APGA’s a decomposing carcass–Chekwas Okorie

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Power Game SERIES: From CHIDI NNADI, Enugu

Backs Orji Uzor Kalu’s Igbo mobilization project
After eight years of protracted legal battle over who is the authentic national chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) between the founder of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie and the embattled factional chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, the former quit APGA and formed another political party.

But Okorie got more than he bargained for as he said, the forces that fought him in APGA rose again to stop his bid to register the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) as a political party. Besides, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said that UPGA sounded like APGA and had the rising sun, allegedly the Biafran symbol, as logo.

Not deterred, Okorie returned to the drawing board and came out with the United Progressive Party (UPP) that has been registered by INEC.

The founder and national chairman of UPP in this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, the first after the party was registered, said the UPP did not come on a platter of gold as they had to wait for a harrowing 27 days after the INEC board approved the party for issuance of certificate.

Okorie also looked at the future of the new party in the face of numerous political parties in the country, saying that UPP will prove its worth in the Anambra and Ekiti states elections in 2014.

He took a swipe at those who are criticizing the former Abia State governor and promoter of the Njiko Igbo group, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, in his effort to drum support for an Igbo president in 2015, saying that a president of Igbo extraction is realizable.

Excerpts:

The tortuous journey to register UPP

It was a very tortuous, long, frustrating journey with a lot of man-made obstacles. But the good thing is that we now have a brand new party. We had an eight-year struggle to save the soul of APGA. When it was obvious that the people who were fighting this out with me on the other side of the divide did not have the interest of the party at heart, the fight, was rather giving them more prominence and unfortunately, Ikemba (Ojukwu), the leader, passed on. We had expected that ultimately he would call them to order so that there could be peace, but this didn’t happen. So, we knew there was no point continuing.

It was at that point that we gave up the struggle and discontinued all the cases we had in court. I went to register a new party so that the vision could continue. Again, it is common knowledge to Nigerians that it was Victor Umeh in particular who wrote and signed a petition, but he was also sponsored by somebody else especially Governor Rochas Okorocha. I’m mentioning their names because they didn’t hide the roles they played. They went to INEC to say that the symbol we chose was Biafran symbol.  But Biafra has no symbol. Biafra as a sovereign country, as Chinua Achebe would say in “There was a country”, had a coat of arms like any other country. But, of course, there was the rising sun that featured in its flag and the currency and all that, but that wasn’t Biafra’s symbol, it wasn’t an Igbo symbol. But they wrote it as such. They even said that UPGA that was never a political party, that is, the United Progressive Grand Alliance of the First Republic, was an Igbo party. Everybody including Jega who is a professor of Political Science, knows that UPGA was not a political party. So, these are the things they used. They used Igbo, they used Biafra as a tool for blackmail and INEC went ahead and rejected the registration of the party six days after the law had said that we had become a party.

The idea was to provoke us to return to court. Having had our experience with the judiciary in Nigeria, we decided we would not play into that trap; we applied again. The same intrigues, the same petitions to set roadblocks for us not to succeed continued. In fact, we had to do a three-page essay on the symbol of the new party, the tiger head, just to show that it has nothing to do with Igbo and so on and so forth.

We decided that based on our experience, 99.9 per cent of any of the things required of us would be there, that our pass mark would be 100 per cent whereas the law is such that if you achieve 75 per cent of whatever conditions set, you have achieved the required result. For instance, the number of states to be represented on the national executive was pegged at 24, which is two-third of the states of the federation; but we went for 36 states plus Abuja. So, everything was 100 per cent. We scaled through that hurdle. Another condition that was not there in the guidelines given to us was that the officers of the party who signed the relevant forms and who appeared for verification during inspection should come with their ID cards. That was not a condition but when they came, they said that without those ID cards, the critical Form PA1 that we submitted would be rejected and that would be the end of the exercise. But luckily, they decided that the ID cards would include international passports, drivers’ license or even ATM cards. So, whoever didn’t have one, had the others and we met the requirements. We (UPP) were supposed to become a party on July 15, that is the law. Because UPGA had been rejected, we started a new effort; as I said, we didn’t want to go to court.

