UPP policies as contain in the party’s manifesto are empowerment of the ordinary people and this empowerment will include laying emphasis on agriculture which is the highest employer of labour. Excerpts.
I’m Chekwas Okorie from Alayi in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State. I’m a prince. I am the only surviving son of the late traditional ruler of Alayi clan, which has broken into autonomous communities. My father was Eze Edward Okorie. I had a fairly comfortable upbringing because my parents were well off. My father was a transporter before getting involved in traditional ruler ship. I went through primary schools at two different places, Umuahia and my village, Alai. Then I went the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I studied management and graduated in 1978. I had a very short working experience in the Nigerian Re-Insurance Corporation. Then later in a private company, Water Drilling and Allied Services, where I rose to the position of General Manager. In 1992, I founded Che Water Nigeria Limited and became an employer of labour. That company yielded other companies that are also functional up till now. I think my calling was far more in politics than any other thing. I found myself playing a key role in the struggle for Igbo rights. I started off as an Igbo rights crusader. In 1976 as an under graduate, I was already a member of the Igbo Forum. It was a forum made up of the likes of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. Dr Akanu Ibaim was chairman. Late Justice Onyeama was secretary. Chief Jerome Udorji and others were also there. These were the people that made things happen in the eastern region, especially on the Igbo side in the first republic. We came together to form the Igbo forum in 1976, which was barely six years after the war and the sole purpose was trying to mobilize our people to recover their lost self esteem as a result of the devastation of the war. I was in my twenties and that exposure influenced my view. By 1979, the Igbo Forum changed its name for a number of reasons to Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. The Ohaneze we have today started as Igbo Forum. Later on I joined others to form what was then called Nzuko Imo. And when Abia was created it became Nzuko Abia Na Imo. It was based in Enugu, the capital of old Anambra State and now, capital of Enugu State. We formed that one to get people from the other area. Because there was this firework between the present Anambra people and those of Enugu over what they called indigene and non indigene issue. So, we needed a socio-cultural organization pressure group to protect those that are not from either Anambra or Enugu, but living in Enugu State. Our situation compelled me to form Igbo Ezue Cultural Association, because we felt that Nzuko Abia Na Imo was narrow. So, we needed something that would be broad based. Ohaneze being an umbrella body was made up of mostly traditional rulers and elder statesmen and was a bit on the conservative side. So, we needed something more radical. I began the process of founding a political party. I found out that no Igbo man had ever founded a political party since Nigeria became a sovereign state. Nigeria was there from 1914 and nobody founded an Igbo based political party. Dr Azikiwe joined the NCNC founded by Dr Herbert Macaulay and later on he joined NPP founded by Waziri Ibrahim in the Second Republic. So, I didn’t think it was a good record for the race credited with championing the cause of independence for Nigeria. I made three attempts to found a political party based on Igbo initiative. The third one succeeded and that was 2002 when APGA was founded and registered. Of course, it was a feat in the sense that the Igbo people were so excited about it. The Ohaneze under the leadership of Justice Eze Ozugwu gave me the traditional title of Ogbatulu Enyi Ndi Igbo because that was the way they saw the feat that I achieved. Before then I had other titles, but the one I cherish all the time till now is Oje Ozi Ndi Igbo, which is more humble and more in line with my own attitude of service to the people. Now APGA was so celebrated and our people felt that, at least, there is a political platform that will be sympathetic to our political agenda even though it’s a national party. The leadership became a matter of tussle within two years of its being founded, which is a typical of my people, Igbo. They will never support anything when it is being started because they will not expect it to succeed. And once it succeeds, the first thing is to begin to attack the leadership. APGA was not different either. I didn’t surrender it immediately because it hurt me; there was a vision that the people fighting me didn’t follow that vision. After about eight years of that struggle, I made up my mind, after due consultation with my associates, who now are cut across the country, who appreciates my brand of leadership openness, of carrying everybody along with humility. They decided it was time to move on. And they went and formed another party, the United Progressive Party (UPP). With this, I made another record, being the fourth person in this country to found two political parties in a life time. The first person was Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The second person was Malam Aminu Kano and the other one was Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim and then myself. And by the grace of God I’m the only one still alive of these four. This party is two years old and we are going to face a general election in 2015. We are doing everything to restore the confidence of our people. And it has been working. It has been easier due to the fact that I’ve done this before. Between 1976 and now, we are looking at 38 years of being involved in Igbo rights crusade. I’ve never derailed. I’ve never played on people’s sentiments for personal aggrandizement. So, if it is working well for us, with Chekwas Okorie behind this, it is authentic.
