National Chairman, United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, has expressed the resolve of his party to ally with the All Progressive Congress( APC) in 2023 election to produce a president of Igbo extraction.
In this exclusive chat with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA, Chief Okorie noted that unless President Muhammadu Buhari secures 2019 presidency it would be difficult for South East to actualize it’s long dream of having presidency of Igbo back in 2019 if APC fails to secure a second term. He also speaks on other issues of national importance.
How would you assess your party since it took off a couple of years ago?
The UPP is a child of circumstance, Nigerians know very well that I founded the All Progressive Grand Alliance ( APGA), in collaboration with other compatriots. The party made a very robust entry into the political scene in 2002, when it was registered and at 2003 general election when it was barely nine months old, it made a major impact especially in the South East. One of the major visions was to use it as a platform to engage the rest of Nigerian because I had found out that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwa had become weak and later died.
We found out that we hadn’t a rallying point of his stature and clout in Igboland and Igbo people are all over the country in large number. So, we needed a platform that would be sympathetic to Igbo political agenda and become a rallying point since we didn’t have a person to fill the gap. Unfortunately two years into the existence of APGA, leadership crisis set in and this crisis was orchestrated by the People’s Democratic Party ( PDP) government under President Olusegun Obasanjo. This is because the former president had told me in his study in April 2003, after the elections that I committed a political sin by proposing and presenting the late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu as my presidential candidate.
He predicated his fear on the assumption that if Odumegwu Ojukwu had any foothold in the South East, that he would resume the struggle for secession. I call it morbid fear because there was nothing like that hidden in the agenda of late Odumegwu Ojukwu as much as I knew it. He told me that the moment I presented Ojukwu as presidential candidate that APGA immediately became a security issue. Being a national security issues therefore means that even security council will be deliberating on how to designate APGA and that was at the point that they began to deliberate on how to destroy the party. The details of what they did is not the subject of this discussion but eventually that crisis affected APGA adversely. I thought I could save the soul of the party by going to court and expected justice because that was never in my contemplation or the contemplation of any person with any sense of justice that a treasurer could be named chairman of a political party without a convention.
The nation recently witnessed the defection of the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogora and a number of the Senators and Reps on the platform of All Progressive Congress (APC) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). How do you see the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive within the remaining part of this administration?
Well, just like it is generally said that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. It is a very sad development that the Executive and Legislative arms in this political dispensation are at logger heads and this is affecting passage of Bills, INEC’s budget. These are all critical issues and there is this fear of impeachment of the present leadership of the National Assembly as threatened by leadership of the APC from where they decamped. You know it doesn’t auger well for Nigeria and my appeal is that they should be able to put the national interest in the front burner so that Nigeria may not be derailed as a result of this avoidable quarrel.
The National Assembly started on very bad note. The leadership is a product of conspiracy and nobody expected that they will have a very smooth relationship and so it has been a legislative year that is characterized by bickering and muzzle fixing intrigues and so on. The economy and the polity have been the worse for it. So, but I also know even though it has not been signed into law that there is provision in the constitution that makes it absolutely impossible for anybody who has been elected on a party platform to ever decamp to another party without losing his seat automatically. This is because it is morally wrong no matter the way you look at it, no matter the way you quarrel with the leadership of the your party. To leave the party that sponsored your election and you won on that platform and later felt that you can no longer stay and as such, you just defect to another party. You ought to have forfeited your office.
In fact, this is the first time we are witnessing this in our political history that a Senate President would leave the party that sponsored him to victory to another party and still wished to remain as Senate President. It is a very sad commentary on our democracy and makes mockery of everything that democracy should be known for. However, we hope that sanity will prevail to the extent that this election will be allowed to hold and we believe that lessons have been learnt and whatever government that comes up in future will avoid this type of loopholes.
The leadership of APC has continued to promise the South East geopolitical zone of producing the next presidential candidate in 2023. What do you make out of these assurances?
I am not carried away by that sentiment because I know that politics is not done that way. What I said in a similar interview is that there is an unwritten rotational convention in the nation’s polity which is rotating presidency between the South and the North. So in that regard I believe that yes, though President Buhari is not perfect and nobody is perfect but I can leave with another four years of President Buhari, when this unwritten rotational convention now shift to the South. I may not be able to endure another eight years of the PDP government added to the 16 years of nightmare that has not gone off my mind. So there is nothing in PDP that I am missing which I will say oh! Let PDP come back and the people who are angling for presidential ticket in the party are people that are already known. There is no Angel flying down take over the presidency than people that are already known by Nigerians.
In the case of Buhari it becomes the Devil you know being better than the Angel that you have not known.
So, when the game is up it would certainly be between the South West and South East and UPP will be the beautiful bride and we will say to APC ‘if you zone the presidency to South East, collaborate with UPP since we will have our presidential candidate on ground to work with them.
How would you assess the performance of the APC government within the last three years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
Let me tell you I was one of those most vocal in criticizing this government especially with regard to its lopsided appointments and some of that I call un-presidential pronouncement by Mr president about those who gave him 5% and those who gave him 95 %, and how he was going to look after them in terms of their contribution to his victory, I didn’t think those utterances were right. Again coming from the Igbo side, no Igbo person up till date is a member of the National Security Council. To me this is extreme alienation and even those President Buhari appointed into his cabinet even if they were substantive Ministers their ministries were not of use to anybody especially with regard to influencing the infrastructural development in the South East. Those were my strong views. Well of course one of the things I criticize the government was its near lackadaisical approach to issues that require urgency. The government by this action became very slow” But with the benefit of hand-sight I found out that the president’s health condition was poor but since he went abroad spent almost 100 days came back he has improved in his health and everybody can see that and the pace of governance has improved.
I have seen the President fighting corruption single-mindedly and some say it is lopsided and I said no, the issue of corruption matters never expire, you must start somewhere. He will not be President for ever’ if the foundation is laid and corruption is bad and must be fought to a standstill, another regime can continue the fight until corruption is completely wiped out. The present effort by president Buhari is attracting commendation by the international community. The administration invested so much in agriculture but the only thing that worked against it is the activities of the herdsmen went to those farms with their cows and eat up those crops. This action had resulted in bloodshed and some of us are not quiet happy with that and we criticize it but it appears that is being controlled now. So Nigeria is doing well in agriculture. One other thing going for this president is that unlike those before him he has not come chasing away contractors that he didn’t engage. Instead for those we have requisite experience for the job they were given, he got them funded and they have returned to site and if you come to South East you will discover that roads that were abandoned by other administrations are being re-awarded and construction work going on. For instance the second Niger Bridge is currently going on.