Friday, October 9, 2009

INEC, Ojukwu, Obi, Umeh and APGA Crises, by Okorie

By Amos Dunia and Lambert Tyem, Sun News Online

Chief Chekwas Okorie is not new to party politics. If anything, he has in the past five years been engulfed in fierce battle of supremacy over who is or should be the recognized National Chairman of (APGA), a party he beats his chest, as having single handedly founded before inviting others to join.

Okorie in this interview with Daily Sun, said that contrary to wide spread belief, he never lost any case in court to Chief Victor Umeh, just as he said that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recognition of APGA former National Treasurer as Acting National Chairman in June 2005 expired in December same year, Umeh according to him, no longer had locus stand, to continue to parade himself as Chairman of the party.

Okorie, who is now recognized as the National chairman by INEC said that he was vilified and denied comfort for his blind loyalty to Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu who he said betrayed him because he hails from Abia State.

The APGA boss, who had earlier vowed to end the gubernatorial ambition of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra for a second term, however said that it is not impossible for an extra-ordinary convention to review the expulsion of the only governor on the platform of the party.


The infighting in APGA

It’s a very tragic experience that has traumatized me a great deal. It cannot actually be captured in words, because my journey to the founding of this political party started in 1995 when the late General Sanni Abacha lifted the ban on party politics. Then, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was already very weak. Don’t forget he died the next year in 1996. I had reasoned that in the entire history of Igbo people, there has never been a national political party that was registered based on Igbo initiative. Everybody knows the Nigeria peoples Party (NPP) was registered by the late Ibrahim Waziri, and people know it was the late MacCauley and others that registered National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) even before Dr Azikiwe returned from America.

It was not an enviable piece of history for our people, who are of such large number in Nigeria.
That was the core reason why in 1996, when the ban on political parties was lifted, I applied to the electoral body then. I tried to meet the requirement but failed to register the association. The name was Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC).

In 1998, I made a second attempt, using the same name PDC, but we still failed. In 2001, I made a third attempt. This time, a number of things changed, because we had some experience, based on the previous failures. With the benefit of that hindsight, we got it right and APGA was founded. So, it can be said without any fear of contradiction that the founding of APGA was my vision, and my conceptualization. With the assistance of others, I actualized that dream. There was no logo committee to come up with this logo. There was no name committee to come up with the name. Everything came from my head, in all ramifications of founding an organization, which by the English word is the person who initiates a project, I have never seen a co-founder of an organization.

It doesn’t exist in the English word. It’s not like being a co-pilot.
Six months after APGA was founded, Dr Odumegwu Ojukwu joined in December. In fact I invited him. When I invited him, what he requested to be was Chairman, Board of Trustees. I told him we had the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo in mind, as our flag bearer because I had made that commitment to Dr Okadigbo and he in turn made financial contribution towards the effort. There were others who also made contributions. But Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu did not make even moral contributions, because when he saw the conditions then, he called me and said Chekwas, this is one of those your dreams that will never work. But when it worked, he was so happy.

When I went with people to present the certificate, he gave me a carton of Moet wine. That is the first gift I got from him in two decades, and I cherish the gift. But six months after, I then invited him, when Dr Okadigbo had moved over to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), giving the reason that he didn’t see war chests in APGA that will enable him fly the presidential flag and that he didn’t have the capacity to foot the bill all by himself. That was the reason he (Dr. Okadigbo) gave to me. We made similar attempts on other people like Jim Nwobodo and General Ike Nwachukwu for instance. These people are still alive.

Ethnic politics/party

The reason was the issue of APGA not having a war chest. There is nobody who will not want some relevance. After all, they wanted to become presidential candidates in their own party and failed, even when they paid N10 million non-refundable fees. When we went through all these, and were almost at the verge of going into the election without a presidential candidate, we now offered Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu that ticket, which he gladly accepted, and went into the election. Our performance was beyond our expectations. Without an incumbency advantage, we produced Peter Obi and some members of the House of Representatives.