So, UPP was supposed to have become a party on the July 15 given the time-line provided by the Electoral Act, but that didn’t happen. We decided to be patient, but not without monitoring what happened to our documents. This continued till October. The details of the experiences we had would be for another day. But on October 2, the INEC board took up the matter and approved our registration. Having received the recommendation of the various committees that looked into it, because they had a committee that inspected our claims, they had another committee called Political Committee made up of five commissioners of the commission who combed the report to make sure it complied and also wrote their recommendation.

Now, on October 2, the board met as the letter also showed it, and approved it. On October 3, the extract of the board’s meeting was forwarded to the department that was supposed to issue us with the letter and that department, the Political Party Monitoring Department reacted promptly and raised the letter on October 4 and this letter was sent to the commission’s secretary which is the procedure, that all correspondences leaving the commission must be signed by the secretary. The secretary sat on this letter. At least the public can now see the letter that was released dated October 4, but released to us on October 31 – 27 days for somebody to append his signature! Those 27 days were quite harrowing to some of us who knew what was going on.

There was no level of contact that we didn’t make across the country, including traditional rulers and the traditional ruler of that secretary of the commission. This is a man who will retire in January, but he was determined to frustrate us. So, at the end of the day, he reluctantly signed that letter, 27 days after. We thank God that there is no reversing it. Our consolation is that nothing good comes easy. We are properly prepared for the challenges ahead.

How we felt during the months of delay

I knew forces working against us. I mentioned that the same forces, the same character that worked against the registration of UPGA came even more determined with more war-chess to frustrate the registration of the UPP.

Why they tried to stop me

Honestly, I wouldn’t like to sound immodest, but it appears to me that it was the fear of Chekwas Okorie more than anything else. Before, they said that UPGA sounded like APGA whereas the Electoral Law has no provision for pronunciation because that is what you cannot legislate on.  They also said that the symbol of the rising sun was Igbo and therefore, it would be ethnic. That was what they wrote in their petition. So, we came with a name that should not evoke any fear, United Progressive Party (UPP). But the symbol evokes fear instead, because the tiger is very significant to the Nigerian people, especially the Igbo people.

They were more scared of that tiger than the rising sun. So, it was the question of putting Chekwas Okorie down so that he cannot express his political vision in any practical manner. There is no other thing I can put my finger on because everybody knows I don’t have money. This new party hasn’t gone for any election. It doesn’t control even a councillorship constituency. It is a brand new party, so nobody should be scared of it.

Again, there are over 33 parties in Nigeria today with Igbo people as their chairmen. The Labour Party chairman is Igbo, they are controlling Ondo; they have gone into a second term. The ANPP chairman is also Igbo and they are controlling three states and so on. Then, there are so many other chairmen who are not controlling anything.

The question therefore is, if it is Igbo chairman they are afraid of, what have they done against the other people?  It occurred to me that it was me and nothing more. In fact, it was suggested that I should use somebody else to float the party and come from behind; but I said that would be the day I cease to be a human being, when I have to hide my identity in order to make a demand that is my legitimate right as a Nigerian. So, I refused to hide under any name to bring about the UPP.

New party in an era of many political parties in the country

As a matter of fact, we did not set out to float a political party ignorant of the fact that there are 63 parties already. We were not ignorant of the challenges that we would confront. But we know that we have a vision that was never allowed to flourish and, in fact, it is a second chance given to us by divine providence. We always had in mind a mass movement; unfortunately, those who captured APGA would tell you that APGA is an Igbo party. Nobody ever heard me mention APGA as an Igbo party because one, the law of the land does not allow for ethnic or regional party. But those who can’t even define APGA call it an Igbo party.

We had in mind a political party that is a mass movement, that will keep the choice of leadership, the choice of candidates in the grip of the ordinary people because sovereignty belongs to them. We were never intended to be subject of any cabal, but that didn’t happen by some mistakes of ours, being exceedingly loyal. There was infiltration of cabals and that was what finished that effort.

