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Okorie: Igbo presidency in 2023 will facilitate restructuring

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Chief Chekwas Okorie


National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwa Okorie told LAWRENCE NJOKU that granting Igbo President in 2023 would fast-track restructuring of the country.

How do you view the call for an Igbo President in 2023?
The campaign is getting very serious, and I want our people to know that this is our best opportunity. There is almost a national consensus that it is Igbo’s turn to produce the next President. Interestingly, people who are not of Igbo political leadership are the ones who appear to be championing the cause for our people. So, we cannot afford not to show seriousness in the way we engage others and the way we redefine our political strategy to be more pragmatic and proactive in actualising it.

Certain Igbos, including the political leaders, still feel it is not yet time for this…
It is very unfortunate really, when some people believe that they, because of individual interest, are not qualified to gun for certain offices. They now begin to make it look as if that is Igbo’s position. I don’t want to join issues with the people you mentioned.

The truth remains that the likes of Edwin Clark, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Gen Ishola Williams and Sen. Emmanuel Buwacha from Taraba, who are non-Igbo people have said it is our turn. And if an Igbo man would wake up and say, no it is not our time; I begin to wonder where the person is coming from.

In 2015, as soon as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost the election, within a couple of months, the PDP committee, led by our former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, proposed that the party’s 2019 presidential candidate should come from the North, and that was the position they took and maintained till the election.

Now after 2019, their presidential candidate has gone to the tribunal, and I want to say that as soon as that tribunal is over, they don’t need a committee, but a NEC decision to say it is the Southeast’s turn. I am not in the PDP. I am in the UPP, but that is what I will expect PDP to do to reciprocate the several years of control of the Southeast without anything to show for it. For 16 years, PDP turned the Southeast into a construction site without completion of any project. So, the time has come for the party to compensate the zone for this neglect.

I am of the UPP, but I have given support to President Buhari and my position is that, he will be writing his name in gold as the one who laid the foundation for national unity, if he supports the Igbo quest for presidency in 2023. I have also said if the APC (because I cannot see myself working with PDP for many reasons that will be handled at other time) should take their presidential candidate from the Southeast, I can assure you that UPP will do exactly for that candidate what we did for President Buhari to underscore our patriotic disposition in this matter.

I have heard even our leaders, like Nnia Nwodo, the President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo on Channels Television saying Igbo people are more interested in restructuring than in the presidency. And I begin to wonder with his political exposure and pedigree, his education and eloquence, where such view is derived from.

In this discussion, he has not allowed his personal interest to give way for more collective interest. How can you talk of restructuring in the exclusion of control of executive power?
This government has made it abundantly clear, even to the deaf, that it is not going the way of the national conference and we have less than four years to go in President Buhari’s administration. So, anybody who is thinking about a conference to restructure Nigeria before 2023 general elections is probably not living in Nigeria.

Just because Atiku Abubakar said he would restructure Nigeria, when it is not in PDP’s manifesto, you got carried away by one man’s view that is not written anywhere. So, why wouldn’t you now be happy to see an Igboman become President, so that if no other thing, he will facilitate the restructuring you are talking about in the best way possible, even if by introducing bills and embarking on devolution of power?

To say we are more interested in restructuring gets me worried, because even Atiku will require executive power to embark on restructuring. All the people he sits with in the socio-cultural groupings in Nigeria like the Middle Belt, the Afenifere and the South-South, among others, have said denying the Igbo presidency at this time is not fair; that whoever does that does not want national unity and equity. And our own people are turning around to say no, it is not time for us.
It pains me really and I am tempted always to join issues with them, but I try to restrain myself because that will even make us more of a laughing stock.

Nwodo actually said his position was personal and coming from the fact that without restructuring, no meaningful impact can be made by any president of the country…
That statement is not based on any solid logic, because he has not even had that opportunity once since independence in 1960, and now you begin to imagine that such a person will not deliver without restructuring. Why did we go all out in 2019, even the Ohanaeze became so partisan for Atiku. It was because he said he would restructure Nigeria. Now, you are about to have your own person who believes in restructuring. So why should we believe Atiku more than an Igbo President?

Such statement is very embarrassing to people like us who know how much effort we are making to engage other Nigerians to see reasons to support us. Although he said it was a personal opinion, but there is no difference between the opinion of Ohanaeze President and Ohanaeze itself.

