Victor Umeh: A Dogged Fighter at 54

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Michael Jegede

Former national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Umeh, clocked 54 years on July 19. Umeh, an estate surveyor by profession, is an astute politician that has made significant impact in the sustenance of Nigeria’s democracy.

Widely known for his philanthropic initiatives, the benevolent politician with sundry traditional titles for his enormous contributions towards the advancement of humanity, started his voyage in politics in 1998. He was then a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, before joining forces with other progressive minds to form APGA in 2002.

As APGA national chairman for over a decade, Umeh, an unwavering fighter and warrior, recorded landmark achievements, winning several political and legal battles for his party. For three years, between 2003 and 2006, Umeh, a consistent, loyal and dependable politician, stood solidly behind former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State to regain APGA’s mandate from the then Governor Chris Ngige of PDP. Umeh’s role in the case instituted for the reversal of the impeachment of Obi soon after he assumed office by the then PDP-controlled Anambra State House of Assembly on November 2, 2006 and the celebrated tenure interpretation suit in 2007 was momentous.

A successful estate surveyor turned politician, Umeh was seen by his admirers as the most vocal, vibrant and outspoken party national chairman in the country during his time. The late Ikemba Nnewi and great leader of APGA, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, admired him so much that he could not hide his feelings after the triumphant outing at the polls that brought in Obi for a second term as governor in 2010.

That was the first time such was happening in the history of Anambra politics. Odumegwu-Ojukwu, in a congratulatory message on March 17, 2010 described Umeh in glowing terms saying: “The might of a warrior is tested only in battle. On this historic occasion of the inauguration of Governor Peter Obi for a record second term of office, I salute your tenacity, your courage and resilience. APGA has always known what has now become widely acknowledged… kudos.”

Umeh’s indefatigable spirit was likewise seen in APGA’s protracted leadership crisis. He doggedly fought and defeated Chief Chekwas Okorie, the founding national chairman of the party, in various suits up to Supreme Court to remain the authentic national chairman. The matter by decided at the apex court on March 25, 2011.

While Umeh was still basking in the euphoria of his triumph in the over six-year legal wrangle with Okorie, Obi, for reasons only known to him, decided to open another round of leadership tussle by aligning with a clique in APGA to try to send him packing. That led to the emergence of Barrister Maxi Okwu as a factional national chairman of the party.

Nonetheless, the Ohamadike Ndigbo, who was recently conferred with an honorary doctorate degree by Tansian University, Umumya, Anambra State, rose to the challenge. The Court of Appeal on July 15, 2013 ruled in Umeh’s favour in one of the different cases instituted to kick him out by the Okwu faction with the full backing of Obi. All other such cases equally went in favour of Umeh up to the Supreme Court.

After the appellate court ruling in 2013, Obi, realising that the Umeh factor was key to the victory of APGA and his anointed candidate in that year’s governorship election in the state, quickly had to mend fences with the Dike Anagbaluizu of Abagana and the Ikenga of Oba. Despite Okwu’s refusal to be part of the reconciliation and his insistence on continuing with the court cases, the timely reunion Obi had with Umeh saw APGA emerging victorious in the 2013 Anambra guber election that produced the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano. The outcome of that election was obviously a further indication that the erstwhile APGA helmsman is undoubtedly a strong force to reckon with in the political firmament of Anambra State.

Speaking on the stupendous feats of Umeh as APGA boss, the man who took over from him last year, Dr. Victor Oye, confessed that the shoes of his predecessor were seen as too large for whoever would succeed him. Ifeanyi Afuba in a piece quoted Oye as saying in an interview, “Three things could account for the success of the party in the 43 court cases. First was the uncommon love of God for the party. The second was the flimsiness of the reasons…for the cases.

And the third was the indomitable fighting spirit of Chief Victor Umeh. He was everywhere galvanising support for the legal team. His elephantine memory and capacity for details singled him out during the trying moments.”
When Umeh succumbed to pressure from his people to contest the Anambra Central senatorial election last year, many political watchers predicted his victory because his records speak volumes.

He was the most formidable candidate. His campaign was the most robust and elaborate in style with a strong support base from within and outside Anambra State. Various groups, communities and individuals across the South-east were lining up to endorse him as the candidate to beat. They believed he was fully equipped to represent not just the Anambra Central people but also serve as a powerful voice for Ndigbo in the Senate.

However, the 2015 general election came and the PDP candidate, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife, was announced winner of the Anambra Central poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Convinced that the election was manipulated to favour the PDP candidate, the peace-loving politician with an unalloyed faith in the judiciary, gathered his evidence and headed to the tribunal to seek justice.

When the tribunal dismissed his case, he did not give up. He moved to the Court of Appeal, which is the last stage for National Assembly election matters. The 1984 graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Principal Consultant of V. C. Umeh & Co, a firm of estate surveyors and valuers, succeeded in getting the appeal court to nullify Ekwunife’s election in December 2015. The appellate court ordered a rerun and barred Ekwunife and the PDP from taking part.

While INEC was about to conduct the rerun on March 5 this year and Umeh was set to clinch victory, an Abuja High Court ruling came, compelling the electoral body to include PDP in the exercise. Confident that its decision to exclude PDP was guided by law, based on previous Supreme Court verdicts, INEC postponed the rerun indefinitely and appealed the High Court ruling. Umeh, who believed the electoral umpire was right, asked to be joined in the appeal as an interested party.

The suit is delaying Umeh’s smooth ride to the Senate and denying the good people of Anambra Central representation at the highest level of the country’s legislature.
Umeh, a native of Aguluzuigbo, he has lived a greatly fulfilled life at 54. His supporters are quite optimistic that he would be in the Senate, no matter the gimmicks employed by his political opponents to frustrate the conduct of the rerun. At 54, his people find in him the doggedness, ebullience, dynamism and fitness required to represent them well. He demonstrated these attributes much at the 2014 national conference, where he stood to be counted among those that championed the cause of the Igbo nation.

Umeh, a fellow of many national and international professional institutes, whose education foundation has granted scholarships to many indigent students in both secondary and tertiary institutions, was APGA’s pioneer national vice chairman, South-east, and later national treasurer prior to his emergence as the national chairman in 2004. He was also elected state treasurer of PDP in Anambra State before his resignation from the party in 2001.

Umeh has numerous awards and honours, including the national honour of Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR. I wish him more years of good health and fruitful contributions to the growth and development of our dear country.
–– Jegede, a media professional, writes from Abuja.