We made quite some impressive outings as a party making its debut. My dream then was that we were going to consolidate on that initial achievement in the subsequent general elections. Don’t forget, we also had Federal House of Representatives seat from Bayelsa State. We had Councillorship seats in Taraba, Adamawa, Oyo and Cross River. So, the party had some attention outside the core area. So, there was something to look into in the subsequent elections to make some major spread.

Unfortunately, in 2004, barely two years after the party was registered, our National Treasurer organized a press conference where he announced my removal, even when there was a constitution that is very clear on how to remove a member. I thought it was an ice in a teacup, and so I described it. But before I knew it, I found out that such an eminent person like Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu was actually the master and Victor Umeh was merely an agent provocateur. I looked around more deeply, and found out that Peter Obi was the financial facilitator.

He was not Governor, and we were not quarrelling. All the talks about selling out his mandate were an afterthought, many months after the crisis had started. From the beginning of this crisis on December 15, 2004 till the present time, every dime spent by Umeh to sustain this crisis for this long has been provided by one man, and that is Peter Obi.

How can you prove this?

It is not difficult to prove. First of all, in 2004, Peter Obi gave Dr Mike Attah, our Youth leader then (and who is still our Youth leader, because he eventually returned to the party,) two tickets in his name to come to Abuja and mount that coup against me. That ticket was dated 15th December 2005, and these two tickets were tendered in court, when he made a u-turn to show that he was misled. He tendered these tickets bearing Peter Obi’s name. His utterances thereafter, have not helped matters.

For instance, in his own sponsored programme in AIT, a one-hour programme, the interviewer asked him why he couldn’t use his position as Governor to broker peace in the party that is engulfed in crisis. Unknown to the interviewer, Peter Obi and Victor Umeh are from the same community. He didn’t know that this is really a family affair. Peter Obi replied that the electoral body has recognized Victor Umeh and he is not involved in who is the chairman of the party. He only follows the rule of law. As at that time, he was still basking in the euphoria of winning his case at the Supreme Court. He was seeing himself as the champion of the rule of law.

He said INEC has already recognized Victor Umeh and that he had no choice than to follow that.
The interviewer was a bit prophetic in his follow up question when he asked that supposing INEC changes its mind tomorrow and recognizes Chekwas Okorie, what would you do? He said when we get to the bridge, we will cross it. Now we’ve gotten to the bridge and he has refused to cross it.

Working against Obi

Any coup plotter will always manufacture something to demonize who they are removing. It’s a worldwide phenomenon. It’s not peculiar to the APGA’s case. But let me just debunk that.

On the 9th of November 2004, Peter Obi cried to me that he had gotten information on good authority that the Tribunal trying his case at Awka was going to be dissolved, and the presiding Judge had told him that he had been told to wind up. I panicked as Chairman of the party because the same thing happened to us in Enugu when the panel was wound up and another panel came back and rejected all the exhibits that our candidate then, Ugo Agbala presented and had been admitted in evidence, on the ground that the matter was starting afresh.

When he rejected those exhibits, he went ahead in the next two weeks and dismissed the application, and that was how we lost at the tribunal. So, when I saw the thing happening again in Anambra, I wrote a strong worded letter to the President, Court of Appeal, almost to the point of confrontation on the 9th of November. Two days after, which is November 11, the President, Court of Appeal, who incidentally is the same President today replied and his reply is there. When I wrote the letter, I made it available to the media and he didn’t like that. He said he expected somebody of my status to have come to him and verify this thing before going public. I remember greeting Hon. Justice Abdullahi in a public function and he said why did you do that? I said my lord, if I had waited to book appointment to meet you, the damage would have been done, and you people would say you can’t resurrect the dead.

