Former presidential candidate, Chief Chekwas Okorie, is a man who has paid his dues in the Nigerian political scene. He was founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the current National Chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP).
In this interview with Ajibola Abayomi, he addresses some political pains of Ndigbo and other national issues. Excerpts…
You contested the last election alongside President Muhammadu Buhari and others, what is your assessment of his performance so far?
Fulani headsmen, militia groups’ operations, coupled with Boko Haram insurgency in the nation are sufficient tragedies to overwhelm and unsettle any government. In this regard, assessing Buhari’s performance without giving due consideration to some of these problems I have highlighted here will be most uncharitable. Let me reiterate, that a fair assessment of Buhari’s performance will be dispassionately x-rayed after the 2017 budget.
Considering the nature of the crises caused by regional militias like Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Avengers and Boko Haram, would you say the people are the problem or the government?
The IPOB, the Avengers and the Boko Haram should not to be lumped together as regional militias. The Boko Haram is a separatist religious jihadist Army who came out long before the government of Buhari to declare the Caliphate Republic with the stated objective to overrun the North in the first instance and establish a strictly Islamic government in the area. In such situation, the government has little option in what has turned out to be a civil war (than) to protect any part of the territorial integrity of Nigeria from being annexed by the Boko Haram.
The IPOB under the leadership of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is one of the break-away factions of the Movement for Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) that started its non-violent activities in 1999, 29 years after the civil war which claimed millions of ndigbo. The youths of the former Biafran side began the agitation to opt out of Nigeria for reasons of marginalisation, alienation, suppression and oppression.
The Niger Delta Avengers appears to be a different ball game. It is not clear what they specifically want and who their leaders are. I wish the government of Buhari will be similarly disposed to engage the agitators for a separate State of Biafra in a dialogue, especially since the leaders of the various identifiable groups are known and can be reached if the government has the political will to do so.
For how long do you think the Igbo will continue to call for succession (…cut in…)
There is no rational Igbo leader who has a firsthand experience of how Igbo people are dispersed and settled in other parts of Nigeria for centuries that will consider secession as a viable option for the Ndigbo. However, I wholeheartedly support agitation for self-determination for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. With all modesty, I am one of four Nigerians who founded two registered political parties in their life time. The first is Chief Obafemi Awolowo who founded The Action Group (AG), and Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN); Mallam Aminu Kano who founded the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) and Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim who founded the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP) and my humble self, Chief Chekwas Okorie who founded All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the United Progressive Party (UPP). If I had any inclination to support secession I would not devote my time, energy and resources to establish political parties to contest for elective positions in Nigeria. I am not known to sit on the fence or equivocate on anything I believe in.
Will you say that the Igbo leadership is really championing the cause of the people in the right direction?
It is unfortunate that there appears to be a leadership vacuum in Igboland. I know that our people are Republican in nature, but at the same time the generality of the people are yearning for the way forward. Many concerned Igbo leaders who are obviously dissatisfied with the state of leadership question in Igboland have been brainstorming on how to redress this situation. I am a very optimistic person, I believe that by the time Nigerians come round to the next democratic encounter, the Igbo attitude will change for the better and Nigeria will experience resurgence in Igbo participation in the democratic process.
In the past the agitation for Igbo Presidency was loud. Not so much is heard about that now, are your people deferring that until the political season?
The time for raising agitation and aspiration for the office of President is not due. All hands must be on deck to support the present government. The success of Buhari’s government is not for Buhari and his family alone, it will be for the whole country and the citizens. When the time comes for Nigerians to return to the politics of the 2019 election, Igbo people will not be missing in action in all contests, including the presidency of Nigeria.
If you were to be in charge as President, would you have done better?
I contested for the Presidency of this country in the 2015 general election. I came up with a manifesto that was properly titled: “The Revolutionary Agenda.” I recognised the fact that the highlight of our manifesto was not adequately canvassed and promoted due to the constraints of a late start and paucity of funds.
However, if I had been elected as President, our approach to governance would have been completely different in accordance with our Revolutionary Agenda, which is radically progressive.
So what do you think is the missing link in the current government?
Many nations in the past had been confronted with our kind of situation and were able to overcome their dilemma. Unfortunately in our own case, the initial bail-out funds given to State governments were not based on properly thought-out targets and results and therefore failed to make the expected impact on either the economy of the State or the overall economy of the country. It is not late in the day for Buhari to consider as a matter of urgency the setting up of an economic team that will assist him to tackle the intricate problems of a destabilised economy that is in distress.
Your party is making push to get to the seat of power in Anambra State in the South East, are you not also thinking of other regions?
Anambra State is no doubt under our control and it will not be a surprise if we win the governorship election whenever it is conducted in the year. At the next congress of our party we have decided to present a blue print that will see us contesting for power in all the states of the federation.
Let me tell you that the next general election will be a battle between a party that believes in the restructuring of the country and those who are just pretender like the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Both parties have been deceiving the masses by mouth-piecing restructuring, while they practice the opposite. Example is the case of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, pretending to be a lone voice supporting restructuring of the nation while his party, APC never believes in that for one day. UPP is the party for the masses with a revolutionary agenda. So, we are different. In fact both APC and PDP should merge and become one party so we can know the actual party that is advancing the cause of the masses. Both parties are just opposite sides of a coin, no clear ideological difference.
But for us in UPP, we have never been part of treasury looters. We are coming to equity with clean hands.