• October 21, 2021

Igbo people experienced the worst type of political 419 – Chekwas Okorie

Founding national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance
(APGA) and currently, National Chairman of United Progressive Party
(UPP) Chief Chekwas Okorie spoke with some reporters at his residence
Enugu on the fate of Ndigbo and Nigeria come 2023 general election, O’star Eze was there:

Q. The discussion on the lips of every noble Igbo man gears towards
the way forward for 2023 presidential election. A lot of conjectural
and postulations are also bring made, not just for the Igbos but the
political party. Politically, Igbos have experimented in the past with
political parties UPN NPP, NPN, etc. Now we have APGA, UPP, APC and so
on.
Do you think the Igbos have a germane political platform to birth this dream?

A. Yes, the Igbo people have the political platform to achieve the
ambition. First  and foremost, we have to have a political party that
is sympathetic to the cause of Igbo people. By that, I mean a
political party that will as a matter of political policy, zone the
presidential ticket to the southeast geopolitical zone. You have to be
a candidate before you begin to think of whether you will win or not.
I’m glad you went down history lane to talk about NPP and co. Dr
Nnamdi Azikiwe led the NCN  and In that regard, he was able to lead
the party to a coalition with NPC and Igbo people which formed the
bloc of the leadership of the party were part of the government of the
first republic.  He did exactly the same thing with NPP and at the end
of the elect ion, he went into an accord with NPN and Igbo people were
also part of the central government. Late Chief Umezroke was the
Speaker at the time, late Dr Alex Ekwueme was also the vice president.
That combination has never repeated itself. Of course, there many
prominent Igbo people who held key Ministerial position as a result of
that accord. The truth is, if you don’t have your people control the
machinery of a party, the aspiration may be aborted because you will
never be a candidate.

What those who established the PDP which is still owned by the retired
military Generals is that they took total control of the party. In
doing that, they misled the late Dr Alex Ekwueme into believing that
he would be the presidential candidate of the party for 1999. So, for
that reason, he had to relinquish the position of the national
Chairman of the party. He was the first protem national chairman of
the PDP.. they went further to manipulate the electoral commission to
ensure that the election for the governorship and state assembly took
place even before the primary election, that is, the convention for
the presidential candidate. All this things were choreographed to
scheme Igbo people out. The story they floated was that any
geo-political zone where any candidate could not win his war or local
government will not be eligible to contest, even when it had been
zoned to the entire South. So, all the prominent Igbo people, some are
late now met here in Enugu and decided that the bulk of Igbo political
leaders will go to the PDP to deliver it so that Ekwueme will have
that opportunity.

His counterparts in the north also convinced him that it would be pay
back time for his loyalty to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Everything pointed
something that was genuine. The whole southeast gave PDP hundred
percent in both state assembly and governorship election and at the
national convention, all the governors were governor’s elect, they had
not been elected. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at that time could not
deliver his ward, not even his polling unit. AD won the entire six
states in the South West. They immediately changed that policy to make
sure Obasanjo was not disqualified. As a result of party policy, they
changed it overnight and delivered Obasanjo.

The same people compelled APP where I was with late Chukwuemeka
Odumegwu Ojukwu to go into alliance with AD. APP had nine elected
governor’s at the time and AD had six. In doing they compelled APP to
concede presidential ticket to a party with a smaller number of
states, which is very absurd. You don’t go into an alliance and the
smaller partner will take the highest slot.  That was how Olu Falae
came up and the Abdulsalami led Military government that was supposed
to hand over ensured that head and tail l, the Yorubas won. So, the
Igbo people experienced the worst type of political 419 by a party
invested all their police capital on.

