Okorie: UPP is Not for Secession


National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this interview with journalists, bares his mind on the burning national issues. Peter Uzoho was there

Your party, UPP posted an impressive showing in Awka during your national convention. What is expected from now on?
Let me say that Nigerians should look forward to a political party that is ideologically-rooted and is very conversant with the needs of the country at this point in time. There is no doubt that an overwhelming majority of Nigerians, have looked forward to the implementation of the recommendations of the 2014 constitutional conference. Those recommendations were not as exhaustive as many would want them to be. But over 600 recommendations, touched on so many aspects of our national life that would have balanced this country better than it is today and released the potentialities of many federating units and ethnic nationalities to develop at their own pace, to engage in the very healthy competition that would bring out the comparative advantages of all the federating units, for development and growth of the country.

That we believe in. But sadly, the All Progressives Congress, that has even Progressive in its name, and the party that participated from their state levels, because they control 24 states, out of the Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. And these 24 states and the Federal Capital Territory, contributed what they considered their best teams to the national conference. It was only the APC as a party that did not contribute the three slots given to them as a party.

And so, one may say that those decisions were reached by a majority of the APC governors. And the same APC controls the National Assembly by majority. So, for the President of Nigeria to dismiss that document and say that he has not read it, he would not read it and that it was going to be confined to the archives, was the biggest tragedy that befell Nigeria at the beginning of his government.

So, we felt as a political party there was something we could do about it. This is not a matter for the judiciary, to say we will go to court to challenge anybody. But that we will bring the entire recommendations, the highlights at least, and reduce it to a manifesto format and it becomes our social contract with the Nigerian people and an article of faith. This is what we have succeeded in doing, at least, in terms of the ideological thrust of our party.

And as we were doing this, we were also testing the grounds to see how prepared Nigerians are for this kind of radical departure from the status quo. And we found out that the people of Borno, especially the Southern Borno, would want the national conference recommendations almost as much as the people of the South-east would want it. The people of the Middle Belt, responded as the National Conference was intended to liberate them from the shackles of the hegemony of the caliphate. The Southern Zaria people responded enthusiastically to what we were ready to do as a political party. Not to talk about the Niger Delta people. Delegations upon delegations began to come to us from the various parts of the country to say this thing you’re canvassing, don’t ever relent, that is what is going to attract us to you. We want to see it in more concrete terms.

Again, Atiku Abubakar, began to play up the issue of restructuring. But the weakness in his own that made it look more like rhetoric was because he belongs to the party that is doing the opposite. And since Nigeria doesn’t run an independent candidate system, he couldn’t see how he was going to implement the opposite of what his party believes in. But all the same, his weighty voice gave credence to what the UPP had already articulated in our manifesto and constitution. Now, IBB has joined in saying, restructure Nigeria.

So, self-determination and restructuring has become a national singsong. Today, we’re the only political party of the 45 that exists at the moment that has come out with this bold initiative. So, as we approach the campaigns for 2019, we’ll take this message to every nook and cranny of this country, so that they will not see it as an Igbo agenda, but an agenda that will liberate Nigeria. Because what is holding Nigeria down is the type of structure it is operating and that structure must be dismantled and a new one put in place and you will see Nigeria experience a quantum leap in its development. So, this is what Nigerians should expect from us. We are certain that having carried out this convention successfully, we’re now equipped as a political party and we are equipped to meet Nigerians in the field.

In other words, you’re saying that UPP is a national party?
It is far more national than any party that exists today, because I don’t see anything that makes APC a national party with its promotion of nepotism, sectionalism, lop-sidedness in appointments, and refusal to respond to the people’s needs. I have not seen anything whatsoever that makes APC national. When you look at it, you’re seeing a party representing a particular part of the country, with a sprinkle of people from other places. Like I said, no party in government has divided Nigeria more than APC. So, nothing makes it national. As for the PDP, it is just a shadow of itself.

You can’t even place it, until it exists again. It is only existing in name because it is registered. But they have almost dissolved themselves. The leader of the bigger has publicly told their people to see political sanctuary elsewhere and they have been running into other parties. You can see the number of people that have run into the APC in the South-east. Of course, we have also benefitted. But, this time, we’re being careful to embrace those who are still young and have not been corrupted very badly by the PDP bad attitude.

