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UMEH: THE MAN AND HIS STRUGGLES

Chief Victor Umeh, Victorious APGA chairman
Chief Victor Umeh, victorious APGA chairman

Chief Victor Umeh is no doubt a very happy man. On Monday, July 15, 2013, the Court of Appeal, sitting in Enugu State confirmed him as the authentic national chairman of the main indigbo party, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), just about five days to his 51st birthday. He will be 51 tomorrow, Friday.  

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In a lead judgment delivered by Justice Tom Yakubu on behalf of two other justices in the panel,( Justices Paul Galinje (Chairman) and Modupe Kwasami), the court granted all the four reliefs sought by Umeh and in the process putting to rest the protracted power tussle between Victor Umeh and Gov. Peter Obi of Anambra State.

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Umeh and the Peter Obi’s faction of APGA had engaged themselves in a protracted battle for chairmanship of the party in a game of wit. Obi’s faction had held a midnight convention where Maxi Okwu was supposedly elected chairman and in the process polarising the party.

But ironically, it was Umeh who is now the staunch enemy of Obi that welcomed him with an open hand even when little was known about the governor.

“It was in 2001 that by a referral from Prof. ABC Nwosu that Obi came to look for me in Enugu.  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 is how Obi came to Enugu to look for me, and he met me on the 24th of March 2001 and I took him on”, Umeh said before crisis crept into the party.

Umeh, a philanthropist by all ramifications donated to Peter Obi’s when his governorship ticket was in contention.  “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. 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”, Umeh said to ward off attacks from Obi’s publicists.

But he is unperturbed in all these, even in the midst of what he termed blackmail. “I have been so terribly blackmailed; I thank God that I am still alive”, he said, stressing that  Obi and his group are misinforming the President that he wanted Okorocha to run for president . “That is arrant nonsense. It is blackmail. I am not opposing Jonathan, I am not against his presidency, Umeh said.

Delivering the judgment at the Court of Appeal, Justice Yakubu dismissed all the objections raised by the respondent ( Jude Okuli) against the appeal stressing that the lower court had no jurisdiction ab-initio to entertain the case, since the plaintiff has been expelled from the party, and therefore lacked the locus standi to institute the action.

Besides, the court argued that even if Okuli were to be a bonafide party member, the matter would have failed since he was neither a contestant for the position of national chairman nor a member of the NWC whose interest may be affected if Umeh remained in office.

The lower court had also restored Okuli to the party but the Appeal Court noted that the trial judge went beyond his powers “I am of the considered opinion that the respondent (Okuli) has no locus standi to institute the action and the trial court shouldn’t have wasted time trying the matter because it assumed jurisdiction which it did not possess. There are several authorities that the courts should not interfere with the internal affairs of the political parties except on issue of wrongful substitution as contained in Section 87 (9) of the Electoral Act 1999 as amended,” Justice Yakubu further said.

The court upheld the submissions of Umeh’s lead counsels, Wole Olanipekun and Patrick Ikweto, that the trial court overreached itself when it ruled that the APGA national convention of November 10, 2011 was unconstitutional.

“We find this appeal not lacking in merit and consequently the appeal is allowed; the judgment of Justice Umezulike is hereby set aside, and a cost of N50,000 is hereby awarded in favour of the appellant,” the court ruled, thus putting the matter to rest.

Reacting to the judgement, Umeh who was highly elated said that the decision of the court has rekindled his confidence in the Nigerian judiciary, stressing that all those who listened to the ruling of the Appeal Court heard that all the decisions against him by the Enugu Chief Judge have been set aside.

“All our grounds of appeal were successful; that the Chief Judge of Enugu State has no business prosecuting me; God has vindicated me and APGA today. We thank God Almighty. I thank the Nigerian judiciary; this has restored our confidence in the judiciary. This is a case of David and Goliath. We did not have money but God gave us victory because we have God. From today, by the decision handed down by this Court of Appeal, our party is coming back”, he said without mincing words.

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Prior to the judgement from the Appeal Court, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had thrown its weight behind Umeh as the authentic chairman, thus dealing a serious blow to rebellion within the party which had attempted to unseat Umeh, via spurious allegations of romancing opposition parties like the Congress for Progressive Change(CPC).

The commission had conveyed its recognition vide a letter by then INEC Secretary Abdulahi Kaugama with reference number INEC/LEG/APGA/222/11/313, stating that  that the processes taken by the opposing group to sack Umeh were indeed faulty.

Umeh was born 19th July 1962 to the Late Sir Innocent Ofojekwu Umeh and Lady Elizabeth Umeh (LSM) of Ifite village, a family of respected christian from Aguluzigbo in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria.

He started his education at St. Bridget’s Primary School Aguluzigbo from where he proceeded to Bubendorff Memorial Grammar School Adazi-Nnukwu. He graduated  in1980 with Division one,  Aggregate 13, securing eight (8) alphas and one (1) credit.

That same year, he was admitted into University of Nigeria where he read Estate Management. He graduated in June 1984 with a BSc Honours in Estate Management.  Umeh worked as a lecturer at the University of Science and Technology after his National Youth Service Corps(NYSC) in 1985.

A fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, Umeh  is also a registered Estate Surveyor and Valuer. He is also an associate member of the Rating and Valuation Association of Great Britain and Senior Certified Valuer of the International Real Estate Institute, Scottsdale, Arizona USA. He is in addition a Principal Consultant in V. C. Umeh & Co, a firm of Estate Surveyors and Valuers.  He is a director of companies, including the Nigerian Film Corporation, Jos.

His first stint in politics was in 1998 when he became a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and was elected Anambra state treasurer of the party in 1999. He resigned from the PDP in 2001 and joined hands with other progressive minds to register the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2002.

He was the first National Vice Chairman South East of the party and later national treasurer. He is today national chairman, APGA and has been very resourceful in taking the party to glorious height.  His strong principles include dexterity, and resilience which saw APGA through numerous struggles in 2006 in the quest to install an APGA-led government in the state. A very dogged fighter, he went through hell, fighting with the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu to re-elect Governor Peter Obi in the February 2010 as governor.

In the 2011 general elections, Umeh led his party to win the governorship election in Imo state for His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Anayo Okorocha, governor of Imo State. That same year, a female Senator in the person of  Sen. Christie Anyanwu, seven members of the House of Representatives and 32 members of the House of Assembly were elected in both Imo state and Anambra State Houses of Assembly, producing the principal officers in both Houses.

An APGA woman legislator in Anambra State, Princess Chinwe Nwaebili was also elected the first female Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly. But it seems that the best is yet to come for APGA under his leadership.

An avowed defender of true tenets of democracy,  Umeh has received several awards and chieftaincy titles in recognition of his strong belief in the cause of Justice.  Among which is OGBATULUENYI of Awka North LGA. In August 5, 2006, The Rotary Club of Emene, Enugu honoured him with Distinguished Gold Leadership Award in politics and party Administration. Umeh is patron, Actors Guild of Nigeria(AGN) and Radio Television and Thearter Arts Workers Union (RATTAWU).

He has also received many other honours too numerous to mention. Umeh is a silent philanthropist who has used his money to fight the cause of the less privileged and currently has about one hundred indigent students on his scholarship scheme up to University level, through his education foundation. He is a fellow of Paul Harris  Rotary International and blessed with seven children.

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