By JIDE AJANI Deputy Editor
*Says Chekwas Okorie is a comedian
*Reveals why there would be no reconciliation
*â€˜My problems with INEC’
YESTERDAY (last Wednesday) there was a purported convention by Â Â Â Chekwas.Â In the event that the result of this tango goes the other way, what other options does your party have?
It is only in Nigeria that that type of thing can happen.Â Nigeria is indeed a unique country and that is why we are saying that even if our generation misses a good Nigeria, our people should not miss a good Nigeria.Â What happened in Abuja yesterday ( Wednesday)Â is a tragedy for the rule of law.Â Apart from the fact that a court of law had affirmed Okorieâ€™s expulsion from APGA, a Federal High Court also made an order stopping the same convention and a character came out boldly to hold the convention andÂ went ahead to announce the expulsion of Chief Victor Umeh and Governor Peter Obi from APGA.Â They gave themselves away very easily.Â The whole thing was contrived to ensure that Peter Obi does not run on the platform of APGA.Â Even the constitution of APGA was so violated.
By the convention addressed by Okorie, I want to ask, what locus does he have to organize such a convention, somebody the courts have said remains expelled from APGA?Â Answer: none.Â The court stopped him from doing that; he went ahead and did it.Â That is a direct affront on the courts of the land and the media reported him with screaming headlines, that APGA expels Umeh and Obi, adding to the confusion onÂ ground.
Okorie stated at the convention that the court order restrained him from convening the convention.Â But our constitution says the secretary of the party shall convene the convention on the directive of the chairman but he now says somebody who is not known to APGA is the convener.Â He then went ahead to say that the order of the court did not stop him from attending but as soon as he got there, the first thing was to lift his expulsion from the party through a motion.
The characters who moved the motion were not the officers of the party who expelled him, so where did they derive the authority to lift his expulsion?Â To me, that was a comedy. How can he say, when on the 14th of August he addressed the press, saying he held a NEC meeting where he fixed a date for the convention?Â So, he fixed a date for the convention when he was not chairman and at the convention he realized that his expulsion had to be lifted, so the whole thing is a paradox and I want to tell you that APGA never held any convention.
Are you again going to court to challenge the convention?
Challenge a convention that never held?Â Rather, Okorie would be taken care of by the court for disregarding its order.Â The purported convention was not a convention of APGA.Â INEC was restrained not to send anybody to monitor the convention, so there was no convention because the law is that INEC must monitor all conventions of parties.Â The reason for the law is for INEC to verify that it is the officers of the party who are there organising the convention.Â So, because INEC never sent people to that so-called convention further demonstrates that what they did was simply a comedy show.
What weâ€™re going to do isÂ to allow the courts to deal with Chekwas Okorie.Â Already, we have a pending originating summons at the Federal High Court to restrain INEC from dealing with Chekwas Okorie, based on some subsisting court judgments that Chekwas Okorie is not a member of APGA.Â That is pending and by the time we return on the 9th of September, in Abuja, Chekwas would not be in court, he would run away and if he shows up in court, I know that the courtÂ would frown at the brazen disobedience of its order.Â The courts cannot make orders in vain because the essence is to create sanity and where the court makes order and it is flouted with reckless impunity, then that society is a jungle but Nigeria is not a jungle, where anybody can do anything and get away with it.Â With what he did yesterday ( Wednesday), we are going to press for his committal to prison.
Weâ€™ve assembled all the tapes of that convention because he said he was aware of the court order but, was not served.Â The rule is: Are you aware?
He said INEC confirmed that it was served the order. Nigerians must learn how to obey court order.
Why is it that your party is always in the news and negatively so â€“ fighting this, fighting that and creating confusion all over the place?
What is happening and the latest that is in the news is that the opponents of APGA who have been using our former chairman, Chekwas Okorie, have continued to use him to create crisis in the minds of members of the party as to the stability of the party. It is a script written to ensure that Obi does not have a second term ticket on the platform of APGA in the 2010 election. INEC is also involved because INEC has refused to do what is right.Â The opponents of the party are the ones at work.
This issue of INEC appears to have become a fixation.Â People are even asking, what is it between you and INEC on the one hand and what is it between you and Prof. Maurice Iwu?Â What is the infraction of INEC?
