Chief Chekwas Okorie, founder of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and the incumbent Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), believes in the emergence of a better Nigeria, if polluted and recycled politicians can be done away with. In this encounter, he laments what he describes as the weak approach by the presidency to the war against Boko Haram. Okorie also speaks on pro-Jonathan campaign group and Nigeria 54 years after independence among other issues.
What do you make of the controversy triggered by the pro-Jonathan’s campaign group which adopted the hashtag, ‘#Bring back Jonathan 2015’, that many considered a mockery of the hashtag on the abducted Chibok girls.
I am very disappointed that the president did not call them to order until recently, when he realised it had snowball into a national embarrassment. He later made a very weak statement dissociating himself from the campaign. Even at that, the campaign is still on-going.
It does not speak well of the free,fair and credible elections we are anticipating come 2015. If INEC rules could be ignored by those who ideally should abide by them, what then do you expect from the opposition?.
But our electoral system should have grown to a level whereby groups would not be involved in begging candidates to contest for political offices. What is your view about this?
It is the way our people have degenerated over time. It is also a sign of poverty in Nigeria. There is an adage in the East that says ‘goats only follow the person that holds a palm front’. Which means that pro-Jonathan groups can be regarded as hungry goats with low sense of reasoning.
It is unfortunate that in this part of the world, some groups are begging people to rule over them. If the person didn’t succeed while ruling over them, then he is not accountable to any of them. Anybody who wants to manage a big project called Nigeria must be intelligent enough to come up with a clear plan of what he or she intends to do differently to make life better.
However, it is not going to be a one-man show. Our party is presenting a presidential candidate from the South-east. It appears the APC is poised to present a northern presidential candidate, the PDP candidate is obvious to Nigerians (Jonathan). So far, Nigerians would be left to choose from different candidates, either the one some groups that are agitating the ruling party to continue or from a fresh political party ours.
What is your stand about key forces in the National Assembly being accused of indirectly lobbying for the postponement of the 2015 general elections so as to fight the Boko Haram sect to a standstill?
An average northerner believes the next election is an opportunity for power to come back to the North.
It appears the ruling party is so scared of confronting the Nigerian electorate because it will be the one to benefit from tenure elongation.
Any postponement of the 2015 general elections will create an impression that it is an agenda for tenure elongation which could be dangerous for our polity, leading to chaos and anarchy.
We in UPP want the elections to run as scheduled by INEC. We believe with an improved INEC, Nigerians are rational people who know how to use their votes to change their situation. There would be many upsets even to the level of presidency. We can’t wait to see Nigerians exercise their franchise and where majority would cast votes because democracy is about numbers.
Your party, until recently, had kept mute on matters concerning alleged misgovernance by the ruling party. Was it deliberate?
When it comes to being objective, we have never been silent. Unlike other parties, what we have not been involved in, is name-calling. We don’t believe the opposition should be reduced to name-calling. The PDP and APC are two sides of the same coin. They both have equal share of recycled politicians from the same source who came under new platforms.
I have said it before, the battle line has been drawn between progressive UPP and the reactionary parties. We have zoned our presidential ticket to South-east. Nigerians are left with the choice of going for a change or stooping low with the endemic that had eaten up our system. We are the only party that can pursue the anti-corruption cause passionately to a justified end.
What do you make of the rumour making the round about the UPP and APGA merger come 2015 elections?
Actually, there was a form of collaboration that is ongoing between our party and a faction of APGA led by Mazi Ogbu. You are aware I founded APGA while Mazi Ogbu was my deputy chairman, south and Umeh was my treasurer. It was the crisis in the party that spurred me to form another party. When Mazi Obgu became the chairman based on the invitation of former Governor Peter Obi, his executives paid me a courtesy visit and they apologised for what they did wrong to me.
They offered to work with us but being a faction we thought we should give them time to sort themselves out before we could go into discussions. But merger was not part of the plan because merger is a process enforced by law any time more than six months. But we agreed to collaborate come 2015; some where along the line, the role the presidency played in the APGA crisis made one faction of the two adopted Jonathan’s return come 2015. This has propelled divergent views and positions.
The Boko Haram sect has moved from abduction, killing and destruction of lives and properties to declaring certain areas as a caliphate and installing emirs. Do you think the 2015 elections are feasible?
It is possible. Election will come and go despite the war in the North-east. I remember during the Biafran saga, despite the heat in the Eastern Region, Nigeria did not break. The insurgents have not taken over the whole of North-east, the battle is ongoing. I don’t see it affecting election in a country as big as Nigeria with 36 states. If Adamawa State is poise for governorship election soon, why won’t the general elections hold?
But some people are of the opinion that there should be provision for peaceful separation in our Constitution, because 54 years after independence, our unity seems not to be working. What do you make of this?
This was what some of us tried to suggest at the just concluded National Conference. There should be an exit clause in the new Constitution so that any section that wishes to disengage from Nigeria can do so lawfully but apparently it was discarded. As it is, there is no legal means of separation. There are exit clauses in other countries.
In Nigeria, any separation will still be by force. If such provision is made, there will be appreciation of interdependence of each faction and it’s becomes boring to separate. But it appears, we are not mature to that level.
How best can insurgency be curtailed?
The war is on going. What Nigerians are not happy about is the inability of the Federal Government handling the war with kid gloves. Stronger armed forces should be deployed to clean out the place. There will definitely be a collateral damages, which is inevitable in a war situation. But the situation has been allowed to linger too too long. This does not speak well of our military as a nation.
How do you describe your being the only Igbo man in the league of the late sage Obafemi Awolowo by founding two registered political parties?
Circumstances led to that. I had a vision and founded APGA but that vision was derailed when APGA turned out to what I would describe as a political kidnap. You will discover that people with vision found political parties, but people with ambition join political parties. When circumstance led me to found UPP, it suddenly dawned on me that I had made another history. I am the first Igbo man to found the first registered political party in Nigeria.
NCNC was founded by the late Herbert Macaulay, NPP was founded by the late Waziri Ibrahim. When I founded UPP, I became the fourth person in the history of Nigeria to have founded political parties in their life time. The prefect of the class is Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who founded Action Group and Unity Party of Nigeria. Second in line is the late Mallam Aminu Kano. He founded Norther Elements Progressive Union and later Peoples Redemption Party.
The next is Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim who founded Nigeria Peoples Party. But when Dr.Azikiwe joined, he felt he could not struggle with him. He moved to found Great Nigeria Peoples Party. That action of his gave him the title of ‘apostle of politics without bitterness’; because he didn’t want to stay to fight, he simply found another political party. In my own case, circumstances led me into founding the second political party.
Unlike every other vision-driven organisation, founding political parties is not like building real estates. If it is, Igbo folks would have founded many and sold them but because if is not the best way to be comfortable, except you are pursuing vision that is the reason, we are only four in the entire history of Nigeria. Among the four, I am the only one alive by the grace of God.
How well is UPP prepared for 2015 elections?
Our party is like David in the Bible who defeated the giant. We have a natural constituency that can be likened to tradition that is entrenched in everywhere in Nigeria.
What do you make of the additional 30,000 polling units for election?
I took time to study INEC. I have absolutely nothing to fault Jega on the issue. He has done what is efficient for the conduct of elections. I studied the voters register and everything is clustered with figures. For the purposes of better management of elections, INEC said a polling unit should not have more than 500 voters.
But in the North, they are not as closely populated as we are in the South. Outside the metro-police, others are sparsely distributed and if you do not bring polling units closer to them, during election time, movement is restricted. And so many people will not be given the opportunity to move around. That was the main reason behind my clamouring for electronic system of voting.Vanguard