By CHIDI OBINECHE
…Says MASSOB is dead
National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Victor Umeh has laid bare a number of issues surrounding the crisis-torn party and the late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu’s camp. Umeh who recently secured an emphatic victory at the Abuja division of the Federal Court of Appeal on the lingering leadership tussle in the party says his long string of victories is divine, warning his detractors to give up.
Straight-talking Umeh takes on the leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, accusing him of abandoning the struggle midstream, leading to massive desertion of his troops and commanders to ancillary groups.
Uwazuruike had in a recent interview with Sunday Sun alleged wide ranging betrayals of the late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu’s cause.
Umeh, also opens up on the behind the scene deals and manoeuvres that threw up Chief Rochas Okorocha as Imo State governor in 2011, including how the ex-APGA member beat up party officials and forced himself on the party.
He vows that nothing will save the governor from an imminent sack by the court following his defection to the All Progressives Congress, APC last year.
The APGA national chairman gives reasons why he and the ex-Anambra governor, Mr Peter Obi fell out and went to ‘war’, and why the party is yet to have a leader to succeed the late Ojukwu. While Obi was drafted to the leadership seat by the party hierarchy in January, Uwazuruike cried foul, alleging breach of an agreement to make Bianca, Ojukwu’s wife succeed the husband.
Umeh delves deeper to stir the hornet’s nest in the controversial sizzling romance between his party and President Goodluck Jonathan, declaring that there will be no more support for him, without a formal alliance, between APGA and PDP.
He speaks more on the burgeoning dream to take Lagos in 2015, how and why he stopped Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s (ex- Central bank governor) bid to run for the Anambra State governorship seat last year, how APGA scattered the nation’s electoral calendar, the secret behind his trademark long cap, and the crises of betrayals by late Ojukwu’s associates.
The interview, first part of which is published this week, took place in his office in Abuja.
Your party just had its National Working Committee (NWC) meeting. In view of the many crises of the party, what were the highlights?
The essence of the NWC meeting was to discuss how to re-strategise and reposition the party and other challenges associated with the 2015 general elections. You are aware that on June 16, 2014, the Federal Court of Appeal, Abuja division, delivered judgemnent on our appeal brought against the judgement of Justice Abdul Kafarati of the Federal High Court Abuja, which had earlier sacked my leadership of the party.
In that landmark judgement, the Court of Appeal in a unanimous decision set aside the judgement of Kafarati in its entirely, and agreed with all the 12 grounds of appeal we brought before it, and thereby restored my leadership of the party. That of course, necessitated our meeting to review a number of issues and take some decisions that will re-position the party for future challenges.
I will come to the future challenges later. But meanwhile, your 8 years in the saddle has been marred by crises and litigations. You keep trudging on, winning most of the cases. I would like to know the secret of your strength.
The secret of my strength is my absolute faith in God. Secondly, unknown to people, my resilience is anchored on my belief in due process. Most often, I am attacked by people who are disgruntled within the party, accusing me of all kinds of wrongdoings. But I continue to prevail. If I have been guilty as they have constantly alleged against me, I won’t be surviving. I am not God. It is because when lies, blackmail, intrigues are used to attempt to bring me down, God who knows the truth, who sees the light and darkness will always stand behind me.
Secondly, I have a crop of committed patriotic officers of the party, who could always attest to my honesty and sincerity of purpose. No matter how hard they came after me in the past, those men and women had always surrounded me, in defence of the party. Each time they dragged me to the court, knowing that they will always do something that is unconstitutional, unlawful, embedded with lies, I will always approach the court in defence, with the truth. The court will always uphold the truth. No matter how difficult it has seemed to be, and how heavy the challenges had always been, there is nothing that is too heavy before God.
With my Christian spirit, inbuilt with my firmness of character and tenacious spirit, I have continued to move on. Don’t forget that I served under Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in this party. He was the leader of our party for five years. I was National Chairman under him. Within the period, I was able to hold very strong to his character of not surrendering to injustice. I continuously get fired on to fight for justice and the truth. So no matter how heavy or big the challenges have been, I have always taken delight in confronting those challenges, and most times, to the glory of God, I prevail, my leadership prevails. I am somebody who has been upholding the constitution of the party.
