Chekwas Okorie is the leader of United Progressives Congress (UPP), who was also the founder and first Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). In this interview with EMMA MADUABUCHI, Assistant Politics Editor, he explains that the big difference between his party and others is that his party is the face of the progressives in Nigeria while others are not. He strongly believes that Nigerians having been shortchanged for so long, are unhappy with the system, and will express this hunger for change in the 2015 general elections. Like APGA in 2015, he is sure that UPP will send a strong message at the polls.
About two years after the registration of your party, the United Progressives Party (UPP), attempt a self-assessment?
Well, UPP has taken a little time to put its acts together. It was registered on October 2, 2012, and we are looking at a year and a half of its existence. We have taken some time to prepare, knowing that now that election is facing us, we are now stepping up our act.
We have started by launching the party in the South East geo-political zone: Owerri, in Imo State is now agog; we entered Abia and took it by storm, and anybody entering the city of Aba now knows there is UPP. After Aba are Anambra and Ebonyi states; then Enugu State.
We are starting from the South East because that is our primary base. We are also starting from the South East because the National Executive Committee (NEC), which is the highest executive arm of any political party, met immediately after the party was registered to resolve that come 2015, the Presidential candidate of the party would come from the South East geo-political zone. And that if we were going for that highest office in the land, we must better make the zone a very strong base.
Are you therefore telling us that your party is ready for 2015?
Yes, we are ready for 2015, we are also making inroads into other geopolitical zones, and we believe that by November this year, when all the parties would have produced their candidates through primaries that we would be fielding candidates everywhere in Nigeria ? in all elective offices we shall field candidates.
That, in general terms, is the UPP vision. But in specific terms for the election, it is important to note the big difference between UPP and perhaps PDP (Peoples Democratic Parties) and APC (All Progressive Congress).
What is the bid difference between UPP and, say PDP or APC?
UPP is the face of the Nigerian progressives. It is the one party today that does not have in its membership anybody associated with treasury looting or any bad conduct; any negative act that most politicians have been associated with in Nigeria like running the economy down and stealing public funds. We don?t have any such person in our fold. And it is a mass movement; it is the only party out of the 26 registered today that does not want to lie to Nigerians about what it is going to do with its Presidential ticket. It came out clearly to say, in other to balance things up in Nigeria, its Presidential candidate shall come from the South East geopolitical zone.
Do you consider that a sound decision?
What we see that is going to happen and Nigerians will come to appreciate it as the campaigns begin, is that a clear battle line has been drawn. And that is the battle between oppressive forces and reactionary forces ? the oppressed and the oppressors. The APC and the PDP are one and same thing. They are two sides of the same coin. They have equal distribution of politicians who have been recycled, even from the first republic.
Those who have kept the Nigerian economy comatose; those who have used violence to do their politics; those who have played up ethnicity to the point that Nigeria at every point in time looks as if it is going to disintegrate, these characters are evenly distributed between these two parties. And so if they are the only two parties in contention, then Nigeria has very little chance to make. That is why the UPP has come up to present an alternative choice. And for as long as there is free and fair election; for as long as we see an improvement of the Ekiti kind of election conducted by INEC, there will be upsets, a lot of upsets in 2015.
This is because Nigerians are very rational people; they know those who have made life miserable for them; they know where they belong, and they will vote wisely. But whether their votes will count has always been the issue, and that is again a major area of emphases in our voter education effort.
UPP is a very young party; those of you in it are not very young in politics. So how do you hope to manage this?
The only thing that appears as a challenge, which nobody will deny, is the challenge of resources. Perhaps to be able to promote your ideals well enough to be able to reach out to the people that will vote for you. We are however encouraged by some of the experiences we gathered in the past. For instance, in 2003, when I also took APGA to the field ? I founded APGA anyway ? we did not even have as much time as we have in building UPP. This is because we presented our Presidential candidate on January 10, and behold in March there was a general election. So there was little time to really promote the party.
Yet, the little we could do, even with little or no resources, the party was able to win Suleja Federal constituency without a candidate, because people went and voted for the sign of the party, and because of the strong message of the party; without even asking who the candidate was, and there was none. We won Ojo Federal Constituency and Amuwo Odofin, all in Lagos, without a candidate. That was because the message was strong and the people believed in it.
Now we have more time to address the same issues that have remained germane in the politics of Nigeria. Now people are angrier, people are more provoked by the way their affairs have been handled by those who had the opportunity to preside over their affairs. Given the opportunity, they will express their anger through the ballot box. There is nobody in Nigeria today that can tell you from his heart of hearts, except perhaps a few that count to about one per cent that he or she is happy with the way things are going. If given the opportunity, these Nigerians, who are clearly in the majority, will cast their votes to express their disagreement with the situation. They will cast their votes for change; they will cast their votes for a breath of fresh air. So we are not too bothered about our lack of resources.