I would say that it started with the 2007 elections.Â InÂ the build up to the elections, Andy Uba was interested in becoming governor of Anambra State. The grand design was to destabilize all the other political parties in Anambra State and pave the way for Uba to become governor.Â APGAâ€™s case wasÂ special because it was the party in power in the state and the first plot was how to deny Governor Obi the platform of APGA to run for that election.Â When he was returned from his unconstitutional impeachment, it became clear that he had two options.Â First was either to continue in his tenure interpretation case or to contest election as announced by INEC. He was ready to participate in the governorship election at that time but INEC blocked his substitution.Â The candidate voluntarily withdrew from that election to pave the way for Peter Obi to participate in that election.
Somebody was merely going to withdraw for Obi to become the candidate?
Yes, it was a party decision.Â The person had agreed and actually withdrew.
Okay, letâ€™s get it straight here:Â Was there any freshÂ Â congress or convention from the ward level to local government and then state primaries which led to the emergence of Obi and, therefore, his name had to be forwarded as replacement?
It was a party decision.Â You donâ€™t elect a governor through a convention.Â As I said, it was a party decision.Â Chris Ngige of AC was also blocked.Â Nicolas Ukachukwu of ANPP was also blocked. This was all being done to pave the way for Uba to become governor. And after the 20097 elections, the leadership of APGA described the polls as a grand fraud and that immediately pitched us against Prof. Iwu.Â Martin Agbasoâ€™s election was annulled by INEC.Â We asked why the governorship election (in Imo)Â was annulled and the House of Assembly election was upheld.Â Â That also enraged INEC.
In the re-run, Ikedi Ohakim won the election. On the 8th of June, 2007, Okorie submitted a letter to INEC pleading that he be recognized as APGA leader.Â On the 11th of June, 2007, INECâ€™s Political Party Monitoring Committee was instructed to henceforth relate with Okorie faction, based on a court order.Â We went to court to challenge this move because our findings showed that the letter was back-dated to December 2006.
What youâ€™re saying does not sound logical.Â Your faction presented the candidates for the elections so how could the issue of back-dating have been proved?
Yes, INEC allowed our leadership to present all the candidates in the 2007 elections.Â In that same December 2006, we submitted the names of our candidates for elections including that of Odumegwu Ojukwu as our presidential candidate.
You still did not address that question of logicality and sequence but letâ€™s continue.
In January, 2007, Prof. Iwu personally screened Ojukwu for the presidential election, at INEC headquarters, accompanied by me.Â We wrote a petition to the Inspector General of Police, describing the memo as a forged document because if you write anything of that sort claiming the existence of something that was not in existence, the law calls it forgery.Â There was no court order.Â When the police was vacillating to investigate the matter, we went to court to press the IG to investigate Iwu for forgery and Okorie for altering that memo.
While all these were on, the FCT High Court that was hearing the leadership dispute in APGA affirmed Okorieâ€™s expulsion from APGA. Last year, November 12, the Federal High Court, after hearing the suit we brought to it against INEC, Iwu and Okorie, nullified that memo and directed INEC never to deal with Okorie. So all these, coupled with our many litigations against INEC, and the fact that our tenure interpretation case, did not go down well. The governorship election in Anambra State is in the corner and that is why you have all these distractions and heating up of the polity.
Back to the question I asked earlier about logicality.Â Was INEC not dealing with you as APGA chairman?
INEC has been dealing with me as INEC chairman.Â Even up to May this year, INEC has been dealing with me.
That is with Maurice Iwu as chairman?
Yes, with Iwu as chairman.Â It was under Iwu that I was accorded recognition as chairman of APGA in June 2005.Â INEC investigated the leadership crisis in APGA and the recommendations were ready for implementation, when Iwu came in, Iwu approved the recommendation and since then INEC has been dealing with me and that was why we were the people that sponsored candidates for the 2007 elections everywhere in Nigeria and INEC accepted them, except the substitution of Peter Obi.
Good.Â I do not want us to muddle-up this thingÂ so thatÂ Nigerians would be very clear about what is going on.Â Having admitted that the same Iwu as INEC Chairman has been dealing with you as APGA chairman, at what point did the paradigm shift?
