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Okorie: APC not in mood to let power come to South

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Okorie

Chief Chekwas Okorie is the National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP). He told LAWRENCE NJOKU, that Ndigbo have always played inclusive politics, stressing that belonging to a political party does not guarantee candidacy. 

• Ndigbo Have Always Played Inclusive Politics

How do you see the assertion that 2023 presidency might elude Ndigbo because they don’t play inclusive politics?
My take on this matter is that we should not just expect that it should come to us as matter of right; we have to contest for it and that contest means that we have to lobby other people outside the Igbo land. That is the way I will like to see what was said.

But there is a way the comments can be interpreted to mean inviting Igbo people to join the All Progressives Congress (APC) if they hope to win. Some have interpreted it that way, but that is not my take. What wassaid is what many of us are saying that power is not given by milk of human kindness of the giver, or holder of power. You contest for it. But we are only saying that since political parties have, by deliberate policy zoned their tickets to other geo-political zones, it should extend such to the South East. In 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) zoned the ticket to the South West as a matter of party policy. It was then that the PDP introduced rotation between the North and South in their constitution, and the same 1999, the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar regime that was handing over at that time played a role in bringing the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) together in an alliance that even APP that had already won nine states was persuaded to concede the presidential ticket to the AD that had only won six states. That was how Olu Falae of the AD became the presidential candidate of the AD/APP alliance in 1999. So at that time, it was for the South West, whether head or tail, they would have still won.

In 2019, I made it clear even in writing, as one of the reasons why we supported President Muhammadu Buhari was because Nigeria was already observing an unwritten convention in the issue of power rotation between the North and the South. So, by 2019 election, anybody from the South that was running for the Presidency would have been swimming against the tide and our reason then was that, we think it was better to allow President Buhari complete his second four-year term so that by 2023 that we are talking about, it would be the turn of the South. So, whatever it is that Alhaji Ismaila Isa Funtua has in mind, I will expect him to play the national role as a major stakeholder in APC to get the party to zone its presidential ticket to the South East. It would now be left for the South East to lobby the rest of Nigeria to vote for the candidate that would win the nomination on that APC platform. It would then be a matter of APC and South East. The same for the PDP. That will be the ideal situation. But what is obvious today as we speak, is that the APC is not in any mood to allow that rotation come to the South, whether the South East or South West. It is not coming, and I see that clearly.

In the case of PDP, the chairman of the board of trustees has already let the cat out of the bag. So, the PDP is not going to the south either. So, it is left for the South East to decide and determine that they will have no room for second fiddle and therefore on that basis continue to contest for presidential election and lobby other geo-political zones and political blocs.

There are so many groups in Nigeria that are sympathetic to the Igbo quest, and for the first time since the return of democracy in 1999, we have seen many prominent non-Igbo political office holders throwing their weight behind the South East on the basis of equity and fair play, and not on the basis of entitlement, or on the basis of pity. So it is for the zone to take advantage of a very bright prospect that is facing them and work towards it.

Funtua also said Ndigbo “should belong,” stressing that when the South West tried to go it alone before now, they were no way near the Presidency.
There are prominent Igbo people in both the APC and the PDP, but in spite of their prominence, if they are not controlling the party leadership, they may not get the nomination to contest. So it is not a question of belonging, but a question of what the party policy is, with regard to that high office. If it is a party that has in its constitution – rotation, it is not at this time when the pendulum favours the South East that someone can come up to say that it is open to everybody like the chairman of PDP said. The funny thing is that he was saying it at the same time that Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a member of the Board of Trustees of the party was saying that it was the turn of Igbo. He is a prominent person on the board of PDP, which means the board never met to take a decision on that. So, the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees went ahead and made a statement, which was quite sweeping. He also came up with the statement that his life was under threat from his own party people. So, it is not a question of belonging, but being a candidate first. No matter how you belong; no matter how you lobby; once you are not a candidate of a frontline party, then your belonging makes no meaning.

