In this interactive session with journalists, factional Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Maxi Okwu, spoke on burning issues in the party. Olawale Olaleye was there. Excerpts:
Many people are worried that after the Awka Court order, you issued a statement that respected the direct order. But why are you still laying claim to APGA chairmanship?
Umeh did not win any Appeal as people were wrongly made to believe. What he got at the Appeal was a stay of one of the four orders by the Court of Appeal. I wish I came with the documents I would have made a copy for you to read through. Out of the four orders that Enugu State High Court made, only one was stayed. They stayed that aspect that restrained him from parading himself as the chairman of our party. The Court of Appeal agreed that all issues had been overtaken by events.
Number one, that there was no convention. Second, that there should be a convention and that the NEC of the party should have met and ordered a convention. I think there are about four issues raised and we have done all that. The court never said there was non-existent convention. It never said that. The court said once a matter is declaratory, we could not stay it. The only angle of executory- issue of not parading himself is what the court did not release. Every lawyer knows that you don't stay what has been done. The deed had been done already; judgment had been executed by the NEC of the party- convened a convention in Awka and elected its national officers.
On the eve of your party's convention, the court gave an order stopping the convention. Why did the party bring forward the convention date?
That is not true. The notice to INEC from the party was 8th of April. You should understand that INEC doesn't work on sentiment. A party must put everything on paper before INEC, which we did. The only shift we made was the venue from Enugu to Awka. INEC was given adequate notice by our party. We gave 21 days notice.
That's what electoral guideline says. We gave INEC the date and time. The only change was venue from Enugu to Awka. Normally if you wanted to hold a convention, you should have conducted proper accreditation. We did this as we began around 9pm and cleared it before we went for election proper. And I won at the end of the counting of votes.
In Imo State today, it appears there is nothing like APGA anymore as Governor Rochas Okorocha, has taken the party to APC. What is the future of APGA in Imo State?
Our party has issued a statement in this regard and we urged Governor Rochas Okorocha to rethink. Actually, we see his challenges and dilemma but we are saying he should take it calmly. APC is not a registered party; this is a fact as at present. Okorocha is gambling on a quantity that may collapse. I wish APC well but it's obvious it is not yet in a bag. It is still in the offing. It has not been registered by INEC.
For Okorocha to jettison a party that gave him the platform he used to become a governor and starts to gamble with an association that its composition is worrisome, we advise him to rethink. Position of governor of a state is not a small thing. We would not be talking of sanction or discipline him.
We'll wait and see whether sanity will prevail through diplomacy and behind the scene discussion. But, at the end of the day, he would decide.
Obviously, APGA is a divided house at the moment. With the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State the base of the party and general election in 2015, don't you think the crisis should be sorted out now for the party to be a united front?
I have been trying my best to bring every aggrieved member back to the fold of the party. The truth is that there is also enmity in heaven. A political party cannot isolate itself from crisis. As we sit here today, there are various internal crises in PDP that are even worse than what we have in APGA. What we suddenly realised in our party is that Chief Umeh is now like a bull in China's shop.
From his approach of things and activities, he likes to destroy APGA rather than allow the House to stand. We will not allow that to happen. We are going to ease him out. If a 26 NEC member that he lead has left him except two or three of his cronies, he should have seen the hand writing on the wall and resigned. In a much more civilised society, Chief Umeh should have resigned honourably without being asked to quit. Be that as it may, I have extended a hand of fellowship to him thrice.
I recalled I did that at the convention venue, later at the Town Hall meeting in Abuja and before the Abuja meeting. I have said it times without number that I will give him soft-landing but he has refused to accept my hands of fellowship. Instead, he has been fighting harder. There is a limit which you can push a horse to drink. I've extended hand of friendship to him only that he just wants to be the clog in the wheel of progress of the party.
Chief Umeh has said he was elected for four year tenure and that his time is yet to lapse. On what basis did your party kick him out?
People have forgotten that Umeh started as Acting National Chairman of the party since December 2004 and now, we are in 2013. He has been parading himself as APGA Chairman for almost nine years. There was a time he took Chekwas to court when Chekwas said he won't stay beyond eight years. The basic fact is that Umeh has been APGA's Chairman for nine years uninterrupted and he still wants to continue in that position. If his tenure is four years that is renewable, by January 2007 when the convention that the court nullified was held, Umeh's tenure had expired.
The court had said so. On 2nd December, his tenure expired. The court said he has no capacity by January 2011 to hold convention. The convention he coordinated in 2011 was nothing but illegal. That's the fact of the whole issue.
He has stayed beyond his tenure. Normally before your tenure expires as chairman, you need to conduct fresh election but he did not do so because he cares to remain as APGA Chairman forever. So, it is not a personal thing. There are rules of engagement in democracy. You finish your first four year tenure and go back to the party for a fresh mandate of another four year term- end of story. Leadership is not what you say but what you do that matters.
As it is, INEC has written to Chief Umeh, recognising him as the authentic APGA National Chairman. Where does that take you?
Is that so? Okay, I have not seen copy of the letter. As soon as I see it, I will react.
Clarify your comments in Awka about Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu's policies?
No! I don't think I ever said so. At Awka, reporters asked me about certain comment I made against Zik and reconciled it with Ojukwu's. I couldn't recollect the exact comment but I know I responded by saying the two are great Igbo sons. The late Zik was known for his Fabian tactics in tackling political challenges. He was always for compromise and for the possible as a consummate politician. That in nutshell was what I said about Zik.
However, I said Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was a man who was firm in his views and he usually knew where he stood at a particular time. Once a matter came up, Ikemba was known for taking position and remained with such position. The interpretation was doctored. If you interpreted it to mean that, then you would not be fair to me. I don't withdraw what I said that Ikemba was firm in his decision or position on a given issue.
You will always know where he stood. But Zik was known with his Fabian tactics. Now, when a reporter decides to interpret what I said, he was making his own comment and not my comment.
As APGA chairman, what is your mission?
Honestly I don't see myself going beyond two years office as APGA Chairman. I wanted to contest election in my state, Enugu. That was why I am in this business; to make APGA formidable in Enugu State to enable me contest and have a chance of winning. There are so many political offices I can vie for like the Senate, House of Representatives, House of Assembly and even governorship position. There are so many to choose from.
Where exactly are you from because there are rumours doing the rounds that you're from one village in Benue State?
I won't answer that question. I won't answer that. It does not worth my answer. How can anybody stand up and say that to me? I am from Orji River in Enugu State. It's so clear, it is not arguable. My father is not a hidden person. He was a Senator, Minister and everything. I am from Achi in Enugu State. I find the insinuation laughable.
Governor Peter Obi has not conducted local government election in Anambra State since elected. As the party chairman, how would you intervene?
I can assure you that local government elections will take place in Anambra State this year. The Electoral Commission has assured me that they would do that. The arrangement had been on ground even before my election. The legal constraints have been removed to ensure the council elections take place mid-year. Once I am involved, Governor Obi is going to give his own assurance.