So, having mentioned these two, because every political party must have a base, the UPP must have started being felt from the South-east. But we now have a message that the man in Southern Borno will begin to now have something in it for him, the Middle Belt are already seeing something in it for them. Nobody goes to a party if he doesn’t see anything that will endear him to that party. The national nature of the UPP will be seen by the time we hit the field.

But we must win Anambra first, because there must be a springboard. And it is just fortuitous that Anambra election is coming up in November and we have a clear one year between that time and the 2019 election to be able to make our message made and understood.

There is a dose of Biafran sentiment in UPP, given the pronouncements of most of your members. Why is it so?
Well, first of all, as I said before, this is the only party that is talking about self-determination and this is the only party that is talking of referendum. And the Nigerian constitution has no provision for referendum. Though it has a provision for self-determination, but nobody is canvassing that. It has no provision for, except it has a provision for the President, in the exercise of prerogative of mercy, have some people pardoned. But there is no clear-cut policy on the issue of freedom expression.

So, what is no longer being talked about in developed countries and developing countries like treasonable felony or treason for merely expressing opinions is still very much observed in Nigeria, where mere expression is being branded as treason. We now said that our government will release unconditionally all those people who are prisoners of conscience, whose offences are only as a result of expressing their views as citizens.

So, those agitating for Biafra or for separation, believe that there is another way. Instead of exposing themselves in the streets and being shot, even though they are non-violent; that there is a political party, from where they can now influence the election of members of the House of Representatives, Senate and even governors and state assemblies, who have imbibed this ideological inclination of a party like this, so that their views can be heard and expressed where it should be, which is the National Assembly, where laws are made. So, they started embracing it.

Again, what they have now understood from us is that self-determination is not the same thing as secession. Of course, a political party registered in Nigeria is seeking power in Nigeria and not outside Nigeria. So, they have understood that and many of them for their own comfort, chose to now brand it as Biafran National Party, which is like slogan, which nobody can control.

So, that is it. The party has immediately become a movement of sort. It has also done Nigeria a very patriotic duty by de-emphasising street demonstrations and emphasising the political process, which is what is going on all over the world – in Scotland, in Ireland, in Catalonia, in Quebec in Canada -name it. They are all using the political process to make demands. And the countries where they are making these demands, continuously give them more and more accommodation to douse the demand.

That is why the referendum that took place in Scotland did not sail through, because the British Government granted them of much more than they were demanding and the majority of the people said, well, in this way, we are better off in a bigger country than a smaller country and the referendum failed. The same thing happened in Quebec. They’ve had two referendums, 10 years apart and the Canadian Government provided the people of Quebec much more that is agitating their minds and each time, the referendum will fail. Look at Ethiopia in Africa.

Their own, they went further to include an exit clause in their constitution. Section 31 of the Ethiopian constitution is the provision for exit, that should any ethnic nationality feel strongly that they should opt out of the Ethiopian Republic, that they would invoke that provision, which involves a plebiscite, another name for referendum. And this was meant to calm nerves down after over 30 years of inter-ethnic wars. Since that time, not a single ethnic group has contemplated invoking that provision. The reason is that the government of Ethiopia no longer rides roughshod over other ethnic nationalities, because they are conscious of the fact that each ethnic nationality has an option under the law. And so, everybody is happy. Instead of breaking Ethiopia into pieces, it has united Ethiopia more than ever before. It is not likely that Ethiopia will find itself in those ethnic wars anymore.

So, it is important that we begin to look at what is working for other democracies and allow our own to grow like that. But, we seem to believe that we can force this marriage. No forced marriage even in human relationships ever works. Nobody is happy in a forced relationship. But allow the relationship to grow naturally and let there be mutual respect. I can tell you that Nigeria’s disintegration is made more difficult by the several years, hundreds of years, centuries of inter-ethnic relationship. But it is only when or two ethnic nationalities corner all the instruments of power and use it to suppress others that you find all these agitations that could boil over to violence.

In other words, UPP is not for secession?
No. UPP is not for secession. UPP is for a restructured country that gives every ethnic nationality a sense of liberty, a sense of freedom, a sense of enjoying its own effort in human development and substantial part of its natural endowment. And Nigeria is such a country that there is hardly any section that does not have one natural endowment or the other. But there is an attitude of both selfishness and wickedness on the part of those who have held Nigeria to the jugular, by emphasising only resources from oil and behaving in a manner that suggest that they couldn’t wait for this oil to be depleted and exhausted.

