Last week, the Court of Appeal sitting in Enugu quashed the Order of Mandamus, that compelled the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and Inspector General of Police (IGP), to recognize Chief Martin Agbaso as the acting National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The Mandamus Order was granted on May 22, 2017 by Justice A. R. Ozoemenam of Enugu High Court, consequent upon an application filed by Mr. Mike Alioke, the Enugu State Deputy Chairman of APGA.
However, in a unanimous judgement, delivered by a three-man panel of the Appeal Court, headed by Justice Abdul Aboki, Chief Victor Ike Oye was affirmed the authentic national chairman of the party. The Appellate Court rightly observed that the lower court erred by not giving Oye the chance to be heard when the matter has to do with him and his office as APGA’s national chairman.
In the words of Justice Aboki, “It is a trite in law that when a party is not joined in a suit concerning him, every outcome relating to that matter is a nullity. It was proved that the party here was not joined in the matter and I hereby resolve this issue in his favour… This appeal has merit and is hereby allowed. The judgment of A.R Ozoemenam issued on May 22, 2017 is hereby set aside. Victor Oye remains the national chairman of APGA and should function in that capacity.”
The APGA leadership tussle started in October 2016, when some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) announced the suspension of Oye for alleged gross misconduct. Suspended along with him were Alhaji Abubakar Adamu, deputy national chairman (North) and Chief Uche Okogbuo, deputy national chairman (South). Mr. Nwabueze Okafor (now late) was immediately appointed as interim national chairman. The late Okafor was the Vice Chairman South East of APGA before he was chosen to replace Oye, in a manner that bore some semblance of a coup d’état.
The action of the NWC members was roundly condemned by the generality of the party members, as they maintained that it was in contravention of APGA’s constitution. It was argued that by the constitution of APGA, a duly elected national chairman cannot be removed by the NWC without the endorsement of the National Executive Council (NEC) and final ratification by a special convention of the party.
Nonetheless, the late Okafor until his death continued to lay claim to the chairmanship position of APGA while Oye insisted he remained the true occupant of the party’s number-one seat. Prior to Okafor’s demise, his group had filed a suit before Justice Yusuf Baba of Abuja High Court, asking that Oye be stopped from parading himself as the national chairman of APGA.
Oye had in a preliminary objection challenged the jurisdiction of the Abuja High Court to entertain the suit. But Justice Baba held that he had the power to hear the case. Not satisfied, Oye filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Abuja seeking to upturn the decision of the Abuja High Court to hear the suit brought before it by the then Okafor-led group. While the issue of jurisdiction was yet to be decided at the Abuja Division of Appeal Court, Okafor took ill and died on January 8, 2017.
Determined to push Oye out, members of the faction led by the late Okafor brought in Agbaso, said to be an ex-member of APGA, as the acting national chairman. And a fresh battle began between Agbaso and Oye who was duly elected as the national chairman on June 6, 2015, along with other national officers of the party at a properly conducted national convention.
Oye appears to enjoy the unalloyed support of all the key organs of the party including the NEC while Agbaso is seen as an interloper, having left the party to contest for PDP governorship ticket in Imo State in 2015, where he lost to Emeka Ihedioha, former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, who is the Chairman of APGA’s Board of Trustees (BoT) and Chief Victor Umeh, the immediate past national chairman of the party, had stood solidly behind Oye’s leadership, especially after all efforts made to resolve the crisis amicably outside the court proved abortive at the initial stage.
While awaiting the final ruling of the Enugu Court of Appeal, after his request for leave to appeal has been graciously granted, Oye got two favourable judgements from Awka and Nnewi High Courts both in Anambra State. The courts stopped Agbaso from conducting primaries for theNovember 18, 2017 gubernatorial election in Anambra State, and affirmed Oye as APGA’s national chairman. The Enugu Division of Appeal Court verdict in favour of Oye came a day after his faction held its primaries for the Anambra governorship election which produced the incumbent Governor Obiano as APGA’s candidate.
Not minding the Appellate Court pronouncement invalidating the Mandamus Order he had been relying on to lay claim to the chairmanship seat of APGA, Agbaso led his group to hold a parallel primary election for the Anambra guber poll where Ifeanyi Igwebuike emerged as their candidate on August 21, 2017. This has been described as a nullity and an exercise in futility, since by the declaration of the Enugu Division of Appeal Court, INEC can only relate with Oye as APGA’s national chairman. Except if the Supreme Court later rules otherwise, as Agbaso has reportedly filed an appeal at the apex court.
For now, Oye has no obstacle on his way to submit the name of Obiano as the party’s candidate for the Anambra governorship election to the electoral body. His loyalists are of the conviction that the Appellate Court gave a very sound judgement that would definitely be upheld by the apex court. For them, the APGA leadership crisis has been finally laid to rest.
Reacting to the verdict of the Appeal Court, Umeh who is working hard to ensure Obiano’s victory in the November 18 election as the chairman of his reelection committee, said: “We are not surprised at all because the mandamus order obtained by the other side (Agbaso-led faction) stood on nothing. There was no justification for that. It was an ambush on our great party. And I am happy that our primary had taken place before even the Court of Appeal sat over the appeal and INEC came here to monitor the exercise knowing that this is the party. This is the APGA they (INEC) have always known. And it is impossible that three former members of the party can begin to take shots for the party, appointing people as acting this, acting that. In Anambra State where the structure of APGA has been most robust in the whole of Nigeria, somebody just came out and say that he has dissolved the APGA state structure in Anambra State. Dissolved! One man, without authority! So, if the Court of Appeal has invalidated that decision, we give glory to God! We know that they will crumble because their action stood on nothing.”
Counsel to Oye, Chief Emeka Etiaba (SAN), hailed the Appellate Court for resolving the crisis in APGA which, in his opinion, would have adversely affected the party in the Anambra governorship election. According to him, “All the troubles the lower court foisted on not just the party but democracy in Nigeria has been doused and solutions have come. We thank the Court of Appeal for resolving the matter and calming frayed nerves. The implication is that Oye is the authentic National Chairman of APGA. He is the only one to function and nominate Governor Obiano as the party’s candidate with the National Secretary, Labaran Maku.”