Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why APGA constitution is supreme, by Chekwas Okorie

*Says no court declared Victor Umeh APGA chairman
*Explains ….how we formed APGA

By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor & Luka Biniyat

WHEN APGA was formed, people saw it as a joke. And with what is going on now in the party, it seems the joke is not about to end. What is APGA?
I found out by 1995, that there had never been a political party founded in Nigeria based on Igbo initiative. I found out that the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC, was founded in the West, by leaders like the late Herbert Macaulay and late

Dr. Azikwe joined and later became leader. And the Nigeria Peoples Party, NPP, which was embraced by many Igbo people, was founded by the late Ibrahim Waziri and later Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe joined and dominated it and Waziri, the founder, had to leave but founded another one, the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, GNPP.

So, by 1995, I said, “we no longer had the personality with the clout of Dr. Azikiwe to come into a political party and dominate it.

And in addition to that, we no longer had a rallying point in Igboland. Dr. Alex Ekwume could be a rallying point to the Igbo intelligentsia and the elite. But he wasn’t a rallying point for the masses. Conversely, Odumegwu Ojukwu was a rallying point for the masses. And he was hated, mark my word, “hated” by Igbo elite and intelligentsia and the business class.

So, there was a strong disconnect between the masses and the other segment, which are in the minority, but who have what it takes to facilitate anything. So, I thought, therefore, that under that circumstance, what we needed was a platform, since we couldn’t have a rallying individual. I made the first attempt to establish a political party based on that initiative – a national party; and that was in 1995 when the late Gen. Abacha lifted partial ban on politics.

We called it Peoples’ Democratic Congress. In 1996, he lifted full ban on politics and I went ahead, purchased a form and rallied some Igbo people, but we were not registered, for reasons I later got to know.

In 1998, another opportunity presented itself, and I went a second time, called it again Peoples’ Democratic Congress. We tried, but in vain. In fact, our surprise was that those who did not meet the requirement like we did got registered, but our Peoples Democratic Congress was not.

I then found out that the presence of Odumegwu Ojukwu made our platform to become suspect. The authorities concerned made sure that that exercise never yielded any result. So in 2001, Ojukwu moved into All Peoples Party, APP, that later became All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP. He was a member of the Board of Trustees. I joined the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in November, 1999. I contested for the National Secretary’s position in the PDP – it did not materialize. I was restless. I knew that we still needed a platform we could fall back on, if that would be our contribution to Nigerian democracy.

I went back to the drawing board. This time I had known the reasons for the previous failures. So I left Ojukwu out of it. I now decided to invoke the great memories that Igbo people always remembered with a certain amount of nostalgia. And that was Zik and Dr. Okpara. We then chose the cock, which was the symbol of the NCNC then.

I now chose the name United Nigeria Grand Alliance, UPGA, which was a coalition of political parties, which the late Chief Awolowo had endorsed – because at the time of that coalition, Chief Awolowo was in prison in Calabar. And so Okpara was the leader of UPGA. So, I thought that UPGA and the cock would not only appeal to Igbo people, but also to those who had anything to do with the alliance and the NCNC.

As we were approaching registration, INEC changed the guidelines and said any name answered before would not be answered again. And any logo or symbol used would not be used again. This was our situation before the late Gani Fawehinmi went to the Supreme Court to liberalise it. So I changed the name to APGA.

“You” or “We”?
Me! I! I had the vision. The people I recruited were to do the leg work. The conceptualisation, the vision was mine. There was no committee for name, no committee for logo. I chose all.

The only thing was that I made consultations widely in the process. For example, I met Chief Mrs Obiajulu, who was INEC Commissioner. Legal and asked her, “if this name is changed from UPGA to APGA would it meet your requirement?”, and she said “yes”. And I said, ‘this cock in NCNC was standing on its own, if it now stands on the acronym, APGA, would it be registered, she said yes’.

And that was how I registered APGA. And because it was my vision and effort, nobody argued anything. So that was the formation of APGA. Now, we met those stringent conditions of having at least 24 functional offices across states of the Federation. In fact we met the conditions in 36 states.

But, unfortunately, on the day of inspecting our offices in Yobe and Kebbi States, the officers there – because we had to reflect Federal Character – had gone for the Muslim afternoon prayers, because it was a Friday. But the INEC officials that went, saw the offices, saw the party flags, but could not enter. So we had 34 states. That was how APGA became a registered political party.