So that they could now begin to explore their own. Nobody comes with such intrigues and grows a nation. All our resources should be developed at the same time and people will see why they cannot constitute an island onto themselves. There is no way UPP will advocate for secession. Because we believe that if we set out to achieve what we want to achieve, there will be no need to secede. What are you seceding from? From where to where? Look, let me tell you, Igbo people own this country more than any other ethnic group. And I say it with all sense of responsibility and sense of history.

I have been to Gusau. In the year, 2000, when I was invited as a special guest of honour to the Igbo Day celebration, it was such a colourful event. Forty-two town unions resident in Zamfara State, brought out their cultural groups of their various towns, developed there, not those invited from home. In the stadium, you could imagine where 42 cultural groups of different colourations performed.

It was one of the most colourful events I ever attended. I became curious and then found out that there was a place called Northern Gusau, where there was an Igbo settlement for over 400 years. And that was the year 2000, the very year the Fulanis celebrated their bi-centenary of the establishment of the caliphate, which means from the time Uthman Dan Fodio came with his Fulani forces into Sokoto to the year 2000, was 200 years, two centuries. But Igbo people have been there 200 years earlier. I have had the privilege in the course of trying to see where my people are located, I have gone round Nigeria a minimum of 15 times in the 41 years I have been in this struggle and I have seen Igbo people, where they are located and the length of times they have spent in those places, generations after generations.

So, I said to myself – really, the people who own this land, will include the Igbo, the Hausa, the Kanuris, the Tivs, Ijaws, Yoruba, the Binis – name them. The latest entrants to the Nigerian geographical space are the Fulanis. All the other ethnic groups are more than 200 years old in Nigeria. And as for Igbo, God created them here. We didn’t migrate from anywhere to anywhere. Nigeria is only 117 years old as a country. That means the Igbo people have lived in those places centuries before the amalgamation.

So, when young impressionable begin to advocate our return from the North, I don’t blame them because what you don’t know, you don’t know. It is a tall order to ask people who cannot even locate their ancestral homes to return. Another take of it is that we have three or four times the number of Igbo people living outside Igboland than those living inside. I have also calculated that because of our people’s enterprise and adventurism, 80 to 90 per cent of Igbo billionaires, if not 99 per cent, are based outside Igboland. Only few have come back to establish their businesses in Igboland and you can name them on your fingertips.

So, what we should be doing is to encourage these billionaires to think home in terms of investments, so that Igbo areas can experience rapid industrial growth. That can be achieved and not to ask people to relocate. Even if Nigeria is divided, you do not move properties and human beings. You only redraw the map. Where you are a citizen you now become a foreigner, and adhere to the laws of the new country. It has happened in many places and our own will not be any different. But nobody is going in that direction.

I have always advocated it and I can say boldly that I was instrumental to Igbo people producing two members of the House of Representatives in Lagos State currently; because I went there to hold a townhall meeting at Sheraton Hotel in December 2014. I invited 86 extant Igbo associations, markets and other groups, excluding town unions. It was a very successful townhall meeting. It was on non-partisan basis, but highly political. Nobody ever had such a townhall meeting in Lagos before me or after me. In fact, they have been asking me to come for a repeat, which will hold, but this time it will be based on UPP.

With that awareness, we now have at least two seats in the state assembly in Lagos and two in Abuja representing constituencies in Lagos. This is what I like to see in Kano, in Plateau State, and all the places where we have heavy presence in certain constituencies.
I will like to see us contribute to the election of a governor, who may not be Igbo, but may rely on Igbo votes to be able to form government. Such governments will definitely be more broad-based even in that state than what we have today. It is UPP that has a plan to unify Nigeria politically than any other political party.

What do you now say to the call for the boycott of Anambra election by IPOB?
Well, I will say it is borne out of ignorance really, because those who are calling for the boycott of elections; when I say ignorance, without meaning any disrespect, is that they don’t know that there has been an election boycott in this part of Nigeria before. UPGA, United Progressives Grand Alliance, which was actually a coalition of political parties led by Dr. Michael Okpara, canvassed for boycott and it hurt the people of the area badly.