Q.  Was that a breaking point so to speak for the Igbos?

A.  It was from that time that people like began to be agitated. This
issue of restructuring people are talking about now was started long
ago and I knew then that the structure of Nigeria is such that no Igbo
man would be the presidential candidate of a prominent party if the
people are not in control of the machinery of that party. That was
what led me to making a third attempt into registering a political
party. APGA was my third attempt. I had tried in 1996 with PDC, it
wasn’t registered by INEC. In 1998, I tried again. By 2001, I began
the process that produced APGA in 2002, and the first policy decision
we took was to zone the presidential ticket to the south East.

The then President, Obasanjo was agitated and did everything to
scuttle it because they knew that we were going to bring late Ojukwu
on board as our candidate. At a press conference at Modotels Enugu on
the 26th of December, I had proposed that Ojukwu will be our
presidential candidate even though he was not yet a registered member
of the party then. They went and sponsored somebody from Abagana that
I don’t want to mention his name here to cone and pay our nomination
fee. They will then buy over all our party delegates who are from the
North, because they are more in number to vote for that person. The
story would have been that I lured Ikenna to national stage to
disgrace him. So, what we did was to disqualify that gentleman and
rejected his ten million naira, for a party that didn’t have money.

That’s why, when some people carry propaganda against me, I just laugh
at them because I know what I was offered, even by the Obasanjo
administration, mot to allow Ikenna become the presidential candidate,
they won’t be talking rubbish. That was how on the 10th of January,
2003, Odumegwu Ojukwu became the presidential candidate if APGA and
that immediately the Igbo consciousness. Ignited the movement through
which Igbo people voted in a manner they had never voted before. The
President, Obasanjo went into massive manipulation of the results to
make sure that the votes given to Ojukwu did not count. So, whatever
number they assigned to him was far below what he got. The movement
was such that APGA won Suleja federal constituency with our a
candidate.

Q. Without a candidate? How could that be?

A. Yes, without a candidate because that time, what was published on
the ballot paper was just the logo. What we got in Suleja federal
constituency was the highest in that area but because we didn’t have a
candidate, the votes were given to PDP which came second. It also
happened in Ojo and Amuwo Odofin federal constituency. We then started
looking for a way to consolidate on that feat but a year after that,
crisis befell the party. APGA never survived that crisis and since, it
has remained an Anambra party. Sadly, It has not even occupied Anambra
State a hundred percent. It’s sharing Anambra with PDP.

Q.  Can you link these issues to 2023?

A.  I have seen 2023 In advance. When I led UPP to support President
Buhari, I made it in a press conference and in writing that it was
clear to us on UPP that that any person from the south at that time,
2019 contesting for the presidency would be swimming against the tide
and that it was better for us yo allow President Buhari complete the
remaining four years instead of Atiku coming to do eight years, so
that we will weigh in come 2023. Igbos weoghing in 2023 was well
planned in advance. If Atiku had won, nobody from the southeast would
be talking about 2023 today. So, now we are talking about it because
some had the fore sight to at least, make it debatable, a dialogue, an
issue. Now the position of the UPP despite the fact we are the ones to
feel offended by what happened in APGA but in the interest of the
Igbos, we have always extended hand of fellowship to have UPP and APGA
have a political merger, that will help the Igbos speak with a
stronger voice, because after we produced Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, APGA
never produced another presidential candidate.

In 2011, they adopted Jonathan, in 2015, they again adopted Jonathan.
In 2019, they went to Tiv land brought one Gbor who had never been in
politics in his life. Whatever he came to do there, nobody knows. Now,
he has returned to his cocoon and nobody is hearing about him anymore.
What the handlers of APGA had in mind in bringing that gentleman to
come and take a presidential ticket that is supposed to be very dear
to Igbo people, only them and their God can explain that. But, up till
today, don’t forget that nobody, from their leader, Obiano has
explained to Bid Igbo why that man was brought on to fly APGA’s flag.
Again, they have not accepted our hand of fellowship, so we are moving
on.