Your constitution is a confusing document. It has your name in it and, that has caused a lot of confusion both within your party and the polity as a whole. Why? I spoke with your colleague and asked him how your name found its way into the constitution. He had his own answer, claiming you deceived members. How did your name get into that constitution?

I have read Umeh’s interview which he granted you in the last edition of Sunday Vanguard. But, before I answer, I would take you back the memory lane. When I presented APGA at the Nike Lake Hotel, Enugu, the hall was full to capacity. That was on July 28, 2001.

Umeh was in the hall as a PDP member that came to that event out of curiosity. And after the presentation, there was a standing ovation. And it was time for people to make their comments. Umeh got up, took the microphone and announced that based on what he had heard there and what he had seen that day, he was resigning from PDP and declaring for APGA. We were impressed. We said, this man – don’t forget he was the factional treasurer in the Emeka Offor faction of PDP in Anambra State. He has always been a factional man. Well, we said for somebody to leave a ruling party to go into an unregistered political party, was like going from the known to the unknown. So we agreed that we would compensate him by appointing him, protem National Treasurer. That was July, 2001. In October, 2001, Umeh resigned.

From PDP?
No! He resigned from APGA. He said he didn’t see the possibility of us meeting all the stringent conditions set out by INEC. So, in the presence of people, he resigned, took his file and walked away from us. I then went to the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and told him to show more interest in our effort. I told him, ‘though you are in PDP, we zoned the treasurer to Anambra State. I am from Abia State. Now that our treasurer has resigned, nominate somebody, so that you can have an eye on what we are doing.” He nominated Ralph Okey Nwosu. He became our protem national treasurer.

The formation of APGA and the opening of offices across the country happened when Umeh was not there. APGA constitution was signed, note that it was duly signed by INEC, it was duly adopted at the convention of APGA on January 10, 2003.

Was it made known to members that your name was in the constitution?
Maxi Ukwu was the lawyer who actually headed that committee. Umeh was not there! How could he know what was happening in a party which he had not joined or which he ran away from? He was not there. How could he say it was unknown to members of the party?

I have told you that Umeh’s journey into APGA is a chequered journey. When APGA was now a registered party on June 24, 2002, we took off. Barely one month after, not up to two weeks after, Barrister J.S. Nwokolo – he is there, an old man now, he brought Umeh back to me. He said, he had scolded Umeh for leaving, for not having the patience; for not doing this and that. He said we should take him back. That Umeh would be useful; that Umeh would be this, Umeh would be that.

And, because Barister Nwokolo contributed in terms of influence in lobbying for the registration of APGA, I pandered to his wish and brought Victor Umeh back. I instructed the APGA executive of the South East zone to accommodate him as the new vice chairman, S-East Zone. At that time we had our convention Victor returned as the vice chairman, South East Zone. He remained in that position and never complained about this constitution and all that. The constitution was already there. It was what we used in getting the party registered in the first place.

Until Peter Obi’s emergence – Peter Obi is a different story if you ask me. But I will come to that later. When Peter Obi emerged, Okey Nwosu revolted and announced my expulsion – because he blamed me for Obi’s emergence. His grudge was that I should have used my position to order that he, Nwosu, should have been the Anambra State governorship candidate.

That was his grouse?
That was his grouse! So when Peter Obi emerged, Okey Nwosu revolted. In a nutshell, he left the party. So the office of treasurer became vacant. And our convention was just about 10 days away.

So Victor Umeh came back to me, pleading that I reinstate him in that position he resigned as protem treasurer. I loved this guy so much. The kind of soft spot I had for Victor was such that people were asking why he had a hold on me. It was a mere soft spot. But it became my albatross. So, I proposed him to the convention, and he was ratified.

I recruited everybody including Odumegwu Ojukwu into APGA.
And those I did not recruit, were recruited by those I recruited. That was the way APGA started. And because it was my baby, most of my suggestions at least at that time, were never rejected. And I tried my best to carry everybody along. So Victor Umeh became substantive treasurer after that convention. Between 2002 when he joined this party and the interview he granted Sunday Vanguard – we are looking at a period of about seven years – it is now he knows that the APGA constitution was doctored by me.

That issue is in court and in fact Chief Umeh insists that…
(Cuts in) No! There is no single issue in any court challenging the APGA constitution. He quoted it so copiously, section 19(3). That was APGA constitution he was quoting not a different one.

And I can also tell you that I was ridiculed and made a laughing stock by people – some of them very high up and I don’t have to mention names here – when I was going for the formation of APGA. I was called names. I was called a mental case.