Notwithstanding, election still took place and the NPC, the Northern Peoples Congress and NNPP led by Akintola swept the polls because the others boycotted. If not for the military intervention of 1966, NCNC, the Action Group, UMBG, that were part of that coalition that boycotted the election, would have found themselves seriously in the cold. Everybody saw what happened and swore that never again shall we boycott any election. This was even before the war. So, if they were not born during the war to know how we all suffered then, how would they even know what happened before the war politically in this country? Election boycott is nothing new, but it is nothing palatable at all. It is fraught with a lot of danger, politically. In fact, you will make yourself totally extinct.

Now, you want to occupy your space to be able to determine who represents you, who governs you and at the same time you don’t want to participate in elections and elections will definitely take place. Many people have said that God forbid that APC will conquer Anambra State, for example, because APC victory in Anambra State is like a conquest. The same people, the younger ones are saying don’t participate in the election. That is the surest way of surrendering Anambra State to the APC, because there will be election and they will participate and carry the result and go.

So, it requires some re-orientation. And it is catching on. Like what you saw at Awka, you saw many of them who have embraced the political process. They are all there in the field spreading the message to every doorstep and they are winning converts so rapidly. I’m so impressed. And those who are saying boycott, have not told us what we are bound to benefit from such a senseless and primitive act. Which country in this modern world embarks on election boycott? So, I don’t know from where the idea came to them. Maybe they had a brainwave and started talking about something they cannot sustain by simple logic. There is nothing to sustain such a proposal. It will fail and our people will participate actively in the election ahead. They will.

Let them not be carried away by the success of the sit at home. The sit at home couldn’t have been less successful, because they anchored it on the people that died during the war and other massacres our people suffered. There is not a single family, it will be difficult to find a single family in Igboland that didn’t lose one loved-one in any of those events. And so, there is nobody who would not want to seize an opportunity to honour such loved-ones even if it means just sitting at home for one day. So, it only caught on because the appeal was right, more especially as 50 years was quite auspicious to mark such a very solemn event. That is why it is not only successful, but massively successful.

But those who championed it, indeed a noble cause, should not think that is a measure of their ability to direct the Igbo nation to carry out their wishes. Having gone to this election boycott thing, as the next step, perhaps to test how much loyalty, you can now see the backlash. Ohanaeze was vehement in disowning them and the people of Anambra State, felt so insulted that somebody outside of the state, will now come to dictate to them whether they will elect a leader of their choice or not. So, instead of uniting the Igbo, that very singular and very thoughtless proposal is now trying to divide the Igbo.

People from Anambra State are beginning to look at the leader of the group asking them to boycott the election from the point of view of where he comes from. They are now saying if you’re an indigene of Anambra, would you have said the same thing? Can you do the same thing in your state? So, I’m very worried, because all my life, I have been fighting for the unity of the Igbo people, because that is the only way you can achieve anything. Now look at the boycott thing, the timing and the fact that the Anambra election is the first to come and what division it introduced.

You once said that you were going to lead the negotiation between the Federal Government and Nnamdi Kanu, first to free him from detention and on the issue of Biafra. That presupposes that you are very close to him. Have you been advising him since he came out of prison? Has there been any sort of synergy between you two?

No. Yes, we’re quite close. I gave him political exposure. I appointed him as the Chairman of APGA in the UK in the year 2002, the same year APGA was founded in Nigeria. And during the crisis in APGA, he stood by me. In fact, the last townhall meeting I had on the platform of APGA, was in 2011, November 2. And he was with me there as the Chairman of APGA in the UK, the authentic APGA then. But after that, in 2012, the Radio Biafra took a new dimension with him as the director.

At the same time, in that 2012, we took a decision to stop further litigation on APGA matter and everybody knows what we did – we returned the certificate of registration of APGA, which was in our possession and went to register the UPP. UPP was registered that same year. So, he now veered off this way and chose his method that practically did not spare anybody in terms of attacks and vitriolic. I was the one person that was never attacked. I must give that to him. In fact, any time he mentioned my name, it was with tremendous respect, to the extent that some people even thought that I had a hand in it, because how come I was the only one that was not being attacked?

Before then, I had facilitated his release by the SSS twice. He came into Nigeria and was arrested on two occasions for carrying what they regarded as sensitive materials for MASSOB, because he embraced Uwazuruike’s MASSOB. The DG, SSS at that time, was retired Col. Kayode Areh, a good friend of mine. I would call him and plead with him and he would order his release. I did it twice. I never made noise about it because it is never my style that when I do something like that I start advertising it, perhaps to gain popularity.

