APGA: Litigation is your name, suspense your fate
How Past Misdeeds Haunt Anambra Ruling Party
With two claimants to the office of national chairman, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) is back to its old blotch. As a political party, APGA is very familiar with litigations and multitudinous court processes. The party has been through the same route before. But, to be enmeshed in leadership disputations and litigations, barely four months to a crucial governorship election in the lone state it controls is a burden, which neither experience nor influence could defray.
As such, unless wise counsel prevails urgently, APGA’s recent fracas may hurt its desire to retain the governorship seat in Anambra State. And that could drive final nail into the coffin for the erstwhile promising national party with great regional appeal.
Recycling Of History
Barely two years after it was formed by Dr. Chekwas Okorie, precisely on December 15, 2004; the party’s national treasurer, Chief Victor Umeh, conspired with few members of the National Working Committee (NWC) and removed Okorie, the then Deputy National Chairmen (North and South), late Dr. Hassan Bello and Chief Maxi Okwu, respectively. The oddity of that mischievous overthrow was accentuated by the elevation of the treasurer, Umeh, to the position of acting national chairman, which elicited protracted litigations.
Enabled by judicial corruption and hefty financial inducements, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) looked helplessly askance, as the APGA constitution in its custody was trampled upon. Seeming to enjoy the dingdong affair that the party’s leadership dispute between Okorie and Umeh had become, the electoral umpire encouraged the circus show by speaking from both sides of the mouth as it recognised and withdrew recognition from the gladiators at whim.
Having walked through various courts of different jurisdictions for eight years, Okorie noted the unpreparedness and weakness of the courts and INEC to lift the gavel of truth in the matter and decided to stop further search for judicial sanction against the usurpers.
As such in October 2012, Okorie returned the APGA registration certificate to INEC. While blaming the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under former President Olusegun Obasanjo for using Umeh as a weak link to destabilize APGA, the founding chairman declared that he had decided to go away with the soul and spirit of APGA, leaving behind the empty shell for those who set out to use the party as a money making machine.
However, as the beneficiary of the infamous leadership change in APGA continued in the office for ten years, the party became fixated with controlling Anambra State alone. Although it made a bold in road in Imo State in 2011, the ancient problem of excessive monetary demands and politics of deception robbed APGA of the governorship seat it won as the governor defected to another party.
Piqued by the lack of internal democracy and paralysis of the various organs, an attempt was made to exorcise the spirit of political wickedness, manipulation and impunity from the party. A former chairman of Udi local council chapter of the party, Ichie Jude Okuli, approached an Enugu High Court presided over by the then State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, seeking an order of court on Umeh to stop parading himself as national chairman of APGA.
The plaintiff also invited the court to determine whether by virtue of APGA constitution, Umeh, whose tenure expired in December 2012, could be re-elected by affirmation instead of secret ballot of delegates at a national convention.
While the court sacked Umeh and all members of NWC, the party through its Board of Trustees, announced dates for a NEC meeting after which dates for a national convention, beginning with ward, local government and state congresses, was announced.
On April 8, 2013 at the Women Development Centre, Awka; new NWC led by Chief Maxi Okwu, was elected. It happened that on the very same day, while APGA faithful held the national convention at Awka, the Court of Appeal, Enugu Division, set aside the Enugu High Court judgment that sacked Umeh.
And while the Appeal Court in Enugu was deciding on Umeh’s suit against his sack by Enugu High Court, an Awka High Court presided over by Justice Onwudinjo upheld the party’s April 8, 2013 convention that produced Okwu. Based on the two judgments, the two factions announced the sale for forms for the 2013 Anambra governorship poll, which was fixed for October 2013.
Although then Governor Peter Obi was the propelling force behind the Okwu faction, he suddenly reconciled with Umeh during a brief ceremony at the Government House, Awka. While the two erstwhile estranged allies were sharing a kiss in public expression of their brotherhood, a prominent governorship aspirant of the party, Dr. Chike Obidigbo, was at the Correspondents’ Chapel addressing journalists on his vision to steer Anambra State to economic prosperity and social order.
And on account of the fact that Obi did not carry the Okwu faction along in the sudden rapprochement, the rival factions stuck to their guns, pursuing their many pending suits at different courts. The highpoint of the factional crisis was when a Federal High Court sitting in Awka ordered INEC to receive the name of Dr. Chike Obidigbo, the nominee of the Okwu faction, pending the determination of the substantive suit on which was the authentic national leadership of APGA.
By that pronouncement, APGA became the only political party that forwarded the names of two candidates to INEC for a governorship poll. As both candidates campaigned, they encouraged their supporters with hopes that ultimate legal victory would come their way. However, legal tangle and suspense continued beyond the election and even the inauguration of Willie Obiano from the Obi/Umeh faction as governor on March 17, 2014.
But despite the inauguration of Obiano, a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Abubakar Abdul Kafarati dropped a shocker when it ruled January 15, 2015 that Umeh and his NWC had long served out their tenure, even as it upheld the April 8, 2013 convention that threw up Okwu and 18 other members of NWC.
While dissolving the executive committee of the Chief Victor Umeh-led faction, Justice Abdul Kafarati not only upheld the chairmanship of Okwu, but also declared that the tenure of the Umeh-led faction had constitutionally expired and ordered it dissolved forthwith.
