BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & VINCENT UJUMADU
MONDAY, July 29 will go down as a special day in the history of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). It was a day that the arrowheads in the rekindled crisis that ravaged the party for about a year – Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and factional National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, decided to sheathe their swords in the interest of the party.
The fence-mending came at a time the party was on the verge of shooting itself on the foot as regards the October local council and November governorship elections in Anambra State, where it is the ruling party.
It will also be a huge relief for crises-weary party faithful, who have been assailed by one form of crisis or the other in the last eight years beginning with the Chief Chekwas Okorie-cum-Victor Umeh protracted battle for the soul of APGA, which ended last year when Okorie founded the United Progressives Party (UPP).
Governor Obi and Umeh had been at loggerheads for several months over Obi’s insistence that Umeh’s tenure as national chairman had expired. Obi in April spearheaded an APGA National Convention in Awka at which Chief Maxi Okwu emerged as chairman. The Appeal Court in separate rulings recognized Okwu and Umeh as chairmen with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) backing Umeh.
The lingering crisis came to an end following a marathon parley between Governor Obi and Umeh at the Government House, Awka. The duo emerged from the marathon closed-door parley beaming with smiles and exchanging pleasantries with party members of the warring factions.
Their entry into the Executive Council Chambers of the Government House at about 4:30pm on Monday threw the hall into jubilation. Members of the state executive council who had earlier held their weekly executive meeting left their seats to greet Umeh’s delegates that included Anambra State chairman of APGA, Chief Mike Kwentoh and his deputy who were on the side of Umeh during the crisis.
However, conspicuously absent at the peace deal were Chief Maxi Okwu, who emerged the factional national chairman following the April 2013 convention in Awka, as well as Chief Egwuoyibo Okoye, who emerged the state chairman from that convention.
Also absent was Chief Sylvester Nwobu-Alor, the erstwhile special adviser to Governor Obi on Parks and Markets, who, in fact, motted the idea of the restructuring exercise aimed at removing Umeh and his executive members that emerged from the 2010 national convention in Awka.
Signs that the warring factions would sheathe their swords as soon as possible started showing when the two major personalities in the crisis -Obi and Umeh – started lending their ears to some stakeholders, who were prepared to reconcile them. One of such personalities was the Anglican Bishop of Enugu, Most Rev Emmanuel Chukwuma, who insisted during a synod in Enugu attended by both men that they must end the crisis as the entire Igbo people were looking up to them.
Shortly after that, Umeh met the wife of the late leader of APGA, Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, who was all the while on the side of Governor Obi and it was reported that she was asked to step into the shoes of her late husband as leader of the party. That issue settled, the proper setting for return to peace in APGA was in place and the next issue was for Obi and Umeh to talk to each other. For several hours, both men were inside Obi’s office hammering out the reconciliation terms.
It’s a new dawn for APGA — Umeh.
Umeh, who spoke at the end of the meeting, described the crisis in the party as the work of the devil who always seek to ensure that good things do not endure. Grinning from ear to ear, Umeh said: “Today is one of the greatest days in the life of our state and our party. My visit to Governor Obi is to crystallize the various peace meetings we have held in the past and also to declare to the whole world that the crisis in APGA has come to an end.
”Undoubtedly, many people who had followed the events inn our party will be surprised at this dramatic end and it is to the glory of God that I have reconciled with my brother. We have worked together for many years in trying to chart a new course for our people through APGA and we have been successful in this bid as we have been able to do impossible things in Anambra State. It is the work of the Devil that some problems reared their heads, but those of us who have laboured together were not happy. But today, I can tell you that this is a new dawn in our party.
“Having declared the APGA crisis over, I did that with a sense of responsibility, knowing that once I reconcile with my brother, peace will return to the government and the party. Some people lined up behind us during the crisis, but today, they have no other choice than to allow peace to reign in our party. This is a no victor, no vanquished situation.
Landscape of Anambra State
“With the reunion which has come to be, the political landscape of Anambra State will change automatically and those who are making pretences that they will come and take over the government of Anambra State from APGA will be thoroughly disappointed.
“Even though we had challenges in our party, the government in Anambra State has remained focused and never derailed as the governor, true to our party manifesto, has applied visionary approach to governance and has been able to make giant strides in developing the state.
“The governor has been able to deliver and the achievements he recorded will be our strength in the forthcoming elections. Our late leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu will be very happy at the turnout of events in APGA today because what he left for us has remained intact and we have conquered the Devil.”
We’ve disappointed APGA’s enemies
On his part, Governor Obi credit must go to all those who ensured that peace returned to the party after many political opponents were almost rejoicing that APGA had been torn apart.
According to the governor, with APGA now united, the campaign to ensure that the party wins all elections in the state will begin without delay. He also mandated members of the party to spread the message to the grassroots and prepare the people for future elections.
Reconciliation spreads to local councils
Soon after the Government House meeting between Umeh and Obi, the information spread to all parts of the state and most of the local government chairmen of the party expressed their willingness to reconcile the two groups that were hitherto assembling parallel candidates for the October 5 local council election.
Bone of contention
However, one issue that Obi and Umeh would look into is Obi’s preference for the party’s governorship candidate for the November 16 election to come from Anambra North in line with his zoning arrangement aimed at giving Anambra North the opportunity to produce his successor. Though the governor said that during his reconciliation with Umeh that the issue was not discussed, he insisted that his position on Anambra North producing the next governor borders on equity, fairness and honour.
Anambra State secretary to Government, SSG, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, himself a governorship aspirant told newsmen after the reconciliation meeting that he was optimistic all the while that the issue would be resolved amicable in the interest of APGA members and people of Anambra State. He said: “Some of us who are close to the governor knew that he was amenable to peace returning to the party and was prepared to make the necessary sacrifices. This has been proved and everybody is happy for it. With APGA completely united, we will go into the political battle as one body. This is what mature leadership is all about.”
We’re yet to have comprehensive peace — Okwu
However, Obi’s factional chairman of the party, who emerged from the April convention in Awka, Chief Maxi Okwu, said in a phone chat with Vanguard that he was not part of the fence-mending. “I am not aware. I am in Enugu, I am not in Awka. It is surprising. We want reconciliation that is comprehensive in APGA and all stakeholders should be involved. As a chairman, I am a stakeholder and should have been involved in the reconciliation. I will consult with those who believe in my leadership and we shall proceed from there,” he said.
In a statement by Francis Ede, his senior Media Assistant, Okwu said: The leadership and members of All Progressive Grand Alliance are surprised that our Deputy National Leader, Governor Peter Obi, could unilaterally meet with our erstwhile National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh and the Anambra State chapter of the party in Awka today (Monday) as part of the reconciliation process.
“The Maxi Okwu-led APGA frowns at this turn of event and disowns the purported reconciliation as it was neither informed nor involved in this pseudo-peace meeting. We believe it is a giant step backward in our collective efforts at restoring peace in our great party.
“We are aware that this panicky reconciliation by Governor Obi is due to the Local Government and Governorship elections in Anambra State in October and November 2013 respectively.
“A fire-brigade peace process that the party leadership and major stakeholders were not involved cannot address the perennial problems in the party. The authentic APGA leadership with Barr. Okwu as national chairman will soon meet and take position on this and other crucial party issues.”
With Okwu’s stance it is to be seen whether at last, there is light at the end of a long tunnel for APGA.