Chief Chekwas Okorie is a chieftain of apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. In this interview with FELIX NWANERI, he speaks on the race for the 2023 presidency and what the people of the South-East should do to realize their ambition of producing a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction
The jostle for the 2023 presidency has commenced across the various political parties and power blocs, with the people of the South-East, clamouring that it is their turn to produce the next president. How feasible is this ambition?
A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is very feasible come 2023 and I have a strong feeling that the chances are very bright. You will recall that ahead of the 2019 general election, I explained why my party then, United Progressives Party (UPP), will not field a presidential candidate and why we adopted President Muhammadu Buhari. I made it clear that four more years Buhari would be better for Ndigbo than eight years of Atiku Abubakar and even the APC practically adopted that as a campaign slogan.
I also advanced the argument that the Igbo should not put all their eggs in one basket, so that we will be able to engage other political blocs after President Buhari has done eight years. Luckily, President Buhari won the 2019 election convincingly and we are now heading to that 2023, which I will say that I foresaw in advance.
So, irrespective of the present state of the party in the South-East, we will do everything possible as members of the party in the zone to come together and deliver Anambra State to the APC come 2022, when governorship election will come up in the state.
If that happens through hard work because it remains a democratic contest, it will mean that APC will be in charge of two out of the five states of the zone. Two states for the APC in the South-East will take the party to the heart of the Igbo people, who constitute the second largest population in all the states of the federation except the south eastern states, where the Igbo is 99.9 per cent of the population.
It will also amount to an enormous spread if APC can penetrate this huge number and it will help the Igbo in their engagement of other political blocs. Besides this, the South-East can also leverage on the political alliance it has always had with other sections of the country, especially the North. You will recall that in the First Republic, the Eastern Region led by the Igbo people had a political engagement with the North, which led to the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) and National Council of Nigeria Citizens (NCNC) coalition that formed the government of that republic. Also, in the Second Republic, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) entered into an alliance with Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and that explained how Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke of the NPP became the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That alliance that gave the Igbo the position of vice president (Dr. Alex Ekwueme on the platform of NPN) and speaker of the House of Representatives has not repeated itself ever since.
Do you see that political alliance between the North and the South-East playing out again?
Any political alliance between the South-East and the North through the APC is not going to be strange but a coalition that will repeat his-tory. That is why we should be able to win Anambra in 2022 as the outcome of the state’s governorship election is fundamental to our demand to produce the next president through the ruling party after Buhari.
Much as I don’t believe in the sentiment of “it is our turn,” logically speaking, other Nigerians should look in the direction of the South- East come 2023 on the basis of equity and fairness though we must earn the position democratically. I can tell you that it has never happened in our democratic history that practically all political leaders across the North, South-West, South-South and the Middle Belt are pointing in the direction of the South-East for 2023. This is the first time we will have major opinion leaders like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Tanko Yakassai, Balarabe and Chief Edwin Clark, among others insisting that it should be the turn of the South-East.
In fact, many of them tend to champion the course more than some of our Igbo leaders. There is no way we will have this kind of support and will not capitalize on it. So, the prospect of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is really bright.
Are you not worried over the move by some politicians of northern extraction to ensure that their region produces Buhari’s successor?
You cannot deny any person his or her constitutional right to aspire for the Office of the President, but the fact remains that the presidency of Nigeria is a big issue. I want to remind all of us that there is no other Buhari in the North as we speak. In fact, we don’t even have a Buhari in the South-West or South-East as the kind of cult-followership he has is not transferable. You cannot just say because you are from the North, you easily inherit that status; he earned it over time.
So, there must be a political collaboration or alliance that will bring about the formation of a government and I am sure that leaders of the APC, especially those from the North, are conscious of this. President Buhari tried three times and was not successful; it was the collaboration during his fourth attempt that saw to his emergence as president in 2015 and it was his performance in the first term that earned him a second term.
If anyone believes he can jump into the presidential race because he is from the North and the votes would be his’; that person is deceiving himself because Nigeria needs to grow and every section of the country has to be given a sense of belonging. When you talk about the old tripod; that is the North, East and West, the South-East is critical in terms of population and spread. In fact, the zone is second to none, when it comes to population spread. So, we hope that everybody will reason together because a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction will definitely bring a lot of benefits and the unity of Nigeria will experience exponential growth.
