By Maxwell Oditta

Chief Victor Umeh, a real estate surveyor and the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), speaks on various burning national issues and chides state governors for growing bigger than their parties.

A lot has happened lately. For instance, in the judiciary, the National Judicial Commission (NJC) suspended the Court of Appeal President, Justice Ayo Salami with the consent of President Goodluck Jonathan, and the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, has since assumed duties. There was so much controversy on the issue of Salami because many felt that his suspension, while his issue was in court, amounts to overreaching the court. What is your view?

I?m sure I have made statement on this for our party. One was on the 26th of August, during the swearing-in of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs).

I did warn that the judiciary should not be politicised. The officers of Nigerian judiciary should resist attempts from politicians to drag the judiciary down.

If you take a look at the crisis that is rocking the Nigerian judiciary now, they are all on political issues, power acquisition and all that.

The judiciary being the last hope of the common man in terms of settling disputes, it would be a tragedy for Nigeria if Nigerian people lose faith in the judiciary.

The integrity of the judiciary must be protected at all costs.

The NJC was right to intervene, to protect the integrity of the Judiciary.

It doesn?t matter to me that in trying to go into those matters that some people may have been found to be wrong, because if you are found to be wrong, no matter how highly placed you are, you must go.

In fact, I did warn Justice Ayo Salami personally through an interview I granted THISDAY early this year.

I did warn him when the NJC gave him a query to reply and he refused to reply. I told him as a judge he knows what it means that if he refuses to put his own side of the case, he will be adjudged to be guilty.

That is the principle he applies in his own court too.

I see no reason why the Chief Justice of Nigeria will promptly reply the query given to him by the NJC and the Court of Appeal President will refuse to file reply.

It is even unfortunate that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) that was the principal accused in the matter is the one holding rallies and public debates defending the President of the Court of Appeal that was accused of taking sides with ACN. They shouldn?t have done that.

How do you see a situation where a person like Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), younger brother of present Senator Chris Ngige, was reported as having appeared for Salami free of charge in his suit against the NJC even when the SAN was not there at the onset?

Well, the Action Congress is now defending the president of the Court of Appeal in court. That is what I?m saying.

They are giving themselves away as not being objective in the matter.

For them to show that type of manifest interest in the affairs of the president of the Court of Appeal, they?ve cast doubts as to the propriety of what happened.

The president of the Court of Appeal knows many Senior Advocates of Nigeria in this country that can pursue his case.

He didn?t need to take mainly members of the Action Congress to defend him. That was wrong.

Since they started that, they have lost sympathy.

One of the allegations made against Salami is that ACN leaders themselves had been going around expressing confidence in him that no matter what happened to their candidates at the first instance, they would always get a reversal at the appellate court. A recorded statement between you and the ACN national chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, was said to have been played at the NJC, in which you reportedly told Akande that APGA candidate for Anambra Central Senatorial District, Prof. Dora Akunyili, would defeat ACN?s Dr. Chris Ngige at the tribunal, and Akande retorted that should Akunyili win at the tribunal, Ngige would win at Salami?s Appeal Court.

I am surprised to hear this. It means that ACN is involved in espionage activity.

We were at the parley with Mr. President on June 1, in ACN delegation were Bisi Akande, Bola Tinubu, Dr. Chris Ngige and Senator George Akume.

When Ngige made a statement that tended to cast a negative impression of APGA, I told him that he should remember that he didn?t win the election, that Akunyili won and that we are in court and we are confident that we will recover the mandate.

When I was saying that, I wasn?t hoping to have support of any judicial officer. The reason is that APGA has always been a party that would pursue justice through the court and we have always prevailed. Through Peter Obi, we prevailed so many times.

When I looked at Professor Akunyili?s petition, I was convinced that she has a strong case.

I wasn?t thinking about what a judicial officer would do or not. Otherwise, such things is not something you tell the opponent and in such manner. So, it?s unfortunate.

President Goodluck Jonathan is insisting on the bill for one term of six years for elected executives at the federal and state levels? Don?t you think that he should have been guided by the initial reaction that greeted the bill?

One of the essential aspects of a functional democracy is that the leadership of any country must defer to public opinion.

A leadership that is not sensitive to public opinion would most of the times get its actions wrong.

