The embattled national chairman of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh was recently sacked by an Enugu High Court over irregularities in his election. The court pronouncement which is now the subject of judicial appeal is only one of the entanglements that have recently caught up with Umeh who at one time was indomitable in the affairs of the party.
In this interview Umeh, a quantity surveyor opens up on the relationship between him and Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, his attitude towards the merger plans of the opposition parties and why many in the party want the feud to persist. Excerpts:
First meeting with Obi
It was in 2001 that by a referral from Prof. ABC Nwosu that Obi came to look for me in Enugu as I didn’t know him before. I had worked with Prof. Nwosu when he contested for governor and he (Nwosu) had a chance discussion with Obi who said he wanted to run for governor in Anambra state, but Nwosu told him only one thing. ‘If you will run for this election, there is somebody I will recommend for you, he is in Enugu, his name is Victor Umeh. Go and see him, if he says he will support you and stand by you, you will go very far.’
That’s how Obi came to Enugu to look for me, and he met me on the 24th of March 2001. From there we held discussions; I expressed surprise that such a person existed from the good things he told me. And coming from a nearby community to mine I was taken in and I took him on.
I cannot join issues with Mike Udah to state what I have contributed to his rise to fame, politically. There is nobody in Anambra state who does not know that I was the brain box for APGA and Peter Obi himself. All the strategies we used starting from the election, I was the one who took Obi to virtually everybody in AnambraState at that time.
Those things cannot be disputed. Inside the party, I was the pillar behind his successes, you will recall that even in 2009, Odumegwu Ojukwu had rejected him. Ojukwu came to Awka accompanied by his wife, Bianca, and they raised Emeka Etiaba up that he was going to be the next governor of Anambra State, ‘I will march him to the Government House’, and I was the one who came back and resolved that and calmed Ojukwu’s nerves and convinced him that we should give him another trial.
I will say without being immodest, that in my private life, Obi had nothing to do with my successes, even at the tribunal, I contributed N4 million to his legal fees in 2005. It is on record, I wrote my cheques for my contribution. When we were trying to build APGA in 2003, I was giving money to the party, when he came to the NEC meeting we had on the 4th of March 2003 at Abuja, APGA had no money to convene that meeting.
Obi brought N500,000 as part of his nomination fee, while I brought N2 million to help the party hold that NEC meeting. That money was given to Onwuka Ukwa, he took it to the meeting venue for us to pay delegates that attended the meeting.
So, all the street talk they are making do not go to the root of the problem in APGA. Specifically, I can tell you, I am not regretting anything. I thank God that I played a major role in Obi’s success story, politically. Nothing will make him to obliterate this fact, using his attack dogs.
So, I do not want to be dragged to gutter talks by people who he has hired. I pity Mike Udah, if the long relationship he has had with Obi starting from the University of Nigeria, the only thing he can do for him is to engage him to insult people on the pages of newspapers, it means his stay with him has not been worthwhile. I know a number of instances when Mike Udah came to me that he is suffering in Obi’s government, but let us leave that for another day.
I built this house before Obi was sworn in as governor of Anambra state in 2006.I can’t see how people can continue to misrepresent facts because we are all involved in politics.
On the merger intentions of some opposition parties
I am not somebody who can play hide and seek. I don’t have two colours. The issue of merger has become a blackmail issue by Obi and his group. You recall that in June 2012 when he sponsored Masalla and his group to remove me as the national chairman of APGA, one of the accusations they made against me was that I was hobnobbing with ACN, and CPC for merger.
We had a national working committee meeting on 21st of June 2012, we produced a communiqué from that meeting, and it was advertised in the newspapers. In that communiqué, paragraph 14 says that attention of National Working Committee was drawn to newspaper publications where our national secretary was misquoted as saying that APGA will merge with CPC and ACN if invited for a merger. The national secretary of the party severally refuted this statement credited to him.
The NWC made it clear that APGA will not merge with any political party; instead APGA is ready for alliance talk with other political parties for the purpose of presidential election in 2015 wherein APGA will file a presidential candidate.
At the appropriate time, the national caucus of the party will be mandated to pursue such discussion as they become necessary.
When President Jonathan visited AnambraState last year, it was reported that he had been endorsed for second term by Obi and some groups.
That prompted my reaction, and I said our party will field a presidential candidate. We want to contest and that APGA will want an alliance when it becomes necessary.
I know the purpose of registering APGA and the vision for that has not been actualized in Nigeria. I know the gap APGA was registered to fill has not been filled. Therefore I will not be a party to take APGA and cede it to another political party.
APGA will remain an independent political party but APGA will be disposed to an alliance discussion when it becomes necessary.
I stick to my convictions, we can be friends but when we begin to pursue divergent agenda that do not consider the interest of my people, I will stay on my own. Today, if you look properly, you can see that I am standing alone.
On the different tendencies in APGA
I have heard there is APGA PDP, there is APGA-APGA and also APGA Umeh. APGA Umeh is the APGA that is non-aligned to any of the groups, and the APGA that is resolutely committed to the original visions of registering APGA.
The APGA PDP is announcing to everybody that APGA is not in the merger. They are not saying it because they want to grow APGA or they want to make APGA a resoundingly successful party. They are doing that because they consider the merger as a coalition against PDP that they are working with.