Q.  In a nut she’ll, are you saying APGA has no business with any
other zone flying its flag except the southeast zone?

A.  UPP will produce an Igbo candidate for 2023 election and we will
make sure there is a consensus among genuine patriotic Igbo leaders in
doing that. It is not going to be a Chekwas Okorie affair because I am
not interested. I don’t have that kind of ambition. If I had, in 2003
I was qualified to be a candidate but instead, I took it to Ohaneze
Ndigbo and asked them to give me a candidate. People may not know but
I’m giving it to you first hand, it was Justice Ezeobu who nominated
Ikenna, in the presence of Chief F.C Ogboko who was publicity
secretary of Ohaneze, Joe Nwogu, Prince Richard Ozobu, Onwuka Ukwa and
Ody Nwosu who later became an Ambassador to Rwanda.

Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife missed it narrowly because he needed to return
to Abuja and was going by road. Chief Eze Ozobu is now late took
Ikemba’s hand and put it into my hand and said to me, go and make Dim
Odumegwu Ojukwu a presidential candidate. This event happened on
December 24th, 2002. On that very day, I called the media on the 26th
of December at the zodiac hotel in Enugu and announced Ojukwu as our
flag bearer.

A. But, unfortunately, this momentum could not be sustained. Here we
are again, good enough, the Igbo people are more conscious now than
time and our undertaking  to show that we are not selfish about it is
that, if APC will nominate an Igbo presidential candidate for 2023,
UPP will not be a spoiler, intact, we will do for that candidate more
than we did for President Buhari because we will ensure that the
presidency comes to the southeast. Many people don’t understand that
you cannot restructure Nigeria if the president of the country is not
inclined to it. Those who supported Atiku said they did so he said he
will restructure the country.

How will he restructure? He will restructure if he became president,
he wouldn’t have restructured as Atiku After the elections, he went to
Dubai and stayed. Did he restructure from there?. It’s only a
President of the country that has the capacity to convoke a national
conference. It is also the president who has the capacity to sponsor
an executive Bill on constitutional reforms that will bring into focus
everything we need for restructuring. If you do not know that, then,
you do not know that restructuring is ninety nine percent political.
This two things, restructuring and presidency can not be separated
from each other, they come together. So, when some people say we don’t
want President, we want restructuring, I laugh and some prominent
people who you think are brilliant and well exposed also say the same
thing but because of the position we took which some of you have been
promoting, including this one we are doing now, many of them have
started turning around and supporting the call for Igbo presidency.

For the first time since the war ended, we have had non Igbo prominent
opinion leaders saying that it is the turn of the Igbo people. We have
the likes of Ayo Adebanjo from the West, Rt Gen Williams also from the
West, Edwin Clark from the South South, Comrade Joseph Eva from Ijaw,
Prof Kemsi Okoko, former national president of Ijaw National Congress,
in North East, we have senator Nashua, Balarabe Muss from North
West.Go to Middle Belt, we have them too. All of this people are
saying, if justice must be done, it has to be the Igbos turn. We have
never had it like that, So, we can not have this people saying it’s
about time, then we will be the ones showing lack of self confidence.
So, it will happen, an Igbo man will fly the presidential flag,
whether they like it or not.

But if APC wishes to remain in power, their best bet is to bring an
Igbo person as their presidential candidate and they have sufficient
and highly qualified Igbo people there in their party. Ogbonnaya onu
is their friend and has been loyal to them. He is acceptable to us,
hence they have no difficulty in that one. Beyond him, there are
others. We are really ready for a major Democratic encounter.

Q. There is no arguing that Ogbonna Obi is close to the APC and the
powers that be. The clause here is, is President Buhari and the
Fulanis ready to relinquish power to an Igbo man?

