National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie in this interview, speaks on 50 years after the civil war and lessons from the strife, the debate over the South-West Regional Security Outfit and the need for electoral reforms, among other issues. TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE Reports
What are your thoughts on fifty years of the end of the civil war, which was fought between federal forces and the secessionist state of Biafra between 1967 and 1970?
Fifty years of the end of the civil war is a remarkable time to remember that very sordid event in our history. Many, who are now adults, were not even born then. However, the unfortunate part of it is that the scars of the war are yet to heal and the promises made by the victorious Nigerian government at the time, have been observed in the breach. So, many still think that the war is yet to end.
What I have always recommended is that since many years have passed and nothing was done in line with the promises made, it would not be out of place if the present government under President Muhammadu Buhari takes a second look at the South-East and declare the zone a disaster area, so that there would be a marshal plan to make the area that was so devastated as a result of the war feel some federal presence.
Are you invariably saying that there is no federal presence in the entire South-East?
The war ended in 1970, but until the Buhari administration came in, no federal presence was felt in the South-East. That is a sad story to tell. Who will believe that the Ariaria Independent Power Project, which President Buhari commissioned, when he campaigned in Abia State for his re-election was the very first completed federal project in the whole of the South-East. I stand to be corrected on that. Now, we are seeing the dream of a Second Niger Bridge been a reality. So, inspite of what a lot of people may say, I want to urge the President to do more in order to heal the wounds of the war for his name to be written in gold.
Fifty years after that war, there are still agitations for the state of Biafra. What could be the driving force for that?
On continued agitation for Biafra 50 years after the war, I will say that some of the young ones who are agitating are below 50. They were born after the war, but they have not been able to understand why their situation is different; they look at their counterparts from other parts of Nigeria and they are not able to understand why admission into institutions of higher learning is not done on the basis of merit.
If you look at the judiciary for instance, you will find out that people from educationally less disadvantage states have suddenly become educationally advantage because the occupy all the top positions in that arm of government at the federal level. This is just an example of the several ironies these young people cannot understand and nobody seems to have any explanation for them over these anomalies.
What is the Igbo leadership doing to curb these agitations by the youth?
All we have been doing is to continue to appeal to the youth and make them understand that there are other ways of addressing the imbalance in the system rather than thinking of going to war.
How would you assess the implementation of the 3Rs policy, which General Yakubu Gowon initiated at the end of the war aimed at reconciliation, reconstruction and rehabilitation?
I will not say that it was a deceit as believed by most people of South-East extraction. However, I will say that it meant to pacify those who lost and give everyone a sense of hope. But, General Gowon’s failure to implement the policy amounts to dishonesty because promises are meant to fulfilled. For the Federal Government to initiate a policy and 50 years after, it is yet to implement it, is incredible. I can’t understand why a government will make a promise and 50 years after it is yet to fulfill it and expects you to be patriotic.
Do you think that Nigerians have learnt lessons from that war?
I will say that lessons have not been learnt from the war because there is no doubt that the division among Nigerians is deepening the more, but I don’t see Nigeria breaking up. But, I foresee regionalism shaping the 2023 presidential campaign.
What is your take on the controversy, which have trailed the launch of the South-West Regional Security Outfit, codenamed “Operation Amotekun?”
There should be no controversy over the security outfit because the issue of state police and community policing have been on the card for a long time. But unfortunately the central government has not shown much interest. Even when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had occasionally shown his approval of such arrangement, the Federal Government has not shown interest. Government again has always called upon Nigerians to help in fighting insecurity; that it shouldn’t be left for government alone. Now that we have another initiative in which states in the South-West have come up to assist government to fight insecurity in the area at their own cost without asking for special grant, they should be encouraged and every geo-political zone should be encouraged to do the same. So, there shouldn’t be any controversy at all.
But, we have a situation in which some group of people and ethnic organisations are saying that Operation Amotekun is illegal?
What I understand and my take on that is that, perhaps, no legal framework has been put in place to give it a legal backing. Now, they are going ahead to do that; so if you start something and they see that there is an oversight, you need to address it; then nothing is wrong. What I have seen going on in the South-West is that they seem to be keeping on hold some other aspects of implementation until a legal framework is put in place and all the states Assembly are working on that. If that is done, I don’t think there would be any problem. And being a pilot scheme, other geo-political zones will learn from that and ensure that there is a legal framework before they go public. But as we speak, there is no state that doesn’t have one arrangement or the other to protect itself.
Let me use this opportunity to appeal to the Federal Government to please drop any kind of pride or ego and approach countries that are better than us, especially in technology as regards fighting insurgency and other insecurity challenges. There are countries that are quite vast in these areas and have technology to do so. We can go to them now instead of thinking that it is part of national pride to keep silent whereas we are dying.
In the last few months, there have been several rulings, especially by the Supreme Court on the 2019 general elections and the rulings showed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was responsible for some of the lapses that prompted the cases at election tribunals and courts. How do you think those issues can be addressed in future elections?
If we do not have electoral reform that brings electronic voting into full focus, we will never get it right. The national average in participation in our elections as announced by INEC for the 2019 elections is 35 per cent and that is not sufficiently legitimate. If we are saying the people have spoken, 35 per cent is a poor mark. So, what we are looking at is a situation where electronic voting will be introduced; people can vote from the comfort of their homes. In many developing democracy, not even developed democracy, we no longer have public holidays on election days. Look at the economic cost of shutting down everything because we are having an election and you do that almost three times in a month. It runs into several billions.
But, if we have electronic voting, you can hold elections any day of the week like others do and you can vote from anywhere; your business office or place of work, home or farm. This is what we will like to see incorporated in the reforms that will be presented to the President for assent. And some of us, leading political parties have produced our own memorandum for submission to be done. If the new reform does not take care of the ballot box; in other words eliminate ballot box system and collation centers at various intermediate levels like ward and local government, it will then be useless. It will be useless because the only reason why you deploy thugs is because they have ballot boxes to cart away. If there are no ballot boxes to cart away, then the thugs have no jobs to do.