August 5, 2017

APGA crisis: Where will the pendulum swing?

•Obiano and Agbaso

By Vincent Ujumadu

SINCE October 12, 2016 when some members of the National Working Committee, NWC, of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), carried out what could easily pass as a coup d’état by passing a vote-of-no confidence on the national chairman of the party, Chief Victor Oye, and appointing the party’s former national vice chairman for the South East, Ozo Nwabueze Okafor (now late), as an interim national chairman, the leadership of APGA has been struggling to find peace.

Apart from Oye, the group also announced the suspension of two other national officers, the deputy national chairman (North), Alhaji Abubakar Adamu and the deputy national chairman (South), Mr. Uchenna Okogbuo.

•Obiano and Agbaso

The worse was to happen when, after the death of Okafor in June 2017, the same group announced the appointment of Chief Martin Agbaso, who had earlier defected from APGA to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as the acting national chairman of APGA via a decision of an Enugu High Court presided over by Justice Ozoemenam. The group however said it was satisfied with the leadership provided by the chairman of its Board of Trustee, BOT, Governor Willie Obiano, commending him for his good work and for the manner he had steered the party so far.

Worried by the action of few members of its leadership, the entire National Executive Council, NEC, of APGA said they would have nothing to do with Chief Martin Agbaso and insisted that Chief Victor Oye remains its national chairman and would always submit to his directives. The position of the party was contained in a communiqué issued after the meeting between the national chairman and the 36 states chairmen in Awka and signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Sir Ifeatu Obi-Okoye.

The communiqué read: “The meeting reiterated its total loyalty to the leadership of Dr. Victor Ike Oye as the national chairman of the party. To this end, it resolved to support him in taking appropriate disciplinary sanctions against erring officers and members of the party in line with the provisions of the party’s constitution.

“The meeting pledged total support to the re-election of Governor Willie Obiano for a second term in office in the November 18 election in view of his credibility and laudable performance as governor in critical sectors of infrastructural and economic development of Anambra State.

“The party condemned the activities of some expelled members who had clandestinely deceived the High Court in Enugu to make spurious rulings against the leadership of the party. Consequently, the 36 states chairmen and the FCT gave full support to the national chairman’s application to the court to set aside the judgment obtained by deceit, misrepresentation of facts and fraudulent concealment.”

Members of the NEC, who used the opportunity of their visit to Anambra State to inspect projects executed by the   Obiano’s administration in different locations of the state, also swore never to have dealings with the court-recognized Agbaso.

National Secretary of the party, Mr. Labaran Maku, who was a former minister of information and the party’s governorship candidate for the 2015 election in Nasarawa State, dismissed Agbaso as an impostor whose aim was to destabilize the party so as to thwart Obiano’s re-election bid.

Maku said: “What is going on is not about the national chairmanship of APGA, but a ploy to wrestle power from Obiano in the November 18, 2017 governorship election. Because his election is around the corner, they put up a team of strangers who went to court to declare a person as the national chairman. You don’t become the national chairman of APGA until you bring your nomination form from your ward to the state level and then to national convention.

“All of us led by Ike Oye, were elected at a convention here in Awka. Did you see anyone called Agbaso there? How can he be operating from Sambisa forest of the social media to become the national chairman of APGA? We can’t sit here and watch a governor that is being celebrated all over the country for his performance to be destabilized by some riff-raff who we do not know”.

The party’s chairman in Agbaso’s state,Imo, Mr. Peter Ezeobi, said Agbaso left APGA in 2015 to PDP where he contested for a governorship position of the state, arguing that he is not member of the party. Ezeobi accused Agbaso of embarking on a mission to cause crisis at the national level of the party.

APGA also described the Enugu State High Court order of Mandamus, which recognized Chief Agbaso as national chairman as laughable. The Deputy National Chairman of the party, Mr. Uchenna Okogbuo said that Agbaso ceased to be a member of APGA when he defected to PDP after losing the Imo State governorship election twice.

“Agbaso left the party to the PDP and later dumped PDP for the APC and I wonder how someone whose name is not in APGA membership register at his ward, would be recognized by a court as national chairman of the party.

“As far as the party is concerned, Chief Martin Agbaso is not a member of APGA. Even in the ward where he comes from, his name is not in the register of APGA. And even if the national chairman is to be replaced, he is not among the people that would replace him. So, what Agbaso and others are doing, coupled with the Enugu High court order, is a pure charade,” he said.

According to Okogbuo, the Chief Oye- led National Working Committee of the party was neither served, nor represented in the matter at the Enugu High Court, describing the restraining order as a slap on the Nigeria Judiciary.

With the November election drawing near and with the uncertainty hovering around the political circuit, the leadership of APGA approached two courts sitting in Nnewi and Awka and after listening to the parties, barred Chief Martin Agbaso, from conducting the governorship primaries of the party for the election. Oye and the party’s NWC also obtained the relief of the court which stopped Agbaso and his group from acting and performing any role on behalf of APGA.

Justice Chukwudi Okaa presiding at Nnewi High Court granted an interlocutory injunction restraining Agbaso and three others, namely Okechukwu Nkolagu,Jerry Obasi and Chuks Nwoga from taking any steps towards organizing, conducting, or holding any congress or primary election in the name of APGA for the purpose of nominating any gubernatorial candidate of APGA for the forthcoming governorship election in the Anambra State. The court had also earlier declared that the only members of the party’s NWC were those headed by Chief Oye.

The declaration was greeted by jubilation in various parts of the state as the crisis in the party had been of serious concern to APGA members and supporters with the approach of the governorship election. Elated Oye said with the declaration, justice had triumphed over falsehood.