It was in May, 2009.Â What happened in 2007 was a mere attempt not to deal with us.
But he continued dealing with you.
Yes, because we used the courts to stop it and up till 2009 INEC has been dealing with us.Â INEC has been giving us all our subventions.Â Even when there was a purported shift, INEC continued dealing with us.Â Sending all our money to us and even auditing our accounts.Â Even in March this year, INEC, under Maurice Iwu, wrote meÂ after releasing our money, informing me of the remittance of that money to our accounts.Â The situation changed in May, this year, when on the 8th of May, the Federal High Court ordered the IG to investigate our petition against Iwu.
Have the police taken any action?
No.Â How can they do it?Â INEC then brought out a press statement signed by Osemeke, an under secretary in INEC, saying that INEC never recognized me as APGA chairman, having full recourse to the constitution of APGA, that was when the scenario changed.
Good.Â How did Chekwas Okorieâ€™s name find its way into the constitution of your party?Â In another section, it says Okorie, as chairman or founder, would have to convene a convention of the party and, for an amendment to take place, that same process has to be followed?Â How did this happen?
Itâ€™s a long story but I would cut it short. The original APGA Constitution never had Okorieâ€™s name.Â When the party was registered, INEC gave the new party 30 days within which to file its constitution.Â It was within that period that Okorieâ€™s name was inserted into it and taken to INEC.
Would you blame INEC for that and has it been changed?
Nobody saw the constitution.Â We believed it was the same constitution that weâ€™d read that was brought to the first convention of the party and one of the motions that was moved at that convention was the adoption of that constitution.Â A copy of the constitution was just brandished, nobody looked through it and it was given to the INEC commissioner who came to monitor the convention.
It was after the printed version was distributed that we saw that Okorieâ€™s name was in it.Â We read through the constitution and saw that, having put his name in this constitution, he had not removed the possibility of sanctioning him if he erred.Â He, providentially, failed to expunge Article 19(3) which was a provision for a removal of officers of the party under special circumstances.
The provision states that â€œAny officer of the party who is indicted for any criminal offence bordering on fraud, embezzlement or conduct likely to bring the image of the party to ridicule and disrespect shall be deemed to have been expelled from the partyâ€.
This is a special circumstance in this constitution.Â Article 19(1) and 19(2) deal with removal from office; but Article 19(3), deals with special circumstances.Â Okorie has been quoting 19(1) and 19(2) which refer to the convention for the removal of the chairman and all other national officers of the party.Â 19(3) comes after the first two and that is where Okorieâ€™s case falls.
Why has your own leadership not gone to court to settle this matter and seek clarification, at least to put a stop to all these?
There was no need.
There was no need?
No.Â During one of the trials when he was in the witness box, he was asked if he was the national chairman, he said yes.Â He was also asked that as national chairman if he was an officer of the party; he answered yes again.Â He was asked to read Article 19(3).Â â€˜As chairman, if you offend the principles of the party, Article 19(3) catches you as an officer of the partyâ€™.Â This constitution was tendered and admitted as exhibit when he challenged his expulsion; after three years of trial, the judge determined that he was duly removed and that the action of the party was anchored on Article 19(3).
It is no longer open to debate by anybody to wonder whether Okorie has been expelled from APGA or not, based on a court judgment.
You see, the whole thing is messy and how does it feel that the party some people in the S/East zone looked up to for salvation has come to this sorry pass.
APGA is a veritable platform.Â It is a progressive party and not an Igbo party.Â The truth is that the formation of APGA was initiated from Enugu here.Â When APGA was registered, the conditions were stringent.Â We had offices running in 34 states including Abuja, as against the minimum of 24 and the S/East only had five states in Nigeria and so, we had 19 others states where we had offices.Â They then tried to stop us.
Who tried to stop you? Maurice Iwu?
No.Â The authorities.Â Obasanjo didnâ€™t want APGA to be registered, let me be direct.
Back that up with reasons?
This was because he knew that if that party got registered, that our people would no longer be in the PDP, with strong characters involved and not just Okorie.
