Chief Chekwas Okorie, the founder of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), but now a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview, describes APC’s loss at the Anambra State governorship election as self-inflicted, stressing that Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s victory could revitalise APGA.
*_As a chieftain of APC and from your perspective as an experienced politician, do you think that the outcome and processes in last Saturday’s Anambra State governorship poll are enough to gauge APC’s acceptability in the Southeast?_*
No. the APC of today in the Southeast has improved so much in terms of acceptability. There has been obvious infrastructural development and what you may call federal presence in the Southeast that never existed since the war ended in 1970. These things are there for everybody to see.
The issue of the Second Niger Bridge will continue to be a landmark project that will stand the test of time. It has been recorded in history and will not be forgotten by Ndigbo for a very long time to come. Due to the circumstance of that project, I remember very well that the Ariaria Power Project was built and commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari. It was commissioned in 2018 when Buhari came to campaign at Aba for his second term in office. It became the very first Federal Government project started and completed anywhere in the Southeast since 1970. A small project that individuals could even afford was the first project the Federal Government of Nigeria ever started and completed. Mark the word ‘completed’ because our place was littered with uncompleted and abandoned projects, which gave the impression that it was a deliberate decision not to complete those projects.
We are now looking at roads to be completed with quality that is far better than the original construction; they are all ongoing. Because of this and more, so many people who were not in APC have been attracted to APC in the Southeast. I mean people who are opinion leaders and have won elections in other parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who at one time dominated the entire Southeast since 1999.
Now, the situation is that from a position that five states were PDP and state assemblies were all PDP, PDP now has two states. APC has two states, Ebonyi and Imo, so PDP has declined from five to four and now, it is just two. So, you can therefore say APC is growing in the Southeast.
Unfortunately, the Anambra governorship election became a dampener to a steady progress that was already being recorded. And, as a member of APC, I would not hesitate without any fear of equivocation to say that what happened in Anambra State was self-inflicted and many of us warned that this was going to happen, but unfortunately our well-considered opinion was not heeded.
We did not come out publicly to announce it as if we were in the opposition, rather we used machinery of the party that we had access to, but we did not appear to have received the attention required.
Another thing is that nobody, who is fair-minded, would deny the fact that APGA campaigned far more vigorously than any other party in that contest. While others were running away from gunmen and even taking their campaigns outside of Anambra, APGA was everywhere and it is not as if their campaign trains were not attacked, but they were not deterred. They carried on with the campaign.
If APGA did not win that election, to me, it would have been against the run of play, but that election was won in accordance with the run of play and I have not hesitated in sending my congratulatory message to Soludo, because I believe he won the election. I believe we in APC will learn from it.
The era of imposition is over and the empowerment of the electorate as the true sovereigns in determining who rules over them at all levels is beginning to gain grounds through determination by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow it happen. So, campaigns will now be taken to the people if anybody wants to win election.
*_Talking about imposition, we saw situations where stomach infrastructure was spurned, especially in Enugwu-Ukwu and Dunukofia. Do you think a new era of voter enlightenment has entered into the electoral system?_*
By that, do you mean vote buying? It was more brazen in 2017. In 2017, our party then, United Progressives Party (UPP) led Osita Chidoka to election. I relocated to Anambra myself, because I am not from Anambra State and we campaigned vigorously; we went to every nook and cranny. The reception was good; the youths were with Chidoka.
Do not forget that Chidoka played a key role in Nnamdi Kanu’s matter. He was one of those who signed Kanu’s bail and drove him from Kuje Prison to the hotel before he travelled to Umuahia. That was very fresh in the minds of the people in 2017 and so they were rooting for him.
But what happened on the day of election? A little kiosk was put up with sacks of money and votes were being bought. The voters had all the latitude to take photographs of the ballot paper with their phones after they voted. And with the picture, they went to the kiosk to collect their money. The minimum that was paid for each vote was N5000. In some places where they needed to really drive the message home, the figure got up to N10, 000 and in his (Chidoka’s) polling unit, it was raised to N20, 000 per vote. The vote buying was reported by some TV stations that covered the election and people saw what happened. It was made public. The security officers will tell you that their duty is to maintain law and order and if you feel aggrieved, go and bring your money and buy votes.
