THE EDUCATOR - June 14 2019

All-inclusive govt’ll restore confidence of South-East – Okorie

Chief Chekwas Okorie believes that the way positions in the National Assembly were distributed by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) will not help the party and suggested how President Muhammadu Buhari can correct the disparity. He also speaks, in this interview with Felix Nwaneri, on the significance of June 12 in Nigeria’s history

Nigerians celebrated June 12 and Democracy Day on Wednesday. What are your thoughts on 20 years of unbroken civil rule?

June 12 is a special day that means a lot for me. Though our democracy has not met the aspirations of those who formulated that system of government, June 12 was almost going to represent that in the sense that for the very first time in Nigeria’s political history, the peoples’ votes counted and the people voted irrespective of tribe, religious or other sectional sentiments because they felt the Chief MKO was going to govern them well and will restore Nigeria to the path of greatness.
But, unfortunately, Abiola’s victory in that election was annulled by the then military government and that not only brought Nigeria to her knees, but set us back for many years. So, for me, June 12 was an important opportunity that was lost. But, commendation must be given to President Muhammadu Buhari, who decided to bring to the attention of those who witnessed events of that time and those who were unborn then that somebody paid the supreme sacrifice for the democracy that we are enjoying today.

However, I will say that there is something that is not quite complete with what is going on. That incomplete thing is the apparent denial of the then Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, his place of honour in the history of June 12. I know very well that without his resoluteness and even putting his life on the line to announce results of the election as they came in despite threats from some quarters, there would be no June 12.
I still expect that a special place of honour be reserved for him, so that the role he played would not be lost. That will also motivate people in the electoral commission and make them realize that anyone, who is called upon to conduct elections in future will know that whatever sacrifice he or she makes for the nation’s democratic process would not be in vain.

No past leader was at the event to mark Democracy Day. Would you say that was an indication of their rejection of the Buhari administration’s decision to move the celebration from May 29 to June 12?

I believe that all of them were invited because I was there and I saw that provision was made for the arrival of former heads of state and government. In the case of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, I will say that his attitude towards June 12 has been unAfrican. But, for anyone who is aware of Obasanjo’s attitude towards Abiola, he or she will know that there was no love lost between them. However, like I said, for Obasanjo to still exhibit such attitude to the point of honour for Abiola, who is now late, is unAfrican.

In the case of General Ibrahim Babangida, I will give an excuse on his behalf because everyone knows that for quite some time now, he has not been in the best of health to leave Minna to go to anywhere. So, he was not there on health grounds.
For ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, I am surprised over his absence because he is a gentleman, who bears no animosity and would do anything to promote the unity of Nigeria. As a product of our democracy, he should be in the forefront of celebrations to mark our democratic journey. My position is that it is out of his character to be absent from an event of that nature.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last general elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, said it was not enough to declare June 12 as public holiday given the level of hunger in the country. What do you make of that statement?

I think Atiku is just taking his politics and propaganda a bit too far. Yes, Nigerians are hungry, but everybody expects the government to address the issue. Nigeria is not the only country in the world with people, who are hungry, but a situation that will right the wrongs of the past should not be delayed a day longer just because people are hungry. Injustice is injustice and honouring Abiola and making of June 12, Nigeria’s Democracy Day goes beyond Abiola as a person.

If there is something to be said about Abiola, it is that all those who have been quiet over time have come back again, contributing on how we can deepen our democracy, so that events of June 12, 1993 can be improved upon. The June 12, 1993 presidential election was when Nigerians, for the first time, came out to vote for a candidate of their choice devoid of religion or tribe and their votes counted.

Even the clamour for electronic voting has cropped up again and someone like Atiku, who is in court to challenge the outcome of the last presidential election, ought to be part of those celebrating June 12 as our Democracy Day. As it is, the elderly ones are not retiring from politics, so I won’t be surprised if Atiku returns in 2023 to contest. If this happens and our democratic process remains the way it is now, he will again end up in court.

The leadership of the 9th National Assembly emerged on Tuesday the way the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) envisaged. Would you say that the party had gotten its act right given what played out?

The APC can celebrate that it is in control of the two chambers of the National Assembly. That is what is expected of a party that is in majority. If not for their mistake of 2015, they wouldn’t have found themselves in the situation they were for four years. Having said that, it is clear that APC made some concessions this time for its preferred candidates to get the number of votes they got. So, I see a National Assembly leadership that will ensure adequate accommodation of the opposition in the distribution of leadership of the key committees.

Surprisingly, former Senate Deputy President, Ike Ekweremadu, contested for the same position he occupied in the 8th Senate, but lost out. Did you see that coming?

Honestly, it was an anti-climax to a glorious political outing for Ekweremadu. I don’t want to be hard on him the way some political leaders have done, but l will say that it was a very big political error for him to have presented himself for the position because after his nomination, he accepted the offer and even went ahead to make a speech. I don’t know why he didn’t see that he had no chance as the circumstances that threw him up as Senate Deputy President in 2015 have changed considerably.

The South-East seems to have completely lost out given what played out. What does this portend for the zone and the ruling party?

Let me start with the ruling party; I had advised its leadership in the past since I am not one of its members to consider zoning the position of Senate President to the South-East and even went further to suggest, who it should be. But, when I realised that they have made up their mind that it will go the North-East, I suggested to them that the outcome of the distribution of leadership positions in the National Assembly will determine the fate of the APC in the South-East and among the Igbo people. Many people don’t know that the Igbo ethnic group has the largest population and spread among the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.

They only look at the number that is registered in the South- East, forgetting the enormous number of the Igbo in other states of the federation. Apparently, APC failed to realise that it is always resounding whenever Ndigbo galvanise themselves to pursue a common cause given the way they zoned positions in the National Assembly or compelled our people to pander to what they referred to as party supremacy.

That is not going to be helpful to the party except something is done and that is what the President himself has promised – an all-inclusive government. Only that will restore the confidence of the Igbo in Nigeria and give them a sense of belonging. Having said that, I can also tell you that Ndigbo have a critical problem of political leadership and that lack of political leadership has resulted to the tragedy we are seeing now. Some of us had warned ahead of the 2019 elections that it would be wrong for us to put all our eggs in one basket, but we were called names.

I personally supported President Buhari on the ground that what he was doing in the South-East was what the PDP government could not do in 16 years it was in power. I looked around the South-East, but did not see any project that was started and completed by the PDP in 16 years that it was in power.

I was called all sorts of names for doing that, but when Buhari won, some of those who lampooned me started saying I was a man who saw tomorrow. What has happened now is a wake-up call for Ndigbo to take their destiny in their hands. I want to reiterate that nobody gives anyone power out of human kindness. Power is struggled for and you must come up with a strategy when going for power. In the last elections, almost all the geopolitical zones divided their strengths in terms of who the voted for that even if the election had gone the way of PDP, none of them would have lost out.

Recently, former President Obasanjo claimed that there was a plot to islamise and Fulanise Nigeria. How feasible is that?

I am thoroughly disappointed that former President Obasanjo would want to heat up the polity with the way he is going about his criticism of the Buhari administration. I do not know how he came about that alarm he raised; that is not healthy for this country. For me as an Igbo man, I will advise him to stop putting our people on harm’s way. There are more Igbo people in the North than those in the South-East and they are not threatened. If they are threatened, nobody will tell them to run back home, but Obasanjo is trying to put them on harm’s way, but he should stop that. He cannot because his prediction that Buhari would lose election failed, bring the roof of the Nigerian state down.