So, there is a void. There is not a single party Nigerians can call their own; this is the one, it has now arrived. The difference again is that UPP is one party that also has sympathy for the political aspiration of the Igbo people of Nigeria because they are critical stakeholders in this country. That does not make it their party, but this is a party that is sympathetic to their political aspirations and it is the responsibility of any party to take a strategic position to gain advantage, particularly in a saturated market.

So, we have taken a strategic position and will soon make that position public. And that also gives all the marginalized minority groups in this country wherever they may be, the opportunity to give voice to their political ideas, aspiration and have the opportunity to contest without necessarily being moneybags. People ask, how are you now going to have the money to face these enormous challenges if you do not subscribe to moneybags? And I say, well, there is an old saying that little drops of water make a mighty ocean.

Barack Obama of the United States of America has proved that you can mobilize the highest amount of money any party in America has ever mobilized through the contribution of the ordinary people. So, we are encouraged by what has happened elsewhere and the excitement so far, within two days, this is the second day (November 2) of our party being made public, there have been meetings of groups wanting to key into this all over Nigeria, not the Igbo only.  I can tell you that I have three invitations to Eastern countries, to Europe and America to address groups and inaugurate groups, all within a space of two days.

I have never seen anything so inspiring. I began to tell myself that the challenge is enormous; we must not fail our people because it appears the people have won a world cup trophy.

Why UPP is for all Nigerians

The masses of Nigeria are the ones who should claim ownership of this party. Right from its formation, there was no fund raising for UPP, there was no moneybag anywhere that you would say, has funded it. I know another party that was registered alongside UPP. Nigerians didn’t know that INEC registered two parties the same day. But it is in the pocket of the sponsor and we know the sponsor. But because this one belongs to the people, the excitement is from the people. If it were Chekwas Okorie’s property, they would say, “okay, he has a party, let him come and meet us with it.’ But they have taken control already.

All we need to do is to provide the necessary leadership, make sure the structure as captured in our party constitution is sustained and that internal democracy is so practiced and entrenched that we stand out different from the others because it is the imposition of candidates that takes the party away from the people to a clique. I don’t want to cite what happened to ACN recently, but everybody is advising the ACN, including Prof Wole Soyinka, to look into its internal democracy arrangement. So, we will leave it in the hands of the people and manage it knowing that it is not our personal property and I can assure you that the magic will be tremendous.

Anybody making political calculation for 2014 in Anambra and Ekiti States, 2015 in Nigeria and ignore the UPP factor, is doing so at his own peril. We have arrived, the tiger has been unleashed and nothing will be the same anymore. Watch out, we have always been known for credible opposition, we have been starved of action; we have been starved of positive input into the democratic development of this country.

For many years, we allowed ourselves to descend into the abysmal level of exchanging slang-match with people who are far below our intellectual and ideological thinking. So, now we have left those things behind us. Nigerians should be prepared for credible opposition, for vibrancy in the political set-up and we are going to retire; this is not just mere boasting, I am saying this in the name of God and I am saying this with the people behind us, we are going to retire so many people who have been recycled over the years. This is the end of the road for so many bad leaders.

Leaving APGA with the spirit of the party said to be crisis-ridden

This spirit is untainted. You know, you cannot touch a spirit. It is untainted. Due to the bad blood that has been injected into APGA, when we left, we definitely left with the spirit and the soul. And when we made that profound statement, many people thought again it was another slang-match. They didn’t know that   Chewas Okorie is most positioned to make such pronouncement because I founded APGA. A father has spiritual influence and power over his child and not over any other person’s child.

So, if I, as founder with a heavy heart knowing the damage that has happened, returned the Certificated of Registration to INEC and retrieved the soul and spirit of the party to be reincarnated into the new UPP, nobody should be surprised. There is nobody who professes God, whether you are a Christian or Muslim who should be surprised at my pronouncement, which some people called curse.  It was not a curse, I just made a statement that was supported by divine authority. Now, it is no longer the carcass they are fighting over, they are fighting over a decomposing carcass. Look at what is happening to them, not just over who is the leader. Just on November 1, the police issued a statement that the same person who organized about seven men, most of them older than him, to forge signatures and accused the other faction of forging the signatures. But these people altered their signatures and they were purported to have been forged by the Alhaji Masalla group.

