By Onyedika Agbedo
National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP) and former presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this interview, advises President Muhammadu Buhari to concentrate on governance and focus on delivering on his election promise to Nigerians instead of being distracted by those who wants him to seek re-election in 2019. He, however, notes that the President will be ill advised should he choose to seek for a second term on account of his ill health and poor performance of his government.
President Muhammadu Buhari is ill but some of his aides have reportedly started campaigns for his re-election in 2019. What is your take on that?
First of all, Nigerians are the ones that will decide who becomes their president or not. And we as political party leaders are satisfied with the arrangement that has been put in place by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to introduce technology into the electoral process in order to ensure that to a large extent, the votes of Nigerians count. That is fundamental. So, if Buhari decides to run in 2019 it is his prerogative. If the All Progressives Congress (APC) feels that he has electoral value to lead it to victory, that is the headache of the party. For us in the United Progressive Party (UPP), we shall even celebrate it because it makes campaign easier for us. It is so because everybody knows that Buhari is ill; even now he is not able to give up to 50 per cent of his time to his assignment and that is very serious for a country in a hurry to develop. Now, it is beginning to show that presiding over the normal weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting is becoming a challenge to him. So, if under such circumstances he decides to run, that is bonus to a party like UPP because, like I said, we will be confronting a weaker candidate while we will be presenting a candidate that is far ahead of him in everything, including human capacity.
But in his own personal interest, my advise to him is not to try to present himself again otherwise he will be thoroughly humiliated. I recommend the Mandela option for him; he has shown his resilience in confronting the challenges of the electoral process in a third world country like Nigeria and he has won. He has made history having won at the fourth attempt. I think the ovation is still a bit high for him now; the honourable path is for him to simply thank Nigerians and go and look after his health. But if because of the attitude of the average Black in third world countries to remain in office and die in office, he chooses to contest again, he will be facing the greatest political humiliation of his life. I don’t think even his people will vote for him.
What about the timing if truly some of his aides have started underground preparations for his re-election. Is it what the country should be talking about now in your view?
Well, that is definitely a distraction to governance. But my own attitude is that in about six weeks from now he will be two years in office and his performance record is very abysmal. There is nobody that will rate his performance average; it is far below average. And what should concern patriotic leaders, and I suppose he is one, is to concern himself with the issues of governance to see what can be remedied before his term of four years ends. But if he diverts attention and the attention of his principal aides who have been helping him to govern to the issue of re-election, it will be a tragic mistake. And that will be very unfortunate for Nigeria as a country.
Do you think the President should disclose his health status before seeking re-election?
He is the President of Nigeria. He is a concern to every Nigerian; he is being treated with tax payers’ money. So, Nigerians are entitled to full disclosure of his ailment. Many Nigerians actually prayed for his recovery and many were happy that he came back in one piece. I am one of those that prayed for his recovery; I am one of those that expressed joy that he came back in one piece. But it is also important that Nigerians know the full extent of his ailment. That will also help Nigerians to assess whether by the constitution of Nigeria, he is still fit and proper to continue to carry out the job of a president.
Some chieftains of the APC like former vice president Atiku Abubakar are reportedly gearing up to challenge Buhari for the ticket of the party. How do you think that will impact on the 2019 elections?
Well, it is good for all of us who are now building up parties to take over the leadership of the country. What will likely happen is an implosion. And if there is implosion in the APC, that weakens it as a party in government. If Buhari says he is running, the standard practice in most presidential democracies is for the party to give him the choice of first refusal. If the party gives him the choice of first refusal, all those people eyeing the ticket of the party don’t have a chance and what they will do is to leave the party. But they will not leave quietly; they will leave angrily with their supporters. And the sum total will be a weaker APC.
Meanwhile, the National Chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, had when it was too early to talk about 2019 elections, said there was no vacancy in the Presidency. I remember that I did say then that, that was insensitive of him because the President was barely one year in office. The party chairman should be more concerned with his party being able to deliver on its social contract with the Nigerian people on the so-called change mantra. So, with the party’s national chairman having taken such an early position, that is an indication that there will be no level playing field for anybody else within the party wishing to contest for the office of president.
It is unfortunate that the APC has not risen to the demands of a party in power. They are fighting among themselves in the National Assembly and the President has stayed aloof. The embarrassing part is that even members of staff of the party are being owed salaries and this is a party that controls the Federal Government and about 23 states. It all shows that the party is simply a sheep without shepherd. And come to think of it. This is three years that the APC has been in existence and they have not been able to constitute their Board of Trustees. This is what parties do almost immediately upon registration. This is a standing committee that is made up of mostly elders who constitute the conscience of the party and who intervene when there is internal quarrel among party members. But that body has not been constituted just because of the fear of implosion. Whether Asiwaju Bola Tinubu will be the chairman of the BoT or Atiku Abubakar or any other powerful interest has kept the party from constituting a very critical standing committee. So, if they couldn’t do that, what else can they actually do? It is such a shame.
If Buhari doesn’t contest on account of his ill health as you have advised, what happens to the unwritten arrangement of rotating power between North and South after a period of eight years. Don’t you think that will destabilise the arrangement and cause confusion?
There is no arrangement anywhere about North and South. Buhari ran for four good times; he was not waiting for any arrangement. He could have won in any of those attempts and it was when he won that he took over. So, there is no arrangement either constitutionally or whatever; no political party has such arrangement. It is only the UPP (and of course APGA when it was under my watch) that has a policy of zoning its presidential slot to the South-east geo-political zone. That is a standing and subsisting policy of the UPP.
So, the APC has no such arrangement. And look at the PDP; before they broke into two factions, they zoned the presidency to the North. A committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, took that decision. The committee submitted that recommendation and their National Executive Committee (NEC) approved it. So, it’s already a policy of the PDP that their next candidate will come from the North and what happens if the person wins? Where is the arrangement between North and South? So, these things are based on the consideration of political parties on what gives them electoral advantage. So, there is no formal arrangement of that nature. That is why when some people say it’s their turn I laugh. It’s only Igbos that talk about the turn of the South-east in producing the president. No northerner or Yoruba person has ever told the South-east when their turn would be; nobody. It’s only the Igbo man that will say it’s our turn next time. And we have been waiting for our turn since 1998.