•We’ve been too cautious without result
•There’ll be upsets in 2015
NATIONAL Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie in this interview said the government has been too cautious and should now use force to rescue the Chibok school girls. He also spoke on how and why the National Conference recommendations should be implemented and the chances of his party in forthcoming polls
By Clifford Ndujihe
On controversies at the National confab
I was one of those who received it with high expectation. Again, I became one of those who felt we were headed in the wrong direction especially when the modality for arriving at decisions was published by the government.
But at the end of the day, especially when they adopted the nay and yea approach to resolve issues, it made things a little easier.
They achieved some modest successes here and there. I don’t think any side would say that it met its full expectations but I know that those who benefited from the status quo did not want any shift at all. That is a very selfish and unpatriotic attitude, if you think there should not be accommodation for the feelings and sensitivities of other people especially considering the fact that what made Nigeria lopsided in terms of political structure and governance is the military that consulted nobody.
There was no dialogue that brought Nigeria to where to it is today and so if there is a dialogue to make some changes so that the place will be more accommodating and inspire more confidence in the citizenry, then it shouldn’t be resisted with the type of vehemence that we are noticing from some quarters, especially from our northern brothers.
Having said that, I will say that the controversies that arose at the end of the conference were uncalled for because what has been conceded is so small and the people who ought to be complaining appeared to have accepted the little concession, hoping that in future certain things will be re-visited.
So, those recommendations should be adopted and the one that is left for the government to be resolved should be resolved by government as quickly as possible. I expect that the government will present an executive bill to the National Assembly, not to debate the provisions of the recommendations, but to simply approve a referendum, so that there will be a legal backing to the conference and then that referendum will now give the recommendation and the constitution arising from it the legitimacy that it requires to become the people’s constitution.
Talking about referendum, how would that come about?
The executive bill asking for approval of the National Assembly will do that, and I expect that the National Assembly members being Nigerians will not want to say no to such a situation because any person that says no to it doesn’t wish Nigeria well.
On the worsening security situation in the country, non-rescue of Chibok schoolgirls about four months after and emergence of teenage girls as suicide bombers
Starting with the Chibok girls, government has tried to be very cautious. But they can’t be too cautious. There will always be collateral damage. I want to align myself to Gen. T.Y. Danjuma who told the President on television that the Sambisa Forest saga must be dealt with right now, that the Boko Haram war must be won now. So, the urgency in that tone suggests that you just cannot be too cautious.
You must apply the necessary force. For those girls, even if you open a corridor and ask all of them to walk out without firing a shot, you can be sure that not all of them will come out because many had died. It will be a miracle if all the 200 girls who have not been exposed to such hardship survive where there is no medical attention and all that. You are not talking of even the abuses when girls of that age are in the midst of wolves that have no conscience.
So, it is about time Nigerian forces went into that place, storm the place. Whatever damage will be absorbed and then at least the menace will be brought to an end.
The other aspect of introducing girls as suicide bombers is quite dangerous. That is a terrible dimension. But it also means that Nigerians have not responded well enough to government’s appeal that we should be security conscious because these things are happening within neighbourhoods. And these girls are too young to know what they are doing. People are still afraid to come out. So, more of sensitization campaigns, for people to report suspicious movement should be intensified.
Then off course, there is a long-term approach to enlightenment, education and development, etc.
Your party is contesting the Osun governorship election, do you think you will make any impact?
Being a new party and Osun being a place we haven’t done much, I don’t expect that we will win the election. But we will make impact enough to position the party for future contest. In Ekiti, we didn’t participate because we didn’t see a candidate that should represent the face of UPP. UPP has a character. Win or lose, we shouldn’t lose that character.
What is the character?
The character of UPP is progressivism. UPP is a progressive party and it is one party that is not associated with any misconduct of its leadership and we want to keep it that way. There is no person who has been indicted for theft or public offences, not to talk of treasury looters. So, it is a mass movement. UPP is the face of the progressives in Nigeria. We see APC and PDP as two sides of the same coin. We see them having equal distribution of the same characters that have kept Nigeria in comatose, politically and economically.
So, we see a political battle line that is drawn between the progressive forces and the reactionary forces. And these two parties, the APC and the PDP belong to the reactionary forces. They are not telling Nigerians anything new. They have not told Nigerians what any of them will do to improve on our situation.
Instead, what they are doing is throwing tantrums at each other. Going deep into their repository of vocabulary to find the most acerbic words to attack each other without ever saying what they want to do differently. So, if you leave those two parties just like that without any alternative that means Nigerians are doomed because they have no choice.
But there is a mass movement. There is a party that provides an alternative. So, the choice is now for Nigerians to either remain the way they are and wallow in more lamentations or go for a change. And that is why we are presenting a presidential candidate in the forthcoming elections.
Some parties have already adopted certain candidates who have not even said they are going to run. For instance, APGA and Labour have done such adoptions even more than a year ago. UPP is running and it is not by the decision of Chekwas Okorie or some few party leaders, but by the decision of the NEC of the party, which zoned the presidential ticket to the South-East.
So, Nigerians should expect an epic encounter involving three parties-PDP, APC and UPP. There may be others but we believe that in the next couple of months, UPP will be the most beautiful bride in the present dispensation. We are going to go into engagement, call it alliance or coalition, but it will be post-election alliance, not pre-election.
You talked about post-election alliance, is there any hope or chance of UPP and APGA coming together?
Yes, there is a faction of APGA that has already gone on a pre-election alliance with us for corporation and electoral advantage. That is the faction led by Maxi Okwu. Now, they are at the Supreme Court to resolve the final stage of the leadership tussle. If at the end of the day, Maxi Okwu wins, which I believe his faction has a good case, the alliance will be quickly consummated. And since they are not presenting a presidential candidate, it becomes easy for them to align with the presidential candidate that we are bringing, while we work at cooperation at the other levels of contest.
Accommodation in the UPP
If on the other hand the Umeh faction, which has already adopted President Jonathan in advance of his coming out to say he would run, prevails at the Supreme Court, the Maxi Okwu side is assured of accommodation in the UPP.
Being relatively new with elections six months away, do you really think UPP has a chance in 2015?
If the election is free, fair and credible, there will be an upset. We have seen places where even parties that have controlled National Assembly did not win the Presidential election. So, we are targeting first to sweep the polls in the South-East, make impact in Lagos and a few other places.
But we are also hoping to win the Presidential election, if it is free, fair and transparent. That is why UPP is championing electronic voting system, where there will be more participation because we believe that Nigerians are very rational. If you give them the opportunity to decide who presides over them, who governs them, they will make the right decisions than the imposition they are having now.
So, my message to Nigerians is that they now have a chance, a singular opportunity to change the situation in which they have found themselves. But in doing that they must be very meticulous. They must reason with their heads. The idea that some people are politicians and others are not doesn’t really make sense. Everybody is involved because whether you are in the pulpit or anywhere, the decisions of political leaders will affect you.