INTERVIEW: No President From North’ll Champion Restructuring — Chekwas Okorie


Chekwas Okorie

Chief Chekwas Okorie, the founder of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, and the United Progressive Party, UPP, is now a chieftain of the ruling All progressives Congress, APC.

In this interview, he speaks on why the Igbo are having issues with producing a Nigerian President. He also speaks on why it will be difficult for the ruling APC, and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to project a president from the south, saying both parties will pick their candidates from the North.

The quest for the Presidency of Igbo extraction is attracting all manner of criticisms. Many perceive having a president of Igbo extraction as having Biafra. What is the problem with the Igbo?

We are our own problem to a very large extent because to run for the office of the president, you have to, first of all, make sure you have a candidate, and to have a candidate, that person must emerge through a political party. But the way Nigeria is structured it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for an Igbo man no matter how qualified he is to emerge as a candidate of the PDP or APC.

However, there are many factors that will help an Igbo to brighten his prospects of being the President of Nigeria. There are so many minorities, ethnic groups in Nigeria that feel the way Igbo people feel about alienation and lack of inclusion in governance. And when you have all of these groups come together in a political party for the purpose of electing a president, there are chances that such a person will win. In the 90s, Dr. Alex Ekwueme was edged out as the presidential candidate of the PDP at the Jos Convention, and this was a man that was promised by so many of the northern allies who were with him in NPN to pay back the loyalty he gave to President Shehu Shagari. He was promised that he would be compensated through their support.

Instead, they conspired and used their number and brought out General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in prison, was not there at the formation of the party, and threw him up as the presidential candidate of PDP just to stop the Igbo man. Obasanjo was released from prison for the purpose of foisting him on the Nigerian people and the northerners severally boasted about how they determined who will become Nigerian president.

So, that was why I went out and led other people to form our own party and that was how APGA was born.

The first thing we did was to zone APGA’s ticket to the South-East and Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu emerged as its presidential candidate. Without APGA, there was no way Odumegwu-Ojukwu would have emerged as the presidential candidate of a party in his entire lifetime in Nigeria, if Dr. Ekwueme couldn’t be. That aroused tremendous trepidation among the ruling class who had this fear about the Igbo emerging.

The rigging of the 1999 election was so massive. It was premeditated because President Obasanjo told me after the election when we had a meeting at the Villa, he invited me specifically. They had the authentic result with them and they also knew what they did. Obasanjo said I committed a political sin in Nigeria by promoting Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who fought a civil war and wanted to break up the country. That was when I knew what transpired. In fact, he said the moment we brought out Odumegwu-Ojukwu as a candidate, our party APGA became a national security issue.

What happened to APGA was a matter of state policy and so, I became more conscious of the challenges of the Igbo man in Nigeria but I also know these are challenges that can be surmounted through proper political strategy.

After that rigging, the destabilization of the party was a matter of state policy. What happened in APGA was hatched in the Villa. That was why people would not know why a treasurer in a political party could be announced by the electoral commission as the chairman of the party without a convention. It has never happened anywhere in the world and may never happen again even in Nigeria.

In fact, they saw to it that this party did not see the light of the day. You can imagine, next year will be 20 years of APGA and it has never gone beyond Anambra State. So, the Igbo people generally got completely disillusioned and their morale failed generally. Many assumed that it is not necessary for the Igbo to come together and assert themselves politically because the votes will never count.

That was why since 2012, I began the agitation for electronic voting. I did a lot about it through the National Assembly and through a memorandum to the presidency but the PDP never cared and worked against it. It was when they became a victim of election manipulation that they began to champion the issue of electronic voting. You now begin to hear former President Jonathan on every occasion he spoke after he left office, saying that electronic voting was the answer to election manipulations in Nigeria.

So, here were are, getting again to where votes will begin to count in Nigeria and the main problem we have is being able to sensitize the Igbo man again to be prepared to participate. So, that’s why I said that the problem is entirely our own. Nobody placed the order for power. There are many ethnic groups in Nigeria because Nigeria is still based on ethnic nationalities. There is nothing like Nigeria is a country far more divided along religious lines. People of the same religion still display sentiments to their ethnic nationalities rather than their religion. That is their position.

We are marching again towards another election year. A non-Igbo would wonder what the Igbo want; whether it is Presidency, Biafra, or restructuring. Are the Igbo speaking from both sides of the mouth?