A.  This is why it is a contest. This is why you must show that you
have something to bring to the table. If we have UPP fully mobilised,
bear in mind, Igbo people constitute the largest ethnic group, not
only in Nigeria but in West Africa, but take Nigeria alone,there is no
state in Nigeria that you don’t have at least second highest
population of that state being Igbo, second only to the indigenous
population, no state in  Nigeria. So, if you have thirty six states
and in some you are first, in others you are second, if it’s an exam,
you have passed well. If you build the political structure in this
enormous number and spread, you are good to go. What has happened over
time is that Igbo people disconnected, withdrew, saying political
power is not for them.

It’s painful because if it’s not for us, who then laid the struggle
for independence. That effort to get back their political
consciousness is ongoing and we are going to reach out to the leaders
of the political blocs. Let me also tell you why the chances of Igbo
man are brighter now.

Q.  Why do you think the chances of Igbo man making it to Ask Rock
seat of power is greener now with reference to 2023?

A. 2023 will be like no other year in Nigeria presidential. I tell you
Why, the Hausas of Nigeria area coalising now on the platform of PRP,
which was originally founded by Aminu Kano and laid by Balarabe Musa.
They have decided that PRP is the platform they will re-assert
themselves into politics. They can no longer be tagged as
Hausa-Fulani. So, they are going back to the Aminu Kano trajectory and
don’t forget that the Hausas are quite large in the North. The Fulanis
and the Kanuris are the ones that are controlling the government,
whether it’s in the military or other executive arm of government.
When you take away the Fulanis and the Kanye is, what is left? , very
small number for the rest of Nigeria.

So, when people are talking about lopsidedness in appointment, you can
reduce it further. The Hausas feel they need to return to political
relevance in the country. The body language in APC is that they are
most likely going to bring a candidate from the North. The PDP is also
going to do that. Intact, the chairman of Board of Trustees of PDP has
led the cat out of the bag when he said at a press conference in
Kaduna that the ticket was going to be thrown open; even when he did
not have the power to make such statement because it is supposed to be
a policy decision  of their National Executive Council, NEC, which the
National Working Committee will then make public through the National
Chairman, but he didn’t want to wait so that nobody is left in doubt
as to where they want to go. He said that it is going to be open and
that anybody is free to run, including Atiku Abubakar.

I was expecting the Igbo leaders in PDP to react decisively to that
and say that PDP has rotation in its party constitution and it has
been strictly observed over time, now that it will favour Igbos, you
come out and everybody is free to run; without first amending the
constitutional provision in the party constitution. But all the Igbo
leaders kept quiet. If you ask them now, they will say they will
contest in 2023, tell me how. They are not controlling the machinery
of PDP, they are not where decisions are made in PDP, not one of them.

Q,.  What about Peter Obi?

A.  He is not in the party leadership structure. I am a party chairman
and I can tell you how things play out. Seconds is South South and he
is already playing the script of those that put him there. So, I can
tell you that PDP is already going North I’m sure as daylight and you
can hold me on that. PDP will bring a northern candidate and a South
South running mate. So, PRP is bringing a Hausa candidate and the
Yorubas are already planning to return to the Awolowo political
trajectory. They have AD, UPN, SDP, it could be any of them or a
combination of them.  Yorubas will fly a presidential flag whether APC
gives them or not. You are going to be seeing in Nigeria, 2023 an
election like no other. There will be minimum of five formidable
presidential candidates contesting for that office. Let me tell you
what to expect, Nigeria will divide to unite. That is the way I
describe 2023. Nigeria will divide to unite.

Q.  How will that play out?

A.  This formidable candidates will have their strong base in their
major constituencies and their allies because there are those who are
aligned to the type of agenda and ideology that will promote those who
are not from southwest who may also be inclined to that. It’s not
going to be a purely regional thing but each of this people will have
a strong base in his major area he is coming from.

Q. That is to say an outright winner will not emerge at the end of the day?

A.  That is why I said, it will be like an election we have never had
in any presidential contest. So, what Nigerians should be looking out
for or be concerned about is a free and fair election which will be
technologically based. If that is not done, Nigerians are not going to
prepare for elections, they are going to prepare for war. But, if we
have an election where people’s vote will count, then there would be
an election and people will accept the outcome of a credible election.
The, to Unite is that what we will now have in 2023 will be a
coalition government because no one party will have a sweeping result
that will give it an outright win.

