A Toast To Victor Umeh At 56 – By Ifeanyi Afuba
On the occasion of Senator Victor Umeh’s July 19 birthday anniversary, I am reminded of those days of much fancied Sony turntables, JVC amplifiers and Kenwood speakers, when Teddy Pendergrass’s ‘Life is a song worth singing’ played in our house. As a middle level secondary school student in 1978, I had not come of age to understand the thrust of that track. My elder brothers played Pendergrass, The Whispers, Barry White, Kool & the Gang; James Last, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Victor Uwaifo and others they considered mature music. I readily went for Ipi Tombi, KC & The Sunshine and Fleet WoodMac for their massaging feel; Sonny Okosuns for revolutionary inspiration; Lord Kitchner’s ‘Sugar Bum’ and Ninety Degrees Inclusive ‘Revolution’ to soothe youthful excitement. It was later on in years, with the refrain still hovering in my subconscious, that I made better sense of life as a song; beyond, I should say, the surface level of Teddy’s engagement.
God, the giver of life, had a purpose in creation. We are to use God’s given talents to prove our resourcefulness, a capacity that finds its true value in nurturing a collective oasis, itself an acknowledgement of God’s power and love. The eternal truth is that a day has been appointed for each man to exit this earthly life. And after we have departed, how will we be remembered?
Birthdays then present fitting occasions for reflection on the journey of life. To be sure, it is not our station in life that makes us great but the heroism that we bring to bear on our walks of life. In the apt words of William Shakespeare, some are born great; some achieve greatness; and some have greatness thrust upon them. But even the spoon fed must at some point have to manage their good fortune. Thus, some privileged people end up failures and in disgrace. That is why history is a mix of the elevated and the lowly.
For Victor Umeh who has been an active player in the political scene for the past 20 years, there is no other major framework to capture his persona. The reason is simple. When you deduct the approximate 25 years of formation from 56 years, the proportion spent on politics dominates the balance of 31 years. And the high probability is that Umeh will for a long time to come still be engaged with politics.
Envisioning a role in the unfolding fourth republic, he took a leave from about 10 years of successful estate management to join the Peoples Democratic Party in 1998. It would be a brief sojourn in the PDP which soon dashed the initial promise of being the vehicle for realising a Nigerian President with Igbo roots. The short outing in the PDP was however enough to show the stuff of the Aguluzoigbo native. But for a last minute nullification of the PDP’s Anambra governorship primary, his group’s candidate, Professor Alphonsus Nwosu, would have been Governor of Anambra State on May 29, 1999.
The zeal for politics of inclusion led Umeh to align with other like minds that recognised the diversity of the Nigerian polity and its implications for participatory democracy. The brainstorming sessions eventually resulted in the registration of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. It was thus on the twin reckoning as a foundation member of APGA and strategist in the PDP governorship nomination that Mr Peter Obi sought Umeh’s support in Obi’s quest for the approaching 2003 governorship election. The election was fought and won in the authentic results but the fascists who had taken over in the PDP got the INEC to declare a forged result and foisted Dr Chris Ngige on Ndi Anambra as Governor.
Anambra State was effectively under siege and the question was who will save the State. For this writer, it was significant that Victor Umeh was about the only political activist who came out to tell the full story of the electoral swindle on television. It demanded not just courage but a sense of justice to stand up in that militarised setting for citizen empowerment. And when the party was subverted from within, from the highest rung of the APGA leadership, in the course of the titanic struggle to reclaim its governorship mandate, it was Umeh the strategist and national treasurer that the party hierarchy turned to for help.
The decision to make Victor Chukwunonyelum Umeh, acting Chairman of the APGA in 2004 turned out a political masterstroke. The internal and external forces of reaction were not about to give up easily. A complex plot was launched to render the party ineffectual and irrelevant in Nigerian politics. Umeh’s leadership contained the assaults and after eight years and eleven suits, received the Supreme Court’s seal in 2012. But for this valiant resistance, APGA as we know it today would not exist. The Imo state governorship was narrowly lost in 2007 when Martin Agbaso’s comfortable lead was arbitrarily cancelled by INEC; regained in 2011 before Rochas Okorocha misappropriated the party’s mandate as bargaining chip into the APC. The party’s advocacy for electoral reforms and restructuring of the Nigerian federation achieved mileage as some of the core resolutions of the 2014 National Conference in which Umeh himself was a participant. He would sign off boldly with the 2015 elections in which APGA laid strong claim to the Nassarawa and Abia states governorship. In the latter, APGA had equal number of state legislators as the PDP while also recording legislative seats in Taraba and Bayelsa states.
Victor Umeh’s engineering feats in APGA served to nourish our culture of multi party democracy. Without the resilience of APGA and perhaps, the Labour Party too, at the time, the present dispensation would be diminished by stunted political alternatives. By all means let those enamoured of the two party swings enjoy their ride while allowing the rest of us the right to expand our choices. When the need arises, political parties can always form coalitions.
Little wonder the stiff opposition to his senatorial bid from certain quarters. And given the power of conviction, it is easy to see why the issues of restructuring of the Nigerian federation and fairer deal for marginalised groups have continued to guide his senatorial representation. It would be true of Umeh that the man who knows where he is coming from knows where he is going.
Here is a toast to a politician of conviction for life is a song worth singing.
Afuba is editor of Anambra Times magazine.
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