National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, has applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the June 12 bill into law. He however said the Federal Government erred by not honouring Humphrey Nwosu, Chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission (NEC) that conducted the June 12,1993 presidential election and ensured it was credible.
June 12 is now Democracy Day after President Muhammadu Buhari passed the bill into law. What significance does this day hold for you?
It is significant to me and many Nigerians because it represents the day that Nigerians came out and voted overwhelmingly for a candidate of their choice irrespective of tribe, religion and all the things that have divided this country since independence. Nobody bothered where MKO Abiola came from or what religion he professed. On that day, democracy was demonstrated in a manner that has not been repeated by Nigerians ever since. So for me, I look at it with positivity as something that we should continue to celebrate until Nigerians get back to that time where people were voted for based on their own merits and not on account of sentiments and prejudices.
Was it ideal for the date to be declared Democracy Day since May 29 was the day that Nigerians ushered in a democratic dispensation after many years of military rule?
I think it is very ideal that today was declared Democracy Day. The inauguration is a day that can change. We have seen the Supreme Court altered inauguration dates in some states like Anambra, Ondo, and Osun and so on. So an event may happen similar to what happened in those states in the future and the date may change. But June 12 will never change forever as a date when an event occurred. Just like similar dates we have all over the world, this is a historical day which date can never be altered. One thing that I find very interesting about it is that Nigerians, irrespective of religion, seem to applaud President Buhari for what he has done; as a matter of fact, it was a pleasant surprise because people didn’t expect that he would be the one to do it. It is a good legacy that he has allowed to be.
Considering the conduct of the recent general elections and some of the statements he had made in the past which many criticised him for and accuse him of being divisive, do you think Nigerians have learnt any lessons from what happened during the June 12 election?
I will put it this way; on the part of the government, especially the Federal Government, I will say that the person at the helm of affairs can sometimes influence things positively or negatively. In the last election, the president can be given the credit that there was no iota of interference on his own part. If anything had happened to make the election very violent and rancorous, it should be blamed on party leadership. I am a party leader myself and I can tell you that we cannot escape blame, because the type of congresses and primary elections that were held created room for violence at the level of the parties. The court litigations also point to this fact. Buhari tried more than any democratic president before him to distance himself from interfering in this election.
What of the deployment of the military for the election which led to violence in states like Rivers? Was that not a factor since he is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces?
As a matter of fact, if there was interference on the part of the president, I do not think PDP would have won Rivers State. I want to tell you that people were afraid that this election was going to be very bloody all over the country, so there was need for Nigeria to deploy all its forces to quell riots. Unfortunately, some politicians abused the deployment of these forces but at the end of the day, the president insisted that the right thing must be done. I am not in PDP, but it was obvious to every Nigerian that Governor Nyesom Wike was the popular candidate in Rivers State. If he was not returned as governor, the election would have been difficult to defend. At the end of the day, it is difficult to say that the president directly involved himself in the violence that occurred in Rivers State. That state has always been a problem area even under the PDP. The good thing and part of the lessons learned is that the president is beginning to talk about true federalism. Also more and more Nigerians including former President Goodluck Jonathan said that the issue of electronic voting, which I have been very passionate about has become imperative that whatever misgivings people may have, the advantages still outweighs the disadvantages.
The main actors in the June 12 struggle, Abiola and Kingibe have been honored but nothing has been said about the man who conducted the election that was adjudged to be the most credible in the history of the country. Does Humphrey Nwosu deserve recognition?
Quite frankly, it was a major omission that Nwosu wasn’t given the honor he deserves. Some of us spoke out at that time saying that he has to be given a place of honour for being the one that conducted what has generally been accepted as the freest and fairest election in Nigeria. It is not late in the day for a special honour to be given to him now that he is still alive. I will recommend that a very high national honour and a monument should be named after him to recognise the role he played, because he put his life on the line to see that the right thing was done. If there was no Humphrey Nwosu, we would not be talking about June 12 because he refused to allow that election to be manipulated. Instead what the government did was to come with the high handedness of the military to annul it. Not giving Humphrey Nwosu his due recognition remains an omission that I believe the president would revisit.
Already political players have begun strategising on the 2023 general elections. Do you see any possibility of actualising a South East presidency on the ticket of the ruling party?
The brightest chance the South East has to produce the president of Nigeria is in 2023 for many reasons. One, there is the convention that power will rotate between the South and the North, so for every person with any sense of equity and fairness, such a person will give it to the South in 2023. Coming to the South, it is the South East that has never produced the president of Nigeria since independence. Yet the Igbo played the most significant roles in securing independence for the country. However, I have always said that no person gives any person power on the milk of human kindness of the giver of the power. You have to work and contest for it. The South East has a job to do, but it is unfortunate that while some of us are reaching out and building bridges and holding meetings on how to get this done with minimum stress, some people whom I call pseudo intellectuals begin to tell you that we don’t want the presidency, that what we want is restructuring as if you can separate the two. It is only the president of a country that can invoke a national conference or even come up with restructuring and lobby the National Assembly more effectively than any individual or group of people can ever do. So I marvel at those people who do not see the link between the so called restructuring they are clamouring for and the presidency; it baffles me.
However, I believe that Nigerians with a fair mind across the country believe that the Igbo should be given the chance. I see many non-Igbo speaking Nigerians speaking more forcefully for a South East presidency when our own people who are supposed to lead the effort are the ones saying we don’t want the presidency. I can assure you that because of the enormity of the work to be done, the 2023 plans have started in earnest. It is not too early. The lessons we have learned is that mushroom parties and even alliances are not likely to lead to any major power shift. It is very clear now that a merger is the way to go. We saw the CUPP go into alliance with the PDP and it amounted to nothing, so mergers are the order of the day if you are serious about being a critical player in the power equation of the country.