Chekwas Okorie is not a new name in Nigeria politics. He was credited with the formation of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2003. But due to the crisis that dogged the party, he left to form the United Peoples Party (UPP). Okorie has returned to APGA, and is running for the presidency in 2023. He spoke to ONYEKACHI EZE on his agenda and other issues
Politics is in the air, as a seasoned politician what is the situation of things now?
Thank you for recognising me as a seasoned politician. But in this particular race, I am the presidential candidate of APGA, that position has been in contention because of the protracted leadership crisis in APGA. But just a couple of days ago the Supreme Court gave further clarification to their earlier judgments recognising Chief Edozie Njoku as Chairman.
So that position is therefore, affirmed by that recognition of me as the authentic presidential candidate of APGA. This electioneering campaign leading to the 2023 general elections, is by far the longest campaign Nigeria will have since entry into party democracy.
This campaign can be described as a marathon race, different from what used to be, like a hundred meter dash. So the political parties and their candidates are still cleaning up their game, nobody has really taken up in a manner that you will think the end of the trace is in sight, weighing the options, fine tuning their strategy.
Now, what has also made this particular period unique is that for the first time INEC has more or less entrenched the use of technology, both in the registration of voters and in the conduct of elections, such that the incidence of double registration or multiple registration seems to have been addressed.
The incidence of multiple voting by an individual seems to have been addressed by the new technology. Also the problem encountered in the several levels of collation, from the polling unit to the final collation of results in the state and the federal level, is so reduced that Nigerians and even people across the world who are interested can key into the INEC platform and get the result of the election in real time, as the results are being announced at the polling units. So there would not be too many incidences of manipulations of results along the line.
Because of the interest shown by Nigerians, we have the highest number of registered and verified voters likely to participate in this election. It has been estimated that the number of registered voters in Nigeria this time is more than the number of registered voters in all the other West African countries put together. So that will be a massive participation of the Nigerian people
. With all of these put together, any reasonable person projecting this election by simply sit back in one corner of his office or home and beginning to project that this one has won or that one (will be disappointed). But my own projection, the possibility of a runoff election between two foremost parties is very high, and the other parties who may have also won certain levels of elections, especially at the National Assembly level or the state level, may now go into coalition with any of the two foremost parties that go into a runoff and be able to now participate in that run off, and whoever that emerges will be by simple majority, will form a coalition government. That one is high.
The other scenario is that the election is concluded at the first ballot and a candidate emerges as president. My projection is that the National Assembly will be so that the composition of the National Assembly will be so balanced that even the victorious candidate will need a few other parties to go into a coalition to be able to form a stable government as it is done in many multi-party democracies. So it will be quite interesting, it would be like nothing that we have had in the past.
The scenario you painted is an indication of implicit confidence in INEC. But incidentally, almost all the parties are in crisis. What is the problem with the political class that they are not able to put themselves together?
There is a lot to be done in the area of internal party democracy and there is still a lot to be done at the level of our judiciary, because where there is disagreement the judiciary comes in to resolve it according to the position of the law. Most times, the judiciary may make their pronouncement only for the same pronouncement made by the trial court to be upturned by the Appeal Court, (and) further to be upturned at the apex court.
So there is something that needs to be done about the structure and administration of justice especially with regard to political party issues. Also INEC has not lived up to expectation, in terms of monitoring political parties and insisting that the right thing be done because, you will discover that INEC will monitor or not monitor, and they will go and publish names of candidates, only for the courts to say that what was published was wrong, that the primaries that INEC relied on was wrong. And when INEC thinks its job is already done, the court will be ordering it to go and redo the same primaries.
These are all the factors that will show that this is still an ongoing process. But I am saying that we have come a long way, it can only improve.
Coming to your party, APGA, you said recently there was a judgment reaffirming Edozie Njoku as the party’s candidate. The other parties are still fighting. What is the way out of this problem?
In Nigeria and like any other place, the Supreme Court decision is final. The Supreme Court has made this judgment known since May. There is what they called slip judgment where Chief Edozie Njoku’s name was supposed to be, mistakenly the name that appeared was (Victor) Oye. When the attention of the judges that presided over the matter was drawn over the slip, they saw it and made it clear that since it was the Owerri convention that Njoku was elected and he was the one purported to have been removed at the Jigawa Court.
Eventually, the Supreme Court confirmed the judgement of the Appeal Court that the Jigawa court lacked territorial jurisdiction to try the matter, and that everything should return to status quo ante as it were at Owerri. It is therefore not considerable that Chief Oye who did not participate in the Owerri convention will now be the beneficiary of the outcome of the Owerri convention.
So that was corrected. But shortly after the correction the court went on recess and that was where all the intrigues started playing. Everybody in the country must have been stunned to see an officer of the court, a man called Akande who is actually the Communications Director of the Supreme Court coming up with a press statement that the judgement that was given by the court and served on INEC by the court did not emanate from the court.
