Tuesday, July 23, 2013

There will be suprises in 2015, says Okorie

By Augustine Avwode
The Nation, July 23,2013


The National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, spoke with AUGUSTINE AVWODE in Lagos on the activities of the party and other issues.

How do you see the future of Nigeria politics given the current developments in the polity?
The future of Nigeria politics is very bright. Nigeria will survive its travails and hiccups. Most Nigerians have faith in the country; the only thing that has kept us down is the fact that we have not been lucky with a purposeful leadership. We have always had great leaders that never were. For instance, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He would have provided Nigeria with good leadership. Unfortunately, it is in the realm of ‘would have been’. And we have many others like that. So, the problem with Nigeria is that of sincere leadership. But we wouldn’t have to go and import any one from heaven, we have very good people among us. The only way they can come about is through a free, fair and credible election. Those who go and patronize money bags thinking they will win elections will be disappointed in the next general election. There will be political surprises in 2015, not only at the presidential level but all over. Once an election is free and fair, you will see big men being overthrown. All we are praying and hoping for is that INEC would do the right thing. If it does the right thing, Nigerians are rational; they never opted for this kind of leadership. It was imposed on them through rigging. But give Nigerians the assurance that their votes will count and you will see the type of leadership they will elect, from councillor to president.
Seven months after the registration of the United Progressives Party (UPP), how has it been?
It has been a wonderful and exciting experience for me. Without being immodest, one is no longer a local champion on the political scene. I now play in the first league of Nigeria politics. Secondly, my travails in the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) have attracted nation-wide sympathy to me. From the feedback that we are getting, the general impression out there is that, this man has been persistent, consistent and dogged. So, the UPP immediately began to attract attention on the basis of the background of its leadership.
In specific terms, how would you describe the reception of the UPP by the people?
It has been very encouraging. In the Southsouth, for example, for a long time, there has not been an alternative platform. The APGA was supposed to provide that platform before it was engulfed in crisis. Now, the UPP has come in to fill that void in the lives of many politicians, who were either denied the opportunity to contest, or denied the platform for the purposes of contesting election in the region. The truth is that there are some politicians who cannot but contest elections. If you deny them that opportunity, they are like fish out of water. So, for this set of people the UPP has provided that platform.
In the Southwest, the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has also worked for the good of the UPP in a way you won’t believe. The Southwest is, historically, progressive in nature. They have never been known to cooperate with the conservative elements in the North, politically. This is the first time we are seeing this and it is strange to some of them. So, this set of people, who I won’t mention here, are already looking in the direction of another southern progressive party for possible alignment. For this set of people, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is not an option. So, the UPP has provided a safe haven for them.
In the North, the UPP has come to be the party of the minorities. The question is who are these minorities? They are not the traditional minorities, but also include them. For instance, the Igbo man in the Southeast is a majority but in the North, he is a minority. The Yoruba in the Southwest is a majority, but in the North, he is a minority. And the same is applicable to all other groups that are outside their region and zone. Of course, there are indigenous minorities in these areas. All over the world, just as it is in Nigeria, the problem of the minority is the same – the oppression by the majority, most times to the extent that they are not even allowed to contest elections because they do not have the platform that is sympathetic to their aspirations. So, when the minorities come together, they constitute a veritable political force that can challenge the status quo in any place. The UPP is making available its platform to this group of people.
How would you react to the call by President Goodluck Jonathan for a two-party arrangement?
The truth is that Nigeria is getting close to that state. If we get to three, it will be a major improvement from the initial 67 that we used to have at a time. Of course, using the provisions of our law, the numbers have now been cut down to 25. Then, the merging of the three major opposition parties to form the APC is a major development in that direction. You can see that the case of the APC is a case of natural political evolution that is borne out of the interest of the parties that are involved. You would have observed that the PDP, just now, is experiencing and implosion that is reducing its octopus size to what is not as intimidating as it used to be. In the USA, you don’t have the majority-minority dichotomy the way it is here. Today, the Presidency of Jonathan is seen largely as an anathema by some people, just because of the area where he comes from as a minority. Now, in the presidential election of 2015, I see the APP presenting a northern candidate that will be formidable, and the PDP would present the incumbent in a bid to remain in office. The UPP has zoned its presidential ticket to the Southeast. The massive votes that Jonathan got in the Southeast can no longer be available. In fact, he would be lucky if he gets 10 per cent of the votes in 2015. The truth is that the Igbo are sentimental people and they always rally round their own. The moment you bring in an Igbo presidential candidate, he will get massive support from Igbo people, home and abroad. So, I see three major political movements in the 2015 general election – the APC, PDP and the UPP. The others will be there at the periphery just as you have some parties in America at the periphery. When you now get down to three, you are already approaching a two-party system. So, let us work hard at it and we will achieve it.
How would you describe the performance of INEC since the 2011 general election? Has the umpire improved by your reckoning?
Under the present leadership of the INEC, the commission has been improving on subsequent elections. There has been remarkable improvement on previous ones. I can tell you that I have been involved in a few interactive sessions with INEC, where political leaders, pro-democracy organisation and donor agencies have been sponsoring seminars and workshops. In all these these interactive sessions, INEC has been stressing the necessity of making the 2015 election more credible, transparent, more participatory. I am happy to tell you that the future is bright. I can tell you that once we get to where the votes of Nigerians count, we would have reached a point of accountability. INEC has a big role to play in helping Nigerians achieve accountability. We can never achieve accountability by elected people except the people are directly responsible for the emergence of their leaders, and who can also in turn removed them from office, should any of them fail to live up to expectation.
How do you see the prospect of your party as we march toward 2015?
Before now, I have been laying the foundation for a major movement and with the indices I have already pointed out the other time, it can be seen clearly that we are well focused. If we were looking for big names, we would have been sending delegations to those who have been there, but these are people that would rather contaminate the party that we have set up to challenge the status quo. So, the people we are reaching out to are those that are hungry for change. UPP is a change agent and really hungry for change. We are not here to dissolve into the status quo, no; we want real change that will bring the best out of the average Nigerian and make the country a place worth living. We have come to challenge the status quo and over throw it, and that was why I said the UPP is a change agent.
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