Chief Chekwas Okorie, acclaimed founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), speaks on the quest for senate president by the South- East geo-political zone, the many crises of APGA and Ohanaeze, the balance of power among the six geo-political zones in the country, and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) among other contemporary issues.
You just celebrated your birthday. How is your socio- political vision in the years ahead going to be?
I thank God in a very special way. I am now 66 years old, and I have been in this struggle for 42 years and that means that for the greater part of my life, I have been engaged in Igbo rights, human rights and politics. Sometimes it can be risky in our environment; sometimes it can be terrible because of those who wish you dead on account of your position on issues, even the crises in APGA, I wonder how I survived. It was very vicious, especially from my own people for whom I put my life on the line for. In fact, I have been the longest standing opposition politician from Igbo land, as far as I know.
APGA generally regarded as your baby performed poorly in its strongholds. How do you look at the descent?
APGA’s problem is basically spiritual. It is not like other people are seeing it. Because I founded it, I know where and how the problem started. What happened in the last elections was just a continuation of the descent. It has been deteriorating. It never really went beyond the achievement of Peter Obi emerging the governor of Anambra State in 2003. Even at that time, we first had three members of the House of Representatives; one from Imo, Uche Onyeagocha, Ozodinobi from Anambra State, and Eriem from Bayelsa State. We also had a couple of House of Assembly members across the country, and that was the very first outing. One would have expected that by the second general election, it was participating, it would have gone beyond having Peter Obi as governor to more accomplishments and enter other places. Unfortunately, it was just one year after the 2003 performance commenced that the crises commenced. It never really improved from there because, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, our standard bearer at that time got 1.4million votes in spite of the issues at that time. It was small, but looking back now, it was a feat anyone running for the president in Igbo land has never achieved since 1989. Then, by the time the 2007 elections came he had a paltry 155,000 votes. So, it has been deteriorating for APGA, and it is basically spiritual. Until certain restitution is done; I doubt if that is not even late now, the party may never get its groove back. Never!
Is it a death knell for the party, you are singing?
It may seem so from the look of things. Do not forget that in 2012 when I voluntarily returned the party’s certificate to INEC, I proclaimed publicly that I was taking away its soul and spirit and leaving behind the carcass for them. Of course that was coming out of a very heavy heart. Some said I cursed the party. Others said all sorts of things. But then, nothing was done by those who inherited it for some kind of restitution. Three years ago, I had reconciliation with Peter Obi, but it was a personal thing. A year ago, I had reconciliation with Victor Umeh. Again, it was personal. But when it comes to APGA reconciliation, it is deeper than personal reconciliation. That is the state of APGA. Those who said that Governor Obiano is more like an undertaker may not be wrong.
But Obiano is still a governor on APGA platform?
Obiano still has the opportunity to do something redemptive, if he so desires, otherwise he may end up as undertaker that some people think he has become.
The South- East in the last few weeks has been clamouring for the seat of senate president. Other geo- political zones, especially the North- East are also in the race. Looking at the configuration of power at the centre in the last four years, what is your sincere view on this quest by the zone?
Quite frankly, it is a great opportunity for the APC and especially the president, if he so desires to balance things up in terms of equity, in terms of fairness, and in terms of national unity. Yes, the party may meet to direct members of the National Assembly to elect certain people from certain zones one way or the other, but I also expect that even in doing that, they should also look at the future of the party, because if they reduce this party, APC to more of a South -West party, knowing that 2023 is also staring us in the face already, then they should know that South West alone cannot produce the president , just like president Buhari had to reach out after failure in three previous attempts before he became the president. The idea of Tinubu’s wife becoming Deputy Senate President is not good, not that she is not qualified, I want to be understood. However, with the South -West producing the vice- president going into second term, and they are plotting to take the position of Deputy Senate President, I can’t find something more repugnant. It smacks of greed. As far as I am concerned, the South -West should be satisfied in having the vice- president for two terms after their man Obasanjo was president for eight years. There are six geo- political zones in Nigeria. North -West already has the president. In terms of equity, the senate president should go to the South- East. But should the party decide differently, maybe they may have to find something very soothing. I am of the view that perhaps, one position will not be enough again; perhaps two critical positions will do for the South-East to make up for that denial.
If they fail to give the zone Senate President, which position does the South East deserve as make up?
