Says Uwazuruike never betrayed Nnamdi Kanu or Ndigbo
National President of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie is trying to put out the fire ignited by supporters of the Indigeneous People of Biafra leader, Nnamdi Kanu and those of Biafra Independence Movement, BIM, Ralph Uwazuruike. In this interview with SaturdaySun, Okorie explains why the two Biafra agitators should sheathe their sword. He also raised concerns over the decision of the Federal Government to suspend the Code of Corporate Governance of the Financial Reporting Council, which stipulates the tenure for heads of religious and other non-governmental organisations, without following due process. He spoke further on this and more with LAWRENCE ENYOGHASU.
Do you think Ndigbo is united under Ohanaeze and prepared to take its rightful place in the 2019 election?
Well, you asked two questions, the first is that I don’t see Ohanaeze as a body involving itself in politics. As a matter of fact, being somebody who was there at its formation in 1976, I can tell you that I was part of the constitution drafting team headed by Chief John Nnandi and the secretary, who produced the constitution Ohanaeze is using today. I can therefore, tell you that there is nothing in the Ohanaeze constitution including its objectives that has anything to do with partisanship. It is a pan-Igbo social cultural organization designed to promote Igbo interest and preserve its rich cultural heritage. It is also interested in education, and economy. It is not in any way involved in partisanship. As a matter of fact, it is the derailment into partisanship that was so manifest under the leadership of late Ambassador Raph Uwechue that gave Ohanaeze a bad image and made the organization look almost an arm of the PDP but I came out very strongly to recommend Chief John Nwodo based on what I know about him and I assure you and your readers that the executive that we have now, not only Chief Nwodo but the executive that was recently elected, is about the most formidable executive Ohanaeze has in recent times. People who are very committed to Ndigbo. I have a person I respect very much, much younger but he is the Secretary of Ohanaeze, Barrister Uche Okwukwu from Rivers State. Practically, every other person on the executive can stand on his own and will refuse to be manipulated against Igbo interest, so, I can vouch for these executives.The important thing is that the law is made for man, not man for the law. It is for the overwhelming majority of the Igbo people to embrace the new executive rather than start fishing in troubled waters. My advice to whosoever is in court is that they should discontinue their court action in the overall interest of the Igbo people. I said this with every sense of responsibility as an Igbo elder, I was in Ohanaeze before some of those dragging the body to court. Many of those there now, I was there long before they came and I want to say that it would be a very big disharmony and embarrassment to the Igbo nation for people to hear that after such a successful election, that we are having litigation that is unnecessary and uncalled for. Whatever is the technical reason they have, we have had situations that we have practically imposed an executive, for instance, when Ambassador Uwechue became the President-General.
Some people are even saying that Igbo people should go forward to contest the presidency in 2019. What’s your view on that?
Why not? If you remember that it was for this purpose I founded APGA in the first place. When I founded APGA , the first policy of APGA was to draw the presidential post to the South East. We have been here since the Ikemba started the party but I was not a member at the time. We were doing that so that the like of Dr Alex Ekwueme and all the people who contested for the presidency on different political platforms but treated with ignominy could have the opportunity. You cannot name many Igbo people, so it’s not as if Igbo people are not eager to run for leadership at the highest level of this country, it’s just that they have never been given the opportunity. I founded APGA for that purpose and the Ikemba benefited. Although we didn’t win at the centre, but if crisis had not erupted few years after the election, in subsequent elections, we could have had an Igbo man up there. In the two presidential elections subsequently, those who snatched APGA’s flag from me sold their presidential tickets for whatever amount or condition but nothing was then published.They simply adopted President Jonathan of the PDP from 2011 to 2015. So, Igbo people were missing in action. It was for that reason that I founded UPP immediately so that Igbo people can have a platform to contest. Come 2019, an Igbo man will contest the presidential election. If anybody is telling you otherwise, the person must be a dreamer.
Why are you not declaring your interest? Leaders like Atiku Abubakar and Sule Lamido are already gearing up
There is an Igbo saying that you have to secure a club before you begin to battle for where to play your own match, if there is no club, you will carry your match on your head. UPP is a young party and trying to carve a niche for itself, to promote its own ideological direction that is totally different from the other parties that go with the name of progressives like the APC and PDP. They are central conservative platforms, that is why our position on the issue of referendum, self determination, true federalism, devolution of power and others are expressed in our manifesto which will be ratified at our next convention and registered with the INEC. That’s why we are doing this thing now, it is gaining ground and people are beginning to see a big difference between UPP and the rest. So this is not the time to promote personal ambition except for Anambra state where the election is this year. Those who wish to run are beginning to show interest but at the same time, there is a central rule that will specify when any aspirant can come out openly and say he is running for the office of president. There are people saying Atiku is running for president. I have not heard him say that but it is implied by his body language. As for Lamido, I can’t put together exactly what he says but I know he has to declare which version of PDP he is because he is talking about running, whether he is forming a new party, that one is hanging in the air.
