The National Chairman, United Progressives Party (UPP) Chief Chekwas Okorie, is miffed over the gale of defections among politicians, especially, elected office holders. He says the UPP will not present a presidential candidate in the 2019 election, but will either align with another party, or remain neutral. He spoke with MIKE UBANI
What is your reaction to the gale of defections among politicians especially elected office holders?
The gale of defection is not what anybody can be proud of. In a normal situation, politicians are supposed to believe in something. There should be core values that will make somebody belong to a political party, and there is no political party that does not have a manifesto, and constitution registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). And part of the requirements is that any person joining a political party must avail himself with these documents to know whether he actually will flow with the core values of the party as encapsulated in those documents. In fact, it is in those documents that you can have an idea of what the ideology of the party is. But in Nigeria, nobody has recourse, whatsoever, to these documents. People join political parties where they think they can gain advantage; where their personal interests will be best served. So, because of that, politicians tend to migrate from one party to another depending on how they see their interests being served or not being served. With that general statement, I will tell you that what has happened in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in particular was long foretold by people like us.
Why did you hold such view long before now?
Well, looking at the way APC was formed, it was obvious that the party is a gathering of strange bedfellows, and I didn’t mince words in telling the public at every opportunity that its implosion will come at the fullness of time. Even at that time, I described the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as two sides of the same coin, as well as kettle and pot – none will call the other black. The two parties are just the same, therefore, movement from one to the other will not have been any major paradigm shift. Now the caliber of people who have migrated is a bit worrisome. It then means that up to the highest level of our political players, principles have been set aside in place of personal interest. To think that people of that caliber will be what I call political nomads – who are highly itinerant and highly mobile – is a sad commentary.
Do you think the defections from APC to PDP as we have witnessed in the past two weeks will positively impact on the fortunes of the PDP?
I do not even see what PDP has gained that will make the party celebrate. I say this because there are people who have remained with the PDP, hoping to build it back to relevance, to enable the party recapture power at the centre. There are those whom PDP leaders have been wooing to come back to beef up the chances of the party in the next general elections. Now these people who have been wooed to come back to the PDP, to me are like the Biblical prodigal sons, who left their fathers estate and went and squandered their goodwill and whatever political asset they had, only to come back to a red carpet reception. I don’t see how those who have kept the PDP going in the past three years or so will wholeheartedly celebrate the return of the prodigal sons. So, what you are seeing in the open is mere showmanship. Those who remained in the PDP also have their own ambition to run for one thing or the other. And these people who are coming back to the PDP have been offered practically, in all cases, automatic tickets in other to come back. So, PDP implosion will happen any time soon, and it will happen at the time of the primary election. And whatever implosion that occurs in the PDP at that time may be difficult to manage because of its nearness to the election.
What about the APC?
As for the APC, it had had its greatest upheaval. Its implosion cannot be anything near what had happened already. As we speak, using the Nigerian factor, you have a PDP that has now 13 states, and you have an APC that has 22 states. And so, if you are entering into an election with this type of imbalance in state control, and with a President that knows what to do with power, unlike former President Goodluck Jonathan, I am yet to see where the PDP confidence is coming from.
Can we say that our democracy has taken root given these defections?
Our democracy is not static, but it is not growing as much. Our democracy is yet to take root, and it can only take root when ideology begins to play central role in our democracy. And one of the reasons that will make ideology to play central role is again if the extant laws make it absolutely unattractive to defect. So, before you join a political party in the first place, you make up your mind that this is like a marriage, for better, or for worse, and only in very extreme circumstances can divorce be considered.
Some APC leaders have argued that there is no factionalisation in the party. Do you agree with them?
The law itself has a loose definition of what is factionalisation. For instance, in the case of the APC, I don’t see Reformed-APC as a faction, because by using the name R-APC, they have answered a completely different name. R-APC is not a name registered with INEC, so what they have formed is a political association, and not a faction. The same thing applied to N-PDP when they did their own. The one I call faction in its true sense was when the group loyal to Sheriff, former governor of Borno state, and the other group loyal to Markafi, former governor of Kaduna state, formed two parallel executives down the line within the PDP. The two groups had their parallel congresses, parallel conventions, had their court cases all the way to the Supreme Court. In every state, and in every ward of the federation, you had these two factions down the line, and they didn’t answer other names – Both answered PDP, until the Supreme Court resolved it, and the factionalisation ended. But in a situation where somebody wishing to cause confusion, got some people to say we are now R-APC, I don’t call that factionalisation, and therefore, it is not a proper basis for defection. But be that as it may, I can see APC going to court to test this, and I can see PDP also meeting them in court to say they have not offended any law.
Igbo Leaders of Thought recently said they are not interested in a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction, rather they want restructuring of the country? Do you agree?
There is nothing called Igbo Leaders of Thought as far as Igbo people are concerned. Ohanaeze Ndigbo has gained legitimacy from its inception as pan-Igbo organization. And looking at the logic of what they are saying, how would you go about restructuring if you do not either produce a President or be part and parcel of the government that is sympathetic to restructuring?
How is UPP strategizing in order to make positive impact in the 2019 general elections?
First of all, we have reasoned that there is an unwritten rotational presidential arrangement in Nigeria. From the time of Obasanjo till now, it has been North-South-South-North, not in any formal manner, but it has almost now become a convention. The APC and the PDP already have their presidential candidates zoned to the North. And we said anything to the contrary will be like swimming against the tide. Secondly, there is an aspect of the constitution many Nigerians, even political party leaders, especially the new ones don’t seem to appreciate. And that is that any party that fails to win a seat in a general election will be de-registered. For that reason, we are not going to spread ourselves thin. We have to be able to strategize and concentrate in our areas of strength in other to survive. So, we took a decision that we are not going to present a presidential candidate for 2019. We’ll be on our own or align with a political party that is presenting a candidate based on our own reading of the political situation, so we could contribute to a party that is likely to win the presidential election, and thereafter engage constructively in the new government to come. We’ll then use the period between 2019 and 2023 to consolidate our hold for future elections.
Do you think the NEC of your party is going to decide between PDP and APC?
As for PDP I can tell you clearly that the UPP will have nothing to do with the PDP, otherwise we would have been part of CUPP.
Why not PDP?
Many people seem to have forgotten how for 16 years the PDP ran the economy of this country aground. We remember how the President at that time went to Kenya and told the world that the economy of Nigeria was booming, and the evidence of it was that over 200 Nigerians have private jets. That was his own yardstick for measuring a growing economy. Have you forgotten too that of all the appointments the PDP made in 16 years, none benefitted the South-East.
What of the appointment of Senator Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, who hails from the South-East as Secretary to the Government of the Federation?
If you go to the families that benefitted from those appointments, you may see people who are now studying abroad, or living opulent life styles. Those ones do not benefit the South-East. What will benefit the South-East is federal presence that will enable jobs to be created, so that you don’t have to go very far to have certain things done. Our people are very adventurous – we travel day and night. It’s the Igbo people that introduced night travel, so the lack of road infrastructure in Igbo land affected commerce and industry, yet we had 16 years of PDP government at the centre. We know those who are contesting for presidency in PDP, but I have not seen any one of them that has not been re-cycled – whose antecedents are not known. I am yet to see that angel that will fly in from heaven and become a PDP presidential candidate, and bring about a change.