They said we would never succeed. My own leader, Dim Ojukwu, said, “Chekwas, this is one of your dreams that will never work.” That was his statement in the presence of people. But I was determined, I was convinced and my faith in God is super. And I continued and we got it.

I know my fellow Igbo People. There is a saying in Igbo land, that you would not be assisted to push a broken down vehicle, but the moment that vehicle begins to rev and move, people would move in and say, “you are a bad driver, we will find a better driver that can drive this vehicle.” I, therefore, knew that that would happen.

And all I did was to secure my position for two terms, not life chairman so that the character of APGA can be firmly rooted. That what APGA represents, can easily be identified before I take my bow. So I put my name as the founder, which no one can dispute; it is my idea, it is my baby. I put my name as chairman for the first four years and for another four years, if I so demand. It is right there in APGA constitution.

And INEC accepted it just like that?
This was debated at INEC. At the time we were registering APGA, our party constitution and manifesto were subjected to debates. And I was able to convince the INEC of the time. It was approved.

INEC then was chaired by Dr. Guobadia
Yes, chaired by Guobadia.

But he didn’t raise the issue of personalization of a political party by the presence of your name in that constitution?
No, no! no! there is a committee for such things. There is a political party monitoring committee at INEC. But then, this issue that is arising now does not make sense to me. Because we have been in court for five good years, and there has not been a single issue challenging the APGA constitution.

Umeh has subscribed to that constitution up till today. If he will challenge the constitution, maybe that will be tomorrow. And I tell you one thing, if I tell you that this is not authentic, that we had a better constitution I will be willing to present it. But he has not been able to present another constitution, because he wasn’t there! And I want to remind Nigerians of this fact: that a political party is a voluntary organisation. And that is by the creation of law. You come in, you go out. And if you want to change any aspect of the constitution, there is a process for amendment.Has Umeh moved for an amendment? Peter Obi, Odumegwu Ojukwu, has any of them moved for amendment?

But Umeh says there is a court judgment confirming your expulsion?
You mean that judgment? We were the plaintiffs in that case which he is always referring to.

How were you the plaintiff?
We went to court to confirm the expulsion of Umeh and 13 others in this particular case that he is referring to now. I don’t want to pre-empt what this appeal will say, but let me just say that we went on appeal, filed motion of-stay-of-execution. It was a declaratory judgment. It has nothing to execute. A declaratory judgment, ask lawyers, is an observation of court.

It is not executed. But be that as it may, we were not even required to file notice of stay of execution because there is nothing to execute. A day has been given for continuation of hearing, October 7, this year, next month. We decided, as a democrat, that if there is doubt in the leadership of any organisation, talk less of a democratic party for that matter, the best you do is to subject yourself to fresh mandate. And so I decided that even without accepting the judgment, otherwise we won’t be in appeal, or that even without conceding to the judgment, let us obey it until the appeal reverses it.

But, Umeh is saying that INEC has been dealing with him and that INEC even released money to him as APGA chairman?
Let me tell you this: His case has already been forwarded to the former inspector general of police – Okiro. He ordered for a thorough investigation of the case. Umeh and Shinkafi were …

Who is Shinkafi?
The secretary then; the one that was expelled along with him – they have been interrogated by the Force CID at Area 10, here in Abuja. Their case file is there. You see, our constitution, like most constitutions, the treasurer of the party receives any money for the party and pays into the bank within 48 hours. And before then there was an order of status quo. So he relied on that to receive our money and pay it into an illegal account. And the constitution says, within 48 hours of receiving money on behalf of the party, put it in the party account.
That was what happened.

Have you ever heard Ume Ezeoke go to INEC to collect money? Has Vincent Ogbulafor ever gone to INEC to collect money? Before this crisis, Chekwas Okerie never went to INEC to collect money. No chairman goes to INEC to collect money. There are people who have that responsibility.

He said INEC wrote him and for me, that is confirmation that INEC has been dealing with him?
Look, INEC wrote to him not to come and collect money.

How much was the money?
N6 million! That is the money he was brandishing the letter for. And he went to the media to tell people that INEC is dealing with him, that INEC even wrote him a letter. INEC actually wrote him a letter, saying that, “this money you have collected is not a clearance, as you are claiming, to be the chairman of APGA” Let him give you a copy of that letter. If what I am saying is not what is contained in it, don’t believe in anything I have said here. He even went on television and flashed it before the people, that “look at it, INEC wrote me a letter”. But he did not give the letter to the anchor man to read. But, be that as it may, INEC took an administrative action on its staff and the concerned staff was removed from that seat.

