With some of the recent developments in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), nothing suggests that the crisis plaguing the party would be over soon, writes Ndubuisi Ugah
Since December 15, 2004, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has been enmeshed in a series of leadership crises. That day, APGA’s National Working Committee (NWC) met in Abuja, the nation’s capital, and suspended its pioneer National Chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie, for alleged gross anti-party activities, in the run up to the April 2003 governorship election victory of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State. He was alleged, amongst other things, to have attempted to negotiate with Dr. Chris Ngige, ousted former governor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Okorie, expectedly, challenged his suspension which later snowballed into expulsion, up to the Supreme Court. He eventually lost the battle on March 25, 2011 when the court affirmed his expulsion.
Consequently, he returned the party’s original certificate of registration in his custody to INEC on March 7, 2012, having lost 23 cases in various courts across the country in his quest to remain APGA chairman.
The fallout of the Supreme Court judgment, however, produced Chief Victor Umeh, who took over the party’s leadership in December 2004 with enormous support and encouragement from the party’s national leader, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the party’s NEC and his now estranged political soul-mate. Together with other stakeholders, they were able to recover Obi’s alleged stolen mandate from Ngige. Indeed, they gave Obi every support needed to reverse his impeachment after Dr. Andy Uba’s 17 days interregnum as governor.
Besides, Umeh was believed to have helped coordinate Obi’s re-election campaign that led to his victory in the February 6, 2010 governorship poll in the state, though with the active support of the late Ojukwu. The late former leader was said to have been impressed by Umeh’s leadership approach that he placed an advertisement in a national daily, describing him as “the hardest working party chairman in the federation.”
Ikemba would go on to doff his hat for Umeh: “I salute your tenacity, your courage and resilience. The might of a warrior is tested only in battle.” This is in spite of the fact that Ikemba had initially endorsed Emeka Etiaba for the governorship race, a development that rattled the Obi camp. But a disappointed Etiaba defected to Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA).
Umeh’s leadership did not only offer Obi APGA’s governorship ticket when former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, had already given the nomination form to Hon. George Ozodinobi of the Okorie faction; the APGA boss also made sure Obi defeated PDP’s Professor Chukwuma Soludo and ACN’s Ngige during the election. His intervention, many thought, saved Obi’s job.
Ironically, Umeh who was at the time Ojukwu’s toast may have become a public scorn by Ojukwu’s wife, Bianca, Dr. Tim Menakaya and Obi. Interestingly, Bianca who is presently Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain, was not out for Umeh alone, she soon included the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, giving a denigrating narration of how MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, allegedly made him governor despite all odds.
But the Imo State Government was not just going to ignore her. In its reply, the government described her outburst as baseless and that the relationship between Ojukwu and Okorocha was like that between father and son.
A statement by the Special Assistant on Media (Prints) to the Governor, Ebere Uzoukwa, however advised Bianca to face her new assignment because: “His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, has so much respect for the late Ojukwu and the entire family and Bianca should not pose a threat to that relationship with her unholy romance with some disgruntled elements and enemies of Imo State people.”
Although, many observers had expected that Bianca would demonstrate exceptional wisdom in the handling of political issues, particularly given her new posting; her new disposition is believed to pose huge threat to her late husband’s legacy.
“It is the only way she can be a good ambassador of the great Ikemba and the nation. I pray she succeeds in her national assignment,” tje government said.
But one question that has continued to baffle some of the observers of APGA politics is how Bianca, daughter of a former governor of old Anambra State in the Second Republic, would publicly show contempt for Umeh and a governor elected on the platform. Again, some of the undercurrents have begun to come into the open as the APGA crisis festers.
For instance, on November 6, 2012, Obi reportedly held what he called APGA’s South-east stakeholders' meeting in Awka, the Anambra State capital, to which he also claimed all the party leaders in the zone were invited but Umeh and Okorocha stayed away. Resolutions from the meeting were however published in the newspapers on November 12.
Obi also claimed that the meeting was organised to find lasting solution to the leadership crisis in the party and reconcile aggrieved members. But nothing in the resolutions adopted showed it was a reconciliatory meeting.
But Umeh has denied receiving any invitation purportedly sent to him through a text message. He said he was in London on an official assignment when the meeting was called. The APGA boss who has since told his story in many interviews granted journalists, described the report that he shunned the meeting as mischievous and which was intended to tarnish his image as one averse to peace in the party.
Umeh, however, threatened to spill the beans if his antagonists pushed him to the wall after Ojukwu’s one year mourning period is over. He accused Obi of frustrating efforts by eminent people, including the Catholic Bishop of Awka diocese, Most Rev. Dr. Paulinus Eze-Okafor, the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, Obi’s lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), and Anaocha traditional Rulers’ Council, among others to amicably resolve the party crisis.
Interestingly, the festering sore in APGA has been linked to many factors, including the battle to succeed Obi and the governor’s quest for life after office. There is the believed that the governor is presently working with the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a platform he thinks can guarantee a better future for his political career. Thus, one of the agreements allegedly reached with the PDP is to ensure a successor loyal to the presidency and that would be his ticket to a promising life in the PDP.
Ironically, to achieve this, observers believe that the only option available to Obi is to destroy his present platform, such that nothing would be left behind to haunt him in future. But this is what some APGA chieftains have said that they would resist.
As Umeh and Obi have come out to spar in addition to the open confrontation between Bianca and Okorocha, there is no gainsaying the fact that the APGA crisis has come to a sore point which requires only the grit of the stakeholders to heal.
Certainly, it was against the backdrop of the deteriorating tide in APGA, that the South-east Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) intervened in the matter and urged the gladiators to sheathe their swords. Chairman of CAN in the Zone who is also the Bishop of Enugu Anglican Diocese, Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma, said: “The APGA conflict is of no good to us as a people; we are concerned as a church, we are concerned as Igbos and we are calling all of them to please come together. I am going to call a peace convention of APGA to see how to reconcile them so that it does not affect other areas of Igbo interest.”
However, the need for peace in the party cannot be over-emphasised. Following allegations of forgery preferred against the party’s embattled Deputy National Chairman (North), Alhaji Sadeeq Masalla, an Abuja High Court has granted the Police leave to arraign him on November 21, 2012.
He is charged with forgery of signatures of some members of the NWC of the party and therefore committed an offense punishable under Section 364 of the Penal Code. Justice Peter Kekemeke, granted the Order in Charge number RC/36/12 between the Inspector General of Police and Alhaji Sadeeq Ibrahim Masalla, after hearing an application brought by Police prosecutor, Francis Irabor.
Alarmed by this ugly development, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, factional Secretary to the Masalla group, in a letter dated November 9, 2012, and addressed to INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, canvassed for the need for him to stop Ms. Regina Omo-Agege, the Commission’s Director for Political Party Monitoring and Liaison, from testifying against the Masalla faction. He accused her of bias in the matter.
In the meantime, Enugu and Abuja High Courts had restrained Umeh and Masalla from parading themselves as chairman and secretary of the party, pending the determination of the leadership suits before them.
Thus, the intervention of the clergy might as well be a welcome development and a life line to APGA from self-destruct. But the question remains: Will the gladiators give peace a chance? It is a hard question for all the combatants and others to answer with confidence. It is the result of this that will either vindicate or vilify those who had assumed that APGA is dead and already a decomposing carcass.