National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, believes that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will not go beyond a single a term presidency given its nonperformance. He also speaks in this interview with FELIX NWANERI, on what he described as a grand conspiracy against the South-East and the travails of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a political party that he formed, among other issues
One of President Muhammadu Buhari’s close allies and governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasri el-Rufai, raised some issues over the performance of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government in a memo he sent to the President in September last year, but which was recently leaked to the media. What do you make of that document?
I read the memo thoroughly and found in it, the concern of a loyal political associate, who appreciates that things are going wrong. el-Rufai went further to suggest how things could be done right, so it was not a criticism of the President as some people believe.
He also underscored the fact that the President’s success was his success and that his political future was dependent on the President’s success. So, he tried as much as possible, to prove, even in that memo that he meant well. He also raised the fact the he could be misunderstood and that in that circumstance, he was prepared to bear the consequences of his action.
So, to me, it was a well intended memo and some of the issues el-Rufai raised should not be new to anyone, who has been observing what is going on in the presidency under President Buhari. Again, the issues el-Rufai raised were not substantially different from the points the President’s wife tried to make in the past.
The only thing I find odd is that the memo was written in September 2016, but only started making the rounds in March this year. Something definitely would have been wrong somewhere. Definitely, the leakage couldn’t have come from the President’s side because it is a kind of memo he wouldn’t wish the public to know about.
The general impression is that it was leaked by el-Rufai’s side because what was sent out was the soft copy. What I make of it is that, may be, el-Rufai felt frustrated that what he thought were genuine suggestions were not given any consideration. So, he felt the public should at least know that he didn’t keep quiet, while things were going wrong.
But some people see the memo as admittance of failure by the APC given the promises the party made during the campaigns for the 2015 general elections…
We don’t need an el-Rufai to tell us that the APC has failed in meeting the promises it made except what I see as a very determined effort to fight corruption using the President’s own methods. Apart from this, I don’t see any other thing that could be credited to this administration in all aspects of our national life, whether the economy, power or education.
There is restiveness across the country and security is not there. Honestly, the APC government had done so badly that tragically, many people are now thinking that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ran a better government.
I say tragically because of my believe that the PDP laid the foundation of what we are suffering now, but President Buhari, who should have risen to the challenge, is not showing the sagacity and creativity to confront the situation that we are in.
The President looks a bit confused and almost helpless in the circumstance. Nigerians are not feeling the impact of governance and I am afraid that the nation may go under.
The fear of a revolution, even a violent one, is hanging in the air and there is no peace loving person, who would be comfortable with such situation.
Does that mean that the APC was not prepared for governance as some people claim?
That is what it appears to be. The APC is a combination of political parties that have been trying over the years to wrestle power from the PDP, and they had the wisdom to come together to form a very strong political platform.
Three major parties plus those who came in from other parties like the PDP and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) did what was considered impossible by defeating an incumbent president with all the advantages that the PDP had.
So, one would have thought that the APC would hit the ground running. But, the way I see it, APC is a one term party in government. This is the mid-term of the Buhari presidency; it would be wishful thinking for them to think that Nigerians will vote for them again.
You will recall that the margin with which they defeated the PDP in 2015 was not a wide one. It is something that could be written off by one geo-political zone.
For instance, in that election, the people of the South-East voted with their backside because they were disappointed that then President Goodluck Jonathan did nothing for them and they were suspicious of Buhari. So, the margin of defeat was something that could easily been have written off if the Igbos have voted on the side of Jonathan.
Now, that there is increased political awareness, the democratic contest is going to be far more robust and very serious issues are going to be put in the front burner. It is not going to be only whether Buhari has done well or not.
The issues of self-determination and the 2014 National Conference report, which the President has sent to the archives, and others, are going to be brought to the front burner, especially by the UPP.