The same Victor Umeh went to the police to get the Masalla group arrested and locked up for criminal forgery. Thanks to the police under the present Inspector General, they promptly investigated and the forensic experts proved that the same people who laid the claim were those who altered their signatures and these are all Umeh’s people.  This issue of forgery has been there. For instance, they have an APGA account in the bank without the original certificate of the party that is a primary document to open a bank account. They forged documents. People didn’t know that I have the certificate of APGA until I returned it. So, the question is what was used to operate the party’s account?  These things were reported to the police but the police of that time would investigate something to eternity.

The present police were prompt. I am beginning to have a very strong respect for the new IG, but I expect the police to take those who laid false allegation against their colleagues in the party and charge them and their sponsors appropriately. They shouldn’t just stop at telling the world that this is the outcome of the forensic investigation, they should go further in order to discourage such criminality among those who pretend to be political leaders.

As for this UPP, it is pure, it is clean, in fact, by the grace of God, I am one of those going for pilgrimage to Israel in the next two weeks. And I am going with the UPP registration letter to the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ to thank Him for what He has done for us, to dedicate this party to Him and I will capture photographs for Nigerians to see. We are also going to have an inter-denominational service; we shall also tell our Muslim brothers to do the same in their mosques so that it will be so dedicated to God because with the fear of God, we can never go wrong.

Our hope in 2014 Anambra and Ekiti states’ elections

For Anambra 2014, we only have two choices: win Anambra 2014 and make 2015 easy or lose Anambra 2014 and make 2015 election difficult. And we have taken the first choice, so there is no alternative to wining Anambra 2014 because the people will vote and protect their votes.

They have been waiting for the party. Don’t forget what I said earlier that the party had sold itself in advance. The journey that faces the people now, the people of Nigeria, especially the Igbo people who are going to benefit substantially from the party policies, is not a journey that can be done by a cock. No cock can embark on such journey. No umbrella or broom or corn; these are things that cannot take heat. It is a journey that will be led by the tiger and the tiger has already been unleashed.

So, when we step into the field, we are going to launch the UPP in all the states of the federation starting with the South-east zone and we will start with Abia State which is my home-state and go round the other states, and do the grand finale in Anambra for the South-east zone.  By the time we call out Anambra people, Nigerians will know that the tiger has arrived. We will still select a credible candidate. That is all we need to win Anambra because it is a single election.  A credible candidate that has no antecedent of tainted character; we are not going to chose anybody who has record of any fraudulent activity in any form or manner, whether in his domestic or public life. And once we present him, all of us will go and deliver him. We will win.  Anambra is taken.

 Igbo agitation to produce president in 2015 and UPP

Speaking as Chekwas Okorie, everybody knows what my sentiments have been over the years. This is my 36 or so years in what you may call Igbo rights crusade. I have gone beyond the rhetoric of Igbo will run for president to the practicality of it. This talk that it is the turn of the Igbo started when Dr. Alex Ekwueme was denied taking over from Alhaji Shehu Shagari through military coup. From that time, every election that came, there would be this strindent voice about being our turn. Even people who belong to political parties that will never give the Igbo man the ticket are shouting just for relevance.

So, we have now moved to practicality and because it is a national political party, some of these things will be canvassed at the NEC meeting and once it is approved, it becomes a policy of the party. There are parties that have zoned their presidency. For example, the PDP said that their zoning arrangement remains intact; that’s fair enough, tell Nigerians where you stand on certain issues. In the case of CPC, they don’t need to tell Nigerians, everybody knows that CPC without Buhari as presidential candidate is no party and ANPP came out boldly recently that they would align with CPC to support Buhari’s presidential ticket. Do you need to ask someone who the presidential candidate for ACN will be? You don’t need to.