Q: Does this party have members across the country?
Definitely by the laws of this country, you can never qualify to be registered if you don’t have executive committees in a minimum of 24 states of the country, which is two third of the states of the country. Even if you are going for the minimum, you will still have 19 other states. Outside the five states in Igbo land, we are present in 31 other states of the federation. The other condition of party registration is what they called federal character. As I am the chairman of this party, the secretary is from Zamfara State. So, the key positions have been distributed among the six geo-political zones to reflect that federal character. If we didn’t do that we wouldn’t be qualified for registration. The thing is that every party has its own strong base anywhere in the world, whether it is in America or anywhere. Even in America where democracy has been there for decades, you have states that are purely strong democratic states. There are the swing states that are neither here nor there, but during election, they come together and take a position. That we are being strong in the south east is nothing unusual. That doesn’t make us tribalistic. APC has its own strong base. Even ANPP was strong in the Muslim controlled area. That is the picture of the multi party democracy.
Q: What is your take on the unity of the Igbo’s and their support for one another?
The Igbo’s are not as disunited as people say. Igbo people can very easily come together once their collective interest is at stake. But the republicanism nature of the Igbos leads them into forming groups. Everybody wants to be at the head of one group or the other. I invited late Ikemba Ojukwu because I was a loyalist of his for over two decades. And I suffered along with him each time he was humiliated. And I found out that those who were against him during the war were all very much around, those at the high positions of authority. So, they used every avenue to humiliate him, because they felt that if he had any foothold he would do something tragic. There was that morbid fear and I saw it. So, when I founded APGA I invited him and made him the presidential candidate and that angered the establishment. Former President Obasanjo told me to my face in a meeting we had after the 2003 election that I committed the trivial political sin by making Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu presidential candidate. .But I was proud that I made him the presidential candidate. I did that, at least, to restore his sense of belonging. And then that also gave him the platform to, at least, speak again for our people. Because if you don’t have a platform, it does not matter how big your profile might be as an individual, it is the platform that gives weight to whatever you have. People almost forgot that Dim Ojukwu was there until he resurfaced as presidential candidate and then began to shine again like thousand stars. What I did wrong was that my loyalty to him was absolute. The trust was total. So, while I
was seeing myself as his son, he saw me as a rival. And that was dangerous for me and I didn’t know. I found out later that this was a man who never wanted to share space with anybody even if the person prays to be his son. I can tell you without any fear of contradiction that he was very much behind the crisis of APGA. All allegations leveled against me, people believe them because of Ojukwu. He had his regrets before he died but that was not made public. But now after I left APGA two years ago, their battle has never abated. Sun Newspaper published the outburst of Ojukwu’s wife attacking Peter Obi for defecting to PDP. So, now all of them know that there is a word called betrayal. And Peter Obi replied in the same paper to say that there was no more need of staying in APGA to become an empty shell without the core value. All of them are fighting now over what should have been the vision of APGA. And of course, there’s nobody who can know the vision better than the originator himself. They cannot know the vision better than myself who founded it. When I left APGA, I said that I have left the party with the spirit and soul of the party and will resurrect in another platform. That was actually before UPP was founded. When UPP was founded, we went back to the original vision. Igbo people coalesce under a political party more than they can unite under cultural platform. In the first republic, as soon as Zik reared his head, as the leader of NCNC after the death of Dr Macaulay, because he didn’t start over as the leader, but as secretary, Igbo people on their own took over the NCNC as their own. There are not many who would not think that it was Zik that founded NCNC. With it the party controlled everywhere including other parts of the country where the Igbos were in good number, especially mid western region that later became Delta and Edo states. In the second republic, Igbo had scattered into various parties. Most of them into UPN, Zik came out late and went to NPP. And the question was why he chose a small party instead the big one where he would fit in better. He said that our people were better of being majority in a minority party. Where their voice would be heard than being minority in a majority party where they would be