Chief Chekwas Okorie is the Presidential candidate as well as National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP. In this interview, he previews the forthcoming contest, his chances and the lot of Ndigbo among other issues. Excerpts:
By Chioma Gabriel and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
How did you emerge as UPP presidential candidate?
There was a consensus among members of the National Working Committee of the party that I should be the candidate of the party for the 2015 presidential election.
This was on the eve of our national convention which took place at Aba, Abia State, on December 11, 2014. So, at the National Executive Council meeting, that motion was moved and adopted by NEC, especially in the light of the fact that the party had zoned the presidential slot to the South-East zone where I come from and for the fact that nobody else came forward to contest.
On the day of the convention, there was a proper election as required by the Electoral Act, which was supervised by INEC officials and being the sole candidate, I garnered all the votes.
I requested NEC to approve my nomination of Barrister Bello Umar as my running mate, because according to our constitution, the candidate makes a choice, but the party will approve or vice-versa, and he was approved.
Some Nigerians have expressed fears that the re-scheduled elections may not hold. What is your view?
I expressed my great reservation and suspicion when the postponement was done. I made it very clear at a press conference I addressed that by that postponement, the credibility of INEC has been put to serious question and the independence of the commission has been eroded based on the fact that the decision to postpone was orchestrated by people in the executive arm of government.
My fear is that having considered the reason given for the postponement as not convincing, I fear that what happened might be a prelude to other sinister motives.
It appears my fears are not misplaced in the sense that shortly after Nigerians accepted the postponement for the sake of it, other things started coming out, especially from the PDP. Some of their campaign officers started querying the proposed use of PVCs by INEC. They also began to suggest the use of TVCs and queried the use of card readers and all the measures to be put in place that will help to bring about credible and transparent elections that will be acceptable to the Nigerian people.
We saw the PDP attacking these things one after the other. In other words, trying to throw us back to the dark days where anything went as elections and results were announced, and people were asked to go to court and resolve their differences.
Do you have the backing of Ndigbo having ceded the presidential ticket to South East?
Of course, the Igbo people are known to be very sentimental and emotional and now that they have their person running for the Presidency, you do not rule out that sentimental attachment to the opportunity they have not had for a long time and that is beginning to rub off positively on the party.
Thus, we expect that we will make a major impact in the election though we do not have the capacity in terms of financial muscle to showcase some cultural jamborees by way of campaign rallies. That is luxury for those who can afford it but for those who cannot afford it; they have to be a little more cost effective in their approaches.
So, we have adopted traditional methods of reaching out to the people – going to the market places, door to door, social media and the result is beginning to show some promise.
But Ohaneze has recently said it endorsed President Goodluck Jonathan for presidency.
When it comes to politics, this kind of thing has always happened. Even though what Ohaneze has done this time is a little scandalous, it has not been different from what has always happened in Nigerian politics especially the Igbo politics aspect of it.
The second republic people will remember very well that almost every Igbo political leader was in NPN, and they were all fighting for number two position. It was so bad that what NPN did was to decide to give it to any Igbo man provided that he brings N2million at that time.
It was for the highest bidder and that was how Alex Ekwueme being an extremely successful contractor and consultant paid.
He did not become running mate because Igbo people sponsored him but because he out-paid the others and that was what prompted Nnamdi Azikiwe to come out because he had already stated that he was not going to run.
So, when he saw his people clamouring for number two position, he could not reconcile it with the fact that he led the struggle for Independence. That was how he came and he came late and chose the smallest of the parties at the time – NPP (Nigeria Peoples Party) which was founded by Waziri Ibrahim.
And when he was asked why he did not go to a big party where all his associates were waiting for him, he said his people were better off being majority in a minority party where their voice would be heard than being the minority in a majority party where they would be assimilated without trace.
And the masses identified with their own and they voted for him while others who went to majority parties lost in their domains and NPP dominated the area (South East). Not just that, Plateau State had a shoulder to lean and Solomon Lar became the emancipator and liberator of his people.
Now is not different, those who will always go to ‘food is ready’ will not be part of building anything. I founded APGA; it was worst in the case of APGA than I have it now. It was only after we had won Anambra State through the court that the party became attractive.
So, I am not surprised. As a matter of fact, I am not much disappointed by what Ohaneze is doing now but I feel sorry for my Igbo people. What has happened is that Ohaneze is simply hawking endorsement as if it is hawking pure or sachet water.
An endorsement should be a logical outcome of a negotiated understanding contained in a written memorandum of understanding.
There are so many problems confronting the Igbo people that any patriotic, caring Pan-Igbo organization will present on the table and have it negotiated and as a result of that, endorsement will come.
Look at Afenifere, they are now telling you the reason they are supporting the government which are justifiable endorsement. What did Ohaneze say? Instead, they are busy denying whether they were given a particular amount of money or not.
Is it not scandalous that the umbrella organization that is supposed to speak for the interest of Igbo people has made itself so cheap? This is not the first time Ohaneze is doing this. It did it in 2011 but that time, there was no opposition, and people could get away with it.
Now, the situation is different. I am running and you will see what will happen. As I said, UPP will be the revelation of 2015 election when the results start coming in. Why is it that in spite of the spate of endorsement, the beneficiaries are afraid of the popularity contest that would be tested on the basis of one man, one?