So they are opposing the merger because they are working with PDP. I am not against the merger of the other parties, APGA is not involved for the singular reason that I am convinced the only thing that is proper is to make APGA a truly independent party.
And what is forcing the party backwards is the conflict of interest of the gladiators.
If Governor Obi had a common agenda with Governor Rochas Okorocha, APGA will be progressing. Okorocha initially had a vision of a strong virile independent APGA but Obi was not cooperating in that agenda. Obi was working with the PDP.
I have been so terribly blackmailed, they go and tell President Goodluck Jonathan that Victor Umeh does not support him, that Victor Umeh supports Okorocha to run for president. This is what I am facing in Nigeria and there is nobody who can survive such blackmail. I thank God that I am still alive.
So what Obi and his group will do, once they enter the presidency, they will tell them that they are having problems with me because I want Okorocha to run for president and I am not supporting Jonathan for president.
That is arrant nonsense. It is blackmail. I am not opposing Jonathan, I am not against his presidency. In 2011, at the convention we endorsed him for presidential election in 2011. I was the one that announced it in a public gathering at Alex Ekwueme square in Awka.
That support to his administration had been consistent until Mr. Obi, out of his selfishness, mismanaged the relationship between the party and President Goodluck Jonathan. He personalized that support and excluded the party from it. That is where the whole problem started, and if the President believes that Obi was the one that endorsed him at the convention where we endorsed Jonathan, Obi did not put one naira in the convention.
Other political parties that endorsed Jonathan were given money, Labour Party, even smaller parties were given N150 million, N200 million, and nobody gave APGA one naira. We organized the convention with the money we realized in the sale of nomination forms to endorse the presidential candidate of PDP, Jonathan.
At the recent rally of APGA, I was told that Obi boasted that APGA will capture the South East states in 2015 general elections. Obi is stepping down as Governor next year, for the past seven years, as the chairman, I can not count the number of times I have sat with my brother, Governor Obi to help other states in the southeast to help with APGA programmes. His policy was that he can not finance APGA activities outside AnambraState. Even AnambraState here, he has not financed APGA activities. It is ironical that in March 2013, a year to his exit he is now saying he will make southeast, APGA zone when, in fact in 2011 general elections, it is on record that Obi did not campaign with APGA in any state outside Anambra State. His reason was that as the chairman of South East Governors’ Forum, he can not be campaigning against his brother governors.
That was the reason he gave me. In Imo state where we went for rally for Rochas Okorocha, Obi did not come there one day, throughout the campaign with Okorocha.
In EbonyiState, he did not come for one day, in Abia, Enugu and even RiversStates, he didn’t come.Not only did he not come, he did not send money to anybody.
So, some of those governorship candidates, I don’t know what has become of them. He has now bought them over, they were criticizing him before.
He will call them and give them small thing and tell them that Umeh is the problem, and they will believe him. How could Umeh be the problem? Umeh who went on all the campaigns with them, harassing Obi to support them financially and he did not.
Committment to APGA
So, the truth is that Obi has never been committed to the growth of APGA from inception and the major reason why I fell out with him; I fell out with him in March 2010 shortly after he was sworn in and he sent people to tell me that he wanted to put caretaker committees in the local governments. I said no, that it was a breach of an agreement between me and him and Ojukwu.
That if we campaign for him and he wins the election, that he will conduct local government election immediately so that APGA people will get involved in governance so that the party will settle down at the grassroots.
As soon as he won that election, he wanted to change it, I disagreed with him. We had that problem for two months until Ojukwu resolved it and he agreed there will be local government election.
That was why in July 2010, notice of local government election was published by ANSIEC for 4th of December 2010. We were pursuing that, unfortunately, as we got closer, he said the voters’ register was not good and we got a short postponement to await the new voters register that INEC was putting together then. Immediately after that election, the voters register came out.
After 2011 election, he went into caretaker, I told him no, this thing is no longer good because we have sold forms to people who would want to contest the elections. There is no reason to give them again. That was when I was brought out to be dismantled.
When we won the election, Obi called Okorocha and formed APGA Governors Forum, two of them. He started poisoning the mind of Okorocha that we have to deal with Umeh. Because I had an issue with him already on local government, that I am very stubborn, if you tell him something he cannot do. But if we team together, we can force him to do the things we want.
The first letter they gave me was on July 15th 2011, nearly two months after Okorocha became governor of Imo state. They directed me to dissolve all the structures of APGA in Nigeria so that there will be fresh election to elect officers.
I said I cannot do it. That is why I am under fire. These people helped the party to this stage; you cannot remove them because it would be unconstitutional. The first war started.
Remember that Okorocha and Obi were pushing for my removal together at a time. After some months, Okorocha saw the insincerity in Obi and pulled out and Obi blackmailed Okorocha that he wants to run for president. Okorocha ran away from him.
So what I will say today is that APGA is suffering because people who are claiming to be protecting Ojukwu’s legacy are actually destroying Ojukwu’s legacies.
If you can talk to Colonel Achuzia, he will tell you the way Ojukwu regarded me. I never told Ojukwu anything he said no to. Never, because he always saw through my heart. .