One of the biggest battles you fought, was the one against your brother, the immediate past governor of Anambra State, Chief Peter Obi. Just when people thought it was all over for you, you sprang up a surprise with a resolution of the crisis. Stories were flying around of financial settlements. What actually happened?
(Laughs) it is funny and amazing. All those stories about my settlement with former governor Peter Obi being purely monetary, I have been laughing. There was no way it would have been the basis for settlement, and it was never so. If you look at our history from the beginning, you will know that I have led very serious battles in defence of the party. The one we had with Chekwas Okorie lasted for about six years.
Eventually we won up to the Supreme Court all the way. It is very difficult for people to acknowledge the truth. The disagreement between me and my brother, Peter Obi had nothing to do with personal interests. Because I am the chairman of the party, I desire so much that this party should be given all the impetus to have grassroots appeal. I tried to demand for actions from ex-governor Obi that will promote this party. One of the things that separated both of us was his refusal to conduct local government elections in Anambra State. If you noticed,
Obi did not stand against me, until after we secured a second term in office for him. He was re-elected on February 6, 2010. Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was still alive. I demanded that the agreement I reached with him and Ojukwu should be kept. And that agreement was that as soon as he won the elections, or the party won the elections, he should conduct local Government elections in Anambra State.
It was one major agreement we reached in December 2009. When we proceeded with him in that election, campaigned, worked hard and got him delivered, he reneged on that agreement and wanted to put in place a caretaker committee by March 2010. I said no to it. I said we wouldn’t continue with only one person as an elected official in the party. Since he came into office in 2006, he has been a lone ranger in the party. We didn’t have anyone in the House of Assembly, we didn’t have anybody in the National Assembly, we didn’t have anybody in the local government structure. He ran the government from 2006 to 2009 with heads of service of local governments. And I saw it as a weak link to the progress of the party. I insisted it must be done, and when he refused to do it, I said I will not accept it. Because of my vehement opposition to his intention to put in place a caretaker committee in the various local governments, we fell apart for two months.
We had no meeting point, until about May, 2010, when Ojukwu called us together. Of course, he threw his weight behind me. It was an agreement, and Ojukwu was an enforcer of agreements. He also shared in the vision that we should establish our party at the grassroots level. The reconciliation then, was his acceptance to conduct local government elections. We started moving on in July of that year. He set up the Anambra State Independent Electoral Commission, and they announced that they would conduct elections on the 4th of December, 2010. By that time, as the date approached, he said the voters’ register was being challenged at the tribunal by Dr Ngige, over the 2010 governorship elections. He knew INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) had promised new voters’ registration exercise.
He then demanded that we should wait for the new voters’ register to be compiled by INEC, and as soon as the 2011 general elections were through, he would conduct local government elections. That was the truce. After the 2011 general elections, he came up with the idea of putting up a a caretaker committee again. By then, Ojukwu was sick. It became a lone battle for me. I opposed it, and he opened his fire on me. That was responsible for what people saw. I didn’t give in. He got Gov Rochas Okorocha to join him. My leadership resisted both of them, until 2012, when Okorocha backslid, and Obi continued. If you look at it, you will see it was a sharp disagreement that stemmed from policy – party policy versus government policy.
From the prognosis, most of the battles in APGA are based on breach of agreements. Recently, the MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) leader – Ralph Uwazuruike also accused you and Obi of breaching an agreement to install Ojukwu’s widow, Bianca as party leader to succeed her husband. What is all this stuff about breaching of agreements in APGA?
There are human beings in every organization. Anywhere you have human beings, there will be misundertandings here and there. But as to what Chief Ralph Uwazuruike said, I was miffed. I read it online, because I was in the United Kingdom. I laughed heartily. His story was incoherent, disjointed and lacked vision and direction. There was no where in that interview where he said I had a meeting with him, or with anybody to have an agreement. There was no such thing. Uwazuruike is not a member of APGA. He is the leader of MASSOB.
What he said was that there was a meeting of strategic leaders in Ojukwu’s house.
