In this no-holds-barred interview with some journalists in Enugu, recently, founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and now the National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief ChekwasOkorie (OjeOziNdigbo) speaks on a wide range of nagging national issues. CHUKS COLLINS was there and brings the excerpts.
There are a lot of stories about the relationship between the UPP on one hand and MASSOB, IPOB and NnamdiKanu on the other…
First and foremost, UPP is a political party registered with the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC)in line with Nigerian laws to acquire power and for the welfare of the Nigerian people. And in that registration, UPP like other political parties has a constitution derived from the constitution of Nigeria. It also has a manifesto. But, it is the manifesto that stands it out from all the other political parties.
Having said that, there is no special relationship between UPP and pro-Biafran agitators because we are aware that the Nigerian law does not permit a political party to have a direct relationship with any group whatsoever.
The only way a group can be part of a political party is by the individual members of the group registering as members of the political party. That is to say that the point of entry of anybody including, my humble self is the ward where I come from and so nothing like group registration. The law does not also forbid endorsement. A person who is not a member of your political party can endorse you. A group that is separate from your party can endorse your party and ask her members to support this party.
A group can support a political party without being members of the political party. And how do you do that? During election you go and vote for the candidate of that political party. This is because you think that, that party represents your views.
The UPP, from the very beginning, from the inception of the party in 2012 always emphasized true federalism. It has always been in our manifesto–devolution of power, citizenship rights, state police and community policing.
Those who followed my very brief presidential campaign, especially those who monitored the presidential debate where I lined up with former President Goodluck Jonathan and a few others, I even went further to propose an exit clause in the Nigerian constitution as it exists in the constitution of Ethiopia. Section 31 of the Ethiopian Constitution has a provision for the exit of any nationality that has reasons to opt out of the federation.
So when we saw that President MuhammaduBuhari of the APC had jettisoned every of the 607 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, we felt that it was the greatest disservice a government could do to the Nigerian people; and it is not an issue for which any party or individual could rush to court to go and challenge the presidency for taking such tragic decision. So, we decided as a political party to bring back those fine recommendations to the front burner and to update our manifesto to incorporate the highlights of those recommendations.
We now have to include self-determination, referendum, unconditional release of prisoners of conscience whose only offense was their views in the exercise of their fundamental human rights as allowed by all international Convention including the Nigerian Constitution. So, naturally the various pro-Biafran groups and others found in UPP a political party that is approximately close to what they are agitating for. UPP is not a party that preaches secession. The party gives our people the political liberty that they are lacking. And so, they began to endorse UPP, one after another. The first to endorse UPP is Ralph Uwazurike’s MASSOB, and then a group that is a pro-biafran group-that is more politically inclined called Movement of Biafrans in Nigeria (MOBIN)also endorsed UPP and a few others. So, that is how all these endorsements came.
What about NnamdiKanu?
As a person, NnamdiKanu is more like my political son and he does not dispute that. I gave him political limelight and exposed him politically and appointed him the chairman of APGA UK in 2002 and he remained loyal to my own chapter of APGA even during the crisis and up to 2011. The last town hall meeting that we convened in London on Nov 2,2011, he was there presiding as the UK chapter chairman. It was a large gathering of Igbo people.
It was also in 2012,a month or thereabout after that he became fully engaged with the IPOB radio station as director of Radio Biafra. It was also in 2012 that I and my other associates surrendered the certificate of APGA to INEC and founded a new party called UPP. And the only point of departure is the new orientation he has canvassed and continued to canvass which is, we want to exit from Nigeria, that is secession. That is where we differ. Because I do not think secession will do the Igbo man any good at all.
He is a young man who has not been exposed to the Igbo location in Nigeria. I have had the privilege of traveling round this country for a minimum of 15 times in an effort to reach out to our people. I have had the privilege of meeting the Igbo settlement in northern Gusau in 2000 where they have lived for over 400 years. And that was the year I was invited as special guest of honour to the Igbo Day celebration in Gusau.
The late OdumegwuOjukwu and Dr. Alex Ekwueme were also invited.
But, remember that the year 2000 was the height of Sharia, so it was risky for most people to travel to the north, because of fear. But, I said to myself that there are people living there and they are human beings. I was the only one from the South East that honoured that invitation and I never regretted it till tomorrow; because it really opened my eyes.
I found out that it was the same year that the caliphate had their bi-centenary celebration in Nigeria. That means 200 years of entering Sokoto to establish the Caliphate by their leader Uthman Dan Fodio who migrated from Senegal through Niger Republic then to Sokoto.
Then you ask yourself, who actually owns the land? Is it the one that came into Nigeria 200 years ago or those who had lived there 200 years before the Fulanis came?
When you look at Nigeria again, you’ll see the way the Igbo people have settled across the country. If you look at Nigeria again, you will see that we had Zamfara Empire. If you go back to the 14th and 15th century, you will see in an existing Portuguese map that there was Zamfara Empire and that was why Gusau was the capital of Northern Nigeria.
Then we had the Borno Empire, which many of us read about in history books. Then the Benin Empire and there were the indigenous people of Biafra that cut across parts of Cameroun.
