In this interview with PAUL UWADIMA, the founder and National Chairman of newly registered United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, speaks about the preparations of the party for the 2015 general election and other national issues. Excerpts:
What are some of the challenges facing the UPP since its registration as a political party?
Well, it is the usual teething problems of a political party, but at the same time, very inspiring and exciting opportunities. The party came on board when there were about 57 political parties with INEC having deregistered some parties before we came on board.
So with such motley of political parties you have to be quite strategic to position yourself. The way I look at political parties queuing for political position is not like the queuing culture, where you come in and queue, no! My own understanding is that you can jump the queue and take the front position if you can. So that was what we are doing.
So to be able to jump the queue and take a strategic position, the national executive committee decided in its inaugural meeting to occupy a very important space in Nigeria's political equation. We discovered that the ACN has taken greater part of the political space in the South West and the ANPP and CPC combined have quite a chunk of the states in the North. The PDP is spread across the country no doubt, it is the ruling political party.
But the South East remained a fishing ground and the earlier party I founded, APGA, is comatose, so South East became a fishing ground, because when I founded APGA, it effectively occupied the place but unfortunately, the crisis in the party exposed the place again as a fishing ground so we decided to occupy it. And to do that, we zoned the 2015 presidential ticket to the South East.
What informed the decision to zone the presidency to the South East in 2015?
Exactly the point I am making. It is for the party to take a strategic position; to occupy a strategic position in Nigeria's political arena, we saw a void, we saw the clamour by the South East to be given the opportunity to produce the president of the country in 2015.And that option was not coming from anywhere.
In 2011, APGA sold out completely without any reference to the stakeholders. As for the PDP, it has always been promises upon promises. In the case of ACN, CPC, ANPP they didn't even think that an Igbo man was suitable for a running mate in the 2011 election. So the Igbo people felt too despondent up to the point that they felt alienated.
So with such despondency and coming from a population that is so large, so widely spread in Nigeria, they needed some political action to reassure them in the Nigerian process and at the same time to galvanize that potentiality for political power.
Are you not afraid that the party could be classified as a sectional party?
There is nothing in Nigeria's Electoral Act or constitution that prevents a political party from such strategic initiative. In fact parties before us actually zoned their own to individuals but in our case we were open and sincere. That you know where we were coming from, from day one. PDP whether you like it or not, has already zoned its presidential ticket to Jonathan, an individual.
Every other person playing around it is wasting his time, because there is no political party in this world that will give red card to its incumbent that wants to run for a second term legitimately. If you give that person a red card the party has given itself a red card. So it will be suicidal for PDP to even consider another person. They know it. Now CPC has already zoned its position to an individual, General Buhari, there is no pretence about this, even ANPP made a public statement that they will join CPC in an alliance or merger to support the presidential ambition of General Buhari.
As for ACN everyone knows who the leader is. In fact a situation where the leader and the chairman are from one area it is even more sectional in perception. But there is nothing like sectional party in law, because for you to exist you must meet the federal character requirement.
And for this party to zone its presidency to the South East it came out of a very robust debate in the National Executive Committee of the party, where all the 36 states leaders were present and at the end of the day if we are to jump the queue and be a front runner and be a key player in 2015 elections, we must entrench ourselves strategically. This we did by zoning the presidency to South East.
Now that the UPP has zoned its presidential ticket to the South East, how has the proposal been received in the zone, because reading the political temperature of the country, it appears that it is the North that is more serious about the presidency in 2015?
This again is a new party.The important thing is that the reception for this party by Nigerians and people of the South East is inspiring. We are not yet three months old as we speak and we have not done any rally or launched any promotional activity. We are still consulting.
We are still consulting, introducing the party to stakeholders; the business and political elite, the masses and having gotten this mandate from the party, the South East Political Forum on the 18th of December, 2012 convened a stakeholders meeting in which every recognizable groups in Igbo land attended, the Nigerian intelligentsia sent two prominent and eminent professors and other lecturers to come and represent their interest.
Professor Obasi Igwe of political science department of University of Nigeria, and Professor George Amadi of the faculty of law, University of Nigeria and students' organisations and Igbo leaders from all parts of the country attended. The 1,200 seat capacity hall was filled to capacity and this was a meeting that was strictly on invitation. At the end of it, two motions was moved and adopted unanimously. One was that the Igbo will contest the 2015 presidency without conceding it to anybody under any circumstance, under any inducement, since the UPP has given Igbo people a platform that has been denied them over the years.
The second motion is that the platform to actualise the presidential ambition of Ndigbo is the UPP. Since the UPP has been adopted if you watch, we have moderated the clamour for Igbo presidency to a more meaningful direction and not where every person will use it to grandstand and people will applaud him when he knows that the platform he is on will never make the platform available for him to actualise his dreams.2015 is not tomorrow, we are faced with Abuja Municipal election right now where we are the front runners for the election coming up in March this year.
After that, it is Anambra governorship election where we are almost certain of winning and winning convincingly. Immediately after that it becomes due to look at the 2015 election and by then, the party would have proved itself. Ndigbo is not lacking people with presidential ambition. Our problem is to elect credible and nationally acceptable candidate. In ANPP in 2003 there were 10 Igbo people who wanted to be president and each of them paid N10million nomination fees and what happened?
At the Eagle square, the North that controls the machinery of the party simply introduced General Buhari as its flag bearer and appointed Chuba Okadigbo as his running mate and the others were not given the opportunity to test their popularity even in the presidential primaries, because there was none. That is the shabby manner the Igbo people have been treated. We have something that others don't have. Block vote that is intimidating.
UPP is a new party, are you concerned about the deregistration of parties by INEC?
We support what INEC is doing. As a matter of fact I did say when we were celebrating the registration of our party that if after the general election and this party fails to remain on the register of INEC, that we will not wait to be deregistered, we will surrender our certificate of registration to INEC, because we are not an NGO, we are a political party is defined to seek political office to better the life of our people. So we cannot after our struggle in the registration of this party fail to win a little thing as a seat in the state House of Assembly.
How ready is UPP to join forces with other opposition parties to defeat PDP in 2015?
We are not going to merge with any party. How can we lose our progressive identity and submerge it with another party?This is a party that is devoid of acrimony, no factions, so we cannot contaminate it by merging with other parties that have all these problems. We are guarding the party jealously. We can go into post election alliance, but anything pre-election count us out.
We do not believe in the theory that the opposition parties must merge to defeat the ruling party. It is a theory that has been tested over the years and it has failed. Which pre-election merger or coalition has ever produced any government anywhere in the world? Not to talk of Nigeria, where there is so much confusion. Any way, I don't believe in deceiving myself.