There was no such meeting. I challenge him to say when and where the meeting held and I was in attendance. I never had any meeting with Uwazuruike, or with these people mentioned. I never sat with Peter Obi and Uwazuruike from the beginning till date. I have never met with him, with Peter Obi in attendance, or anybody. When people begin to deceive the public to seek relevance, what I have always done is to ignore them. If you observe, I have never reacted to whatever Uwazuruike has ever said in the newspapers.
When I read through the interview, he said the meeting was between him, Bianca and Peter Obi. My name was conspicuously absent in that purported meeting. To the extent that Uwazuruike is not a member of the party, I don’t know why he should be claiming to know everything happening in APGA, because he has been dropping Ojukwu’s name all over the place. I don’t want to join in a diatribe with him. But it is so unfortunate that he could lie the way he did. When I read his interview, I pitied him. I now know why he has lost direction in whatever struggle he said he was leading. He said he gave Rochas Okorocha APGA ticket at Okwe. APGA has no office in Okwe. How can somebody talk like that?
He also said he took Okorocha to Ojukwu, before giving him the ticket in his house in Okwe.
I will spare Uwazuruike a public embarrassment. I will not say what transpired in that journey. True, he may have taken Okorocha to Ojukwu. But the same Ojukwu asked him to take Okorocha to me. Before he could bring Okorocha to my house, Ojukwu had taken ill on December 1, 2010. That was when he had stroke. Uwazuruike called me on December 3. I was in Abuja here. He spoke frantically that he needed to see me, anytime I returned to Enugu. I said okay. I returned to Enugu on Friday the 3rd of December. He called again and I told him I had returned to Enugu. He said he was on his way. I said by 6.00pm? He said I should not worry, he was coming. I didn’t know what was happening.
By 9.00pm, he drove to my house with Rochas Okorocha. They came with P.C. Onuoha and a few other persons. When he came, he started telling me that Okorocha will run for governor. That was what he had come to beg me to support him. He said he had seen Ojukwu, and he asked him to take him to me as the chairman. That is the character of Ojukwu. If you go to him over any party matter, he will tell you to go and see the chairman. He will, of course, receive you, listen to you, and as a principled administrator, he will know that it is something he would like to get my opinion on. Contrary to his claims, Ojukwu never for one day told me Okorocha had come to see him. And that he wanted him to run for governor of Imo State.
Maybe, he was still preparing to tell me that they came to his house before he took ill. I told them that Okorocha was not a member of our party, and I very much doubted his stability as an individual. I said so, and to his face I asked him, ‘how can you be running for governor under our party when the primary is in January?’ He said he was a member of the party. I said no, I have not heard that you’re a member of our party! He said he was going to join on December 11, 2010, which was a week or eight days ahead. He invited us to come. I said, okay. If you come to the national secretariat by Wednesday of the following week, and show me evidence of your membership of APGA, then why not? We want people to join our party. On Wednesday, he sent me a letter inviting me to his declaration. There was no card attached to it. So, I didn’t attend. Nobody attended. I saw him as a joker.
Then, how did he eventually pull through, going by what you’re saying?
It happened … he joined the party and by that time I told him he was a stranger to the party. Of course, he went to Imo State to work his way through, including beating up party executives to have a forced entry into the party. The people we had at that time were not in a position to resist him.
You mean he beat them up physically?
Yes he did. He attacked our secretariat with thugs, beat up one Dr Iwuagwu, who is from Owerri. He was injured, and was taken to the hospital. Our state chairman then, Prince C.C. Nwaka was also beaten. The matter was reported to me. They sacked him, even as he had joined the party. They sacked him. To allow peace to reign, I overruled his expulsion. We were approaching the election. The people who were already on ground in the race, could not put their acts together. And when the crisis was seriously ravaging the party. I stepped in. I had to bring them together with the major contender Martin Agbaso. We met together in my hotel room, and I told them that only one person will go. Let’s make peace, so that the party can go into the elections, united. It was at my own instance that the meeting held, and we resolved the issue.
It was resolved in favour of Okorocha?
Yes. Okorocha said he was going to stay there for one term and step down. He said Martin Agbaso should step down for him. Let him bring the Deputy. At that time, Agbaso was also battle weary. He was not in a position to continue. So, they reached that understanding. Martin Agbaso nominated his younger brother to be the running mate.
Was Agbaso settled with money as we heard?
