Chief Chekwas Okorie is the national chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP). In this interview with MBACHU GODWIN, he explains the current feud in Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), his party’s support for Buhari’s re-election bid and other issues.
There are allegations that you are being used to destabilise IPAC having contested for the chairmanship position against Peter Ameh and lost. What is your reaction?
Well those who are making this allegations set out to insult me because I have come a long way in Nigerian politics for anybody to say I am being used at my age. I am already 65, going to 66. I have been involved in political activism for 42 years. Is it at old age that somebody will be using me? Who is the person who is capable of using me?
In any case a couple of friends persuaded me to run for IPAC election; I have never clamored for IPAC leadership. From the inception of IPAC, I have always sent an officer of the party from the National Working Committee to represent this party Chief Ogbuehi Dike. He has held many offices in the IPAC, I have never been interested.
But this last time a couple of friends felt that one, it was about time the leadership of IPAC went to the South, that it had been in the North for a long time, consecutively four times. Two, because of the quarrels in IPAC, they needed my maturity and age to bring in some bit of stability and unity amongst the party leaders.
I was persuaded to run. But everybody knows I have never been a money man; I have never been in government so if I am doing anything it must be out of my conviction and not that I have any plan to buy votes or influence anything and IPAC doesn’t run any parastatal. It doesn’t have any budget worth any person dying for.
Unfortunately it coincided with the buildup to this 2019 election. So some people had already formed a coalition with the main opposition party, the PDP and so they saw IPAC differently. They saw it as part of the 2019 general elections and so the role money played was unprecedented and I was not cut out for that.
If I really have that kind of money, I will never put it in the IPAC election. So the election came and ended and I walked away. I never went to court to challenge the election, I never addressed anybody as either a factional chairman of IPAC or anything associated with IPAC. I simply returned to my UPP and continued doing what I am used to doing.
So where the allegation is coming from I do not know. What led to the allegation only they will explain. I have never made a statement or claimed to be chairman of IPAC or talked about factionalisation in IPAC. But all I know they have issues in court and with the police and these have nothing to do with that election. It has something to do with the leadership of IPAC long before the election, even before the outgoing leadership and I have no hand in it.
At the INEC consultative meeting with political parties when the matter came publicly, you were seated at the meeting while your name was being bandied as the authentic chairman by some leaders of the parties as if there was a prior meeting before the meeting with INEC …?
Cuts in… Who said I was the chairman?
Some of your colleagues, leaders of political parties…
I never heard it. That day I came straight from the airport to the meeting. I didn’t stop anywhere and I came from Enugu. That was my trip back to Abuja after the holidays and I didn’t branch anywhere.
But some of the leaders mentioned your name?
Well, if you say that about those people, I can tell you… I don’t know if you have them on tape because when all that noise started, anybody who has followed my politics, even when I was extremely provoked in APGA, never resorted to self help. So what is in IPAC that will make me resort to any such subterfuge. When they started shouting, and of course to me I was thoroughly embarrassed that political party chairmen behave in such manner, I simply walked away, I left the hall. As I was going home, some media men stopped me to ask me other issues, not anything relating to IPAC and Bashir a very good friend of mine was also outside, he went out before me.
For all I know Nalado position is that he has not formally handed over to any new leadership because of the issues pending in court. So I will be surprised if Nalado will call me his chairman. No. I doubt whether he will do that and I also doubt whether Sifawa will do the same because they have never called me IPAC chairman before, not after the election and I would have been embarrassed if they do. They have never called me privately, not to talk of publicly and the issue is Nalado’s position was that that election was inconclusive and therefore he has not formally handed over to the chairman. So how can I now be chairman?
There are claims that the election was inconclusive, was the IPAC election inconclusive?
You know, the election ended in some kind of fracas but I didn’t want to be involved in any claims as to inconclusiveness or not; I simply walked away but Nalado as the outgoing chairman, a situation never arose where he formally handed over. So if he didn’t hand over to Ameh, is it me that he handed over to. If he handed over to me, you know I am not a coward. If I ever thought that I was entitled to that position, I will insist that I am the one entitled to speak on behalf of IPAC.
It seemed the source of division in IPAC is support along the APC presidential candidate, Buhari and the PDP candidate Atiku. Is this right?
I said it here earlier that the IPAC election coincided with the build up to the 2019 election and some people who have already formed a coalition with the PDP. And so they saw it as a critical factor in the build up to that election and so the kind of money that was thrown into it was unprecedented.
