your sane mind when a court of law makes a decision against you, you will be stupid to pretend as if that decision does not exist. So, when it happened in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, he continued to parade himself as the chairman of APGA even though he appealed.
He said that the judgment of the court was nothing, the Court of Appeal enforced the judgment, he continued to say that he is the chairman of APGA, even when the Supreme Court asserted his expulsion from APGA, he is saying that he is the chairman of APGA, he still wears APGA barge everywhere he goes to. So, because he continued to disparage me, he made Victor Umeh a household name in Nigeria, the whole party was against him; when Ojukwu wanted to mediate from the beginning, he ran out and insulted Ojukwu, but because he misled people that he founded the party, he drew sympathy from a section of the media even yourself, you did not bother to hear from the other side, from me. It was as a result of that his ubiquitous attitude he presented to the Nigerian public all laden with lies that the issue of settlement was not possible.
At a point, he told people that there were 16 attempts to reconcile us and that I never accepted, that the Catholic Bishops in the South-east tried to do this and I refused, but I can tell you I am a Knight of St John of the Catholic Church, Okorie is not closer to the Catholic Bishops in the South-east even in Nigeria than myself. So, if there was any single effort by the Catholic bishops to mediate in the matter I will know and they will invite me, there was no such incident. But every day he will grant interviews and name all sorts of people that had tried to resolve the matter and we were laughing at him.
And I felt that when he got it completely finished was when against his prediction, we triumphed at the Anambra election tribunal, we triumphed at the appeal tribunal here in Enugu and Peter Obi became governor; it was at that point that Okorie would have made a U-turn to come back to the party for genuine reconciliation. Instead of doing that he joined hands to promote Obi's impeachment on television, that he should be thrown away, that he was a criminal; this is a party you are saying he should return to, somebody who did all these, was he in a mood to be reconciled? So, the people who sustained him for seven years were the opponents of the party, he made himself a prodigal son and joined the opponents of the party. For him to have lost at the Supreme Court on the 25th of March 2011, it was the final seal to any claim he can make in APGA, but you know he is at the high court again; so, all these things are what you look at and agree with me that he needs somebody to take him out of the course of action he is taking now.
Effects of the absence of Dim Ojukwu in 2011 election on APGA
Ojukwu no doubt is sick and we missed him a great deal during the 2011 general elections; he is somebody his influence in Igbo land does not depend on his health condition, he is somebody even in death people will continue to revere in Igbo land. So, that he was sick and therefore not able to go round with us during the campaigns, I will tell you that everybody remembered that he was still there and APGA remained as a party and he is the leader. Remember that it was the leadership of the party that made him the leader of APGA, it wasn't Chekwas Okorie's.
So, in making him leader, we were conscious of the universal goodwill the leadership of APGA will bring to the party in terms of electoral fortunes; so, there was no doubt that in 2011 general elections we missed him greatly. We were able to record very huge successes in the election, but if he had been around we would have surpassed our performance; he would have been able to go to Aba, Abakaliki with us; even though he wasn't there at Owerri, his spirit was with us. Imo State was a ground that was already tilled. As soon as APGA was registered, the people there saw APGA as their vehicle from the day of registration.
So, in 2011 his absence pained us but I will tell you that APGA still did very well. So, I will tell you that if he had been around, maybe we would have got more states; any time he is not in Igbo land, the Igbos miss something. As the chairman of APGA I feel the greatest pain because of his absence, I will tell you all the difficult times the party went through, if not for Ojukwu the party would have died. So, our party misses him dearly, we are happy he is getting better, he has left hospital, he has gone to a nursing home where he will continue to recover. When I went to tell him in London how we fared after the election, he was happy, but I knew he would have been happier if he had been around to bring more victory to the party.