There was no monetary settlement. I didn’t participate in monetary settlements. Okorocha, even in his charity can tell you that such things never happened. They went to Owerri to announce that Agbaso had stepped down for him, so that he will do one term and go away, and hand over to Agbaso and Owerri zone. That was the mutual agreement . That agreement, they have killed it.
Back to the question you asked. Midway, not even midway, around the end of December of that year, the same Uwazuruike, who said he gave him APGA ticket had ditched him. He ditched Okorocha and warned me that Okorocha should not fly the flag of APGA, that it was the turn of Okigwe zone. He started sponsoring one Peter Ezenwa, alias ‘big do’, who has been his friend, right from India. I said no. I cannot at this point, introduce confusion, because the election was at hand then. So from that point, Uwazuruike who told lies about how he made Okorocha governor never showed up again. But I continued. After brokering the peace between Okorocha and Agbaso, we moved on. When I came to Owerri to flag off Okorocha’s governorship campaign, in March 2011, there was no where Uwazuruike could be found. I called him and asked what was the problem. He said he will be there over his dead body, that Okorocha had not kept the agreement between two of them. That he was owing him. So it was an issue of money. Around 2.00am on the day, I got Okorocha to accompany me to Uwazuruike’s house in Owerri at Works Layout.
We were there till about 3.00am. I resolved the issue between them. Let me not mention the figures involved, because Uwazuruike said he promised to pay him a certain sum of money if he could take him to Ojukwu and get him APGA ticket. And he took him to Ojukwu. He paid 50% of it, and did not pay the balance. So that was the crux of the matter, disagreement in their financial transaction. Okorocha agreed to pay him some money further, and to pay him later when he wins election. On Monday the following week, he gave him what was agreed on at that time, leaving the balance. I will not mention the figures. So, you can see he lied to the public. Then, I went out to campaign with Okorocha, did everything. That was the day we had problem with Obasanjo, who was visiting Imo State. There was nowhere Uwazuruike was part of this process.
Along the line, the next thing was that his people in MASSOB ran to me and said that Uwazuruike called them and told them to support Ohakim of the PDP. And they said MASSOB was for APGA, and they won’t follow him to PDP. He lost his commanders in the process as they alleged that Ohakim paid him money again, and promised to tar the road leading to his village in Okwe. So, he went so bad against Okorocha. I was the one who led the campaign, relocated to Owerri, delivered, and there was no where Uwazuruike featured. In his story, he cut off how he brought Okorocha to my house. He didn’t mention my name in that his interview. That shows how he can lie. So in summary, Uwazuruike was against Okorocha in that election. At the time we were in that election, his statement was being read every five minutes on Abia radio, calling on the whole of Abia people to vote for Theodore Orji of the PDP. Not APGA. This is the man interjecting into APGA affairs now, saying he is APGA.
He has never supported APGA in any election. In 2003, he didn’t support APGA. But he claims he was with Ojukwu, because once Ojukwu is with us, he claims he is also with us. In the last governorship elections in Anambra State, he supported Ifeanyi Ubah of the Labour Party. Ifeanyi Ubah went to him, and he called his people and announced that they should support Ifeanyi Ubah. The same people (his commanders) trooped to me again. He has nobody with him again in that MASSOB; let me tell you today. They came to me and said he has come again. They told me it is now Labour Party, and alleged that he was given money. Even the one he was supposed to give to his boys, he didn’t give them.
So, they angrily came to Awka and sought to meet with me, and told me what he has done – the same sabotage again, and declared that they were with me in the APGA struggle (All his commanders). They led a one million man march from Onitsha to Awka, to Nnewi, to Ekwulobia and ended up at Ojukwu’s mausoleum in Nnewi where they declared total support for APGA, when their leader had directed them to support Labour party. So, in our set up, Uwazuruike does not feature. All those his people have all gone to what they call “Igbogadinma.” Biafran Zionist Movement are those who said he is using MASSOB as a business enterprise. You can see they are old men when they were paraded by the Police. Some of them were Biafran war veterans, who left him out of sentiments on how Uwazuruike was trading with their sentiments. They thought MASSOB was about bringing back Biafra and they started following him; not knowing that he has completely deviated and is now using MASSOB as a business instrument.