Three weeks after that, there was a political coup to remove me. This happened shortly after I had taken these pre-emptive steps to save that mandate. When this coup took place on December 15, I traveled with Peter Obi in the same aircraft on December 23 when I was returning to Enugu for Christmas. Incidentally, we flew in the First Class of that Sosoliso aircraft. As we got to Enugu, he said to me he had planned to visit me to bring some Christmas gift. Now that he had seen me here, he might as well follow my convoy to my house. So, we went to my house. He demanded to see me in my private living room, which we did. He brought out N50,000 and said to me he wanted to buy a cow for my Christmas. But now that he had seen me, he would prefer to give me the cash to buy the cow. At that time, N50,000 could buy a cow. I took it with gratitude. My purported removal from the party had been eight days old. So, if the purpose of mounting the unconstitutional change of leadership was because I sold out on his mandate, would he still come to me to give me Christmas gift?

On March 12, 2005, a number of Anambra leaders, including those who call themselves Nigeria’s statesmen put pressure on me to say go and bring Dr. Chris Ngige to your party since the PDP had expelled him. I was advised that if I fail to do that, Alliance for Democracy (AD) was going to take him and what happened to Mbadinuju would happen to him. One of those outside Anambra State that called me was Dr Orji Uzor Kalu. He said to me, that I should proceed that Wednesday to offer Ngige a membership card. I called the leaders of APGA from the Southeast zone. We met and agreed that since Peter Obi had closed his case and Ngige was expelled, by my own reckoning, Ngige had already lost the case because he had over 200 witnesses and was merely buying time.

Let us offer him membership. If he joined, and by Nigeria’s abracadabra, they say he had won, it would be APGA. If Peter won as we expected he would win, it would be APGA. That was our calculation. It could be right or wrong.

Court ruling on APGA leadership question

I never lost. You cannot lose a case when you have not exhausted your right of appeal. What we lost was my suit. If you look at that suit again, you will see that the plaintiff there is Chekwas Okorie. Another plaintiff there is APGA.

If a plaintiff goes to court and he loses his case, what is done is that his case is dismissed, sometimes with cost and sometimes without cost. No Judge would just say your case is dismissed. He will go down the line and show how he arrived at his conclusion. But the bottom line is dismissal of your case. Now, the defendant can never claim relief that he never asked of from the case of a plaintiff. It is this thing that Umeh who is not a lawyer has succeeded to hoodwink even knowledgeable media men to keep writing that Umeh was given judgment. If a court makes observation and arrives at a dismissal, that judgment is called a declaratory judgment. You can’t execute it. But if Umeh had gone to court to ask them to declare him Chairman and his relief was granted, it becomes a judgment that must be executed.

Prayers in court

My prayers before the court was Umeh and13 others were duly expelled by our own side. We went to court to ask for their expulsion. I wouldn’t have been made to go to court to ask for my own expulsion. The simple logic that nobody has addressed and for which I feel terribly disappointed is that if a judgment had given Umeh the Chairmanship of APGA, the place to go and seek enforcement is the same court. It’s not on the pages of newspapers. You go to court and say this judgment you gave me that I’m Chairman has not been obeyed. I want you to make a consequential order. That is how it’s done worldwide, and in Nigeria as well. But he has not taken that option.

How then did INEC give Umeh recognition?

It was INEC mistake that made us to go to court. INEC made it clear in their letter and even in their public statement. INEC said that based on a petition written to them by Umeh as Treasurer of APGA, they recognized him as chairman in acting capacity on June 28, 2005. Everybody, including my last son who is a second year law student knows that once you are given an acting position, it expires in six months. That acting position expired by December 28, 2005. Instead of seeking for renewal of the acting position at the expiration of the six months, Umeh resorted to calling himself chairman and got it published. But INEC now said in their statement that his substantive position would be conveyed by a duly convened APGA convention, which never took place.