assimilated without trace. And immediately our people coalesced the platform of NPP and they swept the votes in the south eastern state. That was only Anambra and Imo states. Remember Jim Nwobodo and Dr. Sam Mbakwe became governors of those two states. And then the party became so strong even in Plataea State where it also won the governorship election under the leadership of the late Solomon Lar. When we founded APGA, people were very skeptical but as soon as a presidential candidate emerged in the person of Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, even those who didn t like him among the Igbo people began to support. APGA won election at Ojo Federal Constituency without a candidate. APGA won Amuwo Odofin federal constituency without a candidate. We won Suleja Federal Constituency without a candidate because the people voted massively for the party without even asking who the candidate was. That is to underscore the Igbo’s sentimentality and emotion and their unity in matters of their interest. So, when you see them, form these various groups, you don’t disturb them because if you do that you cause more trouble. Many of these groups have become moribund. I can remember many names that are no longer in existence. None of them are up to twenty years or more. It is better you allow them fizzle out on their own than trying to bring them together. They will not agree to bow to one another. Just make use of their republican nature to achieve the common political agenda. So, when we come, for instance, we will bring all of this leadership under one umbrella. This is not a cultural group or NGO, it’s a political party which passed through a process for it to be registered in Nigeria. It’s not a question of a few persons coming together and giving anything a name and these parties that INEC has registered, this one is your own. You are in Lagos and we are not asking you to take over Lagos from the owners of the land, but if you know that you can sponsor somebody into the house to represent you in the house from Lagos here, we will give him nomination, no other party will. The reason why Igbo people are not represented in the state assembly here in Lagos, federal or even senate is because they do not have nomination. PDP will not give an Igbo man nomination. APC will not even do it, but UPP will. And so, when you make that type of offer and they know that the person saying it has made sacrifices for it, they will unite politically. We are not against Jonathan, but there will be no support without condition because he has spent some years in that office without anything to show for it. Giving our people appointments here and there is not the issue. These are their entitlement because every zone shall be represented at the national executive council. The only thing he can do is to decide who goes to which ministry. But I’m not aware that the ministry of finance has influenced any budget to favour our people. So, the fact that our daughter is there is not giving us any special benefit. There must be what we call a memorandum of understanding and it is not a promise that Jonathan will make. Jonathan himself is not well reputed for keeping promises. So, we insist that it is a party to party negotiation. If UPP and PDP are going into alliance, there must be a memorandum of understanding. The type the NCNC had with NPC and the type the NPP had with NPN. That is the way we can say that there is a commitment and we have issues that will be addressed. Appointment is an entitlement and you can’t deny us that. The road infrastructure is so deplorable. Death trap. Then look at our youths, the federal government of Nigeria has no business with primary school education, that is the law but the president can use his prerogatives as a president to intervene at any level and for any purpose because it is of national interest. So, the president exercises this prerogative intervening in the building of the Almajari model schools in the north. These are primary schools costing the federal government and tax payers billions of naira. But come to the southeast in particular, then youths have gone through secondary school, university, polytechnic, skilled, and are educated. For some of them, their parents sold their personal belonging to train them, they came out and they have no jobs. Many of them are doing menial jobs; some of them are selling recharge cards. Some of them are driving Okada to make ends meet. Those who are not prepared to go through all that, out of anger and crisis resort to other vices making the place almost difficult for living and people are now using it to ridicule the whole Igbo people. Why can’t the president use the same prerogative to make the same intervention to empower these youths, so that they can become gainfully employed? And these are people who any investment made on them now will have the direct impact on the economy almost immediately. These are some of the issues. And they cannot be articulated in the memorandum of understanding. If the president ceases to exist as a human being, the commitment remains. If the vice president takes over, he will not say no to the existing agreement, because it is his party. It is not in Igbo tradition for them to beg anybody to come and rule them. The matter now is negotiation.