So, there is no way you can separate restructuring and presidency, as they are interwoven. They have not told us how they want to achieve this restructuring in a peaceful democratic setting. We have not even seen a private member bill sponsored by one of our legislators, apparently based on briefing from Ohanaeze in this regard to be able to talk about it in the National Assembly.

Have we not known the number of times private organisations tried to conduct national conference and failed? If you can’t remember, let me remind you of PRONACO. Everything was done to bring its conference views on board and it never happened. We can also go back to Prof Nwabueze, who was a key member of the Patriots and they produced a bill to uphold a new constitution that would bring about this restructuring we are talking about and submitted at the National Assembly, it never saw the light of day.

I don’t think even the Senate acknowledged receiving submission of that nature, not to talk of looking into the bill. Copies of that bill were sent to socio-cultural leaders at a time. If it is the President that is sponsoring such a bill, it will be considered and he has the capacity to ensure that the National Assembly looks into it. It is only a president that has the capacity to provoke national conference in a democratic or military setting. So, I don’t see how that thing will work and that being the case, it beats my imagination to accept that it should be given priority over
presidency of Nigeria.

So, you are saying getting power at the centre is the shortest way to begin restructuring by the Southeast?
It will be the major facilitator for restructuring, because somebody who believes in it would have been produced. If APC is not doing so now, it is simply because it is not in their manifesto. There was this el-Rufai committee that came up with far-reaching decisions on devolution of power and control of resources and all of those things, but the President was not inclined in that direction.

But he also said recently, when APC governors went to congratulate him for winning second term, that it was time for a true federal structure because he received everyone’s endorsement. And we believe he will come up with an executive bill to begin to tinker with that.

If you have a president that is coming from the background of his people and majority of Nigerians talking about restructuring, you can begin to leap for joy. It is not the same as saying an Igboman cannot make an impact because restructuring has not happened, even when a lot of people have become president.

I feel really disappointed and I believe we have to think more deeply about this. A lot of meetings are going on to engage other zones and get the right material. It is unfortunate that there is no synergy between the political class and the socio-cultural leaders.

I would have wished that by now, there would have been a political summit of the Southeast geo-political zone, powered by Ohanaeze to put all the governors, senators, members of House of Reps, state Assemblies and other political leaders on a road map for Igbo political emancipation, for self determination or for restructuring for us to be relevant in the political equation of Nigeria.

This will enable them have a full gauge of the people you put out in the field about these. You have not even consulted with our people in the North to know the way they feel before making comments and that will enable you know whether what we are proposing here is for their safety and welfare.

Aside Ohanaeze calling for restructuring, IPOB, MASSOB and other agitators want Biafra independence over Presidency. Does this not show conflict?
Let nobody use what these agitators are doing to blackmail us. If they say it is Biafra or nothing, it is within their rights. The Southwest at one point got fed up with what was happening in Nigeria and declared an Oduduwa Republic. That declaration came with presentation of their Constitution that would make a republic. That struggle was carried on till 1999 politics that led to the emergence of Obasanjo as an attempt to compensate them against all permutations that Alex Ekwueme was going to be the candidate.

Before Buhari became President and even under President Jonathan, Boko Haram had occupied 14 local government areas in the North. The landmass of those areas was more than Southeast geographical zone, and they declared their Republic and hoisted their flag and threatened to move from there to Islamise the whole country. 

Before Jonathan became President, the Niger Delta people also declared their own Republic and they tried to bring the economy to its knees. Aside the Amnesty programme of the Yar’Adua government granted to them, supporting Jonathan was part of the attempt to assuage them. The strategy went a long way to restore the Nigerian economy on the path of growth, especially the oil sector.

So, if anybody is saying because some of our youths are saying it is Biafra and want to use that to create confusion, it is not right. There was no time in which any zone has got something without a struggle. There is no state in Nigeria that does not have minimum voting population of 25 percent of Igbo, and this is verifiable.

What we require is to arouse the political consciousness of the Igbo. The political consciousness was aroused in 2019, just because Igbo was given the Vice Presidential slot and they came out to vote. This is the time to test that resolve again.

We have never produced an elected president since Independence. There is restiveness in our place and Nigerians should come together to pacify our people. We must work towards equity, justice and fair play. The policies of reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration are yet to be observed and there is no better presence of federal government in the Southeast since the war ended. So, there is need to get a more compassionate president to take care of the zone to enable us develop and grow the economy of Nigeria. The Igboman should be given the chance in 2023.


In this article:
Chekwa Okorie
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