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Why 2023 is for Igbos to win or lose —Chekwas Okorie

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The national chairman of the Unity Progressive Congress (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, says for fairness and equity power should shift to the Southeast in 2023. He also speaks on several other issues in the polity. Excerpts:

What is your reaction to the Court of Appeal judgment on the PDP and Atiku’s petition against President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory?

I am not surprised by the judgment; as a matter of fact, if there is any surprise it is extent the tribunal went to indulge the PDP. But in order to clear all doubts, they took a decision, which they had made clear at the onset that the judgment is going to be based on law and fact and not based on technicality.

But they went ahead to elaborately explain the issue of certificate. If they wanted to go technical, the issue of Buhari’s certificate is pre-election matter. Everybody knows that the tribunal should have thrown that away based on that, but they still went ahead and dealt with it thoroughly.

Think of what transpired; three elections took place on that day, the House of Representatives, Senate and the presidential. The APC won PDP over 100 seats in the House of Representatives and won PDP more than 25 seats in the Senate. Based on this, any victory for the PDP at the tribunal level would have been what we call ‘scoring against the run of play’.

The trend was clear in other elections on that day; the difference in numbers of votes was nearly four million votes between Buhari and Atiku in the presidential election. Anything to the contrary of what Nigerians decided would have been like setting this county ablaze. We can look at the security and political implications of making that kind of pronouncement to the people. I don’t think Nigerians would have been happy.

Are you saying the judgment was in order?

Yes, it is in accordance with the way the election went. For me as a matter of fact; Atiku performed more than I had expected in the election. He defeated Buhari in certain places that I did not expect. For example, he won in a state like Edo, a state where the national chairman of the APC comes from. For the first time, an opposition party also won in the FCT and some other places, even when no one expected them to win. Atiku won in these places and INEC gave them and they are not satisfied. This is one election that was close to a well-conducted election. You know Nigerians have been clamouring for electronic voting; but the law has not been signed to give that and PDP is aware of that. PDP was in power when I was clamouring for electronic voting in 2012, but they never looked at me. They ignored me until now that they are at the receiving end. What they are doing now is to impose on people what the law did not say. Why did they not sign it into law? There is nothing we did not do in terms of clamouring for electronic voting. The then President, Goodluck Jonathan and the entire National Assembly; I mean all members then had my memo, but they threw it out.

Today, they saw that Buhari could not sign the amended electoral bill into law and they did not do anything to try and push it harder. They went to Appeal Court, for them to approve what the court did not approve of.

Do you also agree with the submission of the tribunal on the discrepancy about the names on the President’s Cambridge result?

That is the kind of technicality that PDP wanted to cash in on, but this is not a criminal matter it is an election matter. If you look at the sections of the law; the most important thing is that the surname is the same on the result.

Personally, that is not what you should use to deny 15 million Nigerians who voted for him. It is mere technicality, a minor error. This is even when you know that the two names are the same. Am surprised at PDP, but what they are doing is to fulfil all righteousness, so that it will not look as if they chickened out.

Are you saying that Atiku and the PDP stand no chance at the Supreme Court?

It is just to fulfill all righteousness; because this judgment was so clear that I wonder if the Supreme Court would follow them and embark on technical issues that do not reflect the spirit of the law.

It is a distraction, and then now that distraction is continuing. But I think the President is more settled now to embark on governance.

What is your take on the recent ministerial appointments by the President?

The bulk stops on his table; he has made his choices even before he announced the names; he did that even without the influence of the cabal. What we are looking forward to now is delivering of good governance.

I have told him that if any of his appointees failed to meet his expectation and expectation of Nigerians, he should not be afraid to remove them. Now that he has done that the bulk is on him to give Nigerians good governance, improve their economy.

Power is expected to shift to the South in 2023, but recent tunes of some Northern individuals and groups have suggested otherwise. Do you have any fears the North may not hand over power?

I think we should allow the President to conclude his term in office in 2023; whether APC would continue to remain in power depend on the way they play it and who they nominate for president. President Buhari tried four times before he won; he did not get it in three previous times, even despite his followership in the North. If anybody is saying that in the North, they should know that Buhari’s goodwill is not transferable and it is nothing anybody else can enjoy in the North. Twice Buhari said it clearly that whoever wants to be president should work for it. It is clear from Buhari’s example that the North alone cannot produce the president.

There is also the insinuation that the Southwest may get the presidential ticket of the APC in 2023. Bola Tinubu is touted to have been favoured to get the ticket; how do you react to that?

What I have been canvassing in all the parties is to look for candidates from the Southeast because, equity, justice demands that someone from the Southeast should go for eight years, so that we can say all major regions have had a shot at that president position which is fair. The Southwest producing Asiwaju and him wanting to be president, he has a constitutional right to do that, but whether he would succeed I doubt that very much. He should also learn from Awolowo because Tinubu’s popularity is not even up to 30 percent of Awolowo’s popularity back then. Awolowo had large followership and still he did not become president in the number of times he tried.

Because the Yorubas are confined only in the Southwest, I don’t think Tinubu had the same goodwill Abiola had.

Abiola was able to spread out his tentacles even before he went for the presidency; he was already a man of the people irrespective of ethnicity.

I don’t see Tinubu in that category. In the case of the Southeast, we have minimum of 25 percent of the voting population in the country, which is a veritable statistic. What the Southeast need to do now is to raise political consciousness among its people because right now there is polity apathy among Igbos. They have to extend their engagement to other political blocs to appreciate why they should give them a chance in 2023.

But it is presumed that Tinubu is in control of the APC and based on the structure of the party presently, he is favoured to clinch the party’s presidential ticket in 2023 if power is zoned to the South?

That is why I said it depends on how the APC handles it. If they allow Tinubu to corner it, it may rub off on the party negatively. That may lead to what we had during the UPN era and Action Group days, the APC may reduce to that.

Are you saying they may lose the presidential election?

Yes. They would lose it badly, not even just losing it. I play this game to the highest level; so, I know the feeling of major political players in the Northern region and I know the feeling in other places too.

2023 is for Igbos to win or lose. If they put their house together, they may win; if they don’t they may lose it; because they have risen to the occasion before. And I can tell you that when the occasion matters most Igbos always unite and there is nothing that says Igbos cannot unite in 2023. When they unite, it would be like a movement. Look at the type of unity they showed even when we had Peter Obi as a running mate to Atiku. Atiku won in FCT because of Igbos’ votes.

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