The 2019 elections would be a kind of referendum in the sense that it will be a yes or no kind of voting. That is to say that anybody, who likes the status quo to remain, should vote for the APC or PDP because these are two ultra-conservative political parties that have done equal damage to the Nigerian people.
But, if you want a radical departure from the status quo, then vote for a party that promises self-determination, fiscal federalism, devolution of power and all that makes a country a true federal state.
We need a government that will reduce all those items in the Exclusive Legislative List, so that the centre will not be too powerful at the detriment of the component units. These are what the UPP stands for.
It is not by mere rhetoric, we are going to have them in the constitution that we are going to ratify in our next convention in May. We already have a manifesto in that direction but we are going to fortify it by bringing all the 660 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, and that is what we will present to Nigerian electorate.
It will be different from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar’s rhetoric. He is going about advocating restructuring, when the party he belongs to believes the opposite.
When you say that the 2019 elections will be a referendum, some people may interpret it as Nigeria going to be or not…
That is not what I mean. I said it is going to be a kind of referendum in terms of the choices that people will make. The subject matter would not be Nigeria being or not, but the presidency, the kind of governors we are going to have and the kind of people we are going to elect into the legislature. It is about maintaining the status quo or going for a radical change, which is quite different from a referendum on the survival of Nigeria or the exiting of a section of the country.
You said the APC is a one term party in government, but we are seeing endorsements for President Buhari’s second term in different quarters even when he has not declared interest for that. How do you reconcile this?
Perhaps, the endorsement is by members of his party because I have not seen any major endorsement from anywhere. Members of his party can endorse him because they don’t seem to have an alternative, and in any case, he has the right of first refusal as a serving president should he decide to run again.
Within the APC, one will say there is no vacancy for that slot. So, if members of the APC are endorsing him, they are not doing anything unexpected, but what I am saying is that they will not win again.
If I were President Buhari, I will adopt the Nelson Mandela option, thank Nigerians for giving me the opportunity to serve as president and take a bow. That would be an honourable way out and he would be bowing out when the ovation is loudest.
But, if he is persuaded and cajoled to contest the poll, I can assure you that he would be thoroughly humiliated and that would be a very sad way to end his political career.
A former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ishaya Bamaiyi, recently said the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president in 1999 was a mistake. What do you make of that revelation?
The disclosure is coming rather too late because everybody knows that the military brought Obasanjo to power. The General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime in conspiracy with former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, manipulated Obasanjo into power.
I was in the All PeoplesParty(APP) at that time, but I know that former Vice President Alex Ekwueme was promised the PDP presidential ticket, especially by the Northern political elite, who told him that it was time to repay him for his loyalty to former President Shehu Shagari during the Second Republic.
That was the propaganda that was bandied about in the South-East. For that reason, the APP was not given any chance, and rememberthatthe1999presidentialelection was scheduled last.
So, the PDP used that propaganda to corner every elective office in the South-East, but they kept their game plan to their chest. You will also recall that that they put in their party’s guideline that any presidential aspirant, who fails to deliver his area, will not be qualified to run for the presidency.
That was part of the propaganda that made the whole of the South-East to deliver their votes to the PDP in order to create the enabling environment and give Dr. Ekwueme the bargaining chip he needed so badly to win the nomination of his party.
But, at the nick of time, they changed the rule and brought Obasanjo even when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) had won the whole of the South-West, where he hails from.
That was how Ekwueme and the Igbos by extension were shortchanged for the second time. So, the conspiracy of the military is known to everyone. It is not something that Bamaiyi should be telling us 18 years after. As far as I am concerned, he hasn’t made any revelation.
Is that conspiracy against Ndigbo still subsisting?
The conspiracy didn’t even start at that time, but it became obvious after the emergence of President Shagari in 1979. Ekwueme, again, was the vice president and the whole idea was that if Shagari does eight years; his vice president would be the most eligible to take over.
We were already looking to the time when Ekwueme would become president because the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was the octopus political party then, so he could very easily win the presidential election, especially with the overwhelming support of the Igbo people.
