Chief Chekwas Okorie, National Chairman, United Progressive Party( UPP) and former presidential candidate of the party in 2015, in this interview with IGNATIUS OKOROCHA, described efforts by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to upturn President Muhammadu Buhari ‘s victory at the just conclude poll through legal means as a mere national distraction. Excerpts
How would you describe the 2019 presidential election and INEC declaration of President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC as been re elected as Nigeria’s President?
For me I feel vindicated because I lead a political party that took an early decision which was backed by an Executive order by the highest organ of the party at the National Executive Council level on the August 17, 2017. The council at that meeting took a decision that we will not be contesting the 2019 presidential election, rather we will adopt President Buhari as our candidate. We took our time to pass that resolution to all our state, local government and ward levels, and directed them on what to do and a full implication of what we have undertaken to do. Our resolution is that we will contest every other offices at the poll but for the presidency. We also informed our party loyalists that we will contest every other office other than the presidency and to this effect, some of our confidantes went out of their way to include in their posters the picture of President Muhammadu Buhari side by side with their own pictures. That is to underscore the commitment we had with the President. It didn’t go down well with those who had wanted us to go it their own way in the social media. But at the end, it has come out this way. So, with President Buhari wining his election convincingly, it simply means that we have been vindicated
How would you juxtapose your position with the perceived disappointment felt by some Nigerians on hearing the emergence of Buhari as the President – elect rather than his opponent Alhaji Abubakar Atiku at the election?
It is normal, as a matter of fact, if you look at the election itself; there were areas where the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar won, mostly in the southern part of Nigeria and where he lost even in the southern part especially in the South East, it was narrow loss. So, you don’t expect that all that number, when you are looking at over 11million people that voted for him. So, if over 11million people voted for him were unhappy it will be felt, it will be seen and it will be normal. Then if over 15 million people who voted for President Buhari are happy and jubilating, it’s also felt. They have been all over the streets jubilating. If myself that knows that UPP has not merged with APC but that we remained in UPP but given our collaborative role with APC in that coalition which we didn’t give conditions at all, we are receiving congratulatory messages from all over the place as if we won the election ourselves. So, It is something that is not the way you put as though the nation is sad. No! Greater number of Nigerians is jubilating over president Buhari’s victory and the beauty of it is that every credible international body that observed this election, including the local ones have conceded to the transparency and credibility of the process. It has been proved now that the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC) has done better than the previous elections and I did predict repeatedly that president Buhari’s imminent victory during the campaign would be so resounding as to make any petition from the loser a mere national distraction. I have been proved right because this is an election that PDP relied so much on the international organizations and agencies capability of INEC to conduct
Looking at the entire process of voting by major ethnic groups in the country, it does appear that history repeated itself in the way and manner the South East voted for the PDP in the last presidential poll as was done in 2015. What is the consequences of the poor voting pattern for the APC in Buhari’s next level of administration
The same pattern of voting did not repeat itself at the just concluded presidential election. As a matter of fact, most of my Northern political allies, very senior political allies have congratulated the Igbo for a wonderful work done. In 2015 President Buhari had a mere five percent of the votes from the South East, but in the just concluded poll, he made 25 percent of the votes in Abia, Imo and Ebonyi. President Buhari made over 430,000 votes as against 198,000 votes in 2015 presidential election from the same geopolitical zone and so it can not be the same pattern of voting. So, there is an improvement.
But the unfortunate part in the whole scenario actually hinged on two things that affected our people but the worst of all of the things that effected our people was the ignoble role of the Nnia Nwodo led Ohaneze Ndigbo group. It was a very terrible blunder. It would take some time to clear the mess but I am glad that President Buhari’s government is looking more on the positive side than that negative angle. He is looking on the side that he is well accepted in the South East despite that vicious and unnecessary propaganda mounted, using the name of Ohaneze Ndigbo which turned Ohaneze virtually into a wing of the PDP
With the emergence of President Buhari as the President – elect for a second term and in the spirit of power rotation in Nigeria, are there indications that the long expected President of Igbo extraction will be possible in 2023 as has been canvassed by the ruling APC government?
That is why I said there is work to do, power does not go to anybody merely on the abundance of milk of human kindness. It is not given out of mercy. It is a contest. So, something has to be done in terms of creating awareness, building up necessary consciousness, capacity and the desire to go for it and build bridges. The work has begun, the 2019 election is over. We are not going to be waiting until two weeks to 2023 election for us o start endorsing people here and there. There were endorsements that Ohaneze in Ndigbo started as a socio-cultural group that ought to be neutral. So, there is work to be done like I said earlier. There is very little I can say here for now with regard to the strategy that we are going to adopt and pursue vigorously as soon as the inauguration of a new government has taken place. Let me not reveal the motive behind the meetings we are going to hold with Igbo leaders of thought on the subject.
The defeat of the sole candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance( APGA) at the recent Senate election, in Anambra Central, Chief Victor Umeh, appears to the a big blow to the party. Don’t you think that the party is gradually retrogressing?
Yes, APGA has been going backward right from the time it went into leadership crisis more that 16 years ago. We had the very first election in 2003. Our presidential candidate then, the late Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu was able to make about 1.4million votes. We know that was also as a result of the massive rigging perpetuated by the then ruling party, the PDP. There is no government that will rig election in Nigeria than the PDP, but in spite of that, that was what Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu and APGA recorded then. The crisis came just a year after that and they dragged Ojukwu into the fray. The party later went into another contest and the presidential candidate pulled 155,000 which was less than 10 percent of what the it made in 2003. So, instead of improving, it started sliding. So, it has been downward all the time and for 16 years, the party never made any major impact outside Anambra state. So, it is a very poor showing as a result of people who never shared in the vision for which the party was founded, grabbing it and turning it into a cash carrying venture. I really feel sad about what is happening to the party because that was my baby and my major contribution to the Igbo nation and since APGA and UPP have the same vision almost, I want to see what could be salvaged out to the party.
So, I have decided after due consultations to take steps to reach out to governor of Anambra state, who was not party to the crisis that rocked the party and now look out for the way. I do expect that his Igbo spirit and patriotism would make him have a very useful conversation with me on the way forward with the mind of rebuilding Igbo resurgence and relevance in Nigeria.
Are you planning a merger of the two political parties?
I wouldn’t say yes for now, but if it turns out to be merger, I wouldn’t say no because that is what is uppermost in the minds of many Igbo leaders of thought and if it does happen, Ndigbo generally would be happy for it. Whatever would make my people happy is what I would be interested in.