Chief Chekwas Okorie is the National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP); in this exclusive interview with ADOYI M. ABA and PATRICK ANDREW, he speaks on why the party has decided to go with President Muhammadu Buhari in his re-election bid. He also talks on the position of the Igbo in the country’s political re-alignments as next year’s general elections draw near.
Endorsement of Buhari
A few things informed our endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari for second term. We didn’t just wake up overnight to take that decision. The party had been invited to a number of meetings for the purposes of coalitions, including the one spearheaded by the PDP and Balarabe Musa’s PRP, among others. We sent delegations to attend the meetings and send their reports. When the NEC of the party met on the 17th of August, we took a look at the reports and decided that we had not seen what people where looking for in regards to Coalition even as
we decided not to field a presidential candidate in 2019. The National Executive Committee mandated the National Working Committee to continue exploring the possibility of a more acceptable Coalition partner that we think will be in the best interest of Nigeria. A number of things pointed in the direction of President Buhari. One is that he is going to serve out his second term in 2023.
Before now, there had been a rotational agreement that is not in the Constitution of this country, but has become a Convention. From President Obasanjo in the South, it went to Yar’Adua in the North, came to Jonathan in the South and back to Buhari in the North. Following that convention, the PDP, immediately after losing the 2015 elections, met and zoned the presidential candidate to the North for 2019, almost four years in advance of the elections, thereby giving more credence to this conventional rotation.
In our own party, that is more inclined to the person coming from the South-east, we said that we will be swimming against the tide if we produce a presidential candidate. Since it won’t be long before it will come to the South, we decided to use the time to build necessary bridges, consolidate our structures and be ready to weigh in again in
2023. Supporting Buhari’s second tenure is the shortest, surest cut to that participation in the presidential race after his second term.
Second consideration his that he has shown single-mindedness in fighting corruption, which is the bane of Nigeria’s society. Those who accuse him of being partial are just being mischievous and propagating propaganda that cannot be supported by logic. Our people say that the river cannot drown those whose feet it has not found. You don’t expect
me, Chekwas Okorie, to balance the 16 years mismanagement of the PDP.
Corruption issue is not something that can expire overtime. Somebody has to start somewhere. If you think they are those that have not been arrested, wait until he is through and you can continue from what he has done. That’s why we decided that Buhari should be encouraged.
I also looked at the South-east where PDP has done so much damage to the political psyche of the Igbo people since 1999. No political party in recent history has shown so much hatred for Ndigbo more than the PDP. Unfortunately, this is an aspect that has never been highlighted.
It was the PDP that deceived the entire Igbo people and husbanded by the military. All the military generals, apart from Buhari, were the original founding members of the PDP. They established an unwritten policy that no Igbo man will become the president of Nigeria until 150 years. Obasanjo said me that pointedly; it is not a rumour or hearsay,
but something I can defend anytime. I have said it many times and he never debunked it because he invited me to say it after the 2003 elections.
The PDP then came up with the policy that the president will come from the South, but any presidential aspirant that failed to deliver his geopolitical zone will not be eligible to contest, so the Igbo people went all out to deliver the zone for Dr Alex Ekwueme. This was after giving him the impression that they will bring him in as a compensation for the loyalty he showed to Shaghari.
The Igbo people delivered 100 per cent of the whole five states, state assembly to
PDP…they made sure that the election took place before national assembly and presidential election primaries. So, when they had their convention in Jos, the governors and state assembly people went there as governors elect and house of assembly elect.
At that point the Igbo people had been soaked into the PDP, they set aside that policy, knowing that the AD had cornered the whole of the South-west and their preferred candidate was one of their own Obasanjo couldn’t deliver his
Having set the zoning aside, they proceeded to deliver Obasanjo. I have never seen such political 419 and mass deceit of an entire race as perpetrated by the PDP against the Igbo. We thought it would stop there, but look at the 16 years of the PDP. I challenged one of the governors I spoke with who was worried that I led the movement to support Buhari to name for me any project completed by the PDP in the South-east in 16 years. Even if it is a pure water factory owned by private individuals, at least people should be working there, but as little as a kilometre road was started and abandoned. The South-east became a place of abandoned road construction sites.
But, in spite of the statistics proving that we gave him five percent, Buhari did not sack the PDP contractors, but he funded them to return to site and these very high quality projects are going on. The second Niger Bridge that was awarded by the PDP under public private partnership at astronomical figures was cancelled and awarded it by
the direct funding of government, so that the toll gate that would have been mounted there for several donkey years to recover the money will be the usual toll gate in other places. Coming to the democratic practice itself, he has never interfered in any election anywhere, but it was the PDP that will return results with 100 per cent of unregistered voters voting for them. All these things have not been happening; so we decided to support Buhari to continue.
Peter Obi and emancipation of Igbo race
This is also the mass deceit of my people that has taken place over time. Late Dora Akunyili came up one day and nicknamed Jonathan Azikiwe. By that nickname, our people were politically sedated as we accepted Jonathan as our son. That held them down for that period and nobody saw anything wrong with PDP again. Here we are and there are throwing up the issue of Peter Obi. I am happy with Peter Obi for having been appointed the Vice Presidential candidate to Atiku Abubakar. He will bring tremendous value to Atiku’s ticket.
But whether that value will erase Atiku’s moral and political baggage is yet to be seen. We have had a vice-president in Dr Alex Ekwueme, who was by every standard better than Peter Obi in academic qualifications and every other thing, and we know not much came out of being vice-president in terms of physical developments. Even at that, we can ascribe one major project that happened under Shaghari and that was the Enugu – Port Harcourt, Enugu – Onitsha expressway, which PDP destroyed. They allowed it to rot, but it is now being built by the Buhari administration.