These were my earlier statement. Having said that, the issue of our supporting the president has nothing to do with IPAC. As a matter of fact the party in this very secretariat had a NEC meeting, had a world news conference where the party said it will not present a presidential candidate for the 2019 election that it was going into a coalition, then we have not made up our minds as to who.
We were invited to the PDP arrangement and we were also invited to some other ones. About three different coalition groups invited us, we weighed all of these things, came back again. So it is not a decision of Chekwas Okorie. The NEC, the highest body of the party resolved that the person to work with is Buhari.
Perhaps that informs why your supporters in IPAC decided to fight the Ameh group already persuaded to support the PDP candidate?
That’s what I am saying; these coalitions concertised after that IPAC elections. The issue of CUPP Coalition was already in existence and this IPAC election had taken place before UPP went to President Buhari. The day we went to president Buhari was a date that was known and it was a public event and we came back and announced to the press that we have entered an MoU with the president; it is not even a relationship with APC, it’s a relationship with the president for his re-election. For us in UPP, we were following the steps of the great Zik who led NCNC to a coalition with NPC and led NPP to an accord with NPN, so there is nothing that I have done leading UPP into a coalition that is new.
Do you think that those coalitions you just mentioned worked any miracle, as expected and do you think yours with Buhari will work wonders?
The circumstances are now different; these are different dispensations but they were useful, they worked. The idea was to stabilize those governments at the time. Secondly, for the parties in partnership to being part of government. You would recall that in the case of NPC/NCNC coalition, one of the products of that coalition was Zik becoming president and whether it is ceremonial or not the personal sagacity and political savvy came to play and that was how Ironsi headed the army, that was how Louise Edet of the former eastern region headed the police, that was how Ikejiani headed the Nigerian Railway which was the biggest parastatal at the time.
And that time, most of our people were at the commanding height of the economy, bureaucracy, all of these were benefits of the coalition. In the second republic we had chief Umezoke become speaker, Dr Alex Ekwueme was vice president and all these came to what we now know as the South-east political zone and that combination has not repeated itself up till this date.
And then there were other benefits, the war had just ended, education was primary to our people, Prof Ihechukwu Madubike became the minister of Education and so on and so forth. The benefits were numerous. Now the circumstances has changed but we have an understanding of accommodation should the coalition succeed and when the outcome begins to play out, the world will see it.
What is the position of your party with the issue of simultaneous accreditation and voting?
Anybody making it controversial is mischievous. The political parties took a decision long before the registration of these new parties that it was cumbersome and dysfunctional to have the voters come to accredit and go home and come back in the afternoon to vote. We discovered using simple figure, 100 people were accredited, less than 50 people will come back and above all when they come back they will be voting till such a time you will require candle, you require lantern. These were not ancient history; these things happened not long ago. So the political parties said “let’s go back to the old order where people will come and be accredited and they vote and of course you have agents.
There is no party that is in this election, if you don’t have agents, then you have conceded to those who have agents whatever they are able to do there though every party is supposed to have agents where it is standing for election. You know these days, elections start in time. I know the time materials will not arrive 4pm, 5pm, 6pm.
But these days there is no part of Nigeria where elections do not start latest 8.30am and after the accreditation and voting up to 2 o’clock, they have stopped and those that are already on queue will be accredited and allowed to vote. Most times , by 3 pm , 5pm elections are over in broad day light. So the participation improved.
Is it true that some of the political parties were not consulted?
That is not true because there were no different consultations for the same political parties. On this issue of consultations, I can tell you that political parties are not the only stakeholders that are consulted; the media chiefs are consulted, the civil society organisations are consulted; the donor agencies are consulted. The difference is that we are not packed in one large hall, we are given different days for consultation and this issue of accreditation and voting started with Bayelsa and everybody was happy at the improvement and it went up to Edo , Anambra and so on, votes started counting.
When vote started counting, there was nothing to buy. People who have money resorted to vote buying but when votes were not counting there was no need for a voter, you just needed to go to where they write results. Have you also forgotten that it was not long ago that president Obasanjo accused Ngige of the same party that he was a beneficiary of rigging and Ngige said to him ‘that table where my result was written was where your own was written.
That meant there was nothing at the polling unit. Have you also forgotten what we have passed through in this country when ad-hoc staff were principally recruited by the ruling party and today we are having Youth Corps members and university lecturers just to improve on the transparency of the electoral process.