Before 2002, go to the entire archive of the news media and find out if there is anything that could be credited to him. But I have been fighting certain causes since 1976. That is 33 years now. I have been a member of the inner circle of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo since 1992. I founded Igbo Eze cultural association and so on and so forth. I have run my own personal company, since 1982 to the present time.

Let’s go back in time, Peter’s Obi emergence in the party caused some stir – at least you know of Okey Nwosu, who thought he was the anointed. How did Peter Obi suddenly emerge? There were stories of money changing hands.
It is a very good question. People would want to tell stories that would favour them and that would demonise the other. As far as I am concerned, no money changed hands. If I wanted money I would have asked Okey Nwosu to give me money. Money is the same colour.

It does not smell differently too. And I did not demand money, for him to say, “oh, he demanded money and I did not meet up his demand and went and took from another person.” He has never accused me directly. Now, Okey Nwosu was a devoted, committed ally of mine in the consolidation of the APGA dream. And he worked both at the national and at the state levels so well. In fact, he made more efforts than anybody else in building APGA in Anambra State.

I can never deny him that. We had Dr. Chuba Okadigbo in mind, to be our presidential flag bearer of the party. Now, he was still in PDP when we had him in mind to be our flag bearer. He contributed financially to the formation of APGA. He was not the only PDP person who did so. We have our list of friends who helped. So, when we got the certificate of APGA, the first port of call from INEC office, was Chuba’s House, with a group of people. And there was jubilation.

We celebrated. Dr. Chuba Okadigbo nominated Okey Nwosu, as I said earlier. But, Chuba Okadigbo looked at APGA and said, that he alone could not be able to carry the burden. It was not him alone that I approached.

But he was in PDP?
Yes, but he moved to ANPP later. We reached out to Jim Nwobodo with Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr. Chukwuemeka Eziefe. These were the people we approached to come and take the presidential ticket. Having worked hard for the formation of the party, I should not be the one to fly it. That was not the purpose of founding it. We were looking for people to be our presidential flag-bearer.

We had zoned the presidential ticket to the South East zone just to give an Igbo man the opportunity to try. But all of them, for some reasons, declined. I went to the then president general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Justice Eze Ozobu and I said to him, ‘look at the problem. We are approaching our convention, but we don’t have a presidential candidate’.

He said, ‘why not bring out Ojukwu’?
I told him that ‘Ojukwu is a father to me, if I bring him out, people would say that that has been my original plan.’ I said, ‘okay, come and nominate him. Let me know that it was the leader of the Ohanaeze that nominated him, even though he is not part of the original plan, but let me have Ohanaeze incorporating him into the party’.

On December 24, 2002, Christmas Eve, we assembled at Ojukwu’s house. Justice Ozobu raised Ojukwu’s hand, put it in my hand, and said, ‘Chekwas, go and make him presidential candidate. There are many witnesses. Having done that, I used the whole of Christmas day to write my speech.

And on December 26, I convened a world news conference in Enugu, where I proposed Ikemba. Having proposed Ikemba, he called me back to his place and said to me that as the presidential candidate to be, he said that I should grant him the prerogative of choosing the gubernatorial candidate in his state of origin. Before then, it was a question of whether I could ever disobey Ikemba.

Everyone knew my damn stupid loyalty to him. But, it was loyalty all the same. So I said to him, ‘as my lord pleases’. At first he did not mention any name. I immediately went home and called Okey Nwosu. I said, ‘come, come, there is a problem.’ He flew in from Lagos and came to me.

I told him what Ikemba had in mind. I told him to please go to Ikemba, tell him all you have done. Tell him you wish to be his candidate. And that if he was going, he should not go alone, that he should go with Chuba. ‘Don’t mind that Chuba is in ANPP now. But go with him because Ikemba owes him one’ I told him. You know Chuba Okadigbo played a major role in his return from exile.

As presidential adviser to Shagari then?
Just take it the way I put it. He played a major role, not just because of the position he held then. He played a major role in his return from exile. ‘It would be the right time’, the way I put it, ‘to draw down on his credit card’.

I do not know what transpired between the late Okadigbo and Okey Nwosu. But all I knew was that Nwosu went to Ikemba with a cow and a bottle of Remmy Martin alone, the normal traditional respect. He went alone. And I don’t know what the Ikemba told him.

