The former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance(APGA) and the current National Chairman and founder of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, has said that neither the All Progressives Congress(APC) nor the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) can save the nation from her present state. In this interview with
, he assures that a third force would dislodge the two leading parties in 2019 general elections.
This year is gradually coming to an end. Looking at the state of the nation in Nigeria today, what are generally your reflections ahead of 2018?
Talking seriously, quite frankly and very honestly, Nigeria has never been in this type of deplorable condition since the civil war. This is the worst situation I have witnessed since the Nigerian civil war. I am in my 60s, so I have been around and have witnessed so many years in Nigeria. I am talking about from the time I began to know my right from the left, I can tell you that we have never had it this bad since the period of the civil war. I am sure that those from the other side of the country did not experience this kind of situation during the war but on our own side in the Eastern region, the situation was terrible. But apart from that time, it has never been as tough as it is in Nigeria today. And the tragedy of it is that the government of the day is not doing anything meaningful to address it. They are rather busy blaming the previous government for every of their failures. It is such a tragedy and until the Nigerian political leaders of which I am one(of course I would not exonerate myself) develop a third force for 2019, Nigeria is doomed because if we are left with the All Progressives Congress(APC) as the only options, the only alternative may be a national disintegration. I can tell you that from my vantage position as an elder statesman.
But what is the possibility of an effective third force with the capacity to dislodge the APC and the PDP in 2019? Considering particularly that President Buhari wants to come back, do you think that it is possible to develop such a third force within the time frame?
In fact, that President Buhari wants to come back makes the third force even more inevitable because it would become a tragedy if he ever comes back. I have never minced words in saying this. This is a man I have supported in the past but I must tell you that President Buhari is a very big disappointment in every aspect whether it is in the aspect of national unity, fairness and justice to all or even in efficient administration. The government is most lethargic. Since Buhari came, no budget has achieved 40 per cent implementation and his first term is coming to an end. A third force has become more inevitable for especially those of us who want this country to survive. And I as an Igbo man have more reason than any other person to want Nigeria to survive and I have my reasons. That is why a third force is inevitable. Let all Nigerians pray that it succeeds; meetings are going on and realignment of forces are going on and I can tell you that I am not outside of those meetings. We do believe that when the third force comes, it would be remarkably different from everything the PDP and APC that are two sides of the same coin stands for.
The third force that you are talking about, in what manner will it be; will it be a coalition of parties or a straightforward political party?
That is why I said it would be a realignment of political forces. That is how I described it and that is how it is now. If you come out as an independent candidate, you would make little or no impact; there must be followership; there must be some structure you are bringing to the table. Mostly, it would be political parties but whether it would come by way of alliance or by way of everyone collapsing into another, is not what I can predict now but very positive, pro-active and pragmatic meetings are going on. There are some independents who are interested and who are coming in but they are coming in with what they have in terms of knowledge, resourcefulness and so on. But at the end of the day, this game is a game of politics and there is no way you would play it without political parties whether they are coming together as one or a coalition. For instance, we had a coalition government in the First Republic and we also had a coalition government in the Second Republic.
This third force that you are talking about, to what extent are people buying into it? And is the third force going to be made up of the same old political horses or will there be a generational shift this time?
Eventually, everybody is a politician, one way or the other and if you are not, then you cannot play politics. But there is a somewhat generational shift in the sense that someone like me who is in my 60s now is about the oldest class in the group. The others are younger than us, so to a large extent, there is a generational shift. But between the APC and the PDP, it is mostly gerontocrats that we find there. It is because of the age bracket of those who are holding sway. Notwithstanding that there are some young men there but still they submit to the gerontocrats.
Where are you drawing your optimism that the third force would be able to upstage the ruling party and the main opposition party in 2019?
There are two ways the third force can change the equation. One way is to get Nigerians to understand why there is a need to understand the need for a complete change of regime democratically. That is one way you could have a new government. The second way that is as clear as daylight is that the National Assembly would no more be controlled by any one political party to the point of running roughshod over Nigerians. So, we would now have a more robust opposition that would be a constructive check on whichever government that would be in power then. So, whichever way you look at it, the country would not be the same again.
Then on the present administration, what is your take on the $1billion demand by the Federal Government on the Excess Crude account for the fight against the Boko Haram insurgents?
