By Ifeanyi Afuba –
From Octavia to Obama, the audacity of hope lives on. Also known as Augustus Caesar, Octavia dreamt of an indelible entry in history and moved on to achieve immortalisation of his name by inserting August into the then ten months calendar of the year. He was imitated by Julius Caesar whose introduction of July into the moon list brought it to the present twelve. Barack Obama, enduring and daring, rode on the tide of time to rewrite conventions of the American presidency. The elasticity of the human spirit remains an eternal wonder of creation. A despot may seal off voices but he cannot steal the visions singing in our hearts. Nelson Mandela, the African hero of the twentieth century, taught us that strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation. And we begin to get a sense of how the APGA and one of its star brands, Victor Umeh finally achieved a breakthrough in the knotty senatorial turf.
In the most clinical fashion of a long distance champion, Victor Chukwunonyelum Umeh breasted the Senate tape on Saturday, January 13, 2008, bringing to an end a cocktail of contrived confusion that stood in the way of implementing the Court of Appeal judgment of December 7, 2015. As The Nation editorial of Thursday, January 11 put it, the rerun is ‘despite the shenanigans of some political actors’, climaxing in the effrontery to purport a high court judgment superior to that of the Court of Appeal. Thus, the successful conduct of the election has immense significance for Nigeria’s democracy, and especially for the party APGA and the senator – elect, the development is a soothing balm on a political journey often marked by subversion and reversals.
Eminent historian, Ali Mazrui, had once described the Jews as the most brutalised but not the most humiliated race. A critical study of the APGA story will reveal that it is the most brutalised but not the most humiliated political party of the fourth republic. Its very registration as a political party was a tug of war. Acutely aware of the political tendencies represented by the association and their implications in the electoral contest, the ruling establishment employed every trick in the book to frustrate the realisation of this aspiration. It had taken a Supreme Court judgment in 2002 to force the withheld official recognition. Piqued by the development, the hawks in the ruling ranks mounted a prolonged persecution of the APGA; sometimes directly and sometimes through proxies.
Posterity will credit the collective of APGA faithful for steadfastness in the face of many aggressions. But if individuals are to be recognised for standing up to the assaults, the honour goes first to Victor Umeh and then Peter Obi. In the ten year period from 2004 to 2014, no single individual impacted on the fortunes of the All Progressives Grand Alliance as Chief Victor Umeh. Skeptics might tend to view Umeh’s influence on the APGA narrative as a given in the context of his vantage leadership position. But this would be simplistic. Umeh’s role in the APGA saga derives largely from a personality factor and acute sense of mission.
The story of Anambra’s journey of transformation is in part, the story of APGA’s travails and triumphs. APGA launched the movement that ushered in Anambra’s process of recovery from neglect and misrule in 2006. Though sensitization and mobilization was underway by 2002, events took a critical turn in 2004, when the party was subverted from within, from the highest rung of its leadership. This came in the sudden declaration that APGA as a party was no longer interested in the prosecution of its 2003 Anambra governorship petition then going on at the tribunal. It was a volte face that left terrible trauma on the party faithful. The severity of the internal conspiracy compelled a more deliberate search for a new leadership that could be ‘predicted’ and trusted. And it was in this very delicate circumstance that Chief Victor Umeh, hitherto national treasurer of the party, came to the fore as acting national chairman in 2004.
Ignoring the issues of his indictment, the suspended national chairman, Chekwas Okorie, pronounced that he could not be removed because his name was written in the party’s constitution. The disengagement generated a total of eleven suits, nearly all instituted by the sanctioned politician. A fuming Okorie proceeded to systematically lose and or abandon the cases and his desperation grew with each painful loss. Yet, the Maurice Iwu – led INEC demonstrating disdain for decorum, conferred recognition on a king without a kingdom and would have gone on with the perversion had Victor Umeh not initiated contempt charges against the offenders. With reality dawning, Okorie returned the APGA certificate in his possession but sought revenge with his bid to register a new party United Peoples Grand Alliance (UPGA). The spoiler game was clear enough. The phonetic and syntactic similarities between APGA and UPGA were sure to have devastating consequences for APGA in a society still contending with low literacy levels. An alert APGA leadership swung into action, detailing grounds which ought to render Okorie’s application defective. The INEC under Attahiru Jega, a man widely respected for his pedigree, considered and sustained the objections for their merit. Okorie had to settle for the unobtrusive name of United Progressive Party in the end.
There were more rivers and deserts to cross. About a year to the end of his tenure in 2014, then Governor Peter Obi was seized by his own pet idea of playing adventures with APGA. Members of APGA were at a loss as Obi tried to install a new national chairman in place of the man reckoned as an achiever and whose tenure had not ended. Umeh stood his ground and snatched victory from the lion’s jaw.
Consequently, he was able to influence the nomination of Willie Obiano as the APGA governorship candidate in the 2013/2014 election; signing off in style at the state level, driving the re – election of Governor Obiano for second term.
We see then why the outcome of the January 13, 2018 senatorial poll is so significant for APGA. If Umeh the veteran of APGA battles cannot make it to the Senate, what hope lies for others? With the prospect of free and fair elections brightening under Buhari’s presidency, the quest to launch APGA to the centre – stage of Nigeria’s government and politics has become feasible with the congruent leadership of Umeh and Governor Willie Obiano. Both as Governor and Chairman, Board of Trustees of APGA, Obiano has added huge value to the party that Umeh nurtured to reckoning in very difficult conditions.
With APGA’s flag flying at the Senate, notice is served to those ever in a hurry to define our political colouration as a two party system not to beat the gun. In 2019 the PDP will for the first time contest national elections without being in control in Abuja. That level playing ground guarantees that the PDP can no longer appropriate APGA’s victories as happened in the governorship cases of Ugochukwu Agballa, Enugu State, in 2003; Martin Agbaso, Imo State, 2007; and Alex Otti, Abia State 2015. APGA has not just elected its first senator from Anambra State; it has elected a senator who will not defect to another party!