We got registered eventually and true to prediction in the 2003 general elections, APGA became the obstacle to the PDP in the S/East.Â Things got worse for the ruling party when Ojukwu joined and accepted to run as our presidential candidate; that was when the party got its true life, as the leader of the Igbo people â€“ it became a mass movement and it got unassailable strength and at the 2003 elections, APGA swept all the states.Â But then, INEC denied APGA victory.
When we went to court to petition the Anambra governorship case, we went through rigourous process to prosecute the case.Â Obasanjo saw Anambra State as the mustard seed that would grow to a big tree if itÂ was not truncated and thatÂ was why Peter ObiÂ had the greatest attacks and all kinds of obstacles put on his way as Anambra State governor, with the tacit connivance of federal agencies when Obasanjo was in power.
Let me punctuate you.Â The principle of due process in the electoral process states that when you lose an election, you go to the tribunal.Â You made a sweeping statement that APGA won all the states in the S/East; apart from Anambra State, no other state was won by APGA and that simply takes the steam out of your argument about APGA winning all the states?
No, the people voted massively for APGA but APGA was not declared.Â Even PDP members knew what happened.
But the courts were there and people went there?
Yes, but it was only in Peter Obiâ€™s case that we were able to prosecute the case to its successful conclusion.Â It is expensive to prosecute a case.
Take this along with it, why is it that when the courts favour politicians, they hail the judiciary; when the courts turn down their request, they cry blue murder?Â Why is the perception of the average Nigerian politician so distorted that he believes everything must go his way?
You see, when the courts rely on technicalities, that is what happens and the obvious wrong would go unpunished because people will know what the fact is but proving it would be difficult.Â That is why people condemn court judgments. The judgments that ride with public expectations are hailed and vice versa.
Following the law?
There is nothing like following the law when substantial justice is not followed.Â The Supreme Court has ruled that technicalities should not be the basis of determining electoral petition.
In Ogun State, the first tribunal used technicalities and the petition was thrown out but the Appeal Court said go and re-try the matter, it was done and PDP still won.Â In Osun State, AC lost at the tribunal but when it went to the Appeal Court, the latter determined that the matter should be re-tried; but we are now hearing that the document which the re-trial was based on is a forgery; to make it worse, it was not tendered again at the re-trial.
There is something that is very bizarre in our electoral law.Â It is based on the principle of he who alleges should prove beyond reasonable doubt â€“ that is the problem.Â I have argued through public hearing that the burden of proof should be shifted to the electoral body and not the person who is aggrieved. The electoral body should prove that it has conducted that election in substantial compliance with the law.Â All the petitions that have failed have failed because they could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.Â During the various cases we have prosecuted, we saw that it was very difficult.
It is not unusual to hear Nigerians cry blue murder when things donâ€™t go their way.
What would you say about a situation where politicians bastardise the process and go on to blame INEC?
Look at the State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs: PDP won all LG elections in states it controls, AC, the same, ANPP, the same.Â So if that is the politics we want to play, why complain when it doesnâ€™t favour us since each party does same to opposition in its base?
The flaw in the process derives from one tragic mistake in our laws â€“ the appointment of electoral officers.Â The presidentÂ nominates and the Senate approves.Â The same way, the SIEC is constituted by the state governors and approved by the state assembly. The only qualification for appointment to SIEC is the loyalty of those to be appointed to their governors.
Maximum loyalty to the governor and his party and, therefore, there is no difference.Â It has to do with the issue of appointment.Â A governor appoints you into SIEC and people are expecting something different.
In Lagos, APGA didnâ€™t win anything and we were shocked.Â I berated the AC which continues to criticize the PDP and yet, in Lagos, where we knew we could win some seats, we were denied.Â ACâ€™s SIEC did the same thing they were accusing INEC of. Politicians would always want to get to power but it is the duty of the electoral body to checkmate this.Â Every politician wants to get to office, it is natural.
Look at the 2007 elections.Â Leaders of Thought agreed with INEC that the preparations were okay and the National Council of State agreed that preparations were okay and even state governors too.Â General Yakubu Gowon, in fact, said openly that from what he could see, Nigerians should expect a free and fair election, provided the politicians would allow it.
In APGA, we donâ€™t believe in the policy of do-or-die.Â It was General Obasanjo who described the 2007 elections as a do-or-die matter.
