by Sam Asoluka
It was heart-wrenching for some of us to read a report posted online by some Igbo boys’ resident in London that fight broke out at the Bannister Hall Homerton, Hackney, venue where Chekwas Okorocha addressed prominent Nigerians. To say the least, no chairs flew and tables did not quake. The report that fight broke out was in bad taste and nauseating. Igbo are known for clean and decent behaviours. These boys no doubt are looking for an entry route into politics. But they don’t have to behave like thugs to find a route. Igbo are known for respect and finesse.
When plans were made by the APGA faithful in London for Chief Chekwas Okorie to address a select crowd of Nigerian professionals and ethnic community leaders in London, little did the organisers envisage that such an impressive crowd will turn out at such short notice to interact with the founding chairman of APGA in person and to hear him in his own words address the conflict within his party and Nigerian politics at large.
In his welcome address Mr Nnamdi Kanu the chairman of the party in UK & Europe, introduced Chief Okorie to the expectant crowd as the “founder of our great party and intellectual impetus behind APGA both as a party and as a political movement”. He went on to say that APGA is much more than a mere political party and he hoped that the message “Oje ozi” (as Chief Okorie is affectionately called by his supporters) brought with him from Nigeria is that of peace, as a majority of Nigerians especially those of South-East and South-South extraction in the diaspora are anxious to witness the economic dividend of having a progressive party at the helm of affairs in their respective regions. Mr Kanu advised the audience not to shy away from asking Chief Okorie difficult questions regardless of how uncomfortable it may appear as it was imperative to get a direct first hand account of the genesis of the crisis within APGA rather than individuals forming opinions based on recycled and often misleading interpretation of comments reported in the media.
In his address, Chief Okorie began by apologising to the audience for keeping them waiting, some for more than an hour, as he arrived later than scheduled. He thanked the party faithful in London for giving him the platform to address such an enlightened audience of professionals, community leaders, and well meaning Nigerians from all walks of life who turned out impressively to see him.
Chief Okorie in his unscripted speech acknowledged that the crisis within APGA has had a negative and debilitating effect on the morale of the Igbo people, especially those that recognise the increasing irrelevance of the South-East in the mainstream political discourse in Nigeria. He stated that the crisis was deliberate and orchestrated to undermine the collective will of a people, which in itself is a crime. In his opinion, the crisis within APGA would not have happened had due constitutional process been followed in the bid to appoint his successor to the position of the chairmanship of the party. When pressed to offer more detail he declined, instead preferring to reiterate that his mission to London is to re-energise the party along the lines of party unity which drew loud applause from the audience. On more than fifteen occasions he used the word “peace” to drive home the need for the party to unite under the APGA flag.
The event felt more like a political awakening rather than a meeting. People travelled from as far as Birmingham in the midlands of England to be at this event. Mr Colins Okafor, who made the trip to London commented, “Its not very often you get told that an Igbo dignitary is in town, talk less of being invited to meet with him. They usually hide and the only time you hear of it is when you read Nigerian newspapers on the internet”.
Determined to capture of the moment, Chief Okorie played a masterstroke which went down a treat with the hall as he pronounced that people should pledge their loyalty and support to APGA and not to him as an individual or any other person as no individual is greater than the party. This drew applause from the crowd and in the same breath he stated that he is prepared and willing to attend any peace initiative anywhere in the world to help heal divisions in the party. He reminded everyone of the numerous peace initiatives he has attended in the past with other side not showing-up. Chief Okorie declared that he would abide by whatever determination or resolution is reached even if this means that he would play a less prominent role within the party.
He reiterated that his efforts to recover the party were purely motivated by his desire to ensure that Igbos enjoyed the dividend of democracy in Nigeria as witnessed by other geo-political areas. His challenge to the assembled crowd was simple, “help to build APGA both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora so that the creative capability of the people in the hall which goes into developing already developed economies in the western world will be put to effective use where it matters at home”.
In a clear demonstration of political maturity not usually associated with Nigerians, another APGA faction established by Chief Victor Umeh the chairman of the party in September 2011, were also invited to the gathering and given the opportunity to ask Chief Okorie questions regarding the leadership crisis. They wanted Chief Okorie to respond to the allegation that he conspired against Peter Obi by making overtures to Dr Chris Ngige to cross carpet to APGA during his time as the governor of Anambra State in a move designed to deny Gov. Obi his legitimate mandate.
In response, Chief Okorie started by clarifying that he made overtures to Ngige not to undermine Gov Obi’s mandate but to ensure that Ngige did not move to another party. Equally importantly, his move for Ngige to join APGA was clear three months after the coup to remove him. He met Dr Ngige in March 2004 when the plot to replace him as the APGA Chairman was executed in December 2003. In other words the plot to replace him predated his move for Ngige to join APGA. He asked the audience to consider the facts and decide who betrayed who.
Among those to grace this unique gathering were representatives of various influential Igbo groups based in London, most notably Igbo Union UK, Ohaneze United Kingdom & Ireland, New Southern Generation, Umu Igbo Catholic Community, Igbo Lawyers Association United Kingdom, Bilie and many more.
When Chief Okorie asked anyone wishing to join APGA should do so by identifying with the properly constituted UK executive who were the convenors of the meeting, Victor Umeh’s supporters got up and left the venue.
Any report of disorderly behaviour or physical altercation during the meeting is pure fabrication and a deliberate attempt to deflect attention from an evening of high political triumph for Oje-ozi Chief Okorie. In the words of Dr. Chukwuma Egemba the convenor, “we are prepared to provide the same platform for any Igbo personality who thinks he or she has what it takes to field questions from a well-informed audience of Igbo professionals in London. The turn-out we saw here this evening is testament that Igbo have regard for genuine leaders and that money can never buy you relevance”.
Sam Asoluka is the Publisher of The AMBASSADOR MAGAZINE and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org