It was as a result of that, that those early Portuguese explorers named it the Bight of Biafra-the shore of the sea of Biafra. It was only in 1974 that the military government at that time Gowon renamed it the Bight of Bonny. But it was Bight of Biafra for more than five centuries, which was only changed in 1974 just to obliterate any record or history that would remind Nigeria that Biafra existed before in Nigeria. So, when people become unduly afraid of using the word Biafra I say no. I always tell them that there is no reason for that and that was the point I was trying to make in the just held UPP Convention.
You have indigenous Fulani people; you have indigenous Hausa people, Ijaws, Yoruba and so on. And there have been indigenous Biafrans. They have been there. If you are talking of the geographical Biafra, it is a different ball game altogether. That one started in 1967 and ended in 1970. But, that does not remove the identity of the indigenous people. I say to people, yes I am a Nigerian citizen, but am a Biafran by indigeneship. I am an Igbo by origin. These are my identities, and nobody is going to take that away. Because the day your identity is taken away from you, you cease to be a human being.
Is it true the DSS is investigating UPP’s relationship with IPOB?
Well, let me just put it this way, because I do not want to put the DSS on the spot: I was not invited and there is no reason to do that really. The DSS is entitled to investigate and verify whatever that is not clear to them. But, I am aware that DSS went to the INEC and demanded the UPP constitution and manifesto
which INEC did not have readily available. Because when you supply them these things, they put them in the store and when they are needed, it takes time to retrieve them. So, they had to call on us to give them fresh copies and we did and I believe that they have studied that. There is nothing in the party’s constitution or manifesto that attaches it to secessionist tendency.
This is because the issue of Biafra is different from secession. If you talk about who is a Biafran, all of you here are Biafrans, but do you want to go out of Nigeria, you say no.
At your party’s 2017 Convention, you announced that UPP will continue to field a presidential candidate of Igbo extraction. Why? Can you please throw more light on that somewhat unusual policy?
That was actually the motivation that led to the formation of APGA because I have found out that Nigeria has a political structure that will never allow an Igbo to become a presidential candidate no matter his credentials. Because the laws of Nigeria are such that before the presidential candidate will emerge during a presidential primaries delegates from the 774 local councils in the country will be drawn on the basis of equality.
So, when you now have delegates from North West where they have 188 local councils and delegates from the South East where there are only 95 LGAs, tell me how in a Nigeria with the type of primordial sentiments that we have an Igbo man will win to become a presidential candidate. That was what happened to
Dr. Alex Ekwueme and to so many other Igbo people in Nigeria. Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu tried on several occasions and even deployed two private jets in the process and Chief Arthur Nzeribe tried but none of them made any impact.
When you talk of ANPP, even the President General of Ohaneze tried, that is NniaNwodo, RochasOkorocha tried, ChubaOkadigbo tried. Even Chief Edwin Umezoke tried and each of them paid N10 million nomination fees to the party.
In the case of ANPP, it was worse. Over night, they assembled all the aspirants at the Sokoto Governor’s Lodge and the then GovAttahiruBafarawa unscrupulously and so brazenly told them that the Sultan of Sokoto has decreed that it is MohammaduBuhari that will be the candidate and that was the night before their Convention. On that day, remember that Nwodo took the microphone and said that his heart was bleeding, at the Eagle
Square. So, Gen Buhari who probably did not pay the N10 million nomination fee, became unopposed presidential candidate and he appointed Dr.ChubaOkadigbo his running mate. That was what happened. Before then, I was asking myself,‘is this what we shall continue to go through in this country?’So, I said the best way to go about it is to have a political party that would provide a platform for Ndigbo to contest. Dr.NnamdiAzikiwe achieved his own due to his personal status, not that Nigerians would have given him the opportunity on the grounds of true democratic activity.
His stature was such that you couldn’t wish him away. He was the father of Nigeria. That was why he was the one that led them to a coalition with the Northern political party (NPC)and it made him what people called ceremonial president. He entered NPP a smaller political party and the founder of NPP left the party to form another political party -the Great Nigerian People Party (GNPP) and that was AlhWaziri Ibrahim.
And after him, no other Igbo man has achieved that height by going into an existing national political party and dominating it. So, we now said let us go and establish a political party and the way to solve this problem is to zone the presidential ticket to the South East. That was how it was possible for the late OdumegwuOjukwuto become the presidential candidate of APGA.
Even at that, they sponsored somebody else, an Igbo man, to contest the presidential ticket with Ojukwu who could have beaten him in the primaries because delegates from the North were asked to vote for that person and they were more in number. So, what we did was to disqualify the gentle man. People did not know how Ikemba became presidential candidate of APGA. That was exactly how Ojukwu emerged.
So, when we founded UPP, the first thing we did was to zone the Presidency to the South East and I was asking Igbo people to come and use it but everybody chickened out. Unfortunately we have lost self-esteem.
It was just forty-eight hours to the exercise in 2014 that the NEC of my party said who are we actually looking for after all? Which Igbo man is more qualified than you and they resolved that I should be the presidential candidate of UPP in the last election. I ran for president practically unprepared; only to make sure that my red cap was on my head.