Q: What are the visions and missions of UPP in the decision making of this country?
Well it’s a grass root political party. It is progressive in its ideology and in the sense that most of its policies as contain in the party’s manifesto are empowerment of the ordinary people. And this empowerment will include laying emphasis on agriculture which is the highest employer of labour, which also brings food to the table within a short season. Sometimes, you can cultivate all the year round. And so there will be food and there will be cash crops. In the area of education, we will make it more qualitative. Another area that is important is healthcare, especially for women and children. There is too much of unpaid taxes. People are not contributing to take care of the weaker people in the society. There is too much of flamboyant lifestyle amongst a few and they will not encourage anybody at the lower level even to be honest in his work. Those who are showing these bad examples may not have acquired their wealth through honest means. So, our approach to corruption will be second to none. In UPP, we don’t have politicians who are recycled over the years. Some of them are right from the first republic as you will find in PDP and APC. We can impose affordable taxes and reasonable taxes and see that they are paid. If you have unbelievable mansion, and if you cannot explain your source of acquiring it, the government has to recover it. And so, we will go all out for people who have milked our treasury dry and they are parading everywhere. You must show proof that you are paying tax. You have about twenty to thirty cars in your garages, so long as you pay taxes on each of them as it is done all over the world no problem. But here you see somebody having many cars and they may not use them and they rot away in the compound. These are the things that UPP will curb. If we say that we are fighting corruption, we will be believed. And the same cannot be said about the people in PDP and APC. These are some of the things that have marked us out. Outside that, we are going to offer Nigerians two options. Any vote for APC and PDP is a vote for the status quo. If you like the way we are, go ahead. But if you change, then the face that changes is UPP. So, there is a divide now between change and the status quo. There is a battle line between the progressive and the reactionary forces. And we see PDP and APC as the same sides of the coin. These issues are going to underline the campaign as we start. What we are saying is not what favours the Igbos, the Yorubas and the Hausas, Christian or the Muslim. They are national issues that touch on national dilemma and the practical approach to come out of it.
Q: What is your take on the issue of removal of the immunity clause?
It appears those in favour of retaining it have the upper hand now, but the recommendation of the other body says it should be removed. But my personal attitude is that it should be qualified a bit.
There should be no immunity on criminal matters and then there should be immunity on civil matters. During Obasanjo’s time, it was handled with impunity, but this regime is a little more circumspect. Most of our governors act with impunity. They do things that are clearly criminal. They can do anything and when you take them to court, they will use the government’s money to pursue the case. I think that those things that are criminal and willful destruction of properties and life all in the name of keeping law and other should not be protected by immunity. Civil matters that are enormous will make the governor to lose focus. If a governor is indicted, the state assembly must complete the process and impeach him.
Q:What’s your advice for Nigerians?
They should get voter’s cards and cast their votes during election. Don’t vote for somebody just because he is from your village. It is better to vote than not.
The issue of Boko Haram cannot be solved by mere platitude. It is something that has to be resolved by force without neglecting the long term measures. The importance of education is that if somebody asks you a question you should be able to ask questions. But without education, you will do exactly what you are told without asking questions. I’m in agreement with T.Y. Danjuma when he told the president to go all out and fight this group. There is no war that does not have collateral damage. Tell all the people in the area to move out of that area. Find a place for the refugees in the mean time. And anyone who did not move out at the stipulated time will have to face the Nigerian army. The Boko Haram is using the human shield to protect themselves. The fear of the innocent ones being killed will prolong the problem at hand. As soon as the government declared a cease fire, another forty girls were abducted. They are treating them with kid’s gloves.