Founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and until recently, National Chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), before his defection to the All Progressives Congress, (APC), Chief Chekwas Okorie in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE speaks about the state of security in the country, the growing popularity of the APC in the South- East and the November 6 Governorship election in Anambra State
How do you see the recent visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the South-East?
Well, it is a historic visit, not just because it was a presidential visit, but because it afforded him an opportunity for an engagement, an interface with South-East leaders.
The leaders that assembled and received him at Government House, Owerri can very well be described as Igbo Consultative Assembly, because all the major political, traditional and religious leaders, captains of industries and all our ministers, except Dr. Chris Ngige who obviously was engaged in the current labour issue in Abuja, the former governors including the former Inspector- General of Police, Mike Okiro and even retired DIGs were there.
And I want to say that something significant was achieved, unlike what people used to say that the Igbo people have not been speaking up or taking a stand on remaining in Nigeria, we actually took a stand.
This is because we met on the eve of the president’s visit and the likes of Ike Nwachukwu, Paschal Dozie and Chief Emmanuel Iwuayanwun were all there. So we took a position on what we wanted the President General of Ohanaeze to say and so his speech was the mandate and position of the entire Igbo nation.
We also made a strong point that it is not true to say that the Igbo people are not united because under that roof that we had the entire assemblage of Igbo leaders and I can say this authoritatively because that I have been involved in matters of the Igbos for more than four decades.
So when we said we are not leaving Nigeria for anybody that is the Igbo position, when we talked about state and community policing, especially state police in order to handle security situation in our states that was our position. When we appealed for the release of our children arrested on the grounds of agitation, that was an Igbo position. So, Igbo people took landmark presentation at that occasion and the president of overwhelmed with joy, but he confessed, (even though some people attempted to misinterpret it,
but I was there), that he came to commission some projects but what he did not prepare his mind for was that he was coming to meet the entire Igbo nation. And it was in that context he said that next time he would be careful, that is what he meant was that he would be better prepared. But we made it easy for him because we did not come with lamentation but with a message of collaboration.
So did he commit to release the youths who were arrested for agitation?
Not quite because some of us who are conversant with things of this nature are aware of the protocol, because these things were not sent to him in advance. This was because we ended that meeting where the points were written at about midnight and the writing must have taken place in the early hours.
And so if the President is presented with such an address by the entire Igbo nation, we expected that he would go back and chew over it hoping that he will favourably consider the issues raised.
Would you say the fact that the South-East now has two APC governors means that the Igbos have been sufficiently integrated into the party?
I believe that, but not just the two governors, even though they are quite outstanding because they govern two states, which brings them at per with the PDP, preventing the latter from laying claim to territorial control of the South-East as they used to, but outside of the two governors, almost all political leaders of note have now joined the APC. You have the Chief Whip in the Senate, who joined the APC.
He was not there at the beginning of this dispensation. I joined APC too, with the entire UPP that I founded which has now been collapsed into the APC and every day, more and more people are joining the party- Senators, Rep members and so on.
So because of the prominent stake we now have in APC in the South- East, we now put all hands on deck, irrespective of the state we come from; irrespective of whatever anybody may say about our candidate in Anambra State, to move into Anambra State in a month from now to be able to deliver the state to APC because it is critical for our future negotiations, because everything we want in the party you have to lobby for it and show that you merit to be considered.
What future negotiation are you talking about?
It is the need to see reason for the party to show its president, first to the South, which is the logical thing to do now, and then of course to the South- East which is where equity, fairness and justice direct such zoning to land.
But then you don’t just go and begin to beg or rely on either sentiment or somebody’s milk of human kindness because power is not served that way.
You have to bring something to the table and the practical thing is that we already have two governors and it will boost our negotiation if the third one comes. And everybody, including President Buhari himself has admitted that the Igbo people control the economy of Nigeria.
And who would have believed that it was the same person who said Igbo people constituted a dot in a circle would, under such a convivial atmosphere, agree with what everybody knows is that Igbo people are major stakeholders in the economy of this country and are everywhere in Nigeria, in terms of number and spread. So these are some of the things we are going to be bringing to the table.
Ahead of the November election in Anambra, how do you see the defections to the APC- Senator Stella Oduah and many others?
It is line what we are saying because APC is becoming more and more attractive to people of the South-East, and Anambra is also queuing into that move. We are not surprised that she has joined what we might call the Exodus to the APC.
We are even expecting more people. Stella Oduah is not just a senator but she has a lot of people in her own part of Anambra State, covering half of the senatorial zone and of course she is a serving senator. Senator (Mrs.) Joy Emordi is another political stalwart who has also served in that zone. We also have Mrs. Okadigbo, who is also part of it- all of them from Anambra North are there. More people are coming in. So
how bright are your chances in Anambra State ahead of the election?
It is very bright. In fact, it is going to be an epic battle. I am not one of those who will write it off that it is a done deal. It is rather going to be an epic encounter.
Practically all the candidates are formidable in their own way, but looking at the Change motto of the APC, there are two basic things Igbo people are not given to been in the opposition because I have been in opposition for most of my political life and I know what it is. We are not given to opposition. Anything that can link them to the central area holds a strong attraction.
Secondly,the fact that APC is the only political party where top politicians in the South-East are showing direct interest in campaigning side by side with the candidate to deliver Anambra State to the APC. I have not seen any other candidate that has that kind of advantage because of our strong determination to deliver the state.