But as soon as Shagari got a second term, the military struck. That military coup has been substantially proved to be a conspiracy against Ekwueme. So, it is that same conspiracy from 1983 to 1999 and till today.
That was why in 1995, after Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe has retired and could no longer rally Ndigbo on account of age and health (he died in 1996) and the then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, lifted ban on politics, I began immediately to look for a political party that would be initiated by the Igbos and could zone its presidential ticket to the South-East as a matter of policy because that is the only way to fight the conspiracy to stop us Ndigbo from contesting for the presidency.
It is not just allowing us to win, but not allowing us to even fly the presidential flag. On two occasions, 1996 and 1998, I did not succeed in registering a party.
But, in 2001, I began the process that led to the registration of APGA, which was registered on June 24, 2002. The first policy statement of the party was to zone its presidential ticket to the South-East, and that was how Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was able to run for the presidency in the 2003 general elections.
But, the fact that he ran for president ruffled feathers and the presidency became uncomfortable. It was after the elections that the conspiracy to destroy APGA began. Nigerians have not asked about who gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the order to recognise a treasurer of a political party as acting national chairman just because of a dispute that arose within the party.
A letter was written by INEC, ordering me to handover to the treasurer as if we were in a military regime. Who could have ordered INEC to jettison the rules of a political party registered with it do what is unprecedented and has never been repeated since then? It was from the presidential villa and we knew who gave the order, and continued to stoke the fire until APGA became a shadow of itself.
What is responsible for the conspiracy against Ndigbo?
It is morbid fear of the Igbos rising to preeminence and probably dominating the others. It is not only in terms of political office holding. As we speak today, the Igbo race has no representation in the National Security Council. All it requires for an Igbo man to be there is to head one of the services.
We have the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Security Adviser (NSA) without the Igbo, which is one of the biggest ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
Is it the making of the party in government or because there is no Igbo man in the top echelon of the various services that you listed?
Check the spate of retirements among officers of Igbo extraction within the services. The Nigerian Customs, for example, has never had an Igbo man as its Comptroller-General since it was established during the colonial era apart from one, who acted briefly and was immediately retired. Describing him as a former Customs CG is like saying that General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was a head state.
But he was…
Yes, he was, but in a turbulent period of six months. What could he have done under that situation? And those who led him to come up Decree 34 that tried to unify Nigeria were eventually the ones who killed him for that.
And now, what we are having is worse than that decree even under a civilian democracy. It was because of this conspiracy that made Ojukwu to say that there is a glass ceiling in the bureaucracy, which the Igbo is not expected to go beyond. He gets there, he looks up through the glass, he sees others on top, but he is not expected to get where they are.
What measures should Ndigbo adopt to get reintegrated into the Nigerian system?
It was Nigeria that promised reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. That was what General Yakubu Gowon promised after the civil war, but he breached every aspect of that promise.
It is the Igbos, who on their own, have been trying to reintegrate into Nigeria. It is not by any deliberate government policy. In fact, if anything, the government made Igbo land unconducive for enterprise, so the people have to migrate to other places for greener pasture as they put it and here we are, all over Nigeria and beyond. You look at reconstruction, the Igbo area is the way it was since the war ended more than 47 years ago.
In terms of federal infrastructure, there is no federal presence. Whatever you have there is what the governors of the states in the zone put in place. Rehabilitation! Who has been rehabilitated?
How could you have been rehabilitated when your money was taken from you and you were given only 20 pounds? If you are talking about rehabilitation, take a look at what is going in the North-East, the billions being sunk there to rehabilitate the people of the area.
What act of rehabilitation will the Nigerian government say that it carried out in the war ravaged area of the South-East till today? As a matter of fact, it is the anger that is making youths in the South East to agitate for exit from Nigeria.
