Chief Chekwas Okorie, national chairman of the United Progressives Party, UPP and before then chairman and founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA in this interview speaks on contemporary issues. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
THE President in a recent broadcast recalled with nostalgia his meeting in Daura with Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu before 2003. As an associate of the late Igbo leader what can you say of that broadcast?
First of all, I was the chairman of Odumegwu Ojukwu’s political party, that is, I was the chairman of APGA that fielded the late Odumegwu Ojukwu as a presidential candidate; so I can tell you authoritatively that I was privy to that meeting in Daura.
Equity and fair play
I was not there physically but upon his return he gave me a copy of the communiqué. It was not an agreement as such. It was a communiqué actually and that visit was to reciprocate an earlier visit that Gen. Buhari paid to him at Enugu, accompanied by late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo who was his running mate at that time.
And he reciprocated that visit by going this time with Dr. Tim Menakeya because I was very busy with party matters and then, they had to go. Yes Gen. Buhari was not entirely out of place about what had transpired but the word “non-negotiable” was never used.
As I said it was a communiqué which two of them signed. The key words in that direction were that they called for Nigerian unity, oneness and indivisibility and in this unity, oneness and indivisibility; it will be anchored on justice, equity and fair play. The word non-negotiable was never used and it did not appear in that communiqué whose copy I still have.
Having said that the late Odumegwu Ojukwu has never believed in the kind of unity that Nigeria has and he variously described the unity we have in Nigeria, as the unity of Jonah and the whale; that Jonah was in the belly of the whale, a very dark environment, very uncomfortable and the whale carried him and you wouldn’t call that unity. He always wanted a unity where everybody would breathe the same air of freedom, the same air of justice, of liberty and of equity.
I want everybody to know that I am talking authoritatively outside of politics. I had a very close liaison with late Odumegwu Ojukwu for 22 years and there are so many things that he said repeatedly that I can very easily quote him on word for word.
President Buhari recently spoke through his special adviser on media and publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, assuring Ndigbo that they would not be left out in the scheme of things. How would you react to that?
After attending his penultimate United Nations conference, he was posed with this issue of agitations by the Igbo people and the issue of Biafra and it is the same kind of answers he gave on both occasions that Nigeria is a multi party democracy; that Igbo people should form a party of their own and canvass for what they want through their party.
And it wasn’t long before then that he talked about how his government was going to look after those who gave him 97 per cent of his votes as to those who gave five per cent and he has acted these things out without qualms, without squabbles, with impunity. The Igbo people are not stupid, they are not gullible, they are not unfeeling, they are human beings but they have not taken up arms in protest. So they have decided to be patient, prayerful and wait for the next election.
I thought that if President Buhari has some political sagacity in him, he would have won over the Igbo people so that his party’s stake of votes from the area will be much higher. And one mistake that many political pundits including politicians who are not Igbo make about the Igbo is that they look at the population of registered voters in the five south east states, they forget that the people constitute the second largest population in every other state of the federation outside the Southeast states where they are 99.9 per cent of the population.
So, it is the same Igbo blood that flows in all of this large population across the country and when you talk of votes, the Igbo votes can decide who becomes president and who does not. So, to treat the Igbo with such spread and number with that kind of levity shows some political naivety and whatever. But let me just be charitable and not get emotional about this.
So, coming at this stage when he is way into his second leg of his first term to talk about infrastructural development in the Southeast and appointments into key positions, well, that is what politics is all about in our country; when elections are around the corner, promises galore will be flying left, right and centre.
I do not know what magic he will do in the remaining years. We are just entering into the election period but he can still redeem himself. He is the Executive President, he can give by special presidential dispensation order certain things to be fast tracked to show federal presence that has remained non-existent in the area. He can redeem himself and his party but we receive such assurances with great suspicion.
IPOB as a group is apparently bent on secession. As an Igbo man, are you worried by that?
My younger ones are so aggrieved to say they want secession, they want Biafra. They are expressing their views but if Nigeria will do the needful to carry out what we are talking about, restructuring of Nigeria. If we have a system in which these ethnic nationalities have a sense of self determination within the context of Nigeria, I don’t think anybody will be talking about secession. Maybe the younger ones don’t understand it, the Fulani are the newest entrants into the Nigeria geographical space.
They came about 200 years ago and in the year 2000 they celebrated the bicentenary of the existence of the caliphate. But in that same year 2000, I was the special guest of honour at the Igbo Cultural Day in Gusau Zamfara State and it was there that I found out that an Igbo settlement that had been there for about 400 years, 200 years before the coming of the caliphate of Usman Dan Fodio.
So, if they had been two centuries before the Fulani came, who is an indigene and who is not? And it is not only in Gusau, go across the country, you will find out that there had been inter-marriages, cultural exchanges, trade exchanges for several centuries before the white man came.
Before the British people came, the Portuguese were around and the Portuguese had their own map of Biafra, a map that was drawn in 1467 in the 15th century and then the Zamfara Empire and the Benin kingdom. Where you call Yoruba land now was under the Benin kingdom; there was the Bight of Biafra, there was the Bight of Guinea, there was Bight of Benin.
It was only in 1974, just four years after the civil war in Nigeria, that the Nigerian military government changed the Bight of Biafra name to Bight of Bonny, all in the attempt to distort the history of this country. So I can relate with those who say that yes there is an indigenous Biafra population that existed centuries back. But for a geographical area called Biafra to be excised from Nigeria which means secession, is a bloody venture and I would join late Odumegwu Ojukwu to say it is not recommended.
But restructuring of Nigeria, self determination, if they don’t want it to be done by consensus, we will do it politically, democratically because if we vote for those who believe in that ideology and lobby those who believe in it but don’t have the numerical strength to implement it and you end up having about four geo-political zones or more key into it, then you will be able to pass the necessary legislations to bring it about without firing a shot and that is my own approach.