INEC held on to that statement instead of the certified copy that they have and, INEC being a party to the suit also went to court and got their own certified copy. But the same INEC pretended that they did not even have it.
It became curious how an officer of the court would issue a statement to practically set aside the judgement. Now the court returned and the nature of the judgement given by Justice Mary Odili, she wrote a clear and powerful letter where all the con- tending issues that were discussed, she addressed them one by one. (She) copied the Chief Justice of Nigeria and her former colleagues on that panel. I don’t believe that INEC will remain recalcitrant.
The implication is very simple and ominous, if you exclude a major political party duly recognised by the apex court of the land. That is outright exclusion of the party and the election will not be allowed to stand. INEC had told the public recently that what was appropriated for this election was N355 billion of taxpayers money.
What will be the motivation that will make INEC want to throw all of that down the drain and put our democracy in peril? This is the question that many Nigerians wish to ask. This is where we are, we feel the matter has been resolved and I don’t expect that the INEC leadership will be so strong headed as to want to even enforce this judgement, because the explanation of Justice Odili is as clear as daylight.
What is the status now?
INEC has been served from the Supreme Court not even the leadership of the party.
This letter came out yesterday (last Monday), they were served between yesterday and this morning. We expect INEC to enforce it by giving Edozie Njoku the code to upload the candidates of the party because he and the National Secretary are the only lawful officers of the party who can sponsor APGA candidates for the election.
Now that it seems the coast is clear for you now to contest, what do you have to offer the people as president?
I just cannot wait to get into the field really, because it is just as well that what I have to offer Nigerians none of those contesting has even attempted to offer it. I did not expect that by now, that the issue of restructuring of Nigeria will not be a campaign issue.
But surprisingly and disappointingly, every of the candidates have kept a safe distance from it, all trying to be politically correct. But I am coming in with a major cardinal programme of my campaign, because I want to be politically realistic, not being politically correct.
So every other thing centers around it, whether you are talking about security, which now means the restructuring of our security architecture, which will include the decentralisation of the police into state police and community police, which will now make every Nigeria, especially at the community level an equal stakeholder in security. Also, whether it is in the area of getting the states, the federating units to grow and for the federal government to exploit their comparative advantage that will now make our GDP to grow.
Even in education, there are certain areas that the Government needs to dabble into like primary education, which is not the job of the federal government to do. They provide the necessary enabling environment that will enable the local government and states to deal with issues around levels of education, and also make it a lot easier for other private institutions that want to invest in tertiary education to come in. A situation where we will come up and say, 80 million Nigerians are out of school and you do not know this 80 million. How many of them are from Abia State?
How many of them are from Sokoto State, Zamfara and others, so that the states will know the challenge facing them? That breakdown is never there. For convenience we just lump everything together, no breakdown is there to categorise these out of school children.
Even the federal government will know the peculiar and particular need of each of the states in the area of basic education. But those who are talking about devolution of power and all that so that they can work with the National Assembly to make laws that will bring that about, that is self-deceit.
Nothing that is critical in the 1999 constitution can ever be amended or changed by the present legislature under the present constitution. So, if you check, going through there is like the camel passing through the eye of the needle.
The situation here is that the government will convene a national conference and the outcome of the national conference will be passed into law through the constitution that will emanate from it, by referendum.
But while that is going on, my government will look at the 2014 CONFAB that looked at the over 600 recommendations and isolate those that can be implemented administratively without necessarily going to the assembly. By the time you put that together with the constitution we have now within three months or so, we will have a national conference, get their recommendations and subject it to a referendum.
Before the end of my first year in office, Nigeria will be a brand new country. By then, you will have demystified the office of the president and most of the things you have in the exclusive list, would have come down to concurrent list or residual list, so that the quest to be president of Nigeria will no matter be that of do or die, and this idea that it is my turn or our turn will also fizzle out.
I will tell Nigerians you have two options, if you want a restructured Nigeria that will improve change, vote for me. If you want the status quo to remain, so shall it be.
As it is in Nigeria at the moment, it is only the APC, PDP and APGA that have produced serving governors. But it appears, APGA cannot measure up to the other two, why?
Those that hold the party hostage have done their own damage to APGA. We founded this party 20 years ago. In 20 years, APGA has been in a leadership crisis for 18 years, it is the longest leadership crisis anywhere in the world. It had a very stunted growth. APGA has been reduced from a national party to a regional party, to state party and now a community party.
It is either held by Agulu people at one time or by Aguleri people at another time and now it Osuoffia people, all in Anambra State. We have a national party where six of the eleven substantive officers of the party come from one state, and INEC that is supposed to play its supervisory role whereby these offices will have national character, is turning the other face round because they don’t give them what they like to receive.