He said: “The courts have proved that constitutionality can triumph over impunity and legality can triumph over illegality. The judgment of the Enugu High Court was a miscarriage of justice and that was why I went to court to challenge it.

“The issues raised by the Nnewi and Awka High Courts were specific that Martin Agbaso should not conduct the primaries of APGA and the judgment was also clear about the leadership of the party.

“Agbaso is not a member of APGA as we talk. His Emekuku Ward 1 has disowned him; all the 12 ward chairmen of APGA in Owerri North local government area of Imo State have disowned him and all the 27 local government chairmen of the party in Imo State have also disowned him. The Imo State Executive Committee of APGA has also disowned him. So where is he coming from? He does not have any locus to benefit from the judgment of the Enugu High Court because in that case, neither he (Agbaso) nor I was mentioned as a plaintiff or defendant.”

According to Oye, Section 23(b) of the APGA constitution made it very clear on the leadership of the party, adding that it clearly provided that for the national chairman to be removed, it has to be at the national convention of the party where two thirds of the delegates must support the removal. He argued that anything done outside the party’s constitution was a nullity, insisting that there was no way Agbaso could have got away with what he described as a charade.

Governor Willie Obiano, who all the while, appeared to have been caught in the web of the crisis, tried as much as possible to pretend as if nothing was standing in the way of his reelection bid. In fact, it was gathered that some people were advising him to approach Agbaso for reconciliation, without jeopardizing Oye’s position.    However, after series of deliberations, he was said to have stood by Oye, especially as legal experts were said to have argued that it was only through a national convention that the national chairman could be removed.

It was therefore not surprising that the governor had to describe the July 18, 2017 court judgments which affirmed Victor Oye as the authentic national chairman as a landmark one.

Recall that Justice Chukwudi Okaa of Nnewi High Court, who barred the Agbaso-led executive from conducting the gubernatorial primary election for Anambra following a motion filed by Victor Oye and 21 other APGA faithful on the side of Governor Willie Obiano, also restrained the INEC, Okechukwu Nkoloagu, Jerry Obasi and Chuks Nwogu, who were defendants, their agents, privies or otherwise, from taking any steps towards organizing, conducting or holding any congress or primary election in the name of APGA, for selection or nomination of gubernatorial candidate for Anambra 2017 poll pending the hearing and determination of the substantive motion on notice. Similarly, Justice Dennis Maduechesi of Awka High Court 3, declared Oye the authentic chairman of the party,

Governor Obiano, while reacting on the judgments, said the courts had restored the hope of Nigerians in the principle of the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Speaking through one of his media aides, Mr. Oliver Okpala, the governor said the judgment was a frank reminder to merchants of impunity in political parties that there was no longer room for their lawlessness in the nation’s political space.

The court decisions however did not deter Agbaso and his group as they told anyone who cared to listen that the Court of Appeal still recognized him as the national chairman of APGA, even as he assured Governor Obiano that he had nothing to fear as far as getting the ticket of the party was concerned. One good thing going for the governor however was that he was not having any serious challenge both from the Agbaso and Oye camps.

That alone put paid to the speculation that some political parties were trying to cash in on the APGA crisis to woo the governor to contest the November election on their platforms. But the national chairman, Oye, dismissed the speculation, saying that Obiano was such a highly principled person to consider leaving APGA for another political party at this period of the campaigns.

Oye added: “While not ruling out the possibility of politicians from other political parties trying to woo him into their fold, which is natural in politics, Obiano is someone who cannot succumb to such a situation. If it is true that they are wooing him, it is because they know he is an asset and that is why I am even surprised that some people have the courage to face him in the governorship race.”

While also not foreclosing any challenge against Obiano, Oye said further: “You do not change a winning team and imagine what would have been happening if Obiano had not provided adequate security in Anambra State, which has made the state the safest in the country.

In many states, the workers are agonizing, but there is no such situation in Anambra State because the governor is doing his work well. He is not like those who see politics as business and are prepared to do anything to make money. Those are not the kind of people we need in the country at this time. We need a leader like Obiano who has made our state to be shining in the midst of recession.”

But the crisis rocking the party has continued unabated with Agbaso and Oye announcing different dates for the party’s primaries for the nomination of APGA candidate for the November 18 governorship election. While Agbaso had fixed August 14 as the date for his faction’s primary, Oye had fixed August 15 as his date. With the two dates, confusion still reigns and political watchers are waiting for the outcome.

Going by the timetable released by the national publicity secretary of Agbaso’s faction, Mr. Prince Ukaegbu, sale of expression of interest forms commenced on July 31, while the last day for the return of the completed governorship forms is August 9.    On the other hand, Oye said INEC had already been notified of the APGA primary which would take place on August 15. While not limiting the ticket to Obiano, Oye said the governor had done well and therefore deserved to be reelected.

Meanwhile, it would appear that Governor Obiano is already looking beyond the primary as several branded campaign buses have been assembled at the Government House premises in Awka waiting for deployment. There is also great optimism among APGA supporters that Governor Obiano would pick the ticket either way and go ahead to win the election in November. Oye had also explained that INEC had already been notified of the date.

He has also appointed his campaign team headed by the immediate past national chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh who he charged to ensure the victory of the party at the polls. Knowing Umeh and his antecedents, other political parties will surely know that a great political battle is ahead.

With the two dates for the primaries drawing near, political observers are looking forward to how APGA would ultimately handle the matter. The question waiting to be answered is, where will the pendulum swing to ?