Will they say that Alex Ekwueme did not belong, or that the Igbo people who delivered the whole of the South East to the PDP did not belong? Dr. Ekwueme was given all the assurances and he passed the assurance to the South East and we were told that if we voted en masse for the PDP, that would guarantee Dr. Ekwueme’s nomination, and South East delivered 100 per cent PDP, at all the levels. But at that stage, the party decided to nominate Olusegun Obasanjo, who could not deliver even one ward in the South West. So it is not a question of belonging, you can belong, but when the conspiracy against you is high, you will not be nominated.

This was why I formed APGA and zoned the presidential ticket to South East, and if we didn’t do that, the late Odimegwu Ojukwu could not have flown a presidential flag in his lifetime. So, we are going to replicate it. I assure you that the UPP will present an Igbo presidential candidate in 2023, no matter the level of conspiracy. That one is a sure banker.

I can also assure you, on behalf of the party that should any of these frontline parties choose a candidate; especially an Igbo person in 2023, UPP will give the same level of support and collaboration like they gave to President Buhari in 2019.

Some persons are beginning to see power shift as undemocratic, and a move, which negates the rule of law. Do you agree?
Power shift or rotation of power is not undemocratic; it is the most democratic thing to do in a political setting such as Nigeria where you have a political structure that is so lopsided. If you have an arrangement where you want everybody to come together so as to decide on who will be the candidate, then you have to put some people at a disadvantage. If we have the quota system; if we have federal character in the constitution, and other policies that you cannot find in other places, is it not worrisome that these policies are even abused against some people?

Now look at the South East, some people sat down and carved Nigeria into 774 local governments and allocated to the South East only 95 local government areas, the North West, which is a geo-political zone has 188 local government areas. South East is the least, while North West is the highest. Now, if you are going for a party convention, where a presidential primary will hold, delegates are drawn equally from the local governments so that there is equality of local governments (in terms of representation). So, when the South East shows up for the convention with delegates from 95 local government areas, the North West will show up with delegates from 188 local government areas. So, from what is going on, coming to such convention will tell you that delegates from South East are already disadvantaged in terms of their number.

For long, Nigerians have been talking about restructuring, which is not happening. So, in an attempt to address these issues of lopsidedness, rotation becomes the solution to it, and if every other geo-political zone that has participated supports it, it will be beneficial to the country. I don’t know why people are afraid of the South East. We have a population that is well spread out across the country that a president of Igbo extraction will be the most patriotic president that Nigeria will ever have because there is no state in Nigeria where he does not have his own person; there is no state in Nigeria where you do not have Igbo people. So, there is no reason for us to have such enormous spread and people still conspire to deny us a shot at the highest office in the land.

Dikko said it the other day that the major reason for the coup against President Shehu Shagari was to stop Ekwueme from succeeding him. The same Ekwueme suffered the shortchanging that took place in 1999. So why would anybody be afraid of the Igbo man and for what reason?

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The APC seems more disposed to fielding a South West candidate than one from the South East, may be because of the support they got from the zone?
Is the APC prepared to zone the ticket to the South West? APC will not do that. It is not in their Constitution. So, once you subject the APC ticket to national primary election, which is usually done in their convention, not even 100 Tinubu’s will win the primary and if they go by the number of delegates. What I said earlier will happen. Whatever it is, I can tell you that what is going on now is the realignment of political forces, and that is why I disagree with Bola Tinubu when he said that we should not talk about 2023 now because he was actually the one that triggered it. We all know that his campaign posters and souvenirs have been flying around for long all ahead of 2023.

To my mind, Tinubu is being dishonest. At any time a general election ends, politicking begins; it is a normal thing in politics. So, I foresee a situation where the South West will return to their cocoon and take control of the South West. They have already started calling for the unity of the zone. May be Nigerians have not noticed that the North is also coalescing under the PRP, which was the party that was formed by Alhaji Aminu Kano. That is a major political bloc, and they are beginning to put themselves together to assert themselves in 2023.

So, Nigerians should watch out for a situation where about five political parties will fully entrench themselves in major political constituencies with a view to bringing about formidable presidential candidates for 2023. It will not be easy for a winner take all and that is where the issue of alliance may play a major role in a post election that may witness a run- off. We may be witnessing the first run-off in our presidential system in 2023 because of the realignment of forces that I am already seeing. Meetings are ongoing and anybody coming now to say don’t talk about 2023 is only misleading himself not others.

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