If The Problems Of The South East Are Not Addressed, We Shall Review Our Continuos Participation In The Nigerian Project- Chekwas Okorie

By KayCee June 30, 2014 21:11

As the nation marches towards the 2015 general elections, National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, speaks on the political aspirations of Ndigbo and what he considers as the fate of political parties in the 2015 elections. excerpts of his interview with Saturday Independent Newspaper.


You have been in politics for years, at a point you even lost the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the party you founded. How have you been faring?


My political career is very unique. Right from my university days, if anybody had told me that the journey would be this long and that the path would be so rough and thorny, I would have been discouraged. Once I got started, I was determined to continue.  I never anticipated that I would get to a stage where I would look back and found out that no Igbo man has founded a national political party when there were people like the Great Zik, Mbadiwe, Okpara and others from the Eastern Region. That was the reality that struck me. The record was that in Igbo land that is reckoned with as one of the major tribes in Nigeria, we have never founded a national party. It was not a good record at all for us. So, I queued into party registration just to break that unenviable history. In 1995/96, I went to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to register Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC) and I failed with my fellow associates. In 1998, we failed again in the same registration effort. In 2001, we went back to INEC, of course with the benefit of an insider and with past failed experiences, to register APGA. APGA was my third attempt in party registration. Finally, the party was registered in June 4, 2002. It became the first political party that was founded by an Igbo man. I made that history.


I took another decision that was not comfortable that would not land me in an instant success, but landed me in another struggle to ensure that at least an Igbo man stood in for the presidential election. From that point, Igbo have started to agitate for Presidency until it is achieved in Nigeria. We took the decision to zone the presidential ticket of APGA to South East and it was accepted. That was how late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Ikemba of Nnewi, became presidential candidate of APGA in 2003. He had been to a number of political parties like National Party of Nigeria (NPN), National Republican Convention (NRC) and All Peoples Party (APP).


Looking back at your altercations with late Ojukwu when he was alive, one wondered where you derived your strength from, fighting a giant like that, yet, you survived it?


I didn’t fight with him. There was no way I could have fought him. He was like a father to me. I gave him the highest respect and loyalty any man could have given him. I added more value to his political life more than any man before his death. Nobody in his immediate family went that far with. What I did was to defend myself. Fighting and defending yourself when your leader had turned his sword against you was not the same thing. David never fought King Saul in the Bible. He kept defending himself and running away from direct confrontation with the king till the end.


Were you not amazed of Ojukwu’s position during the APGA crisis between you and Victor Umeh, the current chairman of the party, Ikemba raised your hand at a rally in 2003 and told the people that whenever he could not be found that the Igbo race should follow you. So, what happened between you and him?


It is a question he would have answered if he were to be alive. He would have explained how come the person that showered him the most loyalty and he said was his alter ego at many fora. Then, how come when the APGA crisis was on, he was on the other side? I made a comment at a press conference during the crisis that never in my life that I ever thought that a time would come during a battle that Ikemba and I would be on the opposite side of the divide.  I called on the Igbo leaders to intervene, that it was a battle that would not do anyone any good. That if a father defeats a son, in Igbo land, that is not regarded as a threat or a victory worth celebrating. On the other hand, if the son throws his father down in a wrestling match, in fact, it is an abomination. It was a fight that was avoidable. However, I want to refrain from making comment about Ikemba, since he has joined his ancestors. The point I was making is that during the crisis, I saw myself as somebody who was very resilient and could not bend easily in the face of the truth and what I believed in. It was one of the lessons I learnt from Ojukwu. He said to me many times when he was alive, that if I want to be a man, I must be ready to stand alone for what I believe. I held that to my chest till date.


When I decided that APGA matter was over, I called our lawyer, Chief Mike Ahamba, to discontinue all cases in court because we were having many pending cases. We won in most cases, while we lost a few. INEC was playing politics with the court cases in our favour. I therefore took the party’s registration certificate with me and handed it over to the INEC. I called my associates and told them to watch out for a new development that led to the registration of United Progressive Party (UPP) few weeks after. We are back to the same agenda that whenever there is election, Igbo people must not be found wanting or missing in action in Nigeria.


Has it not occurred to you that other Igbo leaders are not keen about supporting an Igbo man for 2015 presidential election? APGA led by Umeh had declared support for President Goodluck Jonathan, so you think Igbo presidency is still a project?


There is new reawakening, consciousness, horizon and anger across the land. Igbo people both home and abroad have called on me to show them the new direction. I simply presented a paper at Igbo Colloquium in March and it became mantra that was circulated to several media houses and on the internet. The coalition of Igbo youths is beckoning on me. Igbo World Assembly in 67 countries gave me an award. We were only two Nigerians that were honoured, Sullivan Chime, the governor of Enugu State who remains the best among his peers in the South East and myself. Mine was for selfless service. In 2014, I have become household name such that when I cristised the Ohaneze over poor performance of the Igbo delegates at the National Confab, they reviewed their contributions because of my intervention. Therefore, we are marching on with Igbo presidency project.


