Chief Chekwas Okorie is the national chairman of the UnitedProgressive Party (UPP). He spoke to PAUL UWADIMA on the ill-advisedcall for the boycott of forthcoming governorship election in AnambraState and other issues.
One of the major outcomes of your party’s national convention is that the party zoned its presidential ticket to the South East-a zone where there is serious agitation for secession from Nigeria. Is this meant to assuage the feeling of marginalization in that part of the country?It was a policy agreed by the first national executive committee of the party held on 13 November 2012, and just about one month after the party was registered and was approved by NEC and it has not been reversed for any reason. In this convention it was necessary to reaffirm it and what informed that policy was to try to strike a balance in the contest of the highest office of the land and secondly a political party has every right to strategize in a manner that will give it some advantage in the election. We felt that we couldn’t just be different by doing what others are doing. At a point everybody has to look up to the north for presidential candidate whether they will win or not win and we know that any political party that is worth its name has a base and if you don’t have one go and form one. UPP is a national party but we needed a space where there is any void to occupy it as a spring board to get to other places. So in 2015 we produced a presidential candidate from the South East, incidentally my humble self. The impact we made was not bad because that was our first outing and it drew attention to the party and it is the fallout from that bold initiative that we are reaping now and many people are beginning to come. While some politicians are surging into political parties that are in power in search of greener pastures, some who are ideologically inclined are looking in our direction because of our progressive ideology. So we needed to re-emphasize it because the convention is the highest organ of the party. If it was a NEC decision in 2012 it is now a convention ratified policy in 2017.
So the zoning of the presidency has no link to recent Biafran agitations in the South East?
Why you can factor the Biafran agitation into it without being wrongis that we have always believed that the problem of the Igbo inNigeria is political and it can only be resolved politically.Agitation for Biafra is an ill-wind that will blow nobody any good andthere is no way you can make omelet without breaking egg. If you areconsidering secession you must consider that the process to secessionis war and nobody whether you are born during the war or after willembrace war, because when you look at television, cable network andsocial media you see the devastation of war. You don’t have toexperience it for you to know that it is not an attractive option foranybody, not for the northerners, not for the Igbo people or thesoutherners. But there are young men who are impulsive by theirnature who perhaps believe that the way to get whatthey want is to make threats and we have continued to preach thepolitical option. President Muhammadu Buhari has posed that challengeto Igbo people in two occasions. One, when he spoke to Aljazeera TVNetwork and he was asked a question on the Biafran agitation, he saidthat Nigeria is running a multi-party democracy and that Igbo peopleshould take advantage of that democratic process to form a politicalparty of their own, that was how he put it, and canvass what they wantthrough that party. The second one was the last United Nationsconference, the one he attended, he seized the opportunity to addressNigerians in Diaspora and somebody in the audience posed similarquestion to him and he gave the same answer. Which means for him it isa challenge to politicians from the South East to go and address thisissue. It is a challenge we have taken and we have done very well, sowell that government of Nigeria ought to have commended us for thewonderful patriotic action by our registered national political party.Since we started to preach the political option, many of the agitatinggroups have endorsed UPP and the incidences of street demonstrationshave practically been eliminated.
What about the call by some of the agitators for the boycott of theforthcoming governorship election in Anambra State and the 2019elections?
We are also using our very subtle method to inform them of the dangerof boycotting elections because it is more like committing politicalsuicide for them than for anybody else. So they are beginning to seeUPP as that political platform to embrace in a democracy.
I want to draw your attention to this. In the social media severalpeople are describing UPP as the new Igbo party or the new APGA, do you agree with these appellations?
The point here is that there is very little anybody can do to controlsloganeering in a democracy. And people say certain things and if theyknow any slogan that will endear the party to themselves or endearthem to that party they will use the slogan but you cannot come outopenly to challenge them . Anybody in this country who has reachedcertain maturity will know that AD, Alliance for Democracy, was forlong called a Yoruba party and even APC as national as it is, iscalled Fulani party not even Northern party or Hausa party. When Ifounded APGA it was not for it to be called Igbo party, but somepeople called it Igbo party but it remains a national party becausethe first question is, is it registered as a political party? If yesthen it means it has met the requirement for registered politicalparty which means it must have offices in minimum of 24 states of thecountry and the Igbo states are only five. Second thing to look at,what is the content of the constitution? Does the constitution confineit to an ethnic enclave? And then you go beyond that and look at themanifesto and these are all documents registered with INEC. In thecase of UPP it is already on our website . So if these things provethat you are a national party then allow people the liberty to use anyslogan they like that endears them to a particular political party.Some people even call UPP Biafran National Party and when I heard it,it really amused me.
Given the quality of aspirants using the UPP as the platform for theirgovernorship ambition in the forthcoming election in Anambra State,what is the party going to do to ensure that the primary is free andfair and avert rancor among the aspirants?
That is exactly what I promised Nigerians, that our primary electionshall be transparent, credible and open. The constitution we haveamended solved most of the problems that breed acrimony in parties.Instead of saying that three delegates will be elected at the wardlevel for state congresses for the purpose of electing the candidatewe simply said that five delegates shall come from the wards and wename those delegates as those occupying certain basic positions asward chairman, ward secretary, ward treasurer, ward youth leader, wardwomen leader. In so doing we have saved the party the logisticnightmare of going to conduct election in 326 wards in Anambra Stateto elect just three people per ward. We have to set up electoralcommittee that will conduct it. And most times it doesn’t happen , younow see rich aspirants go to draw different lists from the same wardas delegates and when you come to the state congress, you now see twoor three parallel congresses and at the end of it you have two orthree candidates emerging and the battle then shift to the nationalheadquarters in Abuja where it now becomes more or less a bazaar.Right now all the UPP delegates for Anambra governorship race arealready known and they will be uploaded to our website. And on the dayof the primary election we will make sure that at least one televisionstation covers it live so that the world will see what we have put onground.