Why UPP is tagged Biafra Nationalist party - Chekwas Okorie
Founding national chairman of APGA and current national chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), Chekwas Okorie, in this extensive engagement, speaks on the activities of his party, its relationship with IPOB, MASSOB and Nnamdi Kanu. He also talks on the social and political developments in the country, including the quit notice on the Igbo by the Northern youths, among other issues. OKEY MADUFORO presents the excerpts
Relationship between the UPP, MASSOB, IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu
First and foremost, UPP is a political party registered with INEC, in line with Nigerian laws to acquire power and for the welfare of the Nigerian people. And in that registration, UPP like other political parties, has a constitution derived from the constitution of Nigeria. It also has manifesto but it is the manifesto that stands it out from all the other political parties. So, there is no special relationship between UPP and Biafra agitation group, because we are aware that the Nigerian law does not permit a political party to have a direct relationship with any group whatsoever.
The only way a group can be part of a political party is by the individual members of a group registering as members of the political party. That is to say that the point of entry of anybody including my humble self is the Ward where I come from and so nothing like group registration. The law does not also forbid endorsement. A person who is not a member of your party can endorse you. A group that is separate from your party can endorse your party and ask its members to support the party.
A group can support a political party without being members of the political party. And how do you do that? During election, you go and vote for the candidate of that political party. This is because you think that, that party represents your views. The UPP, from inception in 2012, always emphasizes true federalism. It has always been in our manifesto - devolution of power, citizenship right, state police and community policing.
For those who followed my very brief presidential campaign especially who monitored the presidential debate which I lined up with former President Goodluck Jonathan and few others, I even went further to propose an exit clause in the Nigerian Constitution as it exists in the Constitution of Ethiopia. Section 31of Ethiopian Constitution has a provision for the exit of any nationality that has reasons to opt out of the federation.
When we saw that the President Muhammadu Buhari had jettisoned every of the 607 recommendations of the 2014 National conference, we felt that this was the greatest disservice a government would do to the Nigerian people and it is not an issue for which any party or individual could rush to court to go and challenge the presidency for taking such tragic decision.
So, we decided as a political party to bring back those fine recommendations to the front burner and to update our manifesto to incorporate the highlights of those recommendations in addition to earlier recommendations that I mentioned. We now have to include self-determination.
That also include referendum, unconditional release of prisoners of conscience who’s only sin is the exercise of their fundamental human rights as allowed by the Nigerian Constitution.
So, naturally various pro-Biafra groups found in UPP a political party that approximates closely to what they are arguing for. UPP is not a party that preaches secession. The party gives our people the political leadership that they are lacking.
And so they began to endorse UPP, one after another. The first to endorse UPP was Ralph Uwazuruike, MASSOB. Then, a group that is a pro-Biafra group that is more politically inclined called Movement of Biafrans in Nigeria also endorsed UPP and a few others. So that is how all these endorsements came.
Of course, the issue of sloganeering, is something that you cannot control. Any group, any organization, can give a political party its own logo or slogan or nickname. Even that, will make him or her being endeared to that party. We are here in Nigeria and we know that the Alliance for Democracy (AD), as moribund as it is, is still referred to as Yoruba political party. This All Progressives Congress (APC) that is ruling Nigeria today, whether advertently or in advertently, is now called Fulani party. So, some people have tagged the UPP, Biafran National party. This is to endear themselves to their opinion. So this is the relationship, to the extent that I can describe it.
On Nnamdi Kanu, as a person, he is more like my political son and he does not dispute that. I gave him political limelight. I exposed him politically and he remained royal to my own chapter of APGA even during the crisis and up to 2011. The last town hall meeting that we convened in London on the 2nd of November, he was there as the UK chapter chairman. It was a large gathering of Igbo people. It was in 2012. It was also in 2012 that I and other associates surrendered the certificate of APGA to INEC and founded a new one called UPP. The only point of departure is the new orientation he has canvassed and continued to canvass which is, exit from Nigeria. That is secession and that is where we differ.
DSS investigating the relationship between UPP and IPOB
Let me just put it this way; I do not want to put the DSS on the spot, but I was not invited and there is no reason to do that. The DSS is entitled to investigate and verify. I am aware that DSS went to INEC and demanded for the UPP constitution and manifesto which INEC did not have readily available. When I supplied them these things, they put them in the store and when they were needed, it took them time to retrieve them. So they had to call on us to give them fresh copies and we did so. I believe that they have studied that. There is nothing in the party’s constitution or manifesto that attaches it to secession tendency.
UPP fielding presidential candidate of Igbo extraction
That was actually what led to the formation of APGA because I have found out that Nigeria has a political structure that will never allow an Igbo to become a presidential candidate, no matter his credentials. Because the laws of Nigeria are such that before the presidential candidate will emerge during presidential primaries, delegates from the 774 local government areas in the country will be drawn on the basis of equality. So, when you now have delegates from North West where they have 188 local government areas and you have delegates from the areas, tell me, with the type of primordial sentiments that we have in Nigeria, how an Igbo man will win to become a presidential candidate. That was what happened to Dr. Alex Ekwueme. That also happened to so many Igbo people in Nigeria. Emmanuel Iwuanyawu tried severally, even deploying two private jets in the process. Arthur Nzeribe tried and none of them made an impact.
In then then All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), even the current President General of Ohanaeze, Nnia Nwodo tried, Rochas Okorocha tried, Chuba Okadigbo tried, late Edwin Ume-Ezeoke tried. Each of them paid N10 million intention fee to the party but did not make much impact.
