BY FRANCIS IGATA, ENUGU
United Progressives Party,UPP, presidential candidate in the last general elections,Chief Chekwas Okorie,in this interview, says worsening socio-economic situation in the South-East and South-South is responsible for the strident calls for secession. Excerpts…
What is your impression about the Biafra anniversary that turned bloody and the struggle for secession from Nigerian state?
The government we have today has an attitude towards the agitators for a separate state of Biafra which to my mind will not resolve the issues amicably. The attitude of the government is that there is no basis for dialogue. But the advice that I have given over and over again is that there is need for dialogue, there is need to discuss. Many eminent Nigerians have advocated for dialogue.
President Buhari has repeatedly said that the people who are agitating, most of them were not born during or before the war and, therefore, will not know what most of those who participated on both sides suffered and by his figures, Nigeria lost two million people.
I don’t know how he arrived at the two million to know which side lost more. And my attitude is that the fact that majority of these people were not born is the more reason they should be brought to the negotiation table. Buhari does not need to be involved personally, he is the president of Nigeria.
There are so many agencies of government that can do that on their own or as a team. The office of the National Security Adviser,NSA, can handle this issue of dialogue, the Directorate of State Security can do it; even the office of the Inspector General of Police can handle it. These are security agencies and departments of government that can handle this without direct involvement of the President and eventually advise the President on the best way to go.
These young men cannot understand. We their fathers and elders cannot sufficiently convince them and nobody in Nigeria can explain to them why their situation is this miserable, nobody can tell them why their condition, compared to their peers from other parts of the country, is widely different.
Nobody can tell them why a graduate will remain unemployed for several years and his counterpart from another part of the country, especially from the North, will have jobs waiting for him even before graduation and, by the time some of them eventually get a place, they are subordinates to people they graduated the same year with. Nobody can tell them why to gain admission into university that somebody with about 200 points at University Matriculation Examination may not be considered to have earned enough to be admitted and another person from another part of the country with less than 100 points will gain admission.
What is the implication? The implication is that while he is still waiting to have that figure, that number that will admit him, that one that he is more brilliant than is ahead of him. There are so many things you can’t explain to these people and efforts have been made to restructure Nigeria, efforts have been made to remove some of the obnoxious policies but these have been restricted and so some of these people feel that if they confront government, they are dead, if they fail to confront government, they are dead.
So when you now sit them down and explain a few things to them and give them hope, perhaps their methods will be different, perhaps their attitude will be different and some of us who are their elders will also have a little peace of mind because, let nobody joke about it, most of us in our age and situation are under pressure too. We are even branded saboteurs, we are called names. If you go to social media, some of us are called names because the youths believe we have not done enough for them and we are asking government, ‘help us to help the country and also talk to these people’. We have been looking at a situation where government is looking for any way they can speak to leaders of Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, they don’t even know who their leaders are, they don’t even have access to them. If there is any chance that Niger Delta Avengers leaders are ready to discuss, government will have some relief.
If the Shiite Muslims, who are a different sect from the Sunni and are also fighting in the North, are ready to sit down and discuss, the government will have some relief. Why is any body reluctant to open dialogue with these ones whose leaders are known? These agitators are not hiding because they have chosen a none-violent approach. Is it when they have gone underground that anybody will begin to look for them to discuss?
When it gets to that point, it will be a bit late and some of us who are prepared to stick out our necks out and broker discussion would have lost any form of legitimacy to invite the Avengers and pro-Biafra agitators to discuss. So, I continue to insist on the dialogue option because nothing tells me that there is another way.
The last government organised a National Conference. Looking at the discordant tunes emanating from different geo-political zones, what do you advise?
My position has been consistent and I have not seen any reason to change that position and that is that the recommendations of the conference should be implemented. I do not know who it hurts really, if those recommendations are implemented.
I say this because that conference was not at the behest of the last government, it was a result of the pressure from different sections of the country that there was need for a National Conference. It will appear that the government became responsive and organized the conference. All the 36 states of Nigeria sent to the conference delegates they considered as their first eleven. The government of the day gave political parties which had elected people in the National Assembly slots to attend the conference.
APC was the only political party that did not take up its. But if all the 36 states sent delegates, it then means that majority of the states who are APC states sent delegates to that conference. And President Buhari has admitted by his own comment that nine billion Naira of public funds was spent on that conference even though he considered it a waste. I would have thought that what he will do was to justify that expenditure; after all government is a continuum; and look at the recommendations. But he said he has not read it, he had no intention to read it, he has no intention to set up any committee to form an opinion and advise him and that it will be sent to the archives. I find that very disturbing. My appeal here again is for him to have a rethink because the international community is watching. And the Biafran thing, there has been no attempt to suppress it here in Nigeria but it has happened in over one hundred countries outside Nigeria same day. The international community is watching and seeing that there is instability and chances of more instability that will not help us.
The President has a very robust ambitious budget, the largest Nigeria has ever had since independence, which, if implemented , will bring economic stability and he may end up being a very great President but, with this attitude, I wonder which investor will walk into an inferno to invest; with this attitude, I wonder what type of peace, stability that will allow the economy to grow. So, my advise remains that he should have a rethink about the recommendation of the National Conference and do something about it. He accepted to continue to implement the projects he inherited from the government; that’s why he budgeted so much money to pay old debts, so much money to continue the projects in the budget and if he has this positive attitude, what is it about the National Conference that he has his mind so made up? I can’t put my finger at it but if he wants to jettison it, let him convene his own under his own template but this country must negotiate, this country must dialogue.