By Ifeanyi Afuba 
He was victorious in all of the 43 legal battles he fought on behalf of APGA against external forces. He was again victorious in the internal political cum legal battles waged to dethrone him in 2013. And his first name is Victor. As he turns 53 on July 19, 2015, will he also be victorious in the ongoing trial of his case at the election petition tribunal? His was one of the most keenly awaited results of the April 2015 national assembly polls.  And not surprisingly, following widespread skepticism over the final result announced by the returning officer, public interest as once more converged on the Anambra Central Senatorial election matter at the tribunal.   

The APGA party’s elders who beckoned on him that fateful day in January 2004 to offer leadership pved prescient that the man could rescue the party from a looming catastrophe.  A betrayal at the highest rung of the leadership had left party members dazed and the party’s lifeline case at the tribunal in dire straits. In the circumstance, the choice of a new party leader demanded extra care and stringent qualifications.  The days ahead were certain not to be of picnic adventures. Nourished on the dictatorial staple of Obasanjo’s presidency, the ruling PDP was as intolerant of opposition parties as the illegitimate government of Chris Ngige was desperate to cling on to the APGA mandate. It was in this very delicate circumstance that required of the party a strong leadership that could be ‘predicted’ and trusted or go under that Chief Victor Umeh, hitherto national treasurer of the party, came to the fore as acting national chairman.
A foundation member and part financier of APGA, Umeh had been involved in the spade work and tasking negotiations that led to the formation of APGA. Although familiarity with the APGA mission was important in determining the choice of leadership, the candidate’s reputation as a political strategist and tactician obviously tilted the scale in his favour. He had come into reckoning at the beginning of the fourth republic as a focused member of the PDP and indeed of a circle that almost succeeded in enthroning Professor A.B.C. Nwosu as Governor of Anambra State in 1999.  But for the INEC’s partisanship, the APGA had put up a handsome performance in the 2003 election where unofficial results gave it victory in the governorship polls in Anambra, Enugu and Imo states. Umeh not only shared in the general credit but had the distinction of having put his life on the line to bring the story of the Anambra election to public knowledge.
 Gifted in the art of logic and public speaking, he had set the ball rolling in the epic struggle to recover the party’s governorship mandate as the first person to mount the witness box.

There followed a new phase for both Umeh and APGA that was sometimes turbulent, exciting, challenging and fulfilling.  It is instructive that two years after, at the national convention of the party, the stakeholders on reviewing APGA’s fortunes under Umeh’s watch, passed a vote of confidence in his leadership by granting his appointment substantive status.  Braving the odds of meagre funding and establishment intimidation, Captain Victor steered the party to take roots in the fourth republic equation.  Anambra was secured; Imo state governorship narrowly lost in 2007 when Martin Agbaso’s comfortable lead was 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 decisions of the 2014 National Conference in which Umeh himself was a participant. He would sign off boldly with the 2015 elections in which APGA is laying strong claim to the Nassarawa and Abia states governorship.In the latter, APGA has equal number of state legislators as the PDP while also recording legislative seats in Taraba and Bayelsa states.
Some critics would insist nevertheless that APGA did not realize its potential for transformation into one of the dominant parties of the fourth republic and consequently rate Umeh’s leadership just average. But this view would either be oblivious of the intervening circumstances in APGA’s journey or does not wish to reconcile itself with them. The truth is that without the Victor Umeh factor, APGA as we know it today would not exist. It bears repeating that on coming to power in 1999 the PDP – led government did everything in its power to freeze the registration of new political parties; and when it could no longer hold back the tide, exploited every administrative instrument at its disposal to muscle opposition parties. Matters were made worse for APGA by the scant attention its Governor – leader paid to the agenda of expanding the party’s spread. The will to succeed and leave a legacy for the party was what made the difference.
 Victor Oye, the one man who should know tells us that Umeh’s shoes were viewed as too big for whoever would succeed him [Daily Sun, July 9, 2015].Shedding further light on the contributions of his predecessor in taking the party to its present height, Oye stated in the cited publication: ‘Three things could account for the success of the party in the 43 court cases. First was the uncommon love of God for the party. The second was the flimsiness of the reasons…for the cases. And the third was the indomitable fighting spirit of Chief Victor Umeh. He was everywhere galvanizing support for the legal team. His elephantine memory and capacity for details singled him out during the trying moments.’   As his more widely known title Ohamadike [the people know their hero] suggests, Victor Umeh’s accomplishments have been helped by his standing with civil society. Preceded by his reputation as a political activist with focus on justice, equity and fairness, organized labour unions tend to see him as a comrade of sorts.  Many a voluntary agency, communities and individuals who had benefitted from his philanthropy many years back needed little rhetoric to appreciate that if he could give so much when he had no ambition for elective office, he would do much more as an empowered public servant. A practicing Catholic and knight of the Church to boot, we get the impression that the quantity surveyor turned politician is one of those trying to answer the Church’s call on Christians to get into politics and make a difference. 

Trusting in God’s mercies, indications are that Umeh would in the years ahead, rededicate himself to the task of creating a new Nigeria where the minorities and disadvantaged groups will get a fairer deal. We find in this native of Aguluzuigbo, Anambra State the passion, faculty, voice, and cognate experience required for engaging in this task. It seems to some of us that the best is yet to come from Victor Umeh.


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