So, you will have at least, minimum of two but I can see three parties
coming into a coalition to form a stable government. In that kind of
situation, there is negotiation, winner takes all will never occur
again, Nigeria unity would be more guaranteed. That’s why I said, for
2023, I predict, there shall be division. We shall divide to unite.

Q. With what played out in the political hemisphere in Nigeria in the
recent time in both state and federal elections, do you think votes of
the electorate will count in 2023 presidential election?

A.  That is my caution. If votes will not count, then we will be ready
for war, because instead of the politicians preparing for election,
they will be preparing for war. If you know what is happening in the
south West now, you will know that whether you like it or not, they
have already launched a land army. If shove comes to push, they will
called to duty and before then, other geo-political zones are going to
copy the southwest geo-political arrangement.

So, they will maintain security at home but you already have people in
uniform, no matter the colour of uniform who are being trained to
maintain security but they could be called to duty should the need
arise. What Nigeria needs to do to save the situation is to ensure
votes count. That would be the legacy of this president and I hope he
will understand so. His name will be written in gold if the electoral
reform is carried out in time and signed into law once it’s presented
to him.  Right now, it has not been presented to him, so it’s not his
headache. The problem is with the National Assembly, let them do what
they have to do and then present to the President.

I believe that the President who has consistently assured of a
credible election as part of his legacy will sign it without
hesitation. Once that is done, there will be no need to prepare for
any war. All they need to do is to canvass for people’s vote across
the country. The field will be open for people to market their
ideology.

Q. You mentioned that the Hausas, Yorubas are coalising, what do you
think will be the outcome in the event of a deadlock? Don’t You think
it will be only fair and just to form a regional government at that
point?

A.  No, it will be too short a time to make that kind of U-turn. What
the constitution provides that when there is no outright winner, the
first two will go for a run off election and if the first two are
going for a run off election, party C, D and E will now be available
for coalition. So, the other two will over any of the three or all of
the three depending on how he is prepared to share government or
power. That is why I said, you have to divide to unite.

Q. You have elucidated how all the geo political zones are preparing
for either good or bad, how do you look at the docility of the
Southeast governors, the lone ranger status of the party leaders for
instance, are you not worried?

A.  Of course I am worried but the situation is looking better than it
was four years ago. First of all, except for Ihedioha, all the others
southeast governors are nearing the end of their tenure. Now they are
knowledge able enough to ….They were not there when Atiku picked
Peter Obi as his running. mate. ……Now, we have the likes of
Iwuanyanwu who has been speaking out recently about Igbos mounting the
saddle of leadership in 2023. He is not just a founding member of PDP
but a prominent member of the party. But he was not consulted when his
chairman went to Kaduna and a very controversial statement.

I was expecting the south East caucus of PDP which is made up of all
this governor’s you are talking about, the senators, the House of
Representatives and the rest of them to meet and give the PDP
leadership a deadline of not latter than the first quarter of this
year to go back to the party constitution and make a clear statement
that the south East will present a presidential candidate, failing
which they would review their continued membership of the party.

Q. Do you think they have the capacity to do that?

A.  Well, that’s my expectation, but they are Lilly livered, they are
toothless bulldog. So, because they are close to ending their second
term, they are now more open to the reality of the time. Some of them
don’t want to just retire, some want to go to Senate. So, when the
movement are igniting, starts sweeping across, nobody will tell them
to start ……there is no doubt that there is no synergy among them
when it comes to southeast as a whole. I asked one of the governor’s
from the south East at the tick of my support for President Buhari to
tell me one project that PDP started and completed within sixteen
years of their administration. He didn’t give it a second thought
before saying non.

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