Anayo Okolie writes on the hints of great promise in Victor Umeh’s politics
That the Igbo do not have a rallying point and spokesman at present is not in doubt. What is in doubt is the kind of personality qualified for the role that was played by Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu before his death on November 26, 2011 at the age of 78.
The Eze-Igbo Gburugbru had committed himself to the cause of Ndi-Igbo, even to the detriment of what was a promising military career. And at death, Odumegwu-Ojukwu was buried with a fanfare befitting a former Head of State. Some attributed this to the fact that the then President Goodluck Jonathan and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Azubuike Iherijika, were of Eastern Nigerian origin. Others said it was symptomatic of a country appreciating the man, who was widely described as a rebel with a cause, better when the truth of his struggle dawned on Nigerians, albeit belatedly.
If there is anyone who learnt at Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s feet, especially when the sage was at the peak of his politics – contesting twice as presidential candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance – and has qualities that stand him in good stead to step into Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s large shoes in national politics, he is Chief Victor Umeh. The Ohamadike has gone through the APGA ranks, having served the party at different times as National Assistant Secretary, National Treasurer, National Chairman, and now a member of the APGA Board of Trustees, within the party’s 15 years of existence.
Those who know him say Umeh’s meteoric rise is a result of his integrity and consistent love of justice.
Just as former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi is recognised as having contributed immensely to democracy by successfully challenging the attempt by the Peoples Democratic Party and its then candidate, Dr. Chris Ngige, to rob him of his electoral mandate, Umeh is seen as the wheel on which Obi rode. It was Umeh who introduced Obi to APGA. It was also Umeh who ensured that Obi got the APGA governorship ticket, of course, with the blessings of Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Chief Okey Nwosu was said to be the favourite for the APGA ticket, but he belonged to a group that was no longer in the party’s mainstream, the Chuba Okadigbo group. Okadigbo himself had joined the All Nigeria Peoples Party, which is now defunct, and was running mate at some point to General Muhammadu Buhari.
Obi emerged through a democratic process as APGA’s flag-bearer in Anambra State and his campaign was methodical and well organised. At every level, Umeh featured, to the extent that when the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Ngige governor-elect without the latter scoring majority of lawful votes, Umeh was Petitioner’s Witness One for Obi.
It was Umeh who actually coordinated Obi’s case both at the Election Petitions Tribunal and Elections Appeal Tribunal, liaising with leaders of Obi’s legal team, like Senator Nathanial Anah and Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, to ensure victory, despite the delay tactics employed by Ngige’s lawyers.
But, ironically, today, Obi is not only in PDP romancing the same people who had worked hard to deny him his mandate, but he would also do everything in his powers to stop Umeh from becoming a senator. Obi has left APGA, but it was through APGA that he got his mandate and the full tenure that followed.
Between Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Umeh
Umeh played an important role in the reversal of Obi’s impeachment and his return to office. Members of the Anambra State House of Assembly had impeached him through a dubious process that involved what amounted to a substantive service on Obi without an order of court. In that legal duel, Umeh played the role of a coordinator. Umeh, it was learnt, was the one who proposed the idea of challenging Obi’s impeachment in court while his deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba, should be sworn-in as governor.
Umeh said in an interview, “It was Ojukwu and I that went to Awka to install him. We got Etiaba to summon the Commissioner of Police and the Director of State Security Service and briefed them on what we were about to do.”
Besides, following Dr. Andy Uba’s governorship victory, Obi was at the Supreme Court to seek interpretation of his tenure, whether it commenced on the day his counterpart, Ngige, wrongfully assumed office or when his own mandate was restored by the court. Umeh said he was the one who encouraged Obi to seek tenure interpretation.
“If there is any Igbo man who God has raised to defend the Igbo cause, it is Umeh. The young man is very useful to Igbo land,” said former special adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on environment, who was once an APGA chieftain in Imo State, Chief Martins Agbaso.
At the time of Agbaso’s travails in the Imo State governorship race, Umeh was among those who supported him in the legal battles with Ikedi Ohakim and the PDP-led federal government. There were, certainly, others, like Paschal Dozie and his kinsman, Navy Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho (rtd).
Umeh was also instrumental to the emergence of Owelle Rochas Okorocha as governor of Imo State. At a time when the quest for the governorship ticket of APGA caused a clash between Okorocha and Agbaso, it was Umeh who intervened and mediated peace. He was said to have helped Jude Agbaso (Martin’s brother) to become Deputy Governor of Imo State in a re-alignment of political interests between Okorocha, who wanted the APGA platform to achieve his governorship ambition, and the Agbasos of Emekuku (Owerri North Local Government Area) who held the party structure in the state at the time.
That Jude Agbaso was impeached two years later was because both Okorocha and Martin Agbaso rebelled against the APGA leadership. Rochas was already on his way to the All Progressives Congress, and Agbaso was moving in the PDP direction. Both groups were eager to wrest power from each other.
Umeh was quoted as saying, “When Rochas made the allegation that Martin Agbaso was part of a plot by PDP chieftains to unseat him, he said the truth, because I asked Martin about it and I was not satisfied by his answer.”
Umeh came to limelight leading the struggle for the routing of pioneer National Chairman of APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie. But the former APGA national chairman, who is currently vying for the Anambra Central senatorial seat in the court-ordered rerun election scheduled for March 5, has also struggled for the good of APGA and to defend the Igbo cause.
As the people of Anambra Central go to the polls, many expect that they will avail themselves of the opportunity for quality representation in the Senate by voting Umeh.