BY JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU
Chief Chekwas Okorie is the founder of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, and the United Progressives Party, UPP. He was the UPP presidential candidate in the March 28 election. In this interview, he speaks on the expectations of Nigerians from the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
President Muhammadu Buhari has just been inaugurated. What are the expectations of the people from him?
His inaugural speech pointed clear at the direction his administration will take and what Nigerians should expect from him. One thing that he set out immediately in his speech is what his democratic profile will look like when he said he belongs to everybody and belongs to nobody, that is a very loaded reassuring statement for a leader who was feared to have become a victim of some political investors that were already making claims. So, he served that early notice that all Nigerians can look up to him for fair but firm leadership.
Do you think that he belongs to nobody as he stated going by the roles some individuals and his party played in his emergence?
I want to take him on his words and doing so relying on his track record; he is a man that has his own mind, a man of unquestionable integrity, a man of uprightness, a man of boldness, courage and fearlessness. All these attributes have been fully demonstrated by him in the past. President Buhari is coming into office on a high moral pedestal and so, the statement he made clearly and unequivocally showed no strings attached on his ascendency. There are some people that will make that statement and I will take it with a pinch of salt.
As an aside, let me mention a fallout of somebody of Buhari’s character being at the helm of the leadership of this country. My brother-in-law, who travelled to the UK (United Kingdom) last week on a short trip and came back today (Monday) June 1, 2015, called me immediately he passed through Immigration and Customs formalities to express pleasant surprise that the airport he passed through a few days ago and went through very demanding and compromising officials now became a place he met very polite, efficient and well behaved officials. And so, he wanted to find out whether I knew of any order given to these officials to mend their ways. I told him I was not aware of any order but clearly the fear of the Buhari phenomenon has become the beginning of wisdom for all government functionaries and citizens alike. So, you can see what an established character of one man has started achieving even before directives and orders are issued. I have no doubt that all of these people will resort to business as usual if the Buhari administration takes good behaviour of Nigerians for granted.
So, in all these, what are the expectations ahead?
We are expecting a frontal attack on corruption which will include recovering all illegally acquired wealth and enunciating policies that will make corrupt conduct risky and unattractive. We expect a review of the entire power supply sector with a view to taking difficult decisions in the overall interest of the Nigerian people. We expect that the unsatisfactory and suspicious privatisation process that concessioned the industries to companies that are merely fronting for vested interests in the previous government be reversed.
We expect, like he stated, the resuscitation and revival of industries that have collapsed and the ones that are ailing due to neglect or lack of basic infrastructure and amenities that are necessary for their efficient operation. This will definitely improve productivity in the economy and provide jobs. Perhaps, the most radical thing that he said in his statement is that his government will not standby and see local government allocations hijacked by state governments. I say this because Nigeria’s 774 local government areas have remained largely non-functional in nearly 16 years. And so, the basic infrastructure such as culvert, rural electrification, roads that lead to farmlands and other services that local government were associated with in the years passed have stopped because of the greed and mismanagement including outright embezzlement of revenue allocation that ought to be flowing to the local government areas from the Federation Account.
This policy shift that will make the president to ensure that this allocation gets to the third tier of government will check the drift of rural dwellers to urban centres, and many people in the urban areas will begin to trace their ways back to their communities because they will now be gainfully engaged including being more productive. The other area Nigerians are very expectant concerns the issue of security. He has made it clear that security agencies, their officials and men have to get to the theatre of trouble to confront security challenges and not stay in their cosy offices at the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) dishing orders to hapless operatives and addressing the media in Abuja, making claims of exploits and achievements in the field of operation that took place in far away Borno, Yobe States, etc. By ordering that the commanding centres should relocate to the field of war, to many Nigerians is a pragmatic step towards addressing insurgency in the short run. He talked about long time measures after careful studies on how to prevent re-occurrence. He didn’t leave out the welfare and motivation of military personnel which is also fundamental to getting the best out of them.
There is the clamour for unity government that will involve all political parties and geopolitical zones. What is your take?