Any person advancing that logic is simply being mischievous. That person is being intelligent by half.

Boko Haram has been there for years, about 12 years before the emergence of President Buhari. Boko Haram even appointed him to be their negotiator. Not only that, their objective which has not changed is to Islamise Nigeria and set up what they called the Caliphate Republic. And they were able to occupy about 14 local government areas. They had their flags in those areas. Nigeria did not blackmail the North with that and Buhari still emerged as President.

Before Jonathan eventually came up, the Niger-Delta militants were at work. They were also talking about the Niger-Delta Republic and brought the economy of Nigeria to its knees. It was said that allowing the Niger-Delta to produce the President would douse tension and it did douse tension.

Before Obasanjo became President, NADECO and OPC were holding sway in the South-West because of the issue of M.K.O Abiola. The likes of General Alani Akinrinade had set up a shadow government in the Diaspora and OPC and others launched what they called Oodua Republic in Ibadan, complete with a flag and the Oodua national anthem. The Nigerian ruling class did not for the fear of possible Oodua Republic deny Obasanjo or the South-West Presidency of Nigeria. What happened instead was that the outgoing military compelled the political parties to get their Presidential candidates from the South-West. They went further to force Alliance for Democracy, AD, and All Peoples Party, APP, into an unholy alliance, unholy in the sense that APP had nine states and the AD had six states all in the South-West, and the military government compelled APP to accept its presidential candidate from the South-West and that was Chief Olu Falae.

It has never happened anywhere in the world that a junior partner in a political alliance will be the one to produce a presidential candidate in such an alliance. But it happened in Nigeria just to calm the Yoruba people down. This is part of our recent history and not our First Republic history.

And somebody is saying that some people are agitating and rightly so, that the Igbo people have been so marginalized and don’t feel they have a place in Nigeria anymore, why won’t Nigeria do for them what they did for others and prove to our younger ones that the Igbo are still part of this country? It’s just sheer blackmail and mischief to hold Biafra agitations against the Igbo wanting to be president. It has nothing to do with reality.

And talking about restructuring, everybody wants Nigeria restructured but producing a President from the South will facilitate that restructuring. Producing a president from the South after having one from the North for eight years is restructuring. The 2014 National Conference recommended restructuring. Buhari made it clear when he was sworn in that he would not touch the 2014 national conference recommendations. And if you watched Atiku Abubakar during his campaigns, he only talked about restructuring when he came to campaign in the South. Check the records. Each time he campaigned in the North, he never mentioned it. This means that to him, it is expedient to mention restructuring in the South, and perhaps he didn’t mean it. All these things were in our records.

So, anybody talking about restructuring and saying restructure first before talking about the presidency may not understand. To me, Presidency comes first before restructuring and it depends on where that Presidency comes from. No northern president will champion restructuring. You cannot engineer restructuring from outside the government. I was part of PRONACO that tried it and everybody agreed. Professor Wole Soyinka is still alive, but when it came to funding the project, we found it was impossible to do so except with state resources and facilitation. So, that one ended there.

Talking about Presidency, when you come to the South-West, Tinubu is formidable and you don’t get to hear about several others. However, in the South-East, there appears to be many interested candidates. Won’t this work against the South-East when it comes to projecting one candidate?

Well, bringing out one individual is not the best way to go about it. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world except a president that wants to go for a second term and even that, the party will give him a chance of first refusal.

That is often seen in the presidential system like that of the United States. But other than that, when somebody is going for the very first time, aspirants emerge. It is only the party convention that throws up the candidate. So, in the case of the South-East, there’s nothing unusual that more people are indicating interest to contest the presidency. Before now, the impression was that no one in the South-East is showing interest in running for the presidency; but now that they are indicating interest, nobody should complain about too many of them coming to run. Eventually, it is the party that decides. But I want to say that neither Tinubu from the South-West nor any of these aspirants from the South-East will emerge as candidates of APC or PDP. It will never happen. There is nobody in PDP from the South-East who has the outreach and goodwill; and the capacity and qualification of Dr. Alex Ekweme. None of them and yet they treated him the way they did in Jos.

