National chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), and founding national chairman, All Progressive Grand Alliance ( APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie recently spoke with journalists in Enugu. OKECHUKWU OBETA was there for LEADERSHIP, excerpts:
What is your take on allegation that there is a relationship between UPP, and Nnamdi Kanu?
First and foremost, UPP is a political party registered with INEC in line with the Nigerian laws to acquire power to improve 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. So, haven said this; there is no special relationship between UPP and Biafran agitating groups, because we are aware that the Nigerian law does not permit a political party to have a direct relationship with any group whatsoever.
And for Nnamdi Kanu as a person, he is more like my political son and he does not dispute that. I gave him political limelight and I exposed him politically and appointed him the chairman of APGA in 2002, and, he remained loyal to my own chapter of APGA even during the crisis and up to 2011.
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 where we defer.
I do not think secession will do the Igbo man any good. He is a young man, he 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.
I have had the privilege of meeting the Igbo settlements in Gusau, in Northern part of Nigeria in the year 2000 where they have lived for over 400 years. And that was the year I was invited as a special guest of honour to the Igbo Day celebration in Gusau. The late Odumegwu Ojukwu was also invited, Dr. Alex Ekwueme was 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 leaving 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. This is because it really opened my eyes.
I also 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, Utman Dan Fodio. He came all the way from Senegal through Niger Republic, then to Sokoto.
What then do you think endears IPOB, MASSOB to UPP?
Those who followed my very brief presidential campaign especially who monitored the presidential debate which 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 Ethiopian constitution was a provision for the exit of any nationality that has reasons to opt out of the federation. So, when we saw that the president of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari of the APC had jettisoned every of the 607 recommendations of the the 2014 National conference, we felt that this was the greatest disservice a government will 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 which are in addition to the earlier recommendations that I mentioned to you. We now have to include self determination.
That also, includes referendum, unconditional release of prisoners of conscience whose only sins are the exercise of their fundamental human rights as allowed by the Nigerian constitution.
So naturally, there are various pro-Biafran groups found in UPP, a political party that is approximately close to what they are arguing for. UPP is not a party that preaches secession. The party gives our people the political leadership that they are lacking. And so they began to endorse UPP, one after another. The first to endorse UPP is Ralph Uwazurike, MASSOB, and then a group that is a pro-biafran group that is more politically inclined called movement of Biafrans in Nigeria also endorsed UPP and a few others. So that is how all these endorsements came.
And of course , the issue of sloganeering is something that you cannot control any group; any organization can give a political party his own logo or slogan or nickname. We are here in Nigeria, and, we know that AD, as moribund as it is, is still referred to as Yoruba political party. This APC that is ruling Nigeria today, whether inadvertently or in advertently is now called Fulani party. So,some people have tagged the UPP Biafran National party. This is to endear themselves to opinion. So this is the relationship to the extent that I can describe it.
We learnt that the DSS is trying to investigate the relationship between UPP and IPOB…
Let me just put it this way: I do not want to put the DSS on the spot, but I was not invited and there is no reason to do that. The DSS is entitled to investigate and verify. I am aware that DSS went to INEC and demanded for the UPP constitution and manifesto which INEC did not have readily available. When I supplied 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 the secession tendency.
This is because the issue of Biafra is different from secession. If you talk about who is a Biafran, all of you here (journalists interviewing him) are Biafrans. But do you want to go out of Nigeria, you say, no.
During your convention, you announced that UPP will continue to field a presidential candidate of Igbo extraction until a President of Nigeria emerged from among the Igbo people. Why this 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 or her credentials. Because the laws of Nigeria are such that before the presidential candidate will emerge during a presidential primaries, delegates from the 774 local government areas in the country will be drawn on the basis of equality.
So, when you now have delegates from the North-West (geo-political zone) where they have 188 local government areas, and you have a Presidential aspirant from the Igbo states that have just few local governments, competing with someone from that North-West zone, tell me how, with the type of Nigeria that has primordial sentiments; how that Igbo presidential aspirant will win to become a presidential candidate. That was what happened to Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and, it also happened to so many other Igbo people in Nigeria. Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu tried severally and even deployed two private jets in the process and Chief Author Nzeribe tried and none of them made an impact.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe 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, and, it made him what people called ceremonial president.
And after him no other Igbo man has achieved that height by going into a national political party and dominating it.
So, I was asking myself: “ Is this what we shall continue to go through in this country?” I said ok, the best way to go about it is, to have a political party that would offer a platform for Ndigbo to contest.
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 late Odumegwu to become presidential candidate of APGA.
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 and it was just forty-eight hours to the exercise that the NEC of my party said who are we 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 to 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.