I support it but very cautiously. Yes, the winner takes all attitude is no longer fashionable in the democratic world today. Although the APC (All Progressives Congress) government does not require the coalition of other political parties to form government especially at the executive level, it will make for stability of the polity considering Nigerians ethnic and religious diversity. If political parties that the ruling party considers, in its wisdom, will add value to both quality of governance and stability of the country, such political parties may be invited. The prerogative to invite or not to invite is that of the APC and President Buhari. On our own part (UPP), we have already extended the hand of fellowship to APC as a party and to President Buhari before he was sworn-in; we made it clear that we will remain in the opposition and constructively engage them if our hand of fellowship is accepted. By this we mean that we will be making suggestions that we think will make the government to succeed and criticise constructively where the need arises. It therefore follows that if we are invited to become part of the government in any form the president may deem it fit, we will accept without compromising our identity and our character.
We are definite that we are not going to merge with the APC or collapse with the party because we believe that our growing democracy will be better served if three or more political parties with different tendencies are allowed to ventilate their views in order that Nigerians will have options at any given democratic context.
There is the insinuation that Ndigbo have lost out in the present dispensation because they did not vote for the APC. What is your comment?
I will like to correct the impression that they did not contribute to Buhari’s election and this is a general belief. But Ndigbo became a little more circumspect in the support they gave to President Muhammadu Buhari especially after when some of us whose opinions were sought had questioned his adoption by some Igbo groups without negotiation or anything to show for the unconditional and wholehearted support the Igbo gave to the PDP in 2011. We were very vehement in our propaganda and it was sustained, they may not even have voted for me, but definitely, more than 50 per cent of those who voted for Jonathan in 2011 did not have any reason to cast their votes again. The votes that Goodluck Jonathan did not get in the South-East paved the way for Buhari to win. The number of registered voters was approximately 7.2 million, eligible voters and about two times of that number are Igbo people who reside outside of the states in South-East. Considering that the margin of defeat which gave President Muhammadu Buhari victory was approximately 2.5 million votes, it then follows that any support for Jonathan similar to what he got in 2011 would have seen him returning to power. So, it will be a major political miscalculation to overlook or disregard the potentiality of the Igbo in Nigeria to determine who wins or who does not win the presidency of this country.
I believe that President Muhammadu Buhari has come of age politically and therefore will give Ndigbo what is due to them considering that, in less than four years, we will be facing another election. “Having said that, let me seize this opportunity to point out the fundamental flaw in the inaugural speech of President Buhari. You can notice I have applauded the speech, but it is not 100 percent. When he began to mention Nigeria’s past heroes, he did not mention Dr. Michael Okpara, the former Premier of the Eastern Region. If you look at the composition of Nigeria till 1966, Sir Ahmadu Bello presided over 14 provinces that made up the North and Dr. M. I. Okpara presided over 12 provinces that made up the former Eastern Region, while Chief Obafemi Awolowo presided over seven provinces of Western region and Sir Denis Osadebeh presided over two provinces that made up the Mid-Western Region. In terms of area of influence and the positions these heroes occupied, it amounted to unavoidable mistake that clearly sent very negative signals to have recognised even the likes of Akintola, Mallam Aminu Kano and J. S. Tarka whose political party did not control any region.
“So, I have received a lot of calls by concerned Igbo people concerning this unfortunate omission. Let me put it like that because I believe it was an omission because if the inaugural speech was brought to him before, he would have corrected it. Another area that left a gap is that no reference was made whatsoever to the prolonged and scandalous neglect of the South-East geopolitical zone by all governments since the end of civil war in 1970. There is no gain saying the fact that the three ‘R’ Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Re-integration promised by the Gen. Gowon government has been observed in the breach. We were full of expectations that a government that is for all would have made even if it is a passing statement to show that in the course of the administration, the special circumstances of the South-East geopolitical zone shall receive the consideration and special dispensation of the president. Such a statement would have been very reassuring, considering that the North-East geopolitical zone and the Niger Delta areas received special mention in the inaugural speech. I hope that President Buhari in the days ahead will do the needed message of hope to the people of South-East geopolitical zone.