Atiku complained severally that he was a mere spare tyre under Obasanjo as vice- president and he is aware that he has just recruitedanother spare tyre. So, why should we be excited about that? If we want to be excited about anything, Oby Ezekwesili is our daughter and she is contesting and has all the qualifications. Kingsley Moghalu is
also contesting and they are both eminent Igbo son and daughter.
Nobody is giving them any chance. The propaganda is towards promoting a running mate. But our people are beginning to see the other side of the argument. That is the role I am playing. Whatever I am doing now
is what Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe did in the first republic, when he led the NCNC into a Coalition with the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC).
In the second republic, he did the same. He led the NPP into a Coalition with NPN. At that time, the Late Chief Ume Ezuoke became speaker and Dr Alex Ekwueme became VP. Igbo people have never had that combination
again. Our people are not cut out for opposition. I am the longest standing Igbo in opposition. Nobody has matched me in that area of opposition. I can tell you authoritatively that it is a lonely road.
State police, community-policing
It is not everything the president has done that we have given a pass mark. He is a human being. Even if you go to Google, you will find out that i am one of those against the lopsidedness of his appointments, especially with regards to the exclusion of my people in the National Security Council. I also opposed the lukewarm attitude of the
governors over the issue of herdsmen. The issue of restructuring, which includes the state police; note that the vice-president has several times shown his interest in the issue of state police.
If the police are such an avid hater of the state police, he would have asked him to resign. Generality of Nigerians are inclined to the issue of restructuring, so the APC set up a committee led by Malam el-Rufai and they went round Nigeria and came up with recommendations. I have seen the recommendation in a booklet form. It is very extensive and if implemented is close to what we are looking for in terms of restructuring. They have handed it over to the party and I think NEC has accepted it. As a party administrator, I think all that is required is to present it to party convention for adoption.
So, it will now become part of the manifesto and social contract. When you blame the president for not showing interest in restructuring, what about the national assembly? It is the duty of the national assembly to make necessary amendments and present to the president and if he fails to assent to it, they can veto it. So, it is not a one man show.
There is a conspiracy of the national assembly which includes the PDP senators, especially the Senate president that is now back in the PDP; so I wouldn’t like it to be shifted to just Mr. President. He is not the one to give fiat on the matter.
The truth is that no vice president has ever become president. Anybody thinking that becoming a vice president will automatically translate to becoming a president may be referring to another country, not Nigeria. Even when Jonathan eventually became president, he was an executive president; we went into the election as an incumbent for two years. Once you have that in mind, you may want to think about stretching your luck or optimism so far. We are looking at eight years and don’t forget that PDP has never made any commitment to Ndigbo since 1999.
In 2015, they didn’t hesitate to zone to the North; so, why can’t they now say they have zoned to the South-east in 2027? They are afraid to make commitment because they made the decision that no Igbo man will become president until 150 years. That is the original policy of the PDP. If people don’t know, let me say it again that president Obasanjo called me into his study in April 2003 and we discussed so many issues. One of the ones that I took away with a heavy heart was when he told me that Nigeria is a very tolerant country for allowing someone from an area that wanted to break away to become vice president barely nine years after the way.
Should anything had happened to Shehu Shagari, Alex Ekwueme would have become president and that it could not happen in other countries. Now, look at me, Chief Okorie, you went and brought someone who led the secessionist programme to become the presidential candidate with all entreaties – by doing that, you have committed a political sin. The moment you did that, your party APGA became a national security issue.
So, every problem in APGA emanated from that very discussion. Then he asked me this rhetorical question: do you know that it took 150 years before somebody from southern part of America became the president of America after the American civil war. I said yes, the person is Jimmy Carter and he is still alive. He said okay, you are conversant with your history; so you should be able to know where your people belong.
This was Obasanjo and he was talking about the script of the PDP and our people don’t see it. So, if I am alive and know what I know and allow myself die and be buried with it, even God will not accept me in Paradise.
Have you divulged this information to your people at any forum?
I have done town hall meetings in many parts of the country. There is hardly any Igbo Congress I have not presented a paper – in America, Europe and other parts of the world. That is why they feel the only one they have standing is now going the other way. But many of them are seeing that it is in their best interest. It is too late in the
day for me to go against my people. I have fought the Igbo cause for 42 good years since Ohaneze was founded. I was there from the very beginning.
Only four original founders or foundation members of Ohaneze are alive today. They are Chief Uwazurike amechi in his 80s, elder Onyeso Nwachukwu, 95 years old, Anayo Ezukpe, a medical doctor, in his 80s. I am in my 60s because I joined at a young age. I was the one running the errands. I have been a member of the elders’ council
or Imeobi of Ohaneze from the inception of that Council. Till today, that is the policy-making body of Ohaneze. There is no way they can decide anything and I will not know about it.
APC in Imo
To deepen APC in the South-east is not my business at all. My business is that UPP should build bridges all over the country. We are even struggling for space to care about what happens to APC in Igbo land.
UPP in Anambra election
Our candidates are excited, without a single exception, with the collaboration with Buhari. Many of them now design their posters to include the president with our party logo. I wouldn’t say we have many candidates across the country as we didn’t want to spread across the country. We know areas we can win election and will consolidate from
there. What happened in Anambra is one of the things that the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC) is trying to resolve now.
The issue of vote-buying reached its highest point in Anambra and they called it after the election a bazaar. In a bazaar situation, nobody will say he didn’t spend money to influence voters, but the highest bidder in a bazaar will win. The 21 local governments in Anambra were won by APGA.