In respect of your comment against Ohanaeze over performance of Igbo delegates, was that not an affront on the Igbo umbrella body?


I never directed my statement at Ohanaeze at all. One is annoyed that: How can you have the Igbo umbrella body, yet they have not been able to properly galvanise Igbo course as expected? The present leader of Ohanaeze has subordinated himself under the South East governors. Igbo people did not nominate the Igbo leader at the confab. There are 30 Igbo representatives at the confab. Because Ohanaeze has supplanted itself under the governors, do you know that the body nominated only four persons? The governors and the Federal Government nominated the rest. It was the governor of Abia State that nominated General Ike Nwachukwu who is the leader of the Igbo delegates. There was protest, but because Ohanaeze was weak, not much could be achieved. There are certain things a leader must not do. As a leader, you should allow certain errands to be done by your subordinates. You cannot find Ooni of Ife, Sultan of Sokoto or the leader of Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, at the conference. What is President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and South East, Chairman of traditional rulers, Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, doing at the confab? How many times have you read a statement credited to them? Leaders should sit back and expect subordinates to report to them. They are now running errands for the Igbo, who will the people run to?


What are your expectations that are not being met at the confab by the Igbo delegates?


I expect them to come up with strong presentation on behalf of the people of South East and insist that if those things were not addressed, then the people shall review their continued participation in the Nigerian project. Igbo led Biafra, but they were not the only ones in the struggle. When the Igbo lost the war, that sent signal of what they can do in the event that they are not wanted in the country.


Are you trying to encouraging Biafra war again?


What I am saying is that the Ndigbo were not in Nigeria by force. We must remain in the country as a result of our collective resolve, not at gunpoint. The Yoruba and the South-South people have made similar comments at the confab. An Emir from Adamawa State threatened to quit Nigeria for Cameroon. He said his people would move to Cameroon if Nigeria did treat them well. Our people are behaving like cowards at the conference. The Igbo are never known to be cowards. South East representation at the confab is the poorest since Igbo creation.


You are yet to list what you think the Igbo delegates have failed to address, what are those things?


First of all, we are not comfortable with the present federation units. There are no real federating units at all in Nigeria. Before 1963, there were 12 provinces in the Eastern Region. Nine provinces in the Western Region and 14 provinces in the entire Northern Region, the South had 21 provinces and the North had 14. The South was more in terms administrative political structure. In 1963, the Mid-Western Region was created from the South West which comprised Benin and Delta you have today. That reduced Western Region to seven provinces.  In 1966, when General Yakubu Gowon took over when there was crisis. He started leveling the north and south. He created 12 states. He gave south and north six states each. Thereafter, subsequent states creation kept reducing the south in favour of the north. The target was the south east. As at last count, Nigeria has 36 states, 19 in the north and 17 in the south. In all, the South East had just five states.


Without any formal meeting, some people just sat somewhere and reduced the political map of Nigeria and made the majority to be minority.  Someone set up the Dazuki Committee which sat somewhere and gave North East a whooping 128 local governments and gave South East just 95. These are factors in revenue allocation. Where on earth do you use desert to determine allocation of resources and creation of local governments where there are no human beings? Chibok where school girls were kidnapped is a local government with just one secondary school. There is no local government in the entire South East that does not have up to at least 30 secondary schools. Some even have 50. That translates to higher overheads in terms of payment of school teachers and demand for more infrastructure, yet, these are the people we are giving meagre resources to survive from the federal allocation. Those who have no overhead and careless whether their children go to school or not use empty land as factor to collect fat revenue, yet, they are not satisfied. We think that this robbing Peter to pay Paul must to stop. Let the six geopolitical zones become federating units on the basis of equality. If you want to create one million states in your zone, that is your headache. There should be devolution of power to state and local government from the centre. Too much power at the center is injustice. There must be fiscal federalism. You go to a state and say you must not drink alcohol and you collect fact tax from such state like Lagos and distribute it across other states that claim alcohol is a sin and they collect it. That is fraud.


Why do you think it is difficult for government to accept these ideas?


President Goodluck Jonathan has made things difficult. I praised him to high heaven for conveying the conference, but what he gave to Nigerians with right hand, he has taken it left hand. When the conference said on any contending issue, there must be 75 per cent vote from the entire delegates to scale through, you have given minority the tyranny over the majority because 26 per cent of the delegates can reject even though 74 per cent is in favour. Even with the 70 per cent vote agreed by confab, how do you think any contending issue will sail through? That is why we have groups threatening to cede from the country.


