Chief Chekwas Okorie was the former National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and its presidential candidate in the 2015 election.
Following the de-registration of the party recently among other 73 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), UPP collapsed its structures into the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Chief Okorie who may win the award as the longest-standing opposition politician from the Southeast, revealed why his party settled for the APC, why the APC has been struggling to survive in the Southeast, his dream of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023 and the call for granting of amnesty to repentant Boko Haram, among other national issues. Excerpt:
Why did you and your party members in United Progressive Party (UPP) settle for the APC, critics say it’s because APC is the ruling party and that you want to remain relevant?
Well, critics are entitled to their opinion, they have a right to think the wrong way and make wrong conclusions. The truth is that it’s a common knowledge, it’s now public knowledge that our party, the United Progressive Party (UPP) is one of the 74 political parties deregistered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), so by that pronouncement, technically we no longer have a political party, more so, that we have decided, not me but the National Executive Committee (NEC) decided that we shall not challenge the INEC decision in court, not because we do not have points to raise in court against the deregistration of UPP, but because we are aware based on previous experience that the course of justice in Nigeria is very slow and since the INEC is determined to see through what it has said rightly or wrongly, the litigation may not end until at the Supreme Court. Being somebody who has led the struggle to save the soul of APGA for eight years, that took me to Supreme Court three times, including interlocutory appeals; it could have been unwise for me to choose the third option. Then secondly, I can claim without any fear of contradiction that I am the longest standing opposition politician in the entire Southeast geo-political zone of not Nigeria. I have been in the opposition long before APGA, I have been in opposition for over three decades and that means I was also in the opposition against the military. The records are all there and I can tell you that opposition is a lonely road especially among the Igbo people and with the vast experience I already have it will, therefore, be politically unwise to move from one opposition party to yet another opposition party. There were mouth-watering offers made to us, In fact, by our deregistration, we became a beautiful bride, but we said to ourselves that we will not be making any progress if we are moving from one opposition party to another. And considering that in 2018 we had opted to support President Muhammadu Buhari in his bid for his second term in the 2019 presidential election unconditionally, it will, therefore, be a logical follow-up to continue along that political trajectory by collapsing our structures into the APC. This is, in a nutshell, the rationale behind our actions.
I asked the question because if you look at your zone, so to speak, the Southeast, the strong perception over there is that the APC and its President, Muhammadu Buhari has not been fair to Ndigbo in terms of political benefits and appointment?
I can tell you that in the area of appointments Ndigbo have not fared better as well as they fared under President Jonathan or the PDP government, but in the area of democratic dividends, what President Muhammadu Buhari has done for the Southeast in less than five years of being in office is far more than what the PDP tried to do because they never did anything in 16 years of being in office. It is even more painful if you remember that at a certain period in this democratic process from 1999 the entire Southeast geo-political zone invested their political capital in the PDP. By that I mean that all the states of the Southeast, all the senators from the Southeast, members of House of Representatives, all the state assemblies, all the local governments in the Southeast all belonged to the PDP, no other geo-political zone invested the totality of their political capital in the PDP like the Southeast, but what did the Southeast get? Share wickedness, outright political wickedness from the PDP because not one project was ever started and completed in the entire Igboland and I want to be proved wrong by anybody. In fact, from 1970 that the war ended till the President Buhari administration came in, not even a cottage industry, a cottage industry which even private people can build was built in the Southeast by the PDP governments even the military government, so much so that the independent power project at Ariaria market which President Buhari started and completed and commissioned when he came to flag-off his campaign in Aba for his second term in office was the very first project ever started and completed in the whole of Southeast from 1970 to the time he commissioned it. Then look at the second Niger Bridge, everybody now know that it is a reality that by 2022 that bridge will be completed with all its grandeur because when you look at it and the design even from your Google, I mean when you Google it, you know it is pleasing, you will see something that will make you happy. Look at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, it was international by nickname only because I have never seen an international airport where an aircraft cannot land and take-off in the night, but by the 31st of March, this year next month following the time-table of this government that airport will be truly international in content and in every ramification. Then we are talking about the road from Enugu to Onitsha express road, Enugu to Port Harcourt express road. I live in the East, I visit Abuja, I travel around the East, the quality of road being done and work is continuous, was never done at any time before now. This is the same president that you said has not done anything, so what is the use that you appoint our sons in all sorts of positions and all that they can show for it is their children attending the most expensive schools abroad? And there is not even a kilometer of road to show for it. If that is what appointments mean, you can go with it and give us democracy dividends. This is my position; no party in Nigeria since I became an adult except the military had hated the Igbo more than the PDP. So, it would have been suicidal, if I had gone to join the PDP, I would have simply died out of betraying myself, it could have been self-betrayal that is why I said it could have been suicidal. But all those that are in the PDP and have justification for being there, good luck to them.
You don’t think that the PDP in 2023 can upturn the political table to take over leadership of the country?
Of course, you know that is not possible (laughs). First of all, let me tell you that the average Igbo man is not cut out for opposition…. PDP is down and out, no redemption.