It is only in APGA that there is only one governor in the party, and it did not start with today, it started with Peter Obi, then Obiano and now Soludo, is Chairman of the BoT. The constitution of the country is clear, that no elected officer shall also hold a party office.
The Board of Trustees is just a subcommittee of the NEC, and the governor is holding that in addition to being Governor. INEC does not think that something is fundamentally wrong.
So I can say that the days of the locust in APGA are over now that the original visioners are back, and I am the torch bearer and we have to take the party back to the center. I told you that there will be a possibility of alliances and all of that. APGA is a political party with engagements, when the time comes for engagement, we will engage. APGA is older than the defunct ACN by six years, but they have managed to take ACN to other parties and governments.
For the first time in the history of the Yoruba in Nigeria, a leader that has that foresight is Bola Tinubu, he is the one not even Awolowo, that is taking the Yorubas to the center of Nigeria politics, away from being a traditional opposition. Why would APGA not surpass that type of accomplishment? We thank God that some of us are still alive to be able to educate the younger ones, because any person born 20 years ago is now of voting age. The time APGA was found many people that were of voting age did not know.
Since returning to APGA what have you been able to do, to reinvent the party?
My coming back to APGA has elicited positive reactions. Many out of frustration left the party and went to other places. At a time, I also went to form UPP and those loyal to APGA followed me. All of those have returned; the formation of APGA has been a unique one. We use most non-political organisations, if you like to call them NGOs and socio-cultural groups, to be able to meet the requirement that we should have offices in the minimum of 24 states.
We had them in virtually 36 states. Those who played key roles over time 95 percent are still alive, they can’t wait to be part of the new revival. It would be easy work to revive APGA.
Can APGA challenge the big parties? Can the party muster the warchest needed in the electioneering?
For APGA we have a paucity of war chest, we don’t have what some of them can boost off. Some of these people have been in government, and they did havoc while in government. We are not going to dwell on that. There will be surprises because Nigerians will not have access to the so-called war chest. The message you pass may influence many.
For instance, there are not less than four out of six geopolitical, sociocultural organisations that have said it is restructuring or nothing. Being a major issue it should not be taken by socio-cultural groups, even after this election, we will continue to champion this, because it is the only way ambition could be released.
This is what we are going to be presenting to the people and the choice will be theirs. I don’t have a war chest but if they vote for me I have the capacity, I don’t have any baggage. But it is the people that will decide. They say people get the kind of leadership they deserve.
With politics of the region going on, do you think we can have a president that will be elected by Nigerians, not a regional leader?
Because of the constitution we are operating under and the conditions there, no one can be said to have won the presidential election if the person did not win two-third in 24 states, and also had a simple majority.
You will discover that no amount of regional sentiments can produce a president. President Muhammadu Buhari has relied on something like cult followership in the north, but could not make it until he reached out.
The preaching of ethnic sentiments by one or two people recently is very disappointing. Also the quality of the campaign has not reached the level many would have expected, but that has not helped anybody in the past, and it will also not help now that many people are preparing to participate, and there are so many issues .
All the 18 parties are fielding candidates in next year’s presidential election. Do you see the possibility of some of these parties adopting a political party as was the case in 2019?
There is this funny thing about a party that is already registered and has fielded presidential candidates only to pull out after a point INEC would have printed the ballot papers. All the parties that have presidential candidates will be on the ballot. So when you now say this party has stepped down for the other. How do you affect it on the ballot paper?
You will see that the person who stepped down will go ahead and win some votes. If you want to step down, you will do it before INEC prints its papers. But once it is printed, every other thing about stepping down is neither here nor there.
But even if you are going into an alliance, there must be something you bring to the table, and that is something that you have been able to win. If you are not serious and you win nothing and you are looking for who will bring you to come and chop after the election, you may not get one.
A serious party has to be very serious to win seats, because a political party that did not win an election is more like an NGO.
You talked about the runoff election, why do you think that is possible?
There is no party anywhere that does not have its area of strength. Even in America that runs principally a twoparty system, even though there are other mushroom parties, you still have what they called the red state, the blue state, these are their strong holds.
Then they will say the yellow ones are battle grounds that could swing one way or the other. This is even worse in a country like ours, all the parties have their regional basis. You cannot rule out the regional and ethnic sentiments of the voters in any election, I am talking about the Middle Belt, South-South.
There are so many ethnic groups but have their regional agenda. The Middle have built a formidable force called the Middle Belt Forum, and they have their common agenda. When you put all these things to play, it becomes a bit difficult for one particular party to make 25 percent of the votes cast in 24 states.
He might make 23, 22, but 24 states may be a tall order. Some of these parties are so strong in their area of advantage that the penetration by others might be very difficult and, when a situation like that arises, the first two parties may end up in a runoff.