How far do you think the current 26 political parties will go during the 2015 general elections?


There is no problem with their numbers. Parties know what they can achieve and what they can’t in certain circumstances. As at today, three out of the 26 political parties have come out to say that they are running for the presidential election. The People Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC) and the United Progressive Party (UPP). At least, we shall have three presidential candidates. May be one or two parties will join later. APGA said they are not running for presidential election. At the end of the day, we shall be back to the era of coalition. In Britain, the Liberal Party came third with about 24 seats. Labour Party and the Conservative Party led with over 300 seats and each needed the Liberal Party to win majority seat.  Liberal Party accepted the offer by Labour Party and they got Deputy Prime Minister and other key posts. That is why there is a Labour Party government in Britain today. It could have been other way round. In 1983, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) had to work with Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). NPP got some ministerial posts. What I am saying is that I foresee a situation whereby parties either become permanent opposition or an alliance partner to become part of government through accord.


Are you saying a run-off is likely in 2015 presidential election?


There is so much awareness now compared to before.  The consciousness is higher than before. There is also what I refer to as balance of terror. The PDP no longer have monopoly of power to rig election freely anymore and ask other parties to go to court, if they are aggrieved. The APC now has 15 governors with sufficient war chest to match the PDP money for money. There are also some Nigerians who feel that both the PDP and APC are just like other sides of a coin. Such they want fresh air. That is where the likes of the UPP come in to let Nigerians have a choice. They know that UPP has none of those that looted the treasury and who could be held responsible for the nation’s woes in its mist. At the end of the day, I don’t see one party sweeping the polls. If there is run-off, it makes the game more interesting.


Tell us the catchment areas of UPP?


Our catchment areas comprised the entire South East and in all the states where we have the Igbo population across Nigeria. Don’t forget that Ibo people constitute the second largest population in every state outside the south east. We will tap into that sentiment.  In Lagos state, Igbo is 40 per cent, in Rivers is almost 50-50.


You think other Nigerians will be comfortable with the UPP’s bias for Igbo people alone above other tribes?


Nothing like bias, we had a situation where the Ibos withdrew from the Nigerian politics. That can be counterproductive for the nation. That is silent grace yard. But when you draw them out, they will have a place to ventilate their political aspiration. If they fail, they will wait for another time. There is nothing like tribal politics in UPP. For instance look at the formation of Alliance for Democracy (AD) and Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), now they are very big in APC. The base of the party is in South West and with Buhari in APC, they are counting on the vote of the muslins in north. Fani-Kayode left APC for PDP because he said they are now religious party.


You experimented that with APGA and the party did not go beyond Anambra State, what gave you the impression that UPP will cut across Nigeria?


APGA was a success to the extent that it was like a tsunami. It became a national security issue for then President Olusegun Obasanjo because when Ojukwu became the party’s presidential candidate, they felt threatened that if the party should have foot hole in Igbo land that Biafra would resurface. Those who fought Ojukwu with in Army uniform had put on their Agbada under democracy including Obasanjo himself to continue the battle. The plot to rig APGA out was planned at Aso Rock. Obasanjo told me that my mistake and the sin I committed was proposing and bring up Ojukwu as presidential candidate of APGA. He said the moment I did that, that APGA became a security issue.


Any regret for ensuring that Ojukwu became APGA’s presidential candidate?


Not at all, I broke a jinx. I followed Ikemba for 22 years. He told me severally that he was one Nigerian that was never allowed to be a Nigerian. When your leader is in pain, you are even in greater pain. There is nothing like regrets because making him a presidential candidate which avail him opportunity to rob minds with other presidential candidates was the high point of my career. God’s willing I will reenact it again in 2015.


Have you truly forgiven the likes of former Governor Peter Obi and Victor Umeh for their role against you in APGA?


I forgave them the moment they offended me. My bitterness did not go beyond that. All I did was to salvage what was left. As for forgiveness, I leant long ago that the only way you can be at peace with yourself and your creator, is to learn how to forgive. When people look at me and say I don’t look embattled, it is because I sleep well. That does not mean I don’t fight for what I believed in. I never went out of my way to fight them personally. Do you even know what they did to me? By compelling me to form another party, I became one out four Nigerians that founded two political parties in their life time. Chief Obafemi Awolowo formed Action Group (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). Malam Aminu Kano, NEPU and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) and GRPP. I founded APGA and UPP. Party formation is not like building real estate. It is not the shortest way to comfort. You must have vision to approach the electoral body. Those who run for an election are those who join parties. Those who formed parties are those with vision to bring people together.


You think UPP can uproot PDP in the South East?


PDP is a like a bad tenant. We shall serve them quit notice. Don’t talk about APC; they have no place in the South East. The landlord have come back to repossess his possession.



By KayCee June 30, 2014 21:11