The support they got from Igbo people in 2019 was the same deceit and propaganda that they were going to march to Aso Rock and win it and many people naively believed that so when they lost and Atiku Abubakar lost by nearly 4 million votes it was done on the Igbo people that the game is over for the PDP. To tell you the Igbo people are not cut out for opposition, look at what happened in Imo State, the moment my good friend Senator Hope Uzodinma won to become governor in less than two weeks, the state assembly that didn’t have a single APC seat now have 26 out of the 27 of the seats there, that is the Igbo man for you. And the only people sustaining the PDP are Igbo people and I will do everything within my power to shutdown PDP in the hearts of Igbo people all over Nigeria by bringing out the facts of PDP wickedness for them to see, know, make comparison and choose wisely. Ndigbo will no longer be deceived when they have the right and true information. Let any PDP man counter me with facts rather than sending Facebook rats to attack me, I don’t care, I deal with facts and I have stuck my neck out for Ndigbo. I am the only person that Ohanaeze gave Ogbaturuenyi Ndigbo (the one that killed an elephant for his people), it was not for nothing, it was for giving Ndigbo political identity. It was the late Justice Ozobu leadership that conferred the title on me in recognition of my founding APGA (All Progressive Grand Alliance), no other person dead or alive has ever been given a title by the national body of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. So, when I speak, I speak with passion, I speak with a certain level of commitment that is self- evident.
Do you share the view that the APC is simply struggling for survival in the Southeast?
Well, the APC came under a barrage of very vicious propaganda mounted against it and the president in the Southeast and among Ndigbo all over the country, but noticeable improvement occurred in 2019 when some of us joined to promote the party in the Southeast except for Anambra State that gave the president six per cent, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi states gave the president over and above the minimum 25 per cent required to win election. Enugu came close, but it didn’t quite make 25 per cent, so that is an improvement from the average five per cent that was given to President Buhari in 2015. Now with me fully involved and others we are marching into Anambra to deliver the governorship to APC in Anambra in 2021. I will be fully involved in that effort with all my associates and others. And that will be the beginning of sweeping across the entire Igbo land and by 2023 President Buhari must have done his beat well by the grace of God and we shall insist even before then that it will make for the finale healing of the wounds of the war if an Igbo man is given the opportunity to become president in 2023. And we have to make that point not by force, not by flexing muscles, but by diplomacy, by showing commitment, by political sagacity, by engagement, by building bridges, etc, all this we will do, not by wishful thinking and we will also impress it on the president that he will be writing his name in gold if he gives efficacy to that aspiration of the Igbo people and it will now bring the type of unity that Nigeria has been clamouring to have. The prospects are very bright. If I didn’t see how bright the prospects are I wouldn’t waste my time.
But does it not bother you that despite the big names in the party (APC) from the Southeast, ministerial appointees as well as other political appointments, the party is yet to get its bearing right. What other things do you suspect is wrong?
Well, I don’t want to criticize anybody, I mean those that you have in mind, but all I know is that we shall all join hands together to improve on the situation as it is now. I have just arrived and I have been trying to reach out to all those people you have in mind, I have spoken to many of them one-on-one, even those that you don’t have in your mind I have been getting in touch, but take it from me that there will be a radical change for the better. Let me just tell you that the PDP is on a free fall, and is not even a major contender in the Southeast. Everybody who knows my interest in having an Igbo man become president will know that I will also pursue that agenda with all the connections I have across the country, most of whom I am meeting in APC. So, there is no cause for alarm, the prospect is even brighter now.
The security challenge in the land seems to have gone so bad that the House of Representatives is calling for the sack or resignation of Security Chiefs. What is your take on it?
Well, on the issue of Serving Chiefs, I can say that none of us can claim to know more than the president who is the Commander-in-Chief, concerning the Service Chiefs whether they are performing or not. Yes, we have our various feeling that there is a need for more creative and fresh ideas. But to me the answer to insecurity in the country outside of the war situation which only the army can confront because insurgency in the Northeast, there is a war going on there, there is no better way to describe it. On the issue of security, I have never minced words over the years, even when I contested for the presidency of this country in 2015, I continued to emphasize the need for state police and community policing. Even the brand of the community policing that we are trying to do is not enough, it is still like beating around the bush. They know what a state and community police mean and what we need is just the political will; once we have that done this insecurity issue will be addressed to a very large extent. Nigeria is too large for a central police command, everybody knows that, but we don’t want to accept the truth and we lack the political will to do what is right in that area. But in the case of insurgency, I believe there is so much of the military hardware acquired especially the air power is much more impressive now than before and with greater motivation of our troops, I believe that the president’s assurance that in very due course the remnants of the insurgents should be routed is achievable, but the overall nobody sleeps with his two eyes closed and the answer is state police and community policing, that is where I stand.
Some people are advocating that amnesty should be extended to the repentant Boko Haram members…?
(Cut’s in) No, no, no. Any person who is suggesting that is not being reasonable, it defiles every logic. Look at Niger Republic, they just executed recently, just last week 10 Boko Haram insurgents who came and killed their over 30 citizens. They got them, tried them quickly and got them executed and here you are talking about giving amnesty. You see the Boko Haram has been classified by the Nigerian government and the international community as a terrorist organisation and it has been further classified by the USA as the 4th most dangerous terrorist organisation in the world. To begin to say that any person coming out of that hard life that has reduced human life to nothingness will be granted amnesty is a great disservice to national unity and it will be unfair to the soul and spirit of all of those that were unjustly killed, innocent children, women, and men, some were slaughtered in a rather gruesome manner, some had their executions dramatized and recorded in a video clip distributed to the public in the social media platforms in a manner that so many people convulse on watching such gruesome decapitation of human persons. And people who committed that kind of atrocity are being considered for some comfort, honestly whoever that is advocating for it, but the good thing is that it is not an executive bill, that is just the comforting thing on my side because I would have been thoroughly embarrassed if the government that I am supporting so vehemently is contemplating that in any form or manner, but it’s a private member bill and I advise that it should be withdrawn immediately because it’s not only an embarrassment, it is scandalous not only to us in Nigeria, but also to the international community