It is a very suspicious demand in the sense that long ago, President Buhari told the whole nation that Boko Haram has been downgraded. At a point, he said that it has almost been defeated and somewhere along the line, we heard that even the United States and some super powers have been providing us with the ammunition and the technology to fight insurgency. But all of a sudden, we discovered that insurgency is even increasing now and assuming a devastating role. That means the government has not been very truthful to Nigerians with regards to the fight against insurgency. And now, they are demanding $1billion from the Excess Crude account. Ask yourself, crude from where? How much is being allocated to the East West road to develop that area producing the crude oil where the government wants to withdraw money from its sale. If they want us to have a little bit of charitable consideration of that demand, we need a breakdown of what that $1billion would be used for. It is about time in this country, the people who are leading Nigeria come out and be open to us. A lot of times, there is too much secrecy in governance especially under President Buhari as if we are running a secret cult. In everything, they give you some kind of general impression and leave you to use your own method to decipher what they have in mind. Nothing is being told Nigerians. What do you need $I billion for. What do you want to buy? You want to buy aircrafts or what. Is it to recruit more soldiers? Nothing is told Nigerians and now we have 2019 coming. So, the PDP that has taken advantage of it to say that they are just trying to raise money for 2019, they know what they are talking about because that was what they did in the build up to the 2015 general elections. But Buhari should know that in spite of the fact that the PDP raised $2.5 billion for 2015, they still failed. The $1 billion cannot sustain him in office. But unfortunately, power struggle in Nigeria has been reduced to a cabal. We have an unwritten electoral law that says that the highest bidder wins. That is where we are now. Perhaps if Obiano had not stopped the APC and even PDP, they would have occupied the Anambra State territory. And they would have been beating their chest that the people of Anambra have turned round to support them. In 2019, if care is not taken, we are going to experience another national bazaar in the form of election.
Next year 2018 is going to be very critical in Nigeria because it is going to be a year before the general elections. What are your projections in terms of likely political activities that Nigerians are going to see? Do you think it is going to be the same period of rallies or are we expecting something different?
The foundation for political activities that we would see in 2018 is already being laid. So, we are entering 2018 prepared for politicking. But as for the government, I doubt whether they are actually interested in delivering dividends of democracy to the people. For the government, I think they would use 2018 to accumulate as much money as possible to assist others because they know now is a bazaar kind of situation. So, Nigerians are going to have very rough 2018. They must tighten their belts for poor leadership, poor democracy dividends and governance delivery and more hardship. That is what I foresee in 2018.
I would also like to get your thoughts on the anti-corruption war of the present administration which many believe is one sided. The most recent example of the fight against corruption is the arrest and detention of the chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Innoson group of companies.
The anti-corruption war is not going smoothly. It is gradually becoming an instrument that would be used to prepare the ground for 2019. You are either submissive or you are in trouble. And that explains why everybody else is being made to submit. Most people, you may not have done anything unwholesome but just even to process your very hard and sincere earnings, you are now compelled to align with the ruling party. That is what we are noticing now and that is what is happening to Innoson. If tomorrow, Innoson that is a businessman and not known to belong to any political party says that Buhari would be re-elected in 2019, his situation would change. The anticorruption war especially with regards to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) has derailed. On the Innoson matter, every genuine Nigerian is concerned. And with the Innoson matter, an average Igbo man has come to terms with the situation in Nigeria. That is not good for the country. All of us no matter how ignorant we may be, we know that Innoson is involved in business and his problem with the EFCC emanated from his contract with a bank. Even if it is a problem of not paying appropriate duties, it is the Customs that should have been seen to be going after him for their revenue. But rather than the Customs, it is the EFCC this time. And look at what they are doing; they say one thing today, they say another thing tomorrow. The EFCC has come out with the most incoherent statement. It is a shame and we know that Chief Ibeto had gone through this type of experience before but may be, not as tough as this one. We are also not ignorant of the experience of the Chief Executive Officer of Capital Oil, Chief Ifeanyi Uba. And these are people who are contributing so positively and constructively to the national economic growth. Rather than receive awards for their contribution to the economy, this is the type of treatment they get. This is what is happening to the Igbo people. Why must it be like that?
So, looking at the situation, what type of politics should the Igbo play ahead of 2019 general elections?
I have my own programme which I have discussed with a few associates to build a momentum for Igbo political resurgence. At the moment, the Igbo political situation is most deplorable and tragic. It pains my heart. It makes me cry daily because the elders where I also belong have failed. The youth are not helping matters and we now have a young generation whose future may even be worse than what we are having now. This is because they have nothing to learn and all they do everywhere whether on T.V, social media or anywhere is to denigrate or insult their elders. And we know that you do not gain anything by simply insulting; why not come up with a superior argument, position or logic so that you put your elders at the spot and not to call them names. These are the kind of youths we have now. We went to Anambra, campaigned and presented an agenda of self-determination, referendum and so on for which the youth would have fallen for. But in the election, they responded to the flash of the Naira. Once the Naira was presented, they forgot their so-called call for freedom. They dropped the so-called quest for self-determination.
They went for the Naira. And that is why I said if Governor Obiano was not there to outwit these people, Igbo land would have been conquered again. If we had lost that election, we would have lost a second time and we nearly did. That was the reason why for whatever reasons, I still have my soft spot for Obiano because he saved all of us from disgrace. You know that it is not as if Obiano won out of popularity; let it be understood. The candidate of the UPP, Chidoka was more popular than any of the others; let us say the truth. But when it came to bidding, Obiano did not allow the invaders and the python dance organizers to outbid us. To that extent, to God be the glory.