Do you see the two main political parties zoning their respective 2003 presidential ticket to the South-East because the belief is that it is the only feasible way Ndigbo can get to power?
I cannot hazard a guess as to what PDP will do, but for the APC, the chances are there that the South- East will earn the party’s 2023 presidential ticket. In the case of PDP, if by some misfortune the party wins the forthcoming governorship election in Edo State; that will give it 100 per cent control of the South-South.
So, if there is any zone in the South that will lay claim to the party’s presidential ticket come 2023, it should be the South-South. In the case of the South-West, I don’t think it makes for an equitable Nigeria for anyone from the zone to clamour very seriously for the presidency come 2023 after Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years in power between 1999 and 2007.
But we have seen some people from the zone clamouring for power after Buhari, and do you see the South-East displacing the existing political alliance between the North and South-West?
Like I said earlier, every qualified Nigerian has the constitutional right to aspire for the Office of President. If you are talking about the present alliance between the North and the South- West; you can as well look at the alliance between the North and the South-East for two dispensations and you will realize that we have had more political alliance with the North more than the South-West. However, that apart, we are looking at the issue of equity, fair play and national unity.
For the South-West, I am sure that they are aware that their population is concentrated in their zone; they don’t have up to one per cent presence in other states of Nigeria outside the South-West. But the Igbo people have a minimum of 25 per cent population in each state of Nigeria, so what is needed is to arouse that consciousness.
In Lagos State alone, they have about 40 per cent; even Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had once mentioned this percentage of the population of Ndigbo in Lagos. It is a numerical advantage that we have not really exploited, but it is the time to arouse that political consciousness among our people and we are not waiting till 2023 to activate that machinery.
Given that power is struggled for and not served; are the Igbo taking the right steps to ensure that their ambition is realized in 2023?
They are not only doing the right things; in fact, I will say that they have even surprised me because the apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has turned around from saying that they don’t want the presidency but restructuring to now say that 2023 is the turn of Ndigbo. There are so many Igbo people, who will tell you not to talk about presidency but restructuring, however, they have failed to realize that one can bring the other. Since restructuring is a political issue; if you don’t go for the presidency, restructuring becomes something more farfetched.
That was why I talked about arousing political consciousness among our people because we have been politically docile for a long time, so to come to full gear will not come overnight, but it is happening and I know that as we get closer to 2023, the issue would be settled at the level of the major political parties.
The idea of someone coming up with a wonderful blueprint; latching on one small party and expecting that Nigerians will look at his blueprint, endorse and vote for him will not work. Those who tried this before now learnt the bitter lesson as the presidency of Nigeria is well beyond pontification and intellectualism. The politics of Nigeria is a grassroots one and just like in any other democratic nation of the world, people will tell you that politics remains local and that is what it is.
For those south easterners, who believe that a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is not feasible at the moment, what is your advice to them?
We have to make them know why it is possible and why the platform has to be APC. We are already trying our best and we have to step up the awareness campaign. Nothing happens until you try and I must say that Igbo people, who are known to be adventurous, especially in business, science and technology, among others and have been making breakthroughs, home and abroad, have not really brought that to bear in politics. I have not seen our people replicate the ‘Igbo can do spirit’ in politics rather what we see is exhibition of lack of self-esteem.
But we are getting around it and I can tell you that given the performance of President Buhari in the area of infrastructure in the South-East in five years, have surpassed by far, what the PDP tried to do for the people of the zone in 16 years. What the APC-led Federal Government has done for our people is what everyone can see. Our people should not forget that not even a cottage industry was built in the South-East during PDP’s 16 years in power. The party did not complete any project that it started and it was a deliberate policy to under-develop Igbo land.
So, President Buhari inherited lots of abandoned projects in the zone. However, instead of leaving them because they were initiated by the PDP and start his own, he prioritized them and has shown commitment to completed those projects. Like the Igbo people will say; ‘If you praise a man, who has done something, he will do more.’ But if all you do is to show ingratitude; how are you encouraging him to do more. Ohanaeze Ndigbo is 44 years old this year and I am 44 years as its member.
So, I am old as Ohanaeze in membership; those who have the same number of years as members should step out for the people to see. I know Igbo land in and out and I have earned my place in Igbo struggle, so I know what I am talking about. I cannot see what will not benefit my people and support it because it is too late for me to be a different person.