Chief Chekwas Okorie, is the national chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP). He spoke with Leadership on the poor state of infrastructure in the South East and other national issues.
Recently you buried your late mother and I know that people came from different parts of the country for the burial. Your guests must have experienced the terrible state of the South East roads. What can President Muhammadu Buhari do to address this problem?
It remains a knotty issue, very disturbing. It has been said to be at the root of the feeling of alienation, and disenchantment by the Igbo people of Nigeria. And I know that it didn’t start with the Buhari administration, but I also believe that Buhari administration can address it. Like the Niger Delta issue, it did not start at Yar’Adua’s time but he was the one that addressed it. It was there when Obasanjo was there and Obasanjo used force and force didn’t work and it in fact escalated and then Yar’Adua used the application of amnesty and here we are having a more peaceful Niger Delta. I believe that Buhari’s administration will not say they were not the ones responsible for the poor state of the roads, so he can address it squarely and then make a difference. The issue of infrastructure decay in South East geopolitical zone is scandalous, it cannot be supported by anybody who is patriotic or anybody who has the fear of God in him. It is so painful no matter how hard you try to be a patriotic Nigerian, once you go home you must feel a sense of alienation all over you. And if you have friends at the top as some of us are known to have, we face greater embarrassment that we were not able to even convince our friends to do something about this. And the people don’t have to take up arms to draw government’s attention to their plight. It is something we will continue to comment until a Solomon comes to judgement.
As the national chairman of UPP and a major political and opinion leader in the country, you should be aware that Nigerians are lamenting that the harsh economic situation is getting worse and that they are not feeling the impact of change, what is your take on this?
I am also a Nigerian and I feel the impact of the poor state of the economy and it is not something that was created by the present government. The government inherited very terrible situation and even during the time of campaign, because I also campaigned as a presidential candidate of my party, none of us expected the situation to be like this. I will appeal to Nigerians to give Buhari administration a chance and be a little more patient. This government is not up to a year old, it would be some months before it makes one year. And it has a four year tenure. What we are experiencing is not different from what many countries have experienced. The one that is very recent that Nigerians shouldn’t forget easily was the state of the economy of United States when Obama took over and it was not what he envisaged that he met. It was as if the situation was designed for him to fail, so that it would seem that a black man has no capacity to lead America, but he rose to the occasion with the cooperation of everybody. He came up with policies that was initially unpopular; the bailout funds that was used to revive the auto industry; review tax regime and later on the Obamacare targeting the poor and so on and so forth. And today still within the Obama regime, we are now reading that America is producing about 240,000 to 250,000 jobs every month and that has been like that for nearly two years right now. It was not immediately that he came into office that it became like this, it was as a result of the maturity of the programmes that he instituted and it was allowed to mature and the dividends came. Now back home here, as soon as the president took over the price of petroleum products plummeted and Nigeria being a mono-economy or a country that depends only on one product for its income which is oil, it did not only affect the income projection of government, it also threw up debate on what can be done. Thanks to the anti-corruption measures, quite a lot of money are being recovered from the hints we are getting and I am not particularly surprised myself because I lead a delegation of UPP leaders to him when he was president-elect, and one of our demands was that he must embark on recovering all recoverable, those were our words; and we said that we believed that 25 per cent of public funds in private hands if recovered will go a long way in fulfilling most of his campaign promises and it is beginning to be prophetic that statement we made. He has come up with a very bold budget-the biggest budget ever, N6trillion with N2.5trillion deficit, but the way things are going he has even hinted too, that he may have to fund the budget with recovered loot. So Nigeria may not embark on unbridled borrowing to finance the budget. So, I am satisfied that he is well focused in the way he is grappling with the challenges in the country.
The president from some of his comments appears to be under pressure by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and some interest groups in the country to devalue the Nigerian currency, the naira. The president is insisting that he would not devalue the currency, what is your party’s position on this issue?
I think the president is in a better position to know what is right for the country based on variety of advice he is getting from well-meaning and highly knowledgeable experts on that. We have also seen a situation where the late General Sani Abacha ignored all the other entreaties to devalue the naira and he did not borrow one dime from anybody and insisted on running Nigerian economy with what is in Nigeria and at that time the naira was very stable. He never visited any country, even though we don’t want Nigeria to be a pariah state, but we can also learn a little thing from Abacha’s stubbornness and that was helpful at that time in terms of stabilising the naira.