Okwu had in the suit FHC/ABJ/CS/563/2013, against Umeh and Sani Shinkafi, the faction’s secretary, sought their removal for outliving their tenure, while INEC was joined.
Umeh had argued in a preliminary objection that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case, insisting that he should be declared the authentic chairman of the party. When therefore Justice Kafarati delivered his ruling that fateful January 15, 2015, it jolted not only the new governor, but also his predecessor, Obi, and embattled national chairman, Umeh.
Chief Patrick Ikwueto SAN, on behalf of Umeh and his faction of the party, filed an appeal immediately. All eyes were trained at the process, even as the governorship election petition went on, with Okwu faction and its candidate, Dr. Obidigbo, defending the victory of APGA as well as advancing reasons why, they and not Umeh and Obiano, were the rightful owners of the votes.
The litigations continued up to the Supreme Court, where a curious verdict repudiated the ruling of the lower courts on the authenticity of the April 8, 2013 Awka convention that produced Okwu and 18 other members of APGA NWC.
When therefore the party held another convention in 2015 and returned a total stranger in the person of Mr. Victor Oye, as APGA national chairman, many people, particularly watchers of the protracted leadership dispute between Umeh and Okorie, as well as, between Okwu and Obi/Umeh, heaved a big sigh of relief despite the obvious shortcomings of the process.
But quite unlike the emergence of Okwu, who was once a deputy national chairman (South), Oye, who succeeded Umeh, was before his emergence on the scene never been a card carrying member of APGA. In fact, party faithful disclosed that Oye got his membership card on the very day he was to become national chairman. Even Governor Obiano, who endorsed Oye to succeed Umeh, became a member of APGA by virtue of Obi’s endorsement for the position of governor.
Presently, Oye is at the centre of a new firestorm in the party. He was suspended for allegedly contravening laid down procedures for the management of party funds, running the party as private estate shrouded in worrisome secrecy and alienating other members of the NWC in the conduct of party affairs.
Perhaps on account of their superior knowledge of APGA constitution, those who suspended Oye in the course of a meeting he convened, followed the disciplinary procedure painstakingly, such that when the embattled chairman discountenanced the 17 point allegations leveled against him, they referred his case to a disciplinary committee and subsequently went to court and secured an order barring him from parading himself as national chairman.
And so APGA has found its back to yesterday. By Monday August 14, 2017 the NWC led by Ochudo Martin Agbaso would be conducting primary election for governorship aspirants preparatory to the November 18, governorship poll.
On the other hand, Oye, who has a December 14 date in court to quash his removal from office, has scheduled to hold a parallel primary on Tuesday August 15, 2017. But while Agbaso wrote INEC informing the commission of the decision to hold the primary, Oye did not take that path, believing that the support of the governor would clear every administrative huddle at INEC.
To get to this point Oye had obtained favourable rulings from State High Courts in Nnewi, Awka and Ibadan, recognising him as chairman contrary to the Order of mandamus handed out by the Court of Appeal, Enugu to INEC and police, directing them to deal with only Chief Agbaso as APGA national chairman.
In a recent television programme, Umeh, whom APGA faithful refer to as Obata Osu (dissembler), made strenuous efforts to dismiss Oye’s removal as not in line with provisions of the party constitution.
The former national chairman argued that when the national chairman is removed, “only the deputy national chairman from the same geopolitical zone from which he hails should be made the acting national chairman pending a convention to elect a new National Chairman.
Although Umeh declared albeit erroneously that Chief Martin Agbaso was never in line of succession to the office of national chairman, he inadvertently exposed the mischief in his overthrow of Okorie, which has remained at the root of instability of APGA.
Exulting in the unwitting self-indictment by Umeh, Ogbuehi Dike, national publicity secretary of United Progressive Party (UPP), explained in a statement that “none of the processes that Umeh was singing about was followed in the sordid episode of December 2004.”
Dike, who was also APGA chieftain added: “Umeh had the backing of the Presidency at that time, which in turn influenced the Independent National Electoral Commission under Professor Maurice Iwu to give recognition to Umeh who was national treasurer of the party as acting national chairman of APGA. It was this unconstitutional conduct and strange support by INEC that launched APGA into a protracted eight years leadership dispute that traversed all the levels of the nation’s judicial process, including the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Umeh and his sponsors wallowed in what was clearly a pyrrhic victory. After eight years of this travesty of justice, he has come out to confess to his ignoble role in the destruction of a party that had great promise for the marginalized masses of this country.”
Obiano As Scapegoat
As things stand, the second term ambition of Governor Obiano is on the line. All the past misdeeds of APGA have come to haunt the platform. And coming at such a time when INEC has been showing serious signs of impartiality, the governor may as well be the escape goat to wash away the sins of the party for a new beginning.
Although the governor is banking on the possibility of emerging the better alternative whenever the courts deliver a final verdict on the latest leadership tussle, there are indicators that the judgment may not come when the substitution window is still open. Unless the governor reaches a quick rapprochement as Obi did when he wanted to impose him as his successor, Obiano may end up as the first governor to lose a second term ambition to intra-party squabble.
As happened to PDP, APGA may lose its long hold on Anambra governorship due to impunity and imprecise political thinking. Should that untoward outcome chance on Obiano, he would have left a big lesson in Nigeria’s political progression that a good balance between mandate delivery and sound politics is essential for democratic leadership.