Now, when he was arrested, I will claim that I was the very first person in my class to make a public statement, urging government to please release him immediately without conditions, that they were going to create a problem that was not existing by this arrest that was not well-thought out. Having done that, I went, in my usual way of trying to influence his release. The Presidency would admit that I made two major attempts, though I didn’t go telling him what I was doing in that regard.

But because of the nature of his arrest, the Presidency, I must tell you thought that there were very big Igbo people behind him and wanted to use that arrest to get at those perceived sponsors. By the time they discovered that there were no such persons, his popularity had soared. So, government problem therefore was what to do with him, if they released him. It wasn’t that they did not discover that they made a mistake. They did. They wouldn’t admit so openly and I know what I’m talking about. Yet, I tried to pressure all the same. I told them, release this man and engage him.

When I said I was going to make myself available, what I said following that was that I was going to facilitate a dialogue between him and government and that you couldn’t enter that dialogue when he was still under lock and key. That would be dialoguing with somebody under duress. So, the pre-condition for that dialogue, would be to release him. I made that clear. Some even misunderstood me and thought I was trying to reap where I didn’t sow. But I didn’t mind, because when your conscience is clear, you will not bother what some people may be saying.

But, I can tell you that I tried to tell government that look, release this man – because their problem was that if he was released in that manner, with the type of popularity he had acquired, he might even cause more public disorder. But I said no, it wouldn’t be like that. I reminded them that Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu returned from exile and he was a stopper. Every community was after him. I was close to him for two decades. But after a while. He even said it when he reappeared on the political scene; he said at a point, when he looked around, he didn’t see anybody except Chekwas Okorie.

Because I was the only one standing beside him. I said, Ralph Uwazuruike was released on bail and his case adjourned sine die, because that was what happened in the case of Uwazuruike, to go and bury his mother. I also played a role in facilitating the bail that was granted him. He became also a stopper. Cities in Igboland who become standstill if they knew Ralph was around. But the heavens didn’t fall. And today, he has receded also to a private person, still with some followers, but they’re not creating problems. I told them that Nnamdi Kanu, will not be any different.

That is what is happening now. I have already told government, allow him go, allow him enjoy the following that will come with it and once he’s allowed his freedom, over time, people will begin to look for other things they could do for themselves. An Igbo man does not leave where he is supposed to be making his daily bread no matter how menial the job is to go and sit down in somebody’s house from January to December. It is not in our nature.

Igbo people are not hero worshippers. But they will acknowledge you and celebrate you, then go about their business. But government wouldn’t hear of that. But when Nnamdi was given very difficult bail conditions, some of us protested publicly. And I must say that I was very proud that some Igbo people took up the challenge and met those conditions. Every Igbo man was proud at that outing. But he hasn’t come to me. I have a very close relationship with him and his family.

The father-in-law is the Chairman of UPP in Ikwuano Local Government. He was in that convention. When the wife came to Nigeria, she puts a call to me, to acknowledge me and pay me some respect. But Nnamdi has kept away. I believe he is not keeping away out of disrespect, I believe that. I believe he is keeping away, because he knows what I will tell him and it is not what he is prepared to hear. But he will still come. He is conversant with this living room where we are talking right now. And what I will tell him is to embrace the political process. And that is what he doesn’t want to hear, because he is the one championing the non-participation in politics. But he is coming around.

He is coming around. For instance, the statement he made to kind of explain that he didn’t mean that there would be no election in Anambra, instead he was saying that it would be the pro-Biafrans that would determine who would be governor, is an improvement from the earlier one that there will be no election. So, that’s why I said that he’s coming around. It’s not easy to turn around 360 degrees, which is what some people believe is the only way to go. By the time he makes a near turn around, he will then know that there will be something to discuss with somebody like me. He will come and I will welcome him. He’s like my son.

You seem quite disappointed with APC, as reflected in your speech at the convention. What do you think ought to happen on the way to 2019?
Quite frankly APC has gone too far with its bad attitude in governance and to the Nigerian people that I don’t expect any change. I don’t expect any turnaround to improve. So, what we are going to do very aggressively, is to take our message of restructuring, self-determinations and all the highlights of our social contract with the Nigerian people to every doorstep, so that we have a national movement that is determined to move from the present situation of things to a better one. It may be quite ambitious, but it is achievable, with single-minded determination and the grace of God.