The case of ANPP, was pathetic. Overnight they assembled all aspirants at Sokoto Governor’s Lodge and brazenly told them that the sultan of Sokoto had spoken that it was Muhammadu Buhari that would be the candidate. That was a night before the primary election. Remember that on that day at the Eagle Square, Nwodo took the microphone and said that his heart was bleeding. And so, Buhari who probably did not pay the N10 million became the presidential candidate, unopposed and appointed Dr. Chuba Okadigbo his running mate. That was what happened.
Before then, I was asking myself if that was what we should continue to go through in this country. I concluded that the best way to go about it was to have a political party that would provide and offer a platform for Ndigbo to contest.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe achieved his own due to his personal status, not that Nigerians would have given him the opportunity on the grounds of true democratic activity. His stature was such that you could not wish him away.
After him, no other Igbo man has achieved that height by going into a national political party and dominating it.
So, we now said let us go and establish a political party and the way to solve this problem was to zone the presidential ticket to the south east. That was how it was possible for late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to become Presidential candidate of APGA.
So, when we founded UPP, the first thing we did was to zone the Presidency to the South East and I was asking Igbo people to come and use it but everybody chickened out.
It was just forty-eight hours to the exercise that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of my party asked, ‘who are we looking for after all? Which Igbo man is more qualified than you?’ and they resolved that I should be the presidential candidate of UPP in the last election. I ran for president practically unprepared only to make sure that my Red Cap was on my head.
Now the party is beginning to blossom with revolutionary and fresh political underpinnings. So many people are now trooping to the party. And we made it clear that the position of our party on presidency remains sacrosanct and can neither be changed nor challenged.
So be it known to all the political parties in Nigeria irrespective of their affiliations that an Igbo man will lock horns with their own presidential candidates, come 2019.
Kanu, Biafra agitation and the Igbo singing discordant tunes?
I will differ a little bit because this is the view the rest of Nigerians have about us. This is not entirely true. By our nature, we are Republicans. Even, if you go to the village level and you come to where people are holding meetings, you will think that it is a war of words but at the end of the day, a decision is arrived at and once that is arrived at it, it becomes binding. And that is why even when a leader of a group has presented their views, he will turn round to ask those he came with if what he presented was the agreement of the group and if he has forgotten something somebody will add to what he had said.
At any point that there is a national issue, Igbo people have always gone there with one agreed document as their memorandum.
That does not mean that we do not have few individuals who can go off the handle with their own separate viewpoints or opinions, but those people do not last.
Now to Nnamdi Kanu; you should know that even Ralph Uwazuruike also was under my tutelage. I made him one of the officers of a political party that I wanted to form in the past - Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC). But when Uwazuruike came out, he was uncontrollable and was saying those things like not participating in census, not doing this and that. At that initial time, he could stop a town from functioning due to his mere presence. He couldn’t manage that popularity.
Now, we have Nnamdi Kanu who has also evoked so much emotions and he is almost like a cult hero. Unfortunately he is being mismanaged rapidly.
His father in-law is the chairman of UPP in Ikwuano Local Government Area Abia State, I mean the father of his wife. I have very close relationship with his family I had gotten Nnamdi Kanu released from the incarceration of SSS twice, when Kayode Areh was the Director General of State Security Service. He knows it and his family people know it. But I am not the type that goes about talking about it. When he was arrested, I was the very first person in my class that said ‘release this man’ and I made contact with the presidency twice without making public show of it.
The unconditional release was my proposal. I also told the government to engage him, not while in detention but after he had been released but government has not done that one. You will discover that he has visited some people but has not visited me. I can tell you that it is not out of disrespect. This is because he knows what I will tell him and it is not what he is prepared to hear.
But he is going to come because he has mismanaged it. He said no election in Anambra State and Anambra people reacted and disagreed with him. Instead of trying to unit Ndigbo, his statements are dividing the Igbo. Anambra people said if this is the land of Biafra you are talking about, then we are not part of it. How can you stay in your father’s house to tell us not to vote for our own candidate to govern us?
That has introduced a lot of bad blood that is not good for the struggle. But he has turned around to say that he didn’t quite mean that there will not be election and that it is the Pro-Biafra people that would elect who would lead them. That was a very smart move, anyway. That is an improvement but when he come full circle, he will come back.
Quit notice on Ndigbo by Arewa youths real or hoax?
It is a serious issue but I am glad at the way it fizzled out. It didn’t fizzle out because those who sponsored it wanted it to fail. It was only that the backlash was unexpected. It was a well-oiled agenda to undermine Igbo political and economic interest.
When you talk about who should go, the question is that who should actually go from where to where? Asking people to go is more of introducing anarchy in Nigeria. The Yoruba said this is an opportunity for Odua Republic, the Niger Delta gave the same deadline.
The Niger Delta said they will declare their own Republic and the Middle Belt say that they will consider joining Ndigbo into Biafra. Because of these reactions, those who sponsored the quit notice were shocked. They now found out how landlocked they would be once there is a break-up.
Bear in mind that disintegration is not anywhere in the UPP constitution, manifesto and agenda. Nigeria has so much potentialities that the UPP government will unleash on the people.
The UPP government will allow every section of Nigeria to explore and exploit areas of its comparative advantage and benefit from its efforts not depending on oil and gas. Even if it is only south east that we control, we have the intention of turning it to one large industrial park because it is easy to do so when government of the South East has that synergy.
We have only five states with three political parties, North West has seven states with only one political party and that means a lot in terms of planning ahead. South west has only one party. If we achieve this in Igbo land, no party can form a government at the centre without calling us to seat on the table to discuss. The electronic voting system that is coming soon will to a large extent ensure that peoples’ votes count