If they don’t give the South East the Senate president, they should give them the deputy senate president. That will not be enough though. The country already stands on a tripod. Forget about the unfortunate role Ohanaeze played in the last elections that is hurting Igbo political engagement. I warned in advance. Be that as it may, Igbo people are about the largest single ethnic group in this country. And in terms of national development and unity, you also give it to the Igbo. And so, I think that the best thing that should happen is to give the position of Senate President to the Igbo. But if they fail to give them that, they should take the Deputy Senate seat and another key position in the executive arm of government. In addition to that, this one has nothing to do with the National Assembly; the wrong done to the Igbo by excluding them from the National Security Council should be redressed. This one falls within the purview of the president and must be corrected now. It is important for national unity and equity.
You talked about what you called the unfortunate position Ohanaeze took in the last presidential election. Where and how do you fault the apex- socio- political organisation of the Igbo?
Let me tell you without being immodest. We are only about four people that are alive today who started Ohanaeze in 1976. I was an undergraduate of the University of Nigeria. The other three are Mbazulike Amaechi, a first republic minister, Cannon Onyeso Nwachukwu who is about 94 years old now, and Dr Anagha Ezeikpe, a former Deputy Governor of old Imo State. I was young and was running their errands in 1976. I was an undergraduate at the Enugu campus of UNN and I was brought in to fill a vacuum. I can tell you the history of Ohanaeze. It was called Igbo Union then. It was in 1979 that the name was changed to Ohanaeze; in fact Ohanaeze Ndigbo, then later Ndigbo was dropped for just Ohanaeze. Justice Daddy Onyeama, the father of the present minister of foreign affairs was the vice- chairman. We didn’t have president then. It was chairman and vice chairman. Chief Jerome Udoji was the Secretary. My uncle, a lawyer, who brought me here (Enugu) Jacob Agwu, who was the permanent secretary in the first republic Eastern region, was the assistant secretary. This was the leadership. Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was the only central patron of the body. Since then, no other patron emerged. I can tell you that in 1979, Ohanaeze delved into partisanship, expressing support for the NPN (National Party of Nigeria) Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Samuel Mbakwe, Chief Rbk Okafor and all the people in NPP (Nigeria Peoples Party) pulled out of Ohanaeze and Ohanaeze collapsed. It was in 1983 that it was revived. In 2006, Ohanaeze made the same mistake under Prof. Irukwu by going to support Obasanjo’s third term bid. At a meeting in Abakiliki, Prof. Irukwu made a speech in which he supported that move. The roof was almost brought down as hell was let loose. He escaped physical harm by the whiskers. Ohanaeze split into two. Dr. Dozie Ikedife led a faction and eventually the reconciliation committee led by Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (retd), with Mike Ahamba, SAN as secretary resolved the differences and Dr. Ikedife, since it was the turn of Anambra State after Abia State, emerged as the President- General. Under President Jonathan, Ohanaeze did the same thing. Ambassador Ralph Uwechue led the organisation to become almost a wing of PDP. In 2011, Ohanaeze did the same thing. Because of this history, I warned that Ohanaeze must not repeat the mistakes, because it has not benefited Ndigbo. Let me say that in Igbo land, any project started and completed by PDP in 16 years doesn’t exist. We are trying to move into constructive engagement with the ruling powers but the snag is this seeming anti- sentiment to the government of the day by the Igbo. Ohanaeze is a pan- Igbo organisation; an Umbrella body of all Igbo and should be respected as such. Going into partisanship has always been the bane of the organisation and has been too dysfunctional in the realisation of its goals. It will take some time to clear the mess that Nnia Nwodo plunged the Igbo into. Whether we like it or not, I know it will affect Ndigbo for some time to come. We have to start clearing that mess, but it will take some time. Part of it is what we are facing now.
Your party, UPP did not present a presidential candidate in the last elections. What informed that?
It was deliberate. The NEC of our party met in August last year and decided that the 2019 presidential election will be an all northern affair. Contesting from outside the North will be swimming against the tide. Although there is no written document, but it is almost conventional between North and South. We will be able to weigh in again, at least to support Alaigbo. And if we are going to position ourselves to build outreach to others, then we must start now. You can see what happened in 2019 presidential election, Prof Muoghalu, a highly qualified, eminent Igbo son, look at the total votes he got in the last presidential elections-20,000 votes nationwide.