We’re determined to make the 2019 election at all levels a kind of referendum, a yes or no kind of election, where Nigerians will be made to know that if you want to know the real change that will impact on you and your family and even generations unborn, you have only one choice and that is to vote UPP that has come out with a clear-cut position on this issue, but if you want to remain where you are, then vote any other party, including APC.

In that aggressive canvassing of what I call our revolutionary agenda, we are going to translate it into so many languages, so that the man in Sokoto, who may not be as literate as to understand the political lexicons, will understand it in his local language. We are going to produce our message in songs that can be played and the lyrics will be played everywhere across the country. And we will have enough time to build it into a crescendo. It is not going to happen overnight. I can assure that by 2019, the attitude of the average Nigerian will be different.

The beauty of it is the electronic voting system. That’s why I took time in that short address to commend INEC and the National Assembly for their commitment to the electronic voting system, because that is the only way Nigerians cans retire these people who have held them hostage. The average Nigerian, I believe, is rational, especially in exercising his franchise. But when they have voted and the people go and write results, it creates the impression that Nigerians like bad governance. Never. Nobody will tell you that he likes bad governance. And bad governance does not exclude anybody. The Fulanis are there, the Hausas are there, the Igbo, the Yoruba, all of them are suffering the same thing.

There will be a lot of upsets in 2019. One thing I can predict accurately is that no one party is going to have an overwhelming control of say the National Assembly and the executive arms all at the same time, as has been the case during the period of massive manipulation of election results. But when manipulation of results, was not as brazen as we had them today or in recent times, no one party controlled everything. The NPC needed NCNC to form government. NPN needed an NPP accord to form government. And so on and so forth. That overwhelming control never existed that allowed parties to ride roughshod over Nigerians and they behaved as they liked.

Tell me under any normal circumstance, how Nigeria will be operating a security council in which no Igbo man is a member. It has never happened. It is APC government that has done it for the first time in the history of this country. And in spite of protestations, even non-Igbo people have said that this is the height of injustice. Yet, government is not concerned, they don’t care. They even want to inflict more pain on the people that are complaining. Tell me how Nigeria can continue like that.

This is what you get when it is one party controlling everything. So, they behave as they like. I believe APC has shot itself in the foot. It will lose so badly in the next election in the way no incumbent government has ever lost in the history of this country.

Is it too early to ask you since you ran for the 2015 presidential election whether you are going to stand for the 2019 edition?
Yes, I will say it is too early. This is because what we set out to do, we want to see it yield the result we are projecting. If I begin to think as the presidential encounter, with me as a participant, there is no way it will not distract me from leading this party to become a national movement. That is the one reason I have not given it a thought. I always believe in one project at a time.

I don’t bite more than I can chew. When we have done with Anambra, which is a primary objective at this point in time, then we will face 2019 and continue. When the appropriate time comes, INEC has its own timetable for 2019, we’ll then begin to look at the kind of persons who are members of the party and not those who would jump into it because they want to run for President. You have to be part of the party now to be able to imbibe that ideology, because, the problem of Nigerian polity is lack of political ideology. That is why it becomes easy to jump from one party to the other without saying, does this party represent what I believe in?

So, if you have not been part of this and believed what we believe in, you cannot come overnight and say you have all the resources in this world to come and run for President. We will make sure that you don’t come to spoil things for us. But when we have seen those who believe in these lofty ideals, and we grow to that point, we will look inwards as a party and see who will fly this flag better or what method we will use to get a flagbearer. There are so many methods.

You’ve mentioned Anambra so many times. What do you think is the problem with the government in Anambra and what do you think will be the magic wand or the genie that can win the election for the UPP?
I’ll deal more with the second aspect. But the first aspect, no government is actually perfect. And because of that I will not dwell much with the style of governance of the incumbent, Chief Willie Obiano as to whether he has met the expectations of the Anambra people. I think our governorship aspirants are articulating all of that. When our candidate emerges eventually, he is the one to tell the people of Anambra State what we will do differently and better. Of course, I’ll lead the campaign of my party. When the campaign time comes, then they will hear what we think of him from my own side too.

But as for what we will do to win. I can tell as a matter of fact that UPP is contesting against UPP in the case of Anambra. We only have ourselves to beat. What that means is that we can either win or lose based on how we take advantage of what has happened. Now, APC, made itself an enemy. Nobody declared it an enemy party. It made itself an antagonist of the entire Igbo race in Nigeria. There is not a single APC leader that has had the moral courage or gumption to tell even their President to say, look, the treatment you’re giving to these people is very, very unfair.

