Chief Chekwas Okorie, the national chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP) believes that the economy has performed poorly under President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that if he re-contests in 2019, he would likely be defeated. In this interview, he also weighs in on the recent letter written by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo to Buhari.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday wrote a letter to President Buhari, accusing him of nepotism and advising him to halt his 2019 presidential ambition. Do you agree with his stance?
Obasanjo is delving into an area which is within the personal purview of President Buhari. To me, the advice comes across as though Obasanjo is being a busy body because it is not his business if Buhari chooses to run or not. After all, didn’t he (Obasanjo) want to perpetuate himself in office when he did everything in his power to get a third term for himself? So, he is not in the right position to give that type of advice.
However, President Buhari himself has not governed well. If he was a fantastic president, no one would say that he doesn’t have the capacity to run again. Donald Trump, the US president is not a young man; Ronald Regan was not a young man when he became President of the US, yet, he was a fantastic president. The problem is that Buhari as a president has not performed well, but if for any reason, the APC fields him again as their candidate, then all that Obasanjo said would become a campaign issue and even those of us who are not in the party would use it against the APC. In fact, I pray that the party presents Buhari as its presidential candidate because it would make campaigns very easy for us, and they would make it easy for the party to be easily defeated.
A prominent APC member from the north, Ghali Umar Na’Abba recently said he would not back Buhari for a second term because of what he says is the president’s lack of performance. But the president’s aides touted some of his achievements which include the increase of the foreign reserve to $40 billion. What is your take?
This is politics, so his aides are bound to make both truthful and false claims. Let me start with the outburst of my good friend, Na’Abba who expressed his frustrations at Buhari’s non-performance. For an APC leader of his stature, he has seen the reality of poor governance, so he has expressed his opinion. I am sure that if he remains in APC till the primary and they field Buhari, he would work against his election. But if he fails, because he is just one man within that system, then he would have done his own bit according to his own convictions. But for those who are making claims of Buhari’s achievements, I do not see how Buhari contributed to the increase in oil price because the price of oil is not set by the government of Nigeria.
If according to the presidency, the foreign reserves have grown to $40 billion and our country is still in this condition, it means that the government and those who are managing the revenue of this country are clueless. Because you cannot have food stored in your store, yet you are malnourished. Then when somebody tells you that you look malnourished, you tell the person that you have food in your store but that you are waiting for the rainy day. What if you die before the rainy day?
One would have expected that if we had such an amount in our reserves, then this is the time to inject capital into the economy to expand the economy, encourage development and create employment opportunities. What does having foreign reserves mean to the man on the streets? Will he understand anything about foreign reserves if he is hungry? There is no healthcare, he can’t send his children to school and so many other issues, yet you tell him about foreign reserves that are lying idly. America owes a lot of money, but at least, you know that the money was used for investment which will generate more income and be repaid over time.
We are here thanking China for injecting almost 85 percent of our foreign exchange into infrastructure and our leaders are applauding themselves because the loan is a soft loan that will be spread over 20 years. They forget that they are piling up debts for the future generation to pay this loan, yet the so called infrastructure has not even been seen. While we are piling up our own money in foreign reserves, China is using theirs to even invest in other countries and exploits their expertise; before we know it, China and Tunisia experts will take over our technical field.
What in your opinion, is it leadership that is our problem? Or would you say that they do not have the political will to do what is right?
The leadership we have in this country is clueless, selfish, parochial and nepotistic. I say so because they do not consider competence, rather it is where you come from that determines the appointment that you get. Look at the structure of our security and intelligence agencies; all of those heading those agencies are from a particular tribe. We are practicing neo-colonialism. I hope that the new campaign urging Nigerians to get their voters card sinks well.
Do you have confidence that this leadership would conduct free and fair general elections?
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not impressed me at all. They boast and celebrate themselves for achieving nothing. Every promise they made about the last Anambra elections, they failed. They promised that they had enough card readers for every polling unit in the state, but I can tell you that card readers were not used. They said the results of the elections would be transmitted from the polling units to the central server at Awka, thereby by-passing the wards and local government, but that did not happen. The secret ballot system provided for by the electoral act was never practiced at all. People thumb printed on their ballot papers and raised it for those who would pay them money to see and know the party they voted for, and then they would throw it into the ballot box and collect the money.
The security agents were compromised and their answers were rehearsed. So, when you complain that someone was with a bag of money buying votes, the security agents will tell you that they were engaged to maintain law and order and if you feel aggrieved, you should go and bring your own money and go and buy votes. I have said it many times that if INEC replicates what it did in the general elections, then, all sorts of bad characters will take over the political space because they are the ones who have the resources to buy votes. Our people have been so withdrawn and disconnected with the process of electing leaders so we end up with these kinds of characters. So, the National Assembly must expedite action in bringing about a full electronic voting system that would ensure that people’s votes count. Otherwise, what we have in INEC today cannot guarantee a credible election.
Fuel queues have returned to most states in the country, what can the leadership do to nip the issue of petrol scarcity once and for all in the bud?
The answer is to liberalise the downstream sector and allow market forces to determine the price. The government should not be involved in payment of subsidies. If you put your product at a high cost, you won’t see customers. In other countries, all that regulators do is to ensure that owners of fuel stations display the price at which they are selling so that the person who wants to buy will see it and take a decision on whether he wants to buy there or go elsewhere. The problem is that the labour unions always threaten the government if they want to increase the price of fuel and the government has no political will to address the issue because they are usually blackmailed into capitulating. If the government is sincere about liberalising this sector, everything would have stabilised by now.
Recently, some APC leaders from the south east visited Buhari and endorsed him for a second term. At the same time, they asked him to support the Igbo presidency in 2023, would you say they did the right thing?
I describe those who went there as pseudo leaders in APC; they cannot rope all of us into that charade. These are people in APC who have done what they are known for. When the late Sani Abacha was urged to continue in office and transform into a civilian president by those the late Bola Ige referred to as the five fingers of a leprous hand, some of these so called Igbo leaders who recently went to endorse Buhari played a major role in supporting Abacha’s plan. So, they are known for such actions. It is a shame that it is only the south east APC as a geo-political zone that has done what these people have done. The other zones in APC who have a greater stake in this government have not trooped to Aso Rock to endorse Buhari, it is these ones who jumped from PDP to APC that are now urging Buhari to re-contest.
It’s funny because this is the same president who recently told Ohanaeze when they went to visit him that he has not forgotten that the south east gave him only 198,000 votes, yet he gave them four ministers. As if he would have denied the zone a position that the constitution provides for it. Even if the south east gave him zero votes, we would still have had our share of ministers which the constitution provides for us. But he told them to their face. These ones now went there and were requesting that he assures them that he will give them the presidency in 2023. I have never seen anything so naïve and childish like that one said by people who are grandfathers.
In 2019, the Igbo should present a presidential candidate which UPP has already zoned to the south east, and then go round the country to canvass for votes. Buhari was not presented by any geo-political zone. He presented himself four times because he had an agenda. He was not waiting for any zoning arrangement, but each time he came, he had people who supported him and all those who supported him are now gnashing their teeth and regretting. But he has gotten what he had always wanted and he is now riding roughshod over everyone. So, for anyone to ask a human being created by God to assure him of presidential power in 2023 is ridiculous. I feel ashamed on their behalf and they should know that no one is applauding that type of political naivety.