In the case of Tinubu, I don’t even know where his optimism is coming from because when you think of it, Nigeria cannot escape the sentiment of religion. How can a Muslim want to replace another Muslim? How can that fly? A party that throws up Tinubu has planned to fail right from the very beginning not because his name is Tinubu but because of the factors and circumstances around him. It also means that if he emerges, although he is a Muslim, he should know that Northern Muslims will not consider him a Muslim. If he emerges, he will have to take a Christian from the North who may not be able to garner the kind of votes that a Muslim candidate will make.

That is the practical thing playing out. Anybody can argue it but at the end of the day, we shall see. The PDP is going to pick its candidate from the North-East because they believe the North-West has had its full time and the North-East has not had an opportunity. And APC is not going to allow the northern political space to be occupied by the PDP. So, APC is also looking in the direction of the North-East. Already, PDP has gone to the North-Central to take a chairman. Watch that APC is also taking its chairman from the North-Central.

So, be rest assured that North-East presidential candidates of either Fulani or Kanuri in that area will fly the flags of these two parties. So, the recommendation I make to the Igbo, and that is without any anger as to the injustice done to me in the party I founded, but with every sense of patriotism is that the Igbo must come together, especially now that Professor Chukwuma Soludo is coming in as governor of Anambra State, and being a man who has tested his political trouble, a man who has been around from the time he served as CBN governor and having served in other capacities; he will be serious about the Igbo question. Now that he is coming in as governor, he should be passionate about developing APGA outside the South-East. He should see to it that APGA is relaunched and returned to its original vision. Once that is done, the political equation of Nigeria will change because APGA will be the only party that will throw up a Christian Presidential candidate that will have a national appeal. The 2023 election must be based on some balance that will throw the arrogant northern political class back to the drawing board.

I can also tell you that the Hausas are coalescing right now around the Peoples Redemption Party, PRP. They will soon emerge strong. They have just discovered that the late Aminu Kano is not just the leader of the Talakawas and street urchins but he was one person determined to assert the Hausa political identity in the North, instead of being subsumed under the Fulani hegemony. So now, they have realized what Aminu Kano was fighting for, that he was not the leader of the Talakawas or street urchins as branded by northern elites. The Hausa who are far more educated than other ethnic groups from that part now have come to that realization and you discovered that gradually, they are throwing up Professor Attahiru Jega as their arrowhead. When the time comes, don’t be surprised to see Prof Attahiru Jega as the flag-bearer of the PRP.

The late Balarabe Musa who won in old Kaduna which included Katsina was a Hausa man. In Kano, there was Abubakar Rimi, another Hausa man. So, there would be a realignment of political forces.

Indeed, 2023 will be an interesting year and that includes the introduction and deepening of electoral technology. You will see a strong force emerging among the Hausa and their friends. Then, if my recommendations are accepted, APGA will rebound and that’s the only platform that an Igbo man can fly.

If you notice, after Odumegwu-Ojukwu, no Igboman has been the candidate for APGA. After Ojukwu, those who hijacked APGA felt it was better for them to adopt Jonathan. So, they adopted Jonathan in 2011 and adopted Jonathan again in 2015, publicly.

And what happened in 2019? They went to Tiv and brought one General Gbor that we have never heard his name in politics. General Gbor was not a combatant soldier but a classroom teacher in the army.

After using him, he has gone back to where they brought him from but you can never see him anywhere around APGA. They have wrecked that party from its original vision but I know an opportunity is calling and the mood is right and Professor Soludo has a date with history.

So, you still expected APGA to be what it used to be when you founded it?

It will even be greater. There is this adage that the Igbo man doesn’t start running from the rain until he is fully drenched. Another truth is that the Igbo man has been drenched in his underwear. So, what we were preaching is that with proper sensitization, the Igbo will make a mark in 2023 if they go into a coalition with a stronger party. The Igbo people have done it before in the First and Second Republics and they were very relevant. If my advice is heeded to, APGA would rebound and go into an alliance for the Igbo to remain relevant in the scheme of things.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo should organize a political summit of the Igbo to work out how to push the people ahead in 2023.

It is not by begging. When I heard Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife being quoted to have said Igbo are willing to bow to get the Presidency, I was surprised. I was even expecting him to say he was misquoted. Igbo have what it takes to aggregate all the ethnic minorities across the country to form a formidable coalition. It is not about begging but about give and take. It is not the culture of the Igbo to beg.