One day we were in a rally, and the Ikemba raised Peter Obi’s hand without any consultation with me, because he took it that he already had my consent, since he had told me that he wanted a nominee. So, I still tried to see if we could do something about it by raising a screening committee. But Okey Nwosu felt that money had exchanged hands. And that he was disadvantaged. He did not go to that screening committee; because if he had gone, practically every APGA member was for Okey Nwosu.

Peter was a stranger to us. And if the recommendations had come that it was Okey Nwosu, I would have told Ikemba that my hands were tied. I would have told him to court the loyalty of Nwosu, because he could not win without him. But Okey Nwosu lost confidence in that arrangement and went to Abuja to announce my expulsion. That was the first thing he did. That was the first crisis I had.

At that time, what was Okey Nwosu?

Can a treasurer, announce the expulsion of a chairman?
It is the same with Victor Umeh. He was treasurer. So when he did this, throughout the period he was angry, I never joined issues with him, because I felt for him. But he said several unprintable things about me. But today, we are the best of friends. One day I sat him down, when my daughter wedded, he attended. Even before my daughter wedded, his father died and I attended. So we are now friends again. And I said to him, ‘Okey, you know the reason why we are still friends? It was because I did not join issues with you. If I had replied you the way you attacked me, maybe we won’t be able to sit together again’. That is why when you see somebody angry don’t reply him, even when you are quarrelling. My father said, ‘leave the door ajar, to enable for some reconciliation’.

Your body language during those days at the gubernatorial tribunal in Anambra State suggested that you were bent on subverting the party.
You see if you don’t follow the sequence, you can jump at the middle and reach your conclusion. I told you here that the APGA crisis started on December 15, 2004, where some people said they expelled me. On December 23, 2004, eight days after the crisis started, and as God would have it, we were flying first class to Enugu on December 23.

When we got to Enugu, he said that he tried to visit me but that now that we have met that he might as well join my convoy to the house. And so we went to my house together in Enugu. I have always had visitors over the years. He said he wanted us to have some privacy.

I took him to my private sitting room. He brought N50,000 and said he had wanted to go and buy a cow for my Christmas gift, but that since we have met, that this is my Christmas cow. I took it. If I was against Peter Obi, why would he give me Christmas gift?

He said to me that he warned Victor not to do what he did. That Victor had committed political suicide. I asked him, ‘is that your view?’ because they are from the same place.

They are from Agulu. I asked him again, ‘is that your view?’ he said yes. I said, ‘tell the public’ because this is the time to stand and be counted. He said that it would be difficult for him because they are from the same place. I told him that he was not convincing me, because even my own biological child, if I tell him not to do a particular thing and I know he is wrong and he continues, I will tell the public that I am not the one that sent him. And Victor is not your biological child. So he left. And I want you to know that a month before the crisis Obi cried to me that the panel that was trying his case was going to be disbanded.

And another contact point, whom I would not mention now, told me that he had been informed reliably that presiding judge had been told to wind up. We had this old incident in Enugu, where the tribunal was changed, and the new one came and rejected all exhibits and within two weeks ruled against us. I wrote on November 9, 2004 a strongly worded letter to this same president of the Court of Appeal protesting what I heard was going to happen by reminding him of our own experience.

Two days after, Justice Abdullahi replied me and said why did I go to the Press, because I gave media houses copies of the letter. Then I met the president Court of Appeal at a public function, he said he was still protesting why I had to go public on an issue we could have discussed privately. I said, my lord, forgive me. If I had waited to have an appointment to meet you something could go wrong. And you judges would say, you cannot resurrect the death. That was why I took the step to protect that case.

A month after I did that, they moved against me. Peter Obi closed the case at the Tribunal in March 2004. We go further again, by March, 2005, one year after Peter Obi had closed his case, these people conspired – don’t forget that in the heat of this crisis, they got Obasanjo on their side; got INEC on their side.

The police withdrew my security. They got so many people on their side. In fact it was like me hitting my head on a wall – a brick wall. My family was scared of my own safety. So, talking about who is using the other, these people had the entire establishment on their side.

If INEC could give recognition to a treasurer who became acting chairman and later went back to our own constitution that means that our constitution was never consulted. So now, they threw me into detention. For the first time in my life, I was detained by the EFCC.

Which constitution? The same party constitution?
The same constitution. We have never had any other one; so we left to allow him to decide. So, that weekend of March 12, 2005, now became the new reason for attacking me in December the previous year.

Does it make sense? Could they have been God to know that I would go to Ngige in March and then decided to attack me four months earlier? So that is why when people are saying these things, they don’t follow the sequence to know what really transpired.

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