They broke away. The core people that were with him in MASSOB activities left him and formed “Igbogadinma youths. They were the people who worked with me during the Anambra elections, with other people in Anambra State. They have issued statements against Uwazuruike, and you can see he is struggling with his MASSOB. So how can he begin to ascribe to himself the level of relevance he is trying to claim in APGA? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. What he is trying to do is to use Ojukwu’s name to give the impression that he is leading a movement. The movement he is leading is an empty house now. All those young men who made MASSOB tick are no longer loyal to him. The other day, I saw him announce the suspension of Uchenna Madu, the Director of communications of MASSOB. He is no longer with Uwazuruike. If he can start issuing statements countering Uwazuruike, that will show he is no longer with him. Those young men called Igbogadinma youths have cried out that Uwazuruike has used them, and lost focus and direction, which is very unfortunate. If you see what he is saying in the papers, you can see why time should not be spent discussing Uwazuruike.
Uwazuruike also alleged that you have been blocking credible Igbo people that he was bringing into APGA, which is why APGA is not doing well.
Is he the director of contacts and mobilization of APGA? He is not. He is not a member of APGA, and so he is not bringing in anybody. What Uwazuruike is doing is using Ojukwu’s name to hoodwink people. Some people thought he had something to offer and usually run to him. He said he is now the Ezeigbo, and will endorse anybody who wants to contest elections in Igbo land. With which structure will he have that kind of relevance? How can I be blocking credible people from coming into APGA? What advantage does Prof Soludo have over Chief (Dr) Willie Obiano, a chartered accountant and a renowned retired banker, Executive Director in a bank for nine years; and somebody who had served as chief internal auditor of Texaco worldwide? What makes Soludo more credible than Obiano? In any event, he said Obiano will not win the election, we brought him from America, that he is a useless man.
He didn’t participate in the campaign. He went on other campaigns in Anambra State and Willie Obiano won landslide. Since he assumed office, he is doing very well. So how can he talk about who is credible? What qualifications does Uwazuruike have to determine who is a credible person? Me, that he has been looking down on, I am a true, great Igbo man. I attended all my schools in the South East. I had distinction in secondary school. I went to the University of Nigeria. Nsukka, where I read Estate Management. I am a registered estate surveyor and valuer. Today I am a fellow of Nigeria Institute of Estate Surveyors and Valuers.
I practised extensively before I joined politics. What is his own credential? He studied in India. Is India where people go to read Law? He is not evaluating himself properly. That is why he is trying to put himself up as a leader that he is not. This is somebody who says he is not a Nigerian, and everyday in the newspapers you see him deciding who will be president of Nigeria. Is Nigeria the Republic of Biafra? So, he doesn’t have any focus; no direction. He just set up an organization to hoodwink people to pay attention to him. I can tell you that even in his MASSOB, I am more powerful than him. Let him challenge me. He has lost his troops.
A General who is suspending all his Commanders has lost his troops. About one month ago he suspended about seven Commanders and appointed interim people. What type of Army is that, where the General is suspending his Commanders on daily basis? He has lost the loyalty of those men, those young people are very great Igbo youths. They worked with me in the struggle to liberate our people. They are strong members of this party. They are not taking orders from him anymore. So let him stop promising votes to anybody. He has no votes to offer. In the interview you alluded to, he said MASSOB has 10 million members who will deliver Jonathan in 2015. How will Biafrans be deciding who will be president of Nigeria?.
What he has done is that he has abandoned the struggle and Barrister Onwuka, the leader of the Biafran Zionist Movement has taken over the struggle from him. He is purely doing business. Anybody who is looking at his direction to garner Igbo votes in 2015 is not discussing with anybody. Let me make bold to say it here. I have been leading the APGA campaign in the South East in the last few years with the late Ikemba Ojukwu. I never saw him discuss politics with Uwazuruike. I was very close to Ojukwu. You cannot take that away from me. As chairman of APGA under him for five years, working closely together, he cannot say that he knew Ojukwu’s political thoughts more than me. Ojukwu merely accepted him as somebody who was talking about Biafra, just to keep hope alive. But, he has not delivered in any form.
•To be continued next week