In view of the frequency with which politicians change parties, would you say these defections to APC were driven by personal interest or public interest as in the case of Sen. Oduah and Governor Umahi the latter is said to be nursing presidential ambition?
Honestly, remember when Governor Umahi defected to APC, I welcomed it and your newspaper and The Sun gave me a lot of space and I described it as a very courageous move, coming from the PDP. And I predicted that it would trigger off a gale of defections to the APC.
Now, Governor Umahi is a major advantage because he has come to APC with so much credibility. His performance in Ebonyi State is a pride to the Igbos in general and APC in particular and he has not pretended about his Igbo patriotism much; he is also a Nigerian patriot.
He has never come out to say he has to be that presidential candidate, but he has continuously nudged his party, even on national television, to consider the South-East. He did not say he will leave if the party fails to do so.
Honestly, many of us will not be happy if it is not zoned to the South- East but we shall not go to war if it is not done that way.
That does not mean we cannot not state what we would like to see and work towards it. Governor Umahi more than anybody else is honourably leading that crusade within the APC and the good thing is that he has amassed very admirable goodwill with the powers that be in APC, including the president itself.
How do you see Umahi’s recent statement that Nigeria will be lucky to have another president like Buhari?
You know the opposition will always want to read meanings to statements. It is their duty to oppose but the kind of and quality of opposition we have in Nigeria is very poor, it is such that we often leave the main issue and dwell on the mundane.
What Governor Umahi said should not be confusing to anybody. First of all, President Buhari as an individual will end his tenure by the grace of God on May 29, 2023, but he has given to the South-East in terms of infrastructure and federal presence more than any government has done since 1970 when the war ended, and there are so many things to point to in that respect.
I think that is what he meant and I agree with him. We need somebody who will not neglect us like the military government and the PDP neglected and alienated us and we have nothing to show for it. But today, we have so much to show and much more are coming our way.
So if he said that, I am with him 100 per sent on that. Look at what President Buhari has done in the South- East in the fare of scarce resources, imagine what he would do in times of abundance?
What would you exhibit in the South- East in terms of infrastructure and appointments, because the region complains of marginalization time and again?
Appointment will come last, because place less premium on appointment except in the composition of the Security Council. As it is today, there is no South-Easterner, no Igbo man in the Security Council. Apart from that in 2018, the president came to Aba to campaign for reelection. It was there he commissioned the power project started and completed by his administration at Ariaria Market.
That became the first Federal Government project that was started and completed (completed in the keyword) by any government since 1970. Look at the Second Niger Bridge. It has been expanded and I am very interested in it and it is now the highest infrastructural project being executed now in Nigeria today. Then of course the Enugu-Port Harcourt Express Road and Enugu- Onitsha Express Road which was turned to farmland but it would be completed before the President leaves office.
So many other things are going on. In terms of appointments, our statutory entitlement in terms of the fact that a minister must be appointed from every state, we have our own. Perhaps the quality is the issue, because when PDP started they split ministries into Categories A, B and C and every state was represented in both ministries and parastatals.
That was dropped long ago. So our representation in the key parastatals is nothing to write home about, but for me I will rather prefer infrastructural development to appointments, because all the people that PDP appointed into high prolife positions reflected only on their nuclear, not even extended family circus. Their children were relocated from Nigeria to better schools abroad.
No to the issue of security, how do explain the current state of the nation- closure of school, banditry and large scale insecurity in the country?
Definitely the issue of security is a major minus for the President and nobody is going to defend that. But we have to be a little charitable here. We have something that the security agencies- especially the military, the Air Force, the Navy- have been so equipped more than ever before. We have seen major investments in those areas, and this is beginning to yield results especially in the frontline battle areas. Down the South, it has become very disturbing. In the South-East in particular, the place is almost militarised. You cannot drive through two kilometers in any part of the South-East without running into military checkpoints.
Yet you dint such on Abuja-Kaduna road, Lagos –Ibadan expressway…
That is my point and I have always used every opportunity like this to make case for the relocation of some of these military men on the road in the South-East to where they are mostly needed. The South-East today is under siege and it is akin to stating that we are in a state of war.
There is no war going on in the South-East and that is an aspect that does not go down well with anybody – whether you are in APC, PDP or whatever.
And that is why we have always called for the introduction of state police and Ohanaeze did not mince words in stating the Igbo position regarding that during the aforesaid presidential visit. We want to have state police and our area will be very calm and I’m sure many other areas in the country will be calm.
The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, an APC governor who is loyal to the President has been bemoaning the level of insecurity in his state and made repeated calls for state police. You are aware of how many cases of kidnapping and other crimes have taken place in Kaduna State.
Also the governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdulahi Ganduje has complained about the same thing wanting state police. I think the National Assembly has a role to play here. If the National Assembly can expedite action on the constitutional amendment, even if it is just taking off that Sections 214 and 215, and deal with it expeditiously, presenting it to the President for his assent, it would have done a huge job for the country.
But that is about the police. The President is the Commander in Chief and no one can deploy military without his auhorisation…
I’m talking about the soldiers too. The President should redeploy them to the North-Central and North-East and North-West, where they are mostly needed, not in the South-East.
I don’t think we have enough soldiers in those places in the North where school children are kidnapped daily and millions of naira is paid as ransom and schools have been closed in many of the states.