Now, the party is beginning to blossom with revolutionary and fresh political underpinnings. So many people are now trooping into the party. And we made it clear early that the position of our party on presidency remains sacrosanct and can neither be changed nor challenged.
So, be it known to all the political parties in Nigeria irrespective of their affiliations that an Igbo man will lock horns with their own presidential candidates come 2019.
You earlier said thatNnamdiKanu is your political son and today he is after Biafran Republic without
consulting you. Does that mean the Igbos are singing discordant tunes?
I will differ a little bit because this is the view the rest Nigerians have about us. This is not true, by our nature we are Republicans and even if you go to the village level and you come to where people are holding meeting you will think that it is a war of words and at the end of the day a decision is arrived at and once that is done, it becomes binding on all.
And that is why even when a leader of a group has presented their views at a forum, he will turn round to ask his group whether what he presented was the agreement of the group and if he has forgotten something somebody will say it. It’s not only a dead person that you straighten his neck, but also a man that is alive.
So at any point that there is a national issue, Igbos have always gone there with one agreed document as our memorandum. That does not mean that we do not have few individuals who can go off the handle with their own separate viewpoint or opinion, but those people do not last.
Now to NnamdiKanu; you should know that even Chief Ralph Uwazurike also was under my tutelage and I made him one of the officers of a political party that I wanted to form in the past, which is Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC). But when Uwazurike came out, he was uncontrollable and was saying those things like not participating in census not doing this and that. At that initial time he could stop a town from functioning due to his mere presence. He couldn’t manage that popularity.
Now, here we have Kanu who had also evoked so much emotions and he is almost like a cult hero and unfortunately he is being mismanaged rapidly. This is because he has not been here. But he is very conversant with this my sitting room.
His father in-law is the chairman of UPP in Ikwuano Local Government Area of Abia State. I have very close relationship with the family. I have got Nnamdi released from the incarceration of SSS twice; when Col KayodeAreh was the Director General of the Service. He knows it and his family people know it too. But I am not the type that goes about talking about it. And when he was arrested I was the very first person in my class that said release this man and I have made contact with the Presidency twice without making public show of it.
The unconditional release was my proposal and I told government to engage him, not while in detention but after he had been released but government has not done that. You will discover that he has visited some people but he has not visited here and I can tell you that it is not out of disrespect. This is because he knows what I will tell him and it is not what he is prepared to hear. But he is going to come because he has mismanaged it. He said no election in Anambra State and Anambra people reacted and disagreed with him, instead of trying to unite Ndigbo his statements are dividing Ndigbo.
Anambra people said if this is the kind of Biafra you are talking about then we are not part of it. How can you stay in your father’s house to tell us if it pleases you to vote for our candidate to govern us or not?
That has introduced a lot of bad blood that is not good for the struggle. So he turned around to say that he didn’t quite mean that there would not be election, which was a very smart move. But that it is the Pro Biafra people that would elect who would lead them. That is an improvement and when he comes full circle, he will come back to the master of the game.
The quit notice against the Igbo by the Arewa Youth Council is still raising huge dust. Do you see it as a fluke or something serious?
No. It is a serious issue but I am glad the way it fizzled out. And it didn’t fizzle out because those who sponsored it wanted it to fail. It fizzled out because the backlash following it was unexpected. It was a well-oiled attempt to undermine Igbo political and economic interests. Their anger was as a result of the hate speech in the country from the Radio Biafra, which was really very unfortunate.
That radio was creating security issues for their own people who are living elsewhere. I told you that some of our people have been living there for centuries before the Fulanis came. As far as Nigerians are concerned, the latest entrants into Nigeria are the Fulanisbecause others were there before them.
Therefore, when you talk about who should go, the question then is who should actually go from where to where? If everybody must go back to his place of origin, the Fulanis will have to go back to Senegal and that is where they came from.
The Igbo people will remain in Nigeria because they have been here from creation. But, asking people to go is more of introducing anarchy in Nigerian. The Yorubas said this is an opportunity for Odua Republic; the Niger Delta gave the same deadline as day when they will declare their own Republic and the Middle Belt say that they will consider joining Ndigbo into Biafra.
Those who sponsored it were shocked. They now found out how land-locked they will be once there is a break-up at the end.
Also the Igbos have remained on their guard. When they told you that they are not going anywhere, that tells you that the quit notice is of no effect whatsoever. That also indicated early that they are prepared to defend themselves. If they are there defending themselves, it is easier to send them logistical support than to have them cornered in one area where you have Nsukka sector, Opi sector and the rest of them. So, if this kind of thing happens, the entire Nigeria will be a theatre of war.
Bear in mind that disintegration is not anywhere in the UPP Constitution, manifesto and agenda. The UPP government will allow every section of Nigeria to explore and exploit areas of its comparative advantage and benefit from its efforts; not depending on oil and gas. Even if it is only the South East that we control, we have the intention of turning it to one large industrial park because it is easy to do that when the State governments of the zone have that synergy.
The proposed electronic voting…
The electronic voting system that is coming soon will to a large extent ensure that people’s votes count. If well applied, it will even eliminate rigging.