The National Chairman and founder of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, has said that the crises bedeviling the All Progressives Congress (APC), will benefit opposition parties, as members of the ruling party were seriously making overtures to his party.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Chief Okorie, who was the National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) before forming UPP, stated that the APC government is already doomed for one term and will be thoroughly disgraced in the 2019 elections.
All is not well with Nigeria. Insecurity everywhere. Why is this so and what is the way out?
This is a clear indictment on government for its failure to provide basic services to its people. Poverty has increased to its highest level; most times the security is not focused and not adequate to protect lives and property of the citizens. There is too much of fire brigade approach to the issue of security. About 10 million jobs have been lost and none created, as a result of the downward trend in the economy, which has also led to many businesses closing down.
When you have many unemployed youths, you will experience increase in many vices.
There is parochial attitude of the government, especially under Burahi’s administration, in terms of appointments to very critical government agencies, ministries and departments. There is some kind of perceived connivance to the Fulani herdsmen terrorism. Just recently, the president has woken up to mere visits without concrete actions to the areas the herdsmen have attacked.
Like I said earlier, our security policies are almost pedestrian, the idea of asking people, who have licensed guns to surrender them, including the vigilance groups, is very unintelligent and counter productive because these vigilantes have not been recorded anywhere to pose a security threat, instead, they have helped to reduce kidnapping, banditry in many communities. In some of these communities, especially in the South East, relative peace has returned and people are going there even to invest.
The same government is making a general statement that even vigilantes should return guns that are licensed, which they have used responsibly, it is to me cutting our nose to spite our face.
These are some of the things to make Nigeria to look like a failed state. That is the situation we are in now, and those who described Nigeria as a failed state are not far from the truth.
The issues of nepotism and parochialism have made so many people to feel disconnected; and they think that they have no stake in Nigeria. Patriotism is no longer there, as there is no motivation to be patriotic.
Unfortunately, 2019 that should give the people hope to correct some of these things, they are not confident that this present INEC can guarantee and conduct free and credible elections, which is tragic. If people lose faith in the exercise that will make them demonstrate franchise and opinion through the ballot box, then that will be the end of Nigeria.
That is what so many people are raising the fears on, including the recent fears expressed by the Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu, on what will happen if we continue in this way, with nonchalant leadership at the centre, and we approach the 2019 general elections.
I don’t think Nigerians will like to go through this kind of situation in another four years.
The only way out is to have free and fair credible elections, and for it to even happen, it must be predicated on full electronic voting systems, which will eliminate loopholes that lead to wanton manipulations of elections.
The amended electoral law incorporating these recommendations is in the Bill that some people prevailed on Mr. President not to accent because of a clause of the order of election.
Since he was not patriotic enough to accent to it and if the National Assembly is able to veto it because of the number of members required to do so, then he has laid a very solid foundation for anarchy that Nigeria may not survive.
What then are your expectations for 2019?
Nigerians are rational, and if given the opportunity to express their views through the ballot box, which is the only democratic precept of getting a regime changed, I don’t think majority of Nigerians with their clear minds and conscience will want the situation we are in to continue.
The APC is one term government; it will be thoroughly disgraced at the poll. Nigerians, both high and low, men and women have almost decided on this.
If elder statesmen and former heads of state and retired generals can come together in spite of their usual comradeship that characterised their relationship to also say no to this very government in term of 2019, then you can see the extent of general discontent and disapproval of the methods of President Buhari.
APC is in crises to the extent that a committee was set up to reconcile factions, is your party reaping from this?
We are already reaping from the crises. We could be one of those who predicted at the early stage that this situation would come. We knew that the three or four parties that came together were characteristically strange bedfellows, and because of the president’s ways of almost appropriating everything to not just his own relations, but to those who were loyal to him in the defunct CPC, which was part of the so-called merger, the other groups would definitely be dissatisfied. Looking at the way the NASS leadership was formed, almost to the open disapproval of the leadership of this country and the leadership of the party, we also knew that it would just be a matter of time for crises to erupt.
In fact, it started earlier than we thought; we thought it would start as they were getting to the period of nomination of candidates, and there would be movements of politicians from one party to another, but they didn’t seem to be patient to wait, and they are already joining us.
UPP is well deep into negotiations for coalition of parties. We saw the need, and we have always believed that coalition of political parties have become the trend all over the world.
Just recently, for the second time or third time that the SDP of Germany, now had to consummate their own coalition with the ruling CDU to form government in Germany. The government there is a coalition of conservative and liberal parties. It is so in Israel, and even in Kenya.
Nigeria being a very large complex heterogeneous society is a very fertile ground for coalition of parties to be able to form a very stable government in future.
Above all, President Buhari has awakened so much ethnic consciousness that many people are going back to their base to re-launch to the centre. The implication of this is that they are returning to parties that are strongly rooted in certain geo-political zones, and return to the centre for some kind of coalition because no man is an island unto himself.