On the single tenure bill, the president feels strongly about it, despite the preponderance of opinion expressed by stakeholders against the bill. He is passionate about the bill.

My attitude to it now is if he is able to sail it through the National Assembly and it comes into being as one of the reforms he is seeking to put in place, Nigerians would go by it and test those things that he has enumerated and what would be the advantages.

If the advantages are absent, another reform would take place which would lead to a repeal of that reform. Reform is a constant activity in a political process.

I am telling you that by the time these criminals parading themselves as leaders in Nigeria would assume office under that single tenure of seven years, after the first trial, there would be a massive call for its repeal, because the greatest weapon in democracy is the ability of the electorates or the citizens to use their votes to vote in their leaders and remove them at the shortest possible time if they begin to fail them.

The president says he wants to reduce the cost of election with it and many other arguments that he has adduced.

So, it is for him to experiment it. If he succeeds, so be it.

But APGA has said that the best thing to do would be to retain the four-year tenure that would be renewable.

Instead, the president should put more efforts on strengthening the democratic institutions in Nigeria with a view to making our elections more credible over time.

If we make our democratic institutions strong like making the Independent National Electoral Commission truly independent and formidable, I will tell you that the money spent on elections would also drop.

People who are desperate are exploiting the corruption in the system to make elections look expensive.

If you have a strong electoral body that has trained its staff and paid them very well and imbued them with patriotism to serve their country, you will save so much.

Some people are annoyed with the president for referring to Biafra as a proposed state during his recent media chat? Was the president as an easterner not being sentimental?

What the president said is perfectly right. There is no way you can foreclose that anything can happen in life.

Biafra is a struggle. It may not be possible today. It may not be possible tomorrow.

Sometime in the future, it may be possible. The MASSOB that is agitating for the Republic of Biafra is doing it with no violence.

The Nigerian nation that is resisting MASSOB activities, what guarantee do they have that they will keep staying together as a nation?

So, the president saying it should not be misunderstood by anybody. There is no reason why anybody should be afraid of anybody who is agitating to be on his own.

It?s a matter of nature that if you are not comfortable in a room, you want to go outside to take fresh air.

If Nigeria is becoming unbearable to some part of the country, you cannot force them to remain part of Nigeria.

Rather what people should be doing is to make Nigeria comfortable to all parts of Nigeria to remain.

So, if they don?t exercise restraint the way they treat people in this country, I don?t see why Biafra should be a pipe dream. It cannot be a pipe dream.

There must be a time when everybody will say okay, let?s divide into ten. Let?s have ten republics. And all these things would be actualised.

In Sudan, the Southern Sudan that has been in the struggle for self-independence, people were laughing at them that it won?t be possible because of the fact that Muslims are in the majority in Sudan.

But the Southern Sudan that is predominantly a Christian enclave rich with oil deposits, have gained independence and recognised as an independent state. So, there is nothing that is impossible in life.

Nobody should attack the president for admitting a fact of life.

The governor of the second APGA state, Imo, has been in power for more than 100 days, barely enough time to assess a governor?. Do you feel fulfilled with the manner Imo State is being run under APGA?

If what you have alluded to have been a harvest of protests and complaints, there is no way we can feel fulfilled.

Our fulfillment will come in the happiness of the people that are being governed. That is the objective of any political party.

We?ve read several editorials criticising the governor of Imo State that was produced by our party.

We don?t want to be quick in joining people to begin to criticise him or attack him.

We have our own channel of communication to proffer advice if the person is amenable to advice and it is too early for us to get into the ring with the governor.

He has his own ideas and we will allow him to try his own ideas. But if those ideas are not meeting the purpose of governance, as we?ve been seeing from the complaints of the people governed, we will be compelled to seek an audience with him.

For now, it is just three months. We will give him the opportunity to make mistakes and correct himself purely on a But it is so because of the way the constitution of the Federal Republic has made it.

The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria requires anybody who wants to seek elective office to belong to a political party.

The constitution did not say any control that party will exercise over the person if he gets elected.

When you are elected as a governor or a president, anything that would happen to you in terms of redress would largely depend on the State Assembly or the National Assembly.

The party has not been given any power by the constitution to call an erring member to order.

Because of that, governors in Nigeria grow bigger than their parties.

They look at people running their parties as little things because they control the resources. So that is what is unfortunate about it all.

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