Chief Victor Umeh
National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Umeh, in this interview, speaks on the crisis rocking the party and its connection with the 2015 presidential election, the attitude of the Enugu State Chief Judge, Justice Innocent Umezulike, in the case against APGA, among other issues. Charles Ajunwa brings excerpts of the interview:
A re you worried that the Chief Judge of a state whose governor had boasted that APGA will die in 2014 is the lead character in the battle to kill APGA?
I would not want to take it to the governor of Enugu State now. I cannot because the action was initiated by somebody who claims to be a member of APGA. There are other people who have interest in the matter but are hiding themselves. At the appropriate time, they will be unmasked. The issue of APGA is a very tenuous one. There is no doubt that as the national chairman of APGA, I am stepping on very big toes by the pronouncements I have been making and things I have been saying to protect APGA as a top political party in Nigeria. It injures some interests here and there, particularly, some sycophantic interests for which I owe no apologies. I spoke loudly and I have continued to renew that call on the need for APGA to contest for the Presidency in 2015.
You know that in APGA, as constituted presently, some people among us that are highly placed are working for President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP and as guarantors of President Jonathan in APGA, they feel that what I am saying is an affront on their master. I don’t care about that. I am the chairman of APGA and I will continue to speak and defend the rights and interests of our party members. I will always fall back to the things the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu told me under my stewardship with him. For five years, Ojukwu was the National Leader of APGA and I was the chairman. And I will tell you that Ojukwu had that steely conviction, iron-cast conviction that APGA must always contest for presidential elections, all the times elections are called.
What is your reaction to the recent order by an Enugu High Court restraining you from parading yourself as the national chairman of APGA?
Yes, the Chief Judge of Enugu State granted an interlocutory injunction against me as the National Chairman of APGA. The injunction was to restrain me from parading myself as the national chairman of APGA until he delivers judgement on the main suit. Of course, this suit has been very controversial from the onset. If you have followed our responses over time, you will see that we have been working very hard to stop the man from the mission which he was procured to accomplish by some people.
But sadly, the Chief Judge of Enugu State threw caution to the wind and departed from normal judicial process in conducting the matters before him. One was that on the 25th of July, through an order he made, he restrained me from convening the executive meetings of APGA at all levels –national, state, local government and ward. He based his ex-parte order on an application brought before him by one Jude Okuli, who claimed to be a former local government chairman of APGA in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State. In that suit, Okuli sued me as Chief Victor Umeh. The suit is, therefore, Jude Ejike Okuli vs Chief Victor Umeh. Nothing more! In the relief he sought in the case, he asked the court to declare that my tenure as the chairman had expired since 2010 and also that the court should make an order, ordering the fresh conduct of congresses from the ward, local governments, states to convention. There were other things he put in his reliefs that bordered on the constitution of the party.
So you are saying that the suit does not affect your position as APGA National Chairman.
Whatever reliefs, the fact that he sued me as Chief Victor Umeh, without joining APGA, which I run as the national chairman, made this suit incurably defective. I have obtained several opinions from several legal minds, one from my lead legal counsel, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, that this suit is incompetent. When that ex-parte was served on me, we appeared before his court and my lead counsel filed a process of preliminary objection to the suit, based on four principal grounds. One was that the fact that APGA was not joined in the suit made the suit incompetent. The judge made an order restraining me from convening meetings of APGA and APGA was not a party to the suit. There are other grounds on which that suit was challenged through a preliminary objection. You know, a preliminary objection is a challenge of the rights of the court.
On the 31st of July when we came, the judge accepted to hear our preliminary objection and he said that if the court accepted any ground upon which the objection was predicated, the case legitimately comes to an end and, therefore, he would take the preliminary objection first. That argument was made by both sides and he adjourned the matter to 17th of September for ruling on the preliminary objection. Strangely too, he refused to vacate the ex-parte order and extended it to September 17 against the High Court rules of Enugu State, which makes it mandatory that the life span of an ex-parte order shall be 14 days – first, seven days, renewable for another seven days. He now extended it without any application from either of the parties, which is a requirement for such an extension. He gave another 48 days. We put a notice of appeal against that unlawful extension of the order. That notice of appeal was properly filed but the courts were on vacation.