UPP is deep into that, and it will not be until April, before some of our meetings that have almost reached the stage of signing memorandum of understanding can go public. If it goes public too early, it may be sabotaged, just like this thing they are doing in SDP. They didn’t seem to have planned it well; they just launched themselves there thinking that everybody would flood into SDP, but some of them who went there eventually are now pulling out again because of lack of thorough planning. I don’t think they even drew MoU to determine what they are doing.
We are trying to learn from these premature actions and their after effect. We are working, and in terms of Southeast, the UPP led by me is anchoring it. In the west, I won’t mention him; he is also a formidable leader there. In the north, we are satisfied with the people we are talking with.
Does what you are saying represent the third force that former President Olusegun Obasanjo called for?
Third force is a concept, it is not as if it was designed as a political party or group of parties. It is an idea that a coalition of political parties should come up, strong enough to change the APC regime and not to give PDP any chance to resurface.
It is an idea to stop both APC and PDP because these are two sides of the same coin. It does not move Nigeria to leave from APC to PDP that has been there for 16 years. It is interesting that Obasanjo who was PDP president for eight years is championing this in terms of arousing national psyche to make sure that these two parties don’t come back. You can also relate that to the efforts of Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, who is also leading a movement to giving a red card to both APC and PDP. Disapproval of these two parties is trending because none of them can hold any promise for the future of this country. What is going on now is the realignment of political forces, and I can see two major groups, the group I’m associated with and the SDP group, whether there will be a meeting point at somewhere, I don’t know, and I’m not ruling that out either.
We are making efforts to consolidate in our area of strength and then stretching out our hands to embrace a coalition to make our people more relevant at the national level and of course be part of the new government.
Except for Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, who led the Eastern Region to negotiate to get relevant at the national level in the First Republic, no other Igbo political leader has thought in that direction not to talk of making an attempt. Without sounding immodest, that was the whole idea of founding APGA, and that was the whole idea of presenting Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, so that we could consolidate in the Southeast and then go further to negotiate. Unfortunately, that didn’t work, and because that vision remains alive in me, and my associates, we had to go back to the drawing table. Ten years after founding APGA, we founded another one on the same vision. We are five years old, and this is our first major participation in a general election.
Igbo are saying they are not looking towards 2019, but 2023 for the presidency, what is your view?
Those who hold this position are politically naïve. Whoever gave them the idea of any date in the future is what I cannot understand. This issue of our turn has been there since 1999. It was thought that Dr. Alex Ekwueme was going to be that person that would give us that. Everybody accepted that Ekwueme was a loyal vice president to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, and the Third Republic was an opportunity to reward him for his loyalty and commitment to the Nigerian project. What happened to him doesn’t require any repeat here.
Since 1999, it has been our turn next time, and how many years till now?
Look at President Buhari, he waited for his turn for four consecutive presidential elections. The fourth one, he was able to find out what he didn’t get right before, which was reaching out more proactively to other geo-political zones, especially in the west, where he found allies.
He was not waiting for anybody to come and give it to the north before he could contest.
If you look at 2023, assuming unfortunately that APC returns to power because that is what they are betting on when they say that Buhari returning to power is the surest way to Igbo presidency.
If APC returns to power, is it this vice president that has shown loyalty and commitment to Buhari; who kept the boat from sinking when Buhari was away for about 100 days on health matters, is he and his people that Buhari will jettison to come to Igbo land to pick a presidential candidate? Are they reasoning with their heads or through other parts of their bodies? I can’t understand this.
You say, ok, it is 2027, who told you that by that time that the political equation of Nigeria will be such that everybody will go to Southeast to select a candidate, especially in a multi party arrangement, where the constitution of the country doesn’t provide for rotation. I don’t understand some of these people who call themselves Igbo leaders. It doesn’t make sense because there is nothing like that.
Some of us are talking about restructuring; I believe in that, it is in the party manifesto of UPP, including referendum, self-determination of ethnic nationalities. You can’t pursue this if you don’t have people who are convinced about these things in the NASS and the State Assemblies.
This is a challenge that confronts us at this time; not making very childish statements that will make us look so politically unintelligent.
INEC has registered 68 political parties, which means ballot papers will be the size of a page of newspaper, what is your take on this?
We may have up to 110 because INEC said, another 42 will be registered soon.
This is one of the reasons that I will continue to canvass full electronic voting system. If we have that, it doesn’t matter if we have one thousand1,000 political parties because you don’t need ballot papers. All you need to do is to scroll on the laptop and the logo of the party you want to vote for will appear, and then you punch on it, your vote goes.
There will be no multiple voting, and the idea that you have to queue for hours before you can vote will be eliminated; the idea that you have to go to the very spot where you registered to vote will also be eliminated, and you don’t need security personnel as such. You don’t need public holiday, as people can go and vote and return to their places of work and markets. You don’t restrict movement or declare public holiday on an entire nation without minding the opportunity cost of such holidays. We already have so much public holidays on religious ground in the country, and to add two or three days is much.
The answer is full electronic voting. When the NASS adopted it some of us celebrated because we have arrived at the point where the people’s votes will count, which will make participation in the electoral process attractive, and some people told the president that it would not be in his interest as if he would be there forever.