If we are talking about resources, we are talking about enough resources to carry our message through to the public, but not to bribe anybody to vote for us because the people are sufficiently provoked to vote for a change in the set up and in their lives. So the bad governance in the system has made things easier for us.
It is easier for us to isolate the good from the bad. It is easier for us to stand up and say that we represent the progressives. For instance, you have labour party saying that they are for PDP, for the Presidential election. They say they have adopted Goodluck Jonathan. APGA said the same thing, even when Jonathan is yet to announce his interest in the election. So all of these, what is left for the people are the UPP.
Are you saying that the PDP and APC are not a challenge to your party?
Watch the PDP and the APC, and you will hear nothing about what they are going to do differently to make the life of Nigerians better. Instead, you hear exchanges of all manner of acerbic words. They go to the depth of their vocabulary to find the most acerbic words to throw at each other. Then you begin to ask yourself whether that is all that their experience in governance has taught them.
Nigeria is facing so much problems ? the economy is in the doldrums; insecurity; there is corruption everywhere; there is hunger everywhere, but no one is addressing these issues. Instead, one will call the other Boko Haram, and the other one will call the other another name. So when you look at it like that, you will begin to ask yourself, should we go this way ? the same way, or should we try another hand.
How will you then make the difference?
This is why our concern, which is our next challenge, is to make sure that the candidate we present will not look like any of those people. So far we have resolved that the only way such a candidate will emerge in UPP is through due process. There is nothing like an imposition. You cannot disqualify any person whom the constitution of Nigeria has not disqualified. For instance, you cannot get a candidate as former Governor of the Central Bank, who is a governorship candidate of a ruling party and all of a sudden you say he is no longer qualified. Such a thing can never happen in UPP. Once you are qualified under the laws of the country, and you are in UPP, it is only members of the party who are delegates that can only qualify or disqualify you through due process. That way victory is assured.
Do you think you can find such people in Nigeria of today?
It is the machinery of the party that will determine that. The machinery will determine who will emerge. It is the discipline within the party that will determine that. We have seen betrayal; we have seen instability. I, as the founder of UPP, have been in court for over 10 years fighting to save the soul of a party that has a clear vision, and which vision was destroyed by political buccaneers. And so with all that experience, we have developed natural antennae to detect a traitor from the distance.
But these same people are still fighting you. They even fought the registration of UPP, what are you going to do?
What they actually fought against was the registration of UPGA (United Progressives Grand Alliance), with the rising sun as its symbol, and they went to blackmail us that the rising sun belonged to an ethnic group. And everybody knows that the rising sun is a celestial body and does not belong to any group at all located anywhere in the world. They also even said that UPGA was a party that existed in the first republic, which was a lie because the UPGA was not a party but an alliance. And in any case it was not even the same, the UPGA then was United Progressives Grand Alliance, but ours was United Peoples Grand Alliance. They even said the acronyms sounded alike ? UPGA, APGA.
But there is nowhere in the world that you can legislate on pronunciation, no law like that, the Englishman has his way of calling Peter just like the American man has his way, so that is it. But they went ahead to write these things and unfortunately, INEC admitted everything they wrote, and they wrote us denying the registration of UPGA, and their letter was a clear rehash of the petition they received. In fact, even the same grammatical errors that the people made, INEC made same errors.
So, we felt that we didn?t need to go back to court to challenge it, so we went back to the drawing board and came up with another name. This time the logo was the head of the Tiger, which is even more significant to the area they had in mind, than even the rising sun. So they could not do much about the party any more.
Are you sure they are not going to continue fighting you?
Fight us with our natural antennae of detecting traitors? They can?t fight us from outside, they can only fight us from inside, but there is no space for them inside because as soon as they come, they will be detected. That is why we say that we have developed natural antennae to detect traitors even from a distance. There are people who will never build? They will always destroy. If the people who fought me in APGA have any vision at all, because APGA is still fighting itself, they should have gone to INEC to register a party and pursue their vision. No, they will never do that because they never had any vision. Their mission is always to reap where they did not sow, to destroy what they did not build. That is why a political party can exist for more than 12 years, and it is only in one state with no Senator and those managing the party will be beating their chest saying they have done very well.
So what philosophy are you going into the next election with?
UPP is very receptive to political alliance, but it would be a post-election alliance, and not pre-election alliance. We say this because in the world we live in today, coalition of political parties has formed the most stable governments. The government in Germany, under the CDU (the Chrisitian Democratic Union), is stable and have provided the strongest economy in Europe today. In Britain, it is the coalition of the Liberal Party and the Labour Party that has formed the government that is existing in Britain today. And that was because the conservative party and the Labour Party didn?t have enough to form a government. But the Liberal Party, even with as few as 24 seats, when the others have about 294 seats each, have stabilised government, because the Labour Party needed that 24 seats to form a government. And the Liberal Party produced the Deputy Prime Minister. The Likud Party in Israel aligned with other parties to form government. In Nigeria it happened in the first republic and second republic.