Let me tell you, there are still good politicians in Nigeria, who want the right things done but because of the constitutional flaw, which enables the president to nominate INEC members, people have taken it that they have to jump into the loyalty of the president who has appointed these people so that even in my own state, Anambra, where my governor has put in superlative acts of governance, the PDP, as at the last count, now has about 70 governorship aspirants; despite their notorious image, they are still hopeful in Anambra State that they would take over the government because they would rely on some forces. It is because we have not followed the way of doing things.
Who are the â€œweâ€ in this instance?
Oh! We the politicians, people now believe that if you jump in through the window, you can still sit pretty and nothing may happen, so they take their chance.Â And some people have abandoned the window, they have even gone in through the roof and they are there.Â So, people become so desperate to go through very unethical route to power, that is the source of the desperation.Â If the umpire comes down heavily on them, things would become different.
Youâ€™re right but how do you deal with this example: The Governor of a state in the North West zone was rumoured to be attempting to join PDP from ANPP, even before he was sworn in.Â He joinedÂ PDP and the exco of the party in the state was dissolved.Â INEC wrote to them explaining that the dissolution was illegal.Â One of the victims in the exco addressed the press berating INEC for interfering; that they the victimsÂ were not seeking remedy so what was INECâ€™s business? How would you handle that for firmness from INEC?
The fact you must put in perspective here is that those people moved from ANPP to PDP.Â It has happened in other places. In Plateau State, during the impeachment of Joshua Dariye, INEC attempted to declare the seats of those people who jumped ship from PDP vacant.
For the governor to move, there is a lacuna in the constitution.Â For legislators to move, the party must be factionalisation down the line.Â In the case of Plateau State, PDP was not factionalised and, so, what the legislators did was not in accordance with the law?Â My problem is that when things suit Nigerians, they jump on the bandwagon of due process, when it goes the other way, they complain and scream?
There is no room for selective application of the rules. The inconsistency has arisen from the fact that those who would regulate do not do their job strictly going by the law.Â The authority meant to intervene would look the other way because some interests are favoured but where the authority is firm and consistent, things would become better.Â The inconsistency has arisen because most time, the regulator in any form or the agency is always biased and is not firm because of some interests and this is across the board, in every facet of the Nigerian life.
You are APGA; visualize a scenario whereby Gov. Obiâ€™s deputy dumps APGA and joins another party, the Supreme Court says she can remain deputy governor, premising it on the Obasanjo/Atiku face off of 2007.
The Supreme Court of Nigeria is the highest court of the land and its interpretation of the constitution would be binding on everybody. I have personally described this 1999 constitution as a worthless document because it has a lot of contradictions, so many vague provisions.Â Why, for instance, are we having problems in Lagos State regarding creation of local governments.Â It is because in Section 8, there was no definite pronouncement on how the process should be concluded.
Letâ€™s go back to APGA.Â In a situation where Okorie wins at the end of the day, what options are open to your team as well as Peter Obi as we prepare for the 2010 election?
Well, I will tell you quite frankly that we have very deep faith in the judicial process and that is why we have led several judicial battles and we have had landmark judgments.Â The Obi vs Ngige thing is there; the unconstitutional impeachment is there; the tenure of office judgment is also there.
The issue of APGA leadership is within the firm control of the judicial process.Â In the end, we will get it because we have always persevered and we are on firm ground and those who are trampling on the authority of the courts would not be allowed to go by the same courts.Â Every Nigerian knows that all these dramatizations are because of the election of next year.
Because weâ€™re not God and weâ€™re not the judges hearing the case but where we suffer set backs, we would have options.Â An event took place in Awka where 13 political parties in alliance with APGA and these are registered political parties, so we have no fears at all.
Why canâ€™t you people find a way of settling this problem in APGA?
The only problem we have in APGA is Chekwas Okorie.
So, why canâ€™t you people settle it?
On a very strong note, we can never settle with him.
He is somebody who does not have the humility to accept guilt andâ€¦
What if he accepts guilt?Â You seem to be foreclosing all options of settlementâ€¦
Thereâ€™s no need wasting our time on something that would never materialize.Â We have said it severally. Governor Peter Obi has said it that he would never be on the same political platform with Chekwas Okorie, not for anything.