BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
If a man ever personified a political party in Nigeria, that man was Chief Chekwas Okorie, whose name was ingrained in the constitution of the All Progressive Peoples Alliance, APGA as its national chairman. Even at that, he was outwitted by Chief Victor Umeh who dethroned him. Now Umeh is enmeshed in his own battle for control of the party.
The setting was a press conference following a national executive committee meeting of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA some three years ago at the Chelsea Hotel, Abuja.
Chief Victor Umeh, the national chairman of the party sat at the head of the table and party officials fawned over him. His authority over the party was unquestioned as one party official curtsied, another sought his approval just as Umeh sometimes harried one official or another.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC following a political solution at the instance of the party’s national leader, Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu had not long ago certified the Umeh faction of the party as the recognised faction.
Umeh’s authority over APGA was further confirmed after the 2011 general elections when the party’s reach was extended from Anambra State to Imo State where the party picked the governorship and a senate seat.
Expectations that the party should follow up the remarkable victory in Imo by positioning itself as the party of Ndigbo have now been beclouded by the battle of wits between senior officials of the party.
Umeh’s one time grip on the party is now being contested in a vicious power struggle that it is feared in certain quarters could pull down the foundations of the party and destroy the prospects of APGA becoming the voice and face of the Southeast.
Umeh’s power is being contested by a rival faction of the party which emerged following a factional meeting of the National Working Committee, NWC meeting of the party last June. The faction, headed by the Deputy National Chairman, North, Alhaji Sadiq Massala has since the development been engaging Umeh in the courts over the validity of their claims.
In an interview with Vanguard following the development, Massala had said:
“Umeh was a sole administrator of APGA. He always challenged anybody to dare to ask question about the way he was running the party. The other weapon he always used was suspension of members who challenged him.”
“The one-man show continued until recently when we called a meeting and said it was enough and we suspended him and the national secretary, Alhaji Sani Shinkafi, from the party. We also set up a seven-man committee to look at the 13 issues we raised against them,” he said.
Umeh was quick to counter their claims and the superiority of their arguments against him.
“They were sponsored to disrupt the party. These five people have been under watch and they have not succeeded in wooing the other NWC members. Ordinarily, their actions would not require any response, but, we want to inform the party members who might be deceived by their actions that all what they did were illegal, null, void and have no effect whatsoever. As you can see, I am still in my office,” Umeh stressed.
Before the Masalla eruption, Umeh had suffered a string of attacks in the media by aides of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, the first governor elected on the platform of the party. The main agent of the attacks was Chief Sylvester Nwobu-Alor, the Special Adviser on Parks and Markets to the governor, a member of the second republic Anambra State House of Assembly who is also Governor Obi’s uncle
At the centre of the crisis is the alleged attempt by the party’s first elected governor, Mr. Obi and some of his associates to supplant Umeh as national chairman.
The crux of the battle is allegedly the future political direction of the state after Governor Obi whose second term in office is expected to end in 2014.
Umeh, according to some sources is said to be supportive of oil billionaire, Mr. Ifeanyi Ubah as a successor to Mr. Obi. While Umeh has not been openly quoted to have made the declaration of his support for Ubah, sources disclosed that Ubah who has on his own engaged in several philanthropic gestures in Anambra State has been able to build up a structure that has won him some respect from several political stakeholders that it is believed may have shaken the confidence of the political associates of Obi who may not be supportive of Ubah.
Remarkably, Ubah as at present has not come out to lay claim to any political ambition but sources close to him assert that with his wealth he would not be quiet in any way when support is needed from him to help his people.
Even though Obi has not made his opinion on the issue of his successor public, it is generally believed that Ubah is definitely not in his calculations. It is not surprising then that Ubah is now largely said to be the financial muscle behind the Umeh faction giving him the muscle to square off with the crowd around Obi.
Remarkably, the unfolding events that have beclouded Ubah, the boss of Capital Oil and Gas Limited are allegedly partly attributed to his connections with Umeh.
If Umeh is not, then Ubah now engaged in the battle of his life over ownership of his company, is then a collateral damage of the intrigues in APGA.