Reflecting on the significance of birthdays, Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez reasoned that 'it is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop dreaming.' For Victor Chukwunonyelum Umeh who turned 54 on July 19 this year, the above words of the great Colombian writer must be of enduring interest.
Umeh has nursed many dreams and fought many battles. And he is still plodding on. 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 as APGA chairman in 2013. Fifteen months after the 2015 General Polls and several obstacles, Victor is poised to pursue the Anambra Central Senatorial mission to logical conclusion.
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 new leadership at that critical time in 2004 when the party was betrayed, the candidate's reputation as a political strategist and trustworthy activist obviously tilted the scale in his favour.
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 laid strong claim to the Nassarawa and Abia States governorship. In the latter, APGA has equal the 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 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: '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.' [Daily Sun, July 9, 2015].
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.
The significant gain of Victor Umeh's engineering feats in APGA is the nourishing of our culture of multi party democracy. Without the resilience of APGA and perhaps, the Labour Party too, 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.
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. In the words of Richard Cumberland, it is better to wear out than to rust out.