Chief Chekwas Okorie, is the national chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), and founder of the now tottering All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). In this interview with MIKE UBANI, he asks the party leadership to seek God’s’ forgiveness. He extols President Muhammadu Buhari, for stepping up infrastructural development in the South-East, even as he advises that the controversial RUGA scheme should be limited to the northern part of the country.
Can one say that the collaboration between UPP and President Muhammadu Buhari, before and during the last general election has yielded fruitful results?
It is important to understand that the collaboration with President Buhari for his second tenure election was a party decision. UPP didn’t go to President Buhari with a shopping list as to what he was going to do for us. And there was no budget for us to support him – not a dime. We used our own resources to mount giant billboards in different strategic places in the country, including all the airports in the South-East in support of the president. Happily, the President’s performance in the 2019 election in the South-East improved from what it was in 2015. I am not saying that we alone achieved it, but even APC leaders in the South-East who lacked the courage to speak out for the President, were able to do so because of the fact that we came out. We also knew that it wasn’t a popular choice for us, especially among Igbo people. And I personally was severely maligned, attacked and called names, especially in the social media. But we were determined and resolute. So, when the result came out, it was far better than the votes he scored in South-East in 2015.
Are you surprised that the President didn’t give UPP a ministerial slot?
We never expected to be given a ministerial slot. We never lobbied for it, and we were not disappointed that we didn’t get any. But since he talked about an inclusive government, we expect that somewhere along the line, he will accommodate us one way or the other.
So, nothing has come out of this collaboration with Mr. President since then?
We now have a direct engagement with Mr. President through diplomacy other than confrontation, through constructive engagement outside of flexing of muscles or using the media to make demands. I can tell you that a lot of activities are already taking place in the South-East.
What are those activities?
The infrastructural developments in the South-East are being stepped up unlike before. For the very first time since the war ended, a federal project was started and completed by his administration. I am talking about the public power project at Ariaria area of Aba, Abia state. Many people may not know that since the war ended in 1970, no project – whether under the military or the 16 years of PDP government, was ever started and completed in the South-East. Here we are, within his first tenure, the construction of over five hundred billion Naira Enyimba Economic City in Aba, Abia state, has taken off. The idea is to turn Aba into a Dubai in Igboland. Look at the speed at which the Second Niger Bridge is being built. The President said he will drive through that bridge before completing his second tenure, and it’s being projected that by 2022, that bridge will be completed. Look at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Mausoleum which was abandoned by previous administrations including the PDP. But that project has been completed and commissioned under the Buhari administration. I do believe that by the time the security agencies will be reshuffled by the President, you’ll find an Igbo in the national Security Council which is actually an aspect of alienation that is hurting so many well-meaning Igbo people.
A lot of people said that Ohanaeze Ndigbo refused to engage Mr. President like the UPP is doing apparently because of its displeasure with him over the RUGA scheme. What are your thoughts?
That is not an excuse. For me, the RUGA issue is even outside the purview of Ohanaeze as a socio-cultural organization. The issue of land is not in the hand of a socio-cultural body whether pan Igbo or not. The issue of land lies with the state governments. The Ohanaeze leadership should sit quietly with the South-East governors and tell them what they ought to do in that regard. But even without the input of Ohanaeze, the governors did the right thing by making it clear that the land in Igboland is not enough to provide for a RUGA settlement. If you want to do RUGA or National Livestock programme, you have enough land in the North to even turn the North into the beef capital of the world.
Have you returned the spirit and soul of APGA as requested by a delegation that visited your Enugu home shortly before Mr. Peter Obi, left office as Anambra governor?
We were very angry and embittered the way and manner the vision on which APGA was founded was derailed for very obvious selfish reasons. After eight years of trying to save the soul of the party, and we couldn’t, we felt that it was no longer necessary to hit our heads on the wall. I was still in possession of the Certificate of Registration of APGA. But after consulting with my associates, I returned the certificate to INEC. And I want it to be on record that no court in the land ever declared Victor Umeh chairman of APGA. It was all conspiracy between him and INEC. The court merely struck out our case without declaring Umeh national chairman of APGA. But they ran to INEC, compromised the electoral body, and the next thing we saw in the newspapers was that Umeh had been declared authentic chairman of the party. When we were leaving APGA, we felt that we should return the certificate to the issuing authority. Thereafter, I issued a statement with a heavy heart that we are leaving with the soul and spirit of APGA. I said that the certificate we handed over to INEC which Umeh eventually collected from INEC was mere carcass. So, many people saw that as a curse coming from the founder of APGA, and because of that whatever problem APGA continued to have from that time, people still referred to that statement, and felt that that curse has to be lifted for APGA to make progress. So, in the course of their many problems, Barrister Maxi Okwu, who was my deputy chairman South when APGA was intact, and who was recruited by Obi to continue with his fight inside of APGA, came to me and requested that I lift that curse, and subsequently return the soul of the party. And he also apologized to me before the pressmen who covered his visit to my Enugu residence. A cross section of senior officials of Anambra state government came along with him. They apologized for what had happened, saying it could not be defended. I said to them that I am a human being, and so incapable of holding on to the soul or spirit of APGA. Only God can. I told them that they needed to do restitution, and thereafter, I will join them to beg God to return the soul and spirit of APGA.
What kind of restitution are you talking about?
APGA matter is spiritual, but they don’t know they are playing with fire. Within twenty four hours after receiving the certificate of registration of APGA in Abuja, I rushed down to Enugu, and the next day, we all drove to Onitsha to have the certificate blessed by Archbishop Obiefuna. He sprinkled holy water on it and prayed for me. Later, we were at Sacred Heart Church, Uwani Enugu, where I worship for a Thanksgiving Service, and dedication of the certificate to God. A couple of months later, we had an Inter-denominational Service at Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, Enugu, with Ikemba Nnewi, late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, in attendance even though he was not then a member of the party. No political party in Nigeria has undergone such spiritual process. It was this party that was dedicated to God in this manner that some people saw as a cash cow and grabbed it without giving consideration to the part God played in the formation and sustenance of APGA. When we talk about restitution, we are not talking about bringing money or bringing property to give to anybody not to talk of giving to me, after all they said that I am from Abia state, and so not entitled to Anambra money. If you genuinely accept that you did something wrong; that you accused somebody falsely and maliciously – knowing that you did so for personal gain, then there must be an open place where you will make that confession, and all of us will be there to say to God: Please father, forgive all of us because we have all sinned and come short of your glory, restore that spirit and soul that you gave to APGA. Then, we may also consider collapsing UPP into APGA so that APGA which is largely regarded as a spirit will resume its movement once again. I can stay back to allow others to continue because I have been around for a long time. What is happening now is that month after month, year after year, the crises in APGA continue to get worse to the extent that the present leaders of the party are regarded as undertakers.