But for those of us who witnessed the war, we know very well that there is no other way to opt out of Nigeria except through political means. So, rather than go the civil war method, which will end up in bloodshed, waste of lives and property, we should look at other political blocks and ethnic nationalities that have a similar problems with us and build a kind of alliance around a political party that shares in the agenda of self-determination, federating units being allowed to develop at their own pace and devolution of power.
In that way, we can take power and implement those policies that will liberate the people and make the economy to grow.There is nothing wonderful about answering Biafra, but there is nothing as resentful as lack of liberty.
There is nothing to exchange for freedom. So, to us Nigeria is one large prison, in which we lack the liberty and freedom to even help the country. It is as if the conspiracy is to halt the Igbo man, so that others may catch up.
But, there is an Igbo proverb that says when you are holding somebody down, you are also holding yourself down. That is what has happened to the Nigerian nation?
Don’t you envisage that self-determination and strengthening of the federating units may lead to balkanization of Nigeria?
No! Rather, it will lead to greater unity that will engender progress. I will cite example of Ethiopia with over 30 years experience of ethnic wars that brought the country to its knees.
The international communityhadtostepintofindalasting solution to the crisis. In drawing the new Ethiopian constitution, Section 31 of the law made provision for any of the ethnic nationalities to exit from the republic if it wishes to and of course plebiscite and referendum was also provided as means to decide such exit.
Butsincethatconstitutioncameintoforce, noethnicnationality has found reason to invoke it. The reason is that no ethnic nationality in Ethiopia treatstheotherswithroughshotsbecause they have options.
Looking at the present situation of APGA, how do you feel about the party you founded?
I feel sad, when I sit back and see what has become of APGA. Quite frankly, I was not in court for eight years because I wanted to answer national chairman of APGA.
I was in court because I wanted to save the soul of the party and keep it on track in terms of the vision for which it was founded. But, there were those who aligned with the government and saw APGA as milk cow to get rich quick and therefore destroyed the vision. The travail of APGA was a tragedy to Ndigbo because it set them back, politically, by several years.
When I let go, it was out of my own volition that I asked our counsel then, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) to disengage further litigations because I wanted to re-draw my plans, perhaps return to other things I was doing before I joined politics or join any of the big parties, But, I kept getting the message that I was not done with my mission.
So, I had to go back to the drawing board to look for another party that will pursue the same mission and with the benefit of hindsight, protect it from the vicious attack that APGA experienced.
Again, there was no more Ojukwu to attract the ‘negative attention’ that the presidency paid to us because Obasanjo told me pointedly after the 2003 elections that I ‘committed a political sin’ by making Ojukwu APGA’s presidential candidate. He said the moment I did that, APGA became a national security issue.
So, it was not looked upon as a political party, but a platform to re-launch Biafra. Obasanjo felt that if Ojukwu had a foothold in the South-East, he will re-enact what he started earlier. So, what he did after the elections was to look for a weak link to destroy APGA.
Even when I applied to register United Peoples Grand Alliance (UPGA) and came up with the ‘Rising Sun’ as the symbol, it was Umeh, who wrote a petition, which he advertised in the newspapers that the association should not be registered because the symbol of ‘Rising Sun’ was Biafra. I had to write to INEC to explain that the ‘Rising Sun’ is a celestial body and therefore belongs to nobody.
I also stated that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, and that there is the east everywhere. But INEC wrote us a letter, denying us registration, citing the reason that our symbol was Biafra.
We went back again with the UPP, with the tiger’s head as its symbol. The same people wrote to INEC again to say that the tiger was in the coat of arm of Biafra, This time, INEC felt that it was too much, but that was after I did a two page essay to explain that the tiger is an Asian specie, not even African.
This is what we went through, but now, we are here, and luckily, the message of self-determination and true federalism is resonating. That is why all agitating separatist groups have endorsed UPP, believing that the political process is far better than demonstrating on the streets. So, we have done Nigeria a good service.