There is this talk about an imminent Mega party, how possible is this and do you think it can dislodge APC in the 2019 presidential poll?
There is no Mega party, there is nothing like that. It is not even an attractive option.You know Nigerians like to copy, because APC managed to succeed and it is already imploding. Within APC, you can see the cleavages that came together. The ACN, the CPC, ANPP they are still standing apart. They have not fused into one body. You can identify the various components that came together, that was not a proper merger. That is why the implosion is easily foreseen. It may not be until 2019 before APC becomes a shadow of itself. But as I said, Nigerians like to copy and because of the APC experience, some people are beginning to talk about Mega party but take it from me that there is nothing like that, it is a bad dream.
You said it might not be up to 2019 before APC becomes a shadow of itself. What are the signals you’re seeing?
The indicators are everywhere, the crises that we have; the killings in the North, in the middle belt, in the south east, south-south, even in the south west, all of these things are assuming political dimension. All of these businesses that are feeling unprotected are also included. The first business of government is to the citizens as enumerated in the constitution of Nigeria; to protect and provide for the welfare of its citizens. There is no security of life and property, the welfare is not there, there is open nepotism. People are even being alienated and people are waiting for the appropriate time to express themselves through democratic means and that is through the ballot box and vote in the direction that they think they will be better protected. So, we will be expecting more political parties with geo-political interests. So when we have a situations like that, we are not going to have one political party sweeping across the whole country and controlling the national assembly and all the state government, that won’t happen again. The present APC government has cajoled everybody to have the mentality that we need to protect ourselves. So, I am expecting the issue, of course, interest based democratic contest in 2019.
What is your stand on Nnamdi Kanu detention?
Let me seize the opportunity to appeal to President Buhari to release Nnamdi Kanu and other members of IPOB. He should also release Barrister Nwoka of BIM and those in Enugu prison, Nnamdi is in Kuje and his associates. I appeal to him to release these people and others I have not mentioned whose only offence is the expression of their political views. It is in the interest of this country to release them unconditionally and very soon too. I remember when Nnamdi Kanu was first arrested, I was the first, within that first week to call for his immediate release without conditions. Now, the man has become a kind of cult figure that government is afraid of him. If this government can go back to the various arrests they made in the past, they will know that those arrests have worsened the problem they intended to solve. The issue of Mohammed Yusuf of Boko Haram who was arrested but unfortunately killed added to what we are fighting in the North today. The arrest of El-Zakzaky of Shiite has not cooled the temper in that area. Look at the way Kaduna is now, it is difficult to know who is actually killing the other in Kaduna and the arrest of Nnamdi Kanu has so badly affected the unity of this country had and there is practically no Igbo man with Biafra blood in him or her that will not be agitated by the arrest of Nnamdi. So I don’t know why government will not listen to the voice of the people and allow peace to reign. If Nnamdi Kanu is released today and the others, there would be laughter and jubilation for a while, they will continue whatever they are doing and Nigeria would be quiet and the tension will reduce.
Recently, Chief Raphael Uwazuruike came down hard Nnamdi Kanu, calling him names. What’s your take on that?
When allegation was made by some spokespersons of IPOB that he was one of those to be masked to testify in the secret trial of Nnamdi Kanu, he invited the press on the first day of the trial to tell them that he was in Owerri and was not in Abuja as a witness against Nnamdi. I read the statement. It was already in the papers. There, he said if he had any need to testify it would not be masking himself to do so, that he will do it in open court. But there is no reason to testify against Nnamdi. Uwazuruike never betrayed Kanu. Unfortunately, some people have taken it the other way but I have a passionate appeal, if what you people are doing in your paper I will appreciate it, to appeal to our people to stop listening to rumours that will not help anyone.
Look at what happened to El-Zakzaky, Nnamdi and recently Jim Obazee. Buhari suspended a law without due process, he said the law should be suspended because it affected a pastor. People are saying that we are actually in a military government situation. Do you believe so?
Not many knew about that law before it blew out when Pastor Adeboye obeyed that law, that was something unusual in our statues; affecting us as Christians, Pastors and Christian denominations. You cannot hear an Emir given certain tenure. I don’t even know churches register with corporate affairs commission.