It was like a rehearsed answer, because our people complained about it everywhere. Of course, that will not amount to anything because you have to prove it and show how it affected the outcome of the election. That was near impossible. People could hardly see where bags of money were kept for distribution. Whatever happens, APGA earned this victory by my own assessment. In fact, others tried to buy, but perhaps they were ‘out-bidded’ because it was a bazaar.
This is where our laws will have to be strengthened, because now, the carrying of ballot boxes has fizzled out due to the new regulations and processes. There is no room for thugs; there is no job for them. Those who hire thugs would no longer find the need to spend money hiring them, so the thugs would be unengaged during elections.
The new craze (vote buying) has to be addressed now. If it is addressed, the ordinary man will now have more confidence that he can influence who becomes his leader, but generally, I think there is an improvement.
The vote tally showed that though protesting aspirants veered into otherwise fringe political parties. Does the predominance of big parties now necessitate further pruning of the number of political parties?
It is the law that we are operating that is the issue. In fact, I find the whole thing funny, because based on the law, INEC is on the verge of registering more parties. If you have applied, INEC has no power to deny you registration and yet we are talking about pruning. My original thinking was that political parties would fizzle out on their own, especially as the government is no longer giving stipends or grants.
When you are unable to fund a political party, you will close shop, but the government came with the order that certain conditions will be made. Yet you did not stop or make the registration of parties more stringent. Some people who said they were charting the third force have seen the futility in doing that. Any moment from now they would adopt an existing party and converge there because it is easier to change the name than register a new one. Reducing the number of parties should be by political action and not by executive fiat or some legal constraint.
*_Anambra is seen as epicentre of Southeast politics. Do you foresee a resurgence of APGA consciousness in the entire Southeast?_*
I see a bright future or silver lining at the end of the tunnel, where what is happening in Anambra now can trigger resurgence. Soludo is a person who, since after he left the CBN, has been involved in quite a lot of Igbo-related activities.
In Ohanaeze, he has headed some committees and done his own bit with Igbo elite groups, where Igbo issues are discussed. So, he is in a good position to use the instrumentality of his new office to promote the resurgence of that party. Incidentally, you are asking the founder of the party, myself, because there was a vision that was not in any way to limit its activities to one state.
It is actually a tragedy because, in June 2022, APGA would be 20 years old and in 20 years, we have not even moved away from Awka, Anambra State and the party is not even in total control of Anambra State. It is just the governorship; other parties control the National Assembly seats. That is not what was intended.
APGA was not intended to be just an Igbo party; it was supposed to be a national party based on the Igbo initiative. The projection was that APGA would be a platform for political engagement with the rest of Nigeria and a platform that would drive the issues of inclusion and restructuring, using the political and democratic scene.
APGA was intended to be a safe political habitat for all the ethnic minorities in Nigeria that feel marginalised, excluded and oppressed. It was supposed to be a platform for them to make demands politically and get them because nothing political is given free of charge.
We know that the aggregate of the minority ethnic groups in Nigeria will give you an overwhelming majority, so that promise that APGA held was truncated two years after its registration. Everything we did for eight years after registration was to see if the soul and spirit of APGA could be saved from destruction. And by 2012, it became obvious that the people holding on to it saw APGA as a cash cow just to serve a few persons. And the treasury of Anambra State was sufficient for them because they did not have a bigger vision. Many of us, who were the vision-bearers, was crying on the inside and hoping that God at one point or the other will give life back to that party.
I remember that out of anger, I voluntarily returned the certificate of APGA to INEC. No court order asked me to do so; nobody said I was no longer the chairman. My case was being struck out on technical grounds. We still had ongoing cases.
We took a decision to suspend further litigations and I called our lawyers and advised them that we were going to discontinue litigation. So, we took the certificate with a forwarding letter to INEC and then addressed the media, where I said that we returned a mere carcass to them and that we had gone away with the spirit and soul.
Some people said it was a curse. And somehow, God gave efficacy to that statement, because it came from an injured mind. Do not forget that APGA was the only political party dedicated to God through an interdenominational thanksgiving service at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium.
No other party in Nigeria, before and after, has been so dedicated to God. So, when that pronouncement came, it was as if God heard and held us to His grace. This is why I think Governor Obiano also has a date with history, because he still has time to work in collaboration with the one person he worked with, Soludo, to ensure that APGA is given what it takes to re-launch the party.