So, parties are taking certain strategic positions for their own advantage in a democratic encounter expected in 2015. UPP may be new, but the players are not new. Nobody can say I am new in Nigeria’s political game and likewise my associates.  We believe in equity, we believe in fair play, we believe that every part of this country is entitled to produce the president of this country. So, UPP is already available. The only thing is that we are not zeroing in on an individual like the others.

For instance, PDP is stuck with Jonathan; they just don’t have a choice. If they say Jonathan is not their candidate, they have given him red card and given themselves red card. It is a simple political calculation. CPC is stuck with Buhari, ACN is stuck with their leader and ANPP has just said it would go with Buhari. They have chosen where to go. UPP will take its position, but it cannot be to an individual; it must be to a zone so that those who are qualified will be free to   present themselves.

Realizing Igbo presidency

It is not only realistic, it is realizable. If it’s not realizable, I will not be involved. It is just that unfortunately our people, many of the big players, don’t have the self-confidence to give it an honest push. Many of them are playing to the gallery, many of them are so concerned about being in the ruling party for the crumbs that will fall from the master’s table, that they wouldn’t even want to be associated with it openly. But you find them in beer parlour or living rooms, beating their chests as if they will bring the moon down, for the Igbo man to become president of Nigeria. But there are those of us who do not pretend about our conviction.  Igbo people, for instance, even on their own, constitute a minimum of 25 per cent of the voting population of every state of Nigeria.

These same Igbo people have relationships outside Igbo land; they have business associates, in-laws, cousins, nephews and all those who are not Igbo; and of course, there are those who are not Igbo, who will use the platform that promotes an Igbo presidential candidate to contest in their various constituencies if only to be sure of the block vote that is already there. So, when you look at this type of calculation, what makes any group relevant in a democratic setting of the type we practice in Nigeria is number and spread. And these are available to the Igbo. What they lacked all this while has been the proper leadership to harness this potential force, this latent energy to political relevance and that is what we are prepared to achieve.

Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, Njiko Igbo group and criticisms

This is one of the reasons I said that some of our people are not sincere, especially the political leaders. What Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu has done is a very noble, selfless, patriotic initiative. This is one person who has been governor for eight years; he has contested even for presidency of this country and has returned to his business. He has been very busy flying all over the world building up his businesses and now that 2015 is around the corner, he has come out to help his people come together, making available his own God-given talent of at least reaching out.

He has immense contacts, he has goodwill across the country and the man made it clear that he is not running for any office, he doesn’t belong to any political party, but he would like to bring Igbo people, groups, associations, political and non-political together so that they can produce a candidate of their choice and achieve this thing that has been our desire over the years. A person who has brought himself out for such a noble objective ought to be encouraged. He has not called for fund raising to be able to do this.

So, whatever he is doing he is doing with his own resources.

The Njiko Igbo is a very noble initiative. I have been invited to it even before UPP was registered and I saw and got myself convinced that it’s what we need. There are other groups, non-partisan groups, that have already keyed into it. Njiko Igbo has a chairman, Senator Sylvester Anyanwu from Imo State who is a PDP member. It has a secretary, Hon. Chudi Ofordile from Anambra State who is a PDP member. It has a strategic committee chairman, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo from Anambra State who is a non-party man but a patriotic Igbo son with large heart. Then, there are some politicians who are there.

Of course, I said I am part of it and others are part of it.  We rather plead with our people to look at the message and embrace it and not bring down the messenger. He simply initiated it, others have taken control and at the end of the day, if he can see a political party that will produce a candidate and canvass for vote. So, what he is doing is more of an ad hoc thing but if our people embrace it, it can stand the test of time. He is not in competition with any other group. For instance, we have Igbo Ezuo that I founded.

If it is in competition with Igbo Ezuo that is also a socio-political organization, I won’t be there. It is not in competition with Ohanaeze Ndigbo where I am a member of the Elders’ Council since 1992. If  it is in competition with Ohanaeze, I will not be there. So, I want our people to embrace it. It is one non-partisan, but political initiative that will facilitate mobilization of our people for that primary objective of producing the president of Nigeria of Igbo extraction.

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