National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this interview with Vanguard’s Yinka Ajayi, outlines why the South-East and South-West should back President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election and speed up power shift to the South among other national issues.
How will you describe the state of the nation as we head towards the 2019 general elections?
Nigeria is still a work in progress but it’s unfortunate that we are in election mood. While those in government are busy convincing Nigerians that they have done enough to be re-elected, those willing to take over from them believe differently. But for me, the government has not met the expectations of Nigerians since the end of the civil war. The deplorable state of our economy, the poverty level, the low GDP and the very embarrassing low power supply and corruption in the country among others have retrogressively worsened over the years. We don’t have any period since the end of the civil war which also marked the end of the First Republic which we will remember with certain nostalgia and wish to be like that period.
On President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war
Nobody can take that from them because they were able to fight the anti-corruption war headlong. But for some to call the anti-corruption war of this administration a selective fight is illogical. Because the issue of fraud and corruption does not expire. It’s a matter that lasts over time. And a government that is serious has to start from somewhere. If it’s one sided, who will they arrest, is it other innocent Nigerians or Chekwas Okorie who had never gone near government resources or treasury? And some particular Nigerians had access to the treasury for 16 good years. If they start from there and another government comes to power, they can continue from there. I always remind those that say anti-corruption war is one-sided of an Igbo proverb that says: A River can only drown somebody whose feet it has seen. If you did not go near the river, how can it drown you? Are they saying if they stole and the other people stole, it should be cancelled? It’s only a corrupt man that will say that. They are not even ashamed that they had 16 years to rule and they messed the whole country up. They laid the foundation for recession. Before I sound like the ruling party spokesperson, everybody knows that they had a higher source of revenue, by the time this government came, we had less than 7billion dollars in foreign reserve now we are talking about 42 to 46 billion in our foreign reserves. Despite the situation we have found ourselves, there have been indications of prudence in resource management. Nobody who will say agriculture has not received the kind of boost it has ever received in several years. Agricultural sector has begun to impact on urban migration. People are beginning to relocate to rural areas and they have comfortable lives and business in agriculture.
His assessment of President Buhari on security
His best may not be good enough, but he has done his best. You are aware that in his administration, we have more international support in fighting our security ordeal. Machineries that Nigeria was denied by many world powers were made available. On Nigeria’s Independence Day, I was at Eagles square in Abuja to see the display of modern equipment which Nigeria acquired under this administration- Air-power, Sea-power and those on ground. I think we have more mobile and motivated armed forces now than we have ever had.
What is your definition of restructuring if we are not going back to regionalism?
Restructuring is a forward looking idea not going back. We are restructuring under a presidential system. UPP is the only party that has self-determination in its manifestos and we talked about state policing and community policing. We also talked about referendum; people that need to opt out of Nigeria can be subjected to referendum. There are countries that have referendum in there constitution and have not broken up. That option will make anybody ruling Nigeria to be circumspect about the way he treats others. Ethiopia has exit clause in section 39 of its constitution and it has not broken up. Because the rulers are not riding roughshod on their citizens knowing that those citizens have options. UPP has a revolutionary agenda. And anything revolutionary is forward looking, not backward.
We have always reiterated that restructuring is embedded in true federalism. It means each state will enjoy autonomy to develop at its own pace, which is also devolution of power. Here, you remove most of what is in the legislative list, pass them to the concurrent list, state and local governments will be more empowered with a commensurate revenue and allocation for their own development. Nigeria is so endowed with so much resources both human and capital that there is no state that will be left out if it manages its resources well. If that is done, the overall resources in the country will be very tremendous.
With the current style of leadership, can Nigeria ever achieve the Chinese experience in term of development?
We can, if we change leadership. Our leadership recruitment is what 2019 election is providing for us. That was the reason I mentioned electronic voting that will make election process more credible. Because Nigerians know what they want, if you do not allow them to get the kind of leaders they want, there is no way Nigeria can have the Chinese experience in terms of advancement and development.
But electoral observers are of the view that INEC has done creditably well since 2010 to better the electoral process, what do you make of this?
Yes, INEC has improved on every election from Anambra to Edo, Ekiti and Osun. The electronic voting is what INEC needs more than any other thing because in an electronic voting, you will not require any security personnel on the way, there will be no ballot box to cart away, there will be no political thugs, there will be no need for public holiday on Election Day, people can vote from their offices, farms and different places. During elections, If you are registered, you can vote in your ward with your smart phone even if you are in the South-East. It means even an illiterate that can use Automated Transaction Machine (ATM) card can vote and if you find e-voting challenging you can go to the polling booth to vote. The advantage is that e-voting does not permit multiple voting. In this way over 70-90 percent of registered voters will participate. But as it is now, voters are still exposed to long queues and violence. INEC already has the infrastructure to do electronic voting but it just needs the law to back it.
His take on Nigeria at 58 and whether Nigeria boast of any functional sector
Let us thank God for survival, resilience and patience. Otherwise, our independence has not yielded the result of which we celebrated its arrival. We hear so many old brigades talk about the era of First Republic in terms of Awolowo, ZIK and Ahmadu Bello. It has been battered history of sectors growing and falling at will. But in the past three and half years we are beginning to experience more certain growth and genuine infrastructural development. The Buhari’s administration attitude not to cancel contracts approved by the previous government because his government didn’t award them, and encouraging contractors to go back to site is unprecedented. We are now beginning to look at railway as a source of transportation; Agriculture has a quantum leap in development and is affecting Urban-Rural migration positively. So things may not be automatic but things are looking up.
For us in UPP, we decided not to field a presidential candidate so that we can use this period to consolidate and build a solid structure for 2023. So for me, the Buhari administration is good to go for second term because there is nothing in PDP that Nigerians are missing that will make me want them to come back. I can live with another four years of Buhari but may not be able to endure another eight years of PDP. The reason is the person running under PDP moral baggage is known, his pasts are known and we know what they did with the opportunity they had when they were in power for 16 years. So a Leopard does not change its spots. The saying that the devil you know is better than the angels you don’t know is true. In a situation where there are two devils, you can choose the better devil. To Nigerians that are ethnic minded, they are faced with two Fulani, the APC Fulani and the PDP Fulani. It is left for you to choose your own Fulani. For me, Buhari has an uncompleted job and the way he is going is a path of progress. It is for Nigerians to decide what they want but I personally will prefer another four years of Buhari before power shift to the South-West or South-East, than another eight years of another Fulani with the same spot and if you add it to the previous nightmare of the PDP it will be too much for Nigerians to bear.