What transpired in court that September 17?
On September 17, we came to court for the ruling on the preliminary objection. If that had succeeded on that day, the matter would have terminated automatically. For two hours, he was reading rhetoric in the court room and at the end of the day, he said he would not deliver judgement on the preliminary objection, that he would take the main suit and deliver the judgement on the main suit and preliminary objection together. At that stage, it became obvious that he was completely biased and desperate to do a hatchet job on the matter. In all consultations I have made, if a judge makes an order to deliver judgement on a preliminary objection, he is bound to deliver judgement on that either in favour or against any of the parties. He cannot arrest the ruling. That is the practice. When he did that, we knew he was trying to gallop into the main matter in order to do some damage. That was why he did that because he knew that if he had ruled against us, we had a right of appeal. He did not want to give us that opportunity and he suspended it and went straight to the main suit.
After reviewing what he had done, I decided to write him a letter, requesting him to transfer the matter to another judge because it was obvious that he has taken sides in the matter. I followed it up with a petition to the National Judicial Council on two principal grounds. He had no right to extend the life span of the ex-parte order and he has no right to refuse to deliver judgement on the preliminary objection already argued before him. These are my grounds for the NJC petition. One thing that is important to bring to notice here is that on September 17, he refused to vacate the exparte order, giving reason that since it was a matter of appeal, it was the Court of Appeal that could vacate it. That he didn’t want to be seen as locking horns with the Court of Appeal. We wrote him a letter and wrote to the NJC and he was adamant. We applied for a ruling on the preliminary objection, but up till today, he has refused to rule on the matter. Knowing that he was bent on continuing to do damage, we filed a motion asking him to withdraw himself from the case.
Has the motion on the judge’s withdrawal been heard?
That motion came up for hearing on October 8 and he refused to take the motion and shouted the lawyer down that he would not take the motion. That he would want to take pending applications and the main suit and asked the other counsel to move his motions. Of course, the motions are for interlocutory injunction and to prevent me from expelling anybody from APGA. He adopted his written address for the main suit and then turned around to ask the other lawyer to move his motion to disqualify him.
After carefully looking at all the issues, I consider this a mockery of the judicial process and a grave travesty of justice. A judge cannot be desperate to hear a matter, where nobody has complained to him. It has not happened anywhere before, where a judge will refuse a transfer of a case before him to another judge for unbiased adjudication and also refuses to hear a motion for him to disqualify himself from a matter. What the Chief Judge of Enugu State did in this case is that he has also made himself a co-plaintiff in the matter. That is what he has done. I am going to challenge it through lawful means. The good thing about judicial process is that three levels of courts are established- the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. So, the decision of any judge is subject to review. We see what the judge is doing as playing out a script or an agenda for which he was hired, to decimate APGA. Looking at the case on its merit, you will see how he has been inconsistently conducting himself in this judicial procedure.
Do you think the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice can be of any help in this matter?
I want to use this medium to call on the Chief Justice of Nigeria not to allow the judicial process to be ridiculed by this man. That somebody is a judge does not give the person an authority to abuse the judicial process. This is a gross abuse of the judicial process. Because of my training, I do not want to go into details of how he was compromised in this matter.
Let me restrict myself to the wrong conduct he has exhibited in this matter. The CJN should be able to redeem the image of the judiciary in this matter and not allow Justice Umezurike of Enugu State to drag the image of the judiciary in the mud. In all fronts, there is no justification for what he has done. For me, that he has restrained from parading myself as the chairman of APGA is just for a while and the whole thing will crumble. You cannot put a structure on a weak foundation. The suit is incompetent and without delivering on the preliminary objection, all the actions he has taken will become a nullity, when the Court of Appeal upholds our objections.