Umeh’s purported national convention

There you are. If somebody who is going to be elected chairman at a Convention would convene the Convention, what was he before convening it? Under our Constitution, he has to be the chairman first, before he has the power to convene a Convention. How can an ordinary person seeking election convene a convention? He was Acting Chairman for just six months. This issue of Convention was in December 2006.

My status

Please, I want to correct that. INEC has not recognized me as chairman of APGA. INEC has recognized the Constitution that recognized me as Chairman of APGA. I can also oblige you with a copy of that constitution.

Obi’s expulsion

It’s not a boast. A validly convened National Convention has expelled Gov. Peter Obi. So, if the Convention has expelled him and this Convention is not nullified by the court, he stands expelled.

He is guilty of anti-party activities. Peter Obi is a State officer, and not a national officer. His matter was treated in 2005 by the state chapter of the party, and when they invited him to a disciplinary Committee, he told the whole world that the letter they wrote to him had been thrown into the trash can where it belonged. That was the way he talked down on his party. So, they met and expelled him. The matter was brought to the National Executive Committee, where it was ratified. All of these things are in the public domain. The party Constitution is such that the expulsion of an ordinary member cannot be complete until the Convention has said so. We never had a Convention since then, because of the constraint placed on us by the position INEC had earlier taken. When INEC resorted to the Constitution of the party, we were liberated enough to convene a Convention and it was that Convention that ratified it.

I have said it time without number that I feel thoroughly betrayed because it’s not just inviting Ikemba; I have stepped on powerful toes over a long time because of my blind loyalty to him. I have been vilified; I have been castigated and oppressed by the establishment for my blind, unalloyed, and unflinching loyalty to Ikemba; I have been denied comfort. But I was doing this with the conviction that he was the symbol of the struggle of the Igbo man.

When this crisis started, without even any attempt to play the role of a father, he took sides and began to refer to me as one gentleman from Abia State. So, the leader of the Igbo people that I had devoted so much of my youthful life suddenly discovered that I am from Abia State. It really hurt me so badly, that I thank God I never had heart attack, and, perhaps, got permanent damage as a result of that bad feeling. I don’t want to go further on the issue of Ikemba, because of the sensitive nature.

There are people who are so very fiercely loyal to him, that he could even kill, and be allowed to get away with it. To such people, there is no room to use the head to reason. Those that belief that he did the wrong thing lack the courage to come out and say this is not right. Even the little I said, he unleashed MASSOB against me. You remember when MASSOB sent me over a hundred text messages from different people that I will be stripped naked in the public, that I insulted Ikemba, just because I expressed my feeling of hurt, of betrayal and of disappointment, without going to address his person. There were all kinds of threats but I withstood it.

If you read one of the national dailies recently, he has threatened Prof. Maurice Iwu. It is this kind of thing that is keeping the Igbo land backwards.

Ojukwu’s bias

There is no law in Nigeria that allows for the formation of a tribal party. We met all the requirements of the law of Federal Character and of geographical spread. Remember that when APGA was registered, the condition was that you must have functional offices in a minimum of 24 states of the federation. But by INEC record, we achieved it in 34 states and southeastern states or Igbo states are only five. We had gone outside the Igbo by having physical presence with people who are not Igbo. How can you say I formed an Igbo-based party?

There is no political party that has no strong base. We have a Constitution that says our Board of Trustees would be made up of at least six persons from each geo political zone. When you multiply that by six, you have about 36 persons. But contrary to this constitutional provision, Umeh, in order to give Ojukwu some position of leadership and backing in what he was doing made him one-man Board of Trustees. Have you ever heard of another member of that so-called Board of Trustees? As far as APGA is concerned, based on the Constitution of the party, we don’t have the position of leader and we have not constituted our Board of Trustees.

It is not a compulsory requirement. Haven’t you seen a party that says they are adopting Obi for Governorship? They are shelving their own right to contest Governorship. Will you blame them for doing that? I have seen a party that said they will not present a presidential candidate. Once you have the basic thing that clears you in law, the rest will be based on convenience.

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