*_You founded APGA. At what point did the late Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Emeka Odumegwu, become part of the party?_*
APGA was a product of three attempts to register a political party with the Igbo initiative. In 1996, we tried to register People Democratic Congress with INEC. We failed because the conditions were quite stringent. We could not be considered amidst the conditions.
In 1998, we made a second attempt; we also failed. In 2001, when there was another opportunity for party registration, we made a third attempt and used the name UPGA (United Progressives Grand Alliance), but somewhere along the line, INEC ordered that any name and logo used before would not be used again.
We changed the name from UPGA to APGA and the symbol of cock, which the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) used, was changed to stand on that acronym, APGA. That became the symbol, so we succeeded at the third attempt.
Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu was not part of the process of registration. The party’s certificate was issued on June 24, 2002. The announcement was on a Saturday, June 22, 2002, and we returned to Enugu with the certificate.
In Abuja, the first person we took the certificate to in celebration of what had happened was the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. He called all the members of the National Assembly who were Igbo to be there to receive us.
When we returned to Enugu, we took the certificate, right from the airport, to Odumegwu Ojukwu’s house to show him that we had accomplished the task. I want to also mention that Ohanaeze gave us blessings in the course of our struggle to have APGA registered. We left the house of Ojukwu, who gave us Moet Shandon as a gift and appreciation, for Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s Enugu residence and presented the same certificate. We took off from there to Ngwo, where we met with Chief C. C. Onoh and then we returned to Enugu to Justice Eze Ozobu’s house. Ozobu was then the Ohanaeze President General. We celebrated the certificate at his house.
It was there that he (Ozobu) made a very emotional statement that if he died after that day, he would tell Nnamdi Azikiwe and (Michael) Okpara that his eyes had seen a political party that would take our people to the centre stage.
A few days after, we were at Asaba, which was June 30, 2002. Coming to your question, it was at Asaba that fateful June 30, 2002, that Ozobu called Ikemba to say please Odumegwu go and join this party so that Igbo people will know that this party belongs to them. It was there that Ohanaeze announced that it would give me the title, Ogbatulu Enyi Ndigbo (the one that killed an elephant).
We went and continued mobilisation. Three months later, by September of the same year, Chief Odumegwu (many people seem to have forgotten all of these things that were published widely) brought out his membership card of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and tore it. You know he (Ojukwu) was given to drama. He tore the card and said he had ended his membership of ANPP and that he would announce his new party in due course.
A lot of negotiations and conversations took place on December 22, 2002. All this time, he had not joined. On December 24, based on my concern that we were entering the following year without a presidential candidate of the type that will lead the party (after all, I was old enough at 49 to be a presidential candidate), we met at Odumegwu’s house. Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife was part of that meeting, but while we were waiting for Justice Ozobu, he said he was going back to Abuja and we excused him. Shortly after he left, Ozobu walked into Ikemba’s house. Dr. Joe Nworgu; Onwuka Ukwa; Chief H. B. Ogboko, the Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze and Prince Richard Ozobu were there. Ozobu stood up from his seat, took Ikemba’s hand and put it on mine and said, ‘Ojeozi Ndigbo, go and make Odumegwu Ojukwu presidential candidate’. It was on December 24, 2002, and I said it was done. All I was waiting for was for the Ohanaeze to give the mandate. I used my Christmas day to write a speech and had a world press conference on December 26, where I proposed in the presence of a capacity hall that we were going to propose Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu as our presidential candidate. Our convention was already slated for January 10, 2003.
It was there that I made the much-quoted statement because I already knew that President (Olusegun) Obasanjo was going for a second term and General Muhammadu Buhari was going to be the candidate of APP. I said ‘I foresee the 2003 presidential election as an encounter of three generals, a general from the North, a general from the West and a wise general from the East.’ The hall erupted and it became a quotable quote of APGA.
It was at Abuja that Ojukwu’s membership card was produced. Mazi Okwu wrote it to complete the filing of his (Ojukwu’s) nomination form to be our presidential candidate. On January 10, 2003, at the old Parade Ground, Abuja, as national chairman of APGA, I raised his (Ojukwu’s) hand on one hand and on the left hand, that of Bayero, who was his running mate from Kano. That was how the journey begin.