So, it becomes to the Igbo people like an APC policy to do them in without any scruples. So, I don’t know how any rational Igbo person, who is of voting age, will leave his house and go to the polling booth and cast his vote or her vote for a party that has made life so miserable for them. So, APC is not in contention there. And Anambra, from their political antecedents, I can tell you, is the most politically-sophisticated electorate that we have, not only in the South East, but in Nigeria.

I give you instances. When every other state voted NRC, Anambra voted SDP. And the flagbearer then, who became governor, was Dr. Ezeife, a retired civil servant, who was not a money person. When every state voted PDP, Anambra voted APGA overwhelmingly. In spite of the manipulation, Anambra still recovered it through the tribunal, because the evidence was overwhelming.

In Anambra, billionaires have contested elections and lost. In fact, there has been no billionaire that contested election in Anambra State and won. Like some people think that the Igbo is where money goes, but tell me one billionaire that has contested election in Anambra State as a governor and won. None.

Now, the same thing is going to play out, because the people have even becoming more aware than ever before. And this awareness has caught up all over Igboland and not just Anambra. And with PDP, it is a shadow of itself.
Above all, PDP was in power for good 16 at the national level and there is nothing that the Anambra people or Igbo people can show for all that period, including adopting the President as their own and even gave him Igbo names – Azikiwe, Ebele, but nothing to show for it.

So, what will the PDP be telling the people of Anambra State. Then you come APGA itself, they have already pulled the carpet from under the foot of the incumbent governor, with the very high-wired political intrigues, which resulted in Martin Agbaso emerging on the scene as the National Chairman of APGA, by an order of mandamus from the courts. That’s the order INEC knows and who it now recognises, because INEC obeys the orders of courts. If you reverse it by a higher court, INEC will obey – very good policy.

Now, the other side, the Oye side, which is in favour of Obiano, the incumbent governor, has done everything in the books to reverse and vacate that order, and failed. And the time to achieve that is no longer there for them. Because, no matter how they go about it, they still have the appeal court to contend with and even the Supreme Court to contend with. And this is a party leadership matter and not an election petition matter. Courts don’t usually give accelerated hearing to party leadership matter.

I have been involved. I was in court for eight years on leadership matter and I know it is not one of those cases that the courts regard as matters of national emergency. And the posture, body language and public statements of the Martin Agbaso leadership of APGA, is that Obiano is not a favoured candidate. That has therefore, left Obiano in the cold. What his political advisers are advising him, I don’t know. What he is ready to do, I don’t know. You can even see that their campaigns have petered out.

Again, they came with a very bad campaign strategy. Instead of promoting the achievement of the man, they put up the picture of the late Ikemba, Odumegwu Ojukwu as what they thought would attract votes for them. That is not an acceptable Igbo attitude or norm or tradition. We respect the dead. We do not use the dead to campaign for election. You cannot see the Yoruba using the portrait of Awolowo or the Northers using the portrait of the Saduana. Nobody has used the portrait of Zik. It’s quite unreasonable to see these persons who ought to have respected the late leader, by allowing him rest in peace, evoking his portrait to portray what they say that APGA is our own.

Now, if APGA is taken away from them, what will be their next slogan, assuming they move to another party? It’s a dilemma they created for themselves. So, right now, UPP is coasting home with very weak challenges from these parties that I have mentioned. The others are not just existing there. So, for us, we will slice through Anambra State like a hot knife on butter in terms of winning. We can only lose if we mismanage. That’s why I said it is UPP versus UPP as far as this election is concerned. And we are managing the election with as much wisdom as God will allow us.

We heard the candidates at the convention pledging that they would all rally round and work for any of them that emerges. How did you achieve such a positive mindset?
It is simple. I made it simple for each of them that had interaction with me that the only way you can be our candidate is to go and win the primary election. And we came up with a constitutional amendment – that’s one of the things we adopted – that you’ll know the delegates well in advance. For instance, at the ward level, what has created problems in all the parties, is the provision that you’ll elect three delegates at the ward level to be your delegates at the state congress. Taking Anambra for example, there are 326 wards. So, if you want to hold elections in that 326 wards, that party must have 326 electoral committees, who will not come from those places. And every member of the party in the ward is a ward delegate that will come to elect three people.

It is a logistic nightmare. It has never succeeded. Rather, what you get from that exercise, is different lists of those who have been purportedly been elected as delegates. So, when you now come to the state congress, it has happened severally all over the country, you have parallel congresses. And after that you have two or three candidates emerging. The battle is then taken is now taken to the national headquarters of the party, where only the National Chairman and Secretary have the authority to now sponsor candidates on behalf of the party by signing the nomination forms.

So, you now open a big business for the national leadership of the party. Sometimes, it is a conspiracy of the NWC, the National Working Committee of the party or sometimes, it is just a conspiracy of the National Chairman and Secretary. And so, the highest bidder will now have his own form sent in, while the losers will either go to court or work against the party, because they are unhappy. They have always lost in Anambra because of this.

What our party now did is to say, instead of three people per ward, make it five. But let it be Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, Woman Leader and the Youth leader of the ward. They are the delegates. Nothing stops the ward executives from meeting and saying you are going to cast votes on our behalf and this is the candidate we want you to vote for. It doesn’t bother me. But the important thing is that we know who our delegates are. Their names will be in our website. On the day of state congress, the accreditation will be in that order. If your name is not on that list, you will not be accredited to enter the ground.

And they will all sit in the alphabetical order of their local governments. Then, it is going to be televised live. The candidates, who have met the requirements which is just paying the nomination fees – of course you have seen all of them – they are all quite educated and qualified – the other leg is meeting the nomination fees, which is not much – of course, the UPP will not go above N5million even with the inflation. Even when I was leading APGA, we’ve never gone above N5million for governor.
Then, we will have the ballot boxes designated in the names of those who are aspirants and then we will be calling out the names of the ward delegates in alphabetical order. You will go and cast your votes in the boxes and people will be seeing you. So, if you have gone to take money from the aspirants, they will be there to see how you are voting.

So, it is open ballot?
Yes, it will be open. They will know that you came and took money and now you have gone to cast your vote in another box. So, what they do with you after that is your business. The world will watch it and after that it will be counted there. Whoever has won does not have to go and bribe the chairman at Abuja, because I don’t have a vote, the Secretary doesn’t have a vote; we’re not from Anambra. We’ll be in Abuja, watching it on television, to make sure that the guideline we gave is being followed and it will be followed because it is straightforward. So, the person that has emerged will be known. All that we will do in Abuja is to receive him and give him certificate of returns and he becomes our candidate.

I have given this assurance repeatedly to all of them, so that nobody asks me, Chekwas, what can we do for you to secure this ticket? It is not as if some people backing some of them; some of them have very big backers, have not made such offers. But what I tell them is that if we do that then we lose the election. It’s a recipe for chaos. Apart from that, our credibility, what I have built over the years, will be ruined. And for me now at my age, what I’m looking for is legacy and not money. I’m not a flamboyant person and I’m comfortable the way I live. So, I don’t need too much money to do what I want to do. I pay my bills without anybody’s assistance and I’m satisfied with that. So, it is difficult for somebody that principled to compromise.

So, they are now satisfied that there will be free and fair primaries and that’s why those statement came from them. And I am happy and proud that they have that democratic attitude to say whoever that wins in a free and fair primary will be supported by the others. So, that rancour that normally comes out of primary elections, we’ll manage it, so that other parties may emulate us. But you know Nigerians, they will prefer the other options where there will be confusion and money will be flying about. But UPP must stand out. We must show that we are indeed what we say we are.

My conclusion will be to simply urge Nigerians to allow reason to prevail as we approach the general election of 2019. They should not allow sentiments, especially primordial sentiments to influence their rationality. The way they use their votes, especially now that their votes will count, as guaranteed by the new system, which INEC is going to adopt, which is the electronic voting system, the way they therefore use their votes, will determine whether the future will be better than what it is now. We have tasted bad governance from PDP to APC, from 1999 to this time up to 2019.

Whoever that things that what they have seen all these years is the way Nigeria should be the choice is theirs. But if they want to give a chance to real change to a party that is prepared to be held accountable to its written social contract, then the opportunity is there and it is only the UPP that is offering it. So, the choice is theirs. Make a mistake and wallow in lamentation for another four years, which is long time in the life of a nation or make the right choice and have a better environment, better government, for at least four years, for you to come back and review whether you have made the right choice, the choice is there for all Nigerians.