National Chairman, United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, speaks about the foreign leader’s current interest in Nigeria, the arguments generated by the two methods of primaries put in place by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other issues ahead of the 2019 elections
What is your impression about the introduction of direct and indirect primaries by the All Progressives Congress?
Well the APC approach, even though the Electoral Act and the party constitution allow for both, their failure to use uniform method nationwide for various elective offices is a little suspicious. In some places where they allow for direct primaries, many of their members are clamouring for indirect primaries. In places where they have governors, indirect primaries seem to favour the governors in power, but direct primaries leaves it to members of the party to decide and not elected and/or selected delegates that may be influenced by the governor.
Having said that, I have a problem with direct primaries because on paper it seems to offer more participation of party members. It creates the impression of being a more democratic method, where membership subscription is free as it is in APC. It means every Tom, Dick and Harry, or any man who is of age can go to a ward, register and become a member. The person may have even come from another party just to beef up the figure for a particular candidate. In that kind of confusion, the fate of a candidate will depend on the committee sent by the National Headquarters to conduct that primaries. The National Headquarters will be duty bound by whatever returns that committee makes to accept it as soon as it is verified and submitted. But in the case indirect primaries the total number of delegates are known and result clear from that location of the election.
I foresee a very big confusion arising from the direct primary arrangement and the outcome of it will either be internal dissections, litigations such that it could cost APC victories where they would have won.
Ahead of elections, there are signs of violence. On Thursday when Abubakar Atiku submitted his nomination and expression of interest forms, there was violence and gunshots. What does that portend for the elections?
This is the fault of party administration in managing the issuance and submission of forms. Maybe in an attempt to show strength and followership, they have made the submission of forms a huge ceremony. And where two or more candidates are coming to collect forms at the same time, there is bound to be a clash. So the PDP is mismanaging that process. While no should stop supporters from coming with their candidate, they should not be allowed into the premises of the party secretariat. Only the aspirant and a few aides should be allowed in and when he comes out into the open, they can join him and make all the noise, because politics is about noise making. But if you allow them to barge into the premises, you are going to have crowd management issues. You want to recall too that all of those who are contesting for these positions have their own security aides who were allocated to them by the police, and these armed aides were given the mandated to protect their principals. So the whole situation is volatile, risky and dangerous and should be better managed.
What do you see as the way out of this cluster of presidential aspirants on the platform of the PDP?
Well, this is something no one can control. They have thrown their own open to the north and anyone who is interested from that region can aspire. If the process of electing the ultimate candidate is controversial and lacks credibility and fairness, that will be the beginning of their failure. But all of those who are contesting for presidency on the platform of the party who can afford the high charges are not push over. They have the challenge of a very credible, transparent primary election that will be done in the open, and here again by delegates.
If it goes the way of direct primaries, that is anarchy in the waiting. But if it is by delegates and the winners emerges, that is what will happen but in the case of APC, there is no difficulty there because their man is returning unopposed and what they are trying to do is to get the number of people who are saying he should run again, as a way of sending a signal as to the number of people who will vote for him in the actual election.
So this is like an election before election and it can work for them, but for PDP I have long predicted especially when the party was celebrating about the defections earlier, I said they were rejoicing too early. Because at the time of their primary their own implosion will occur and then it will be too close to the elections for them to be able to manage it successfully. It may be the one that will actually suffer from a late implosion.
What kind of president does Nigeria need at this time?
Nigeria needs the president that we deserve and whoever they elect is the one that we deserve, because they cannot elect a president today and lament tomorrow. Therefore the burden is on the Nigerian electorate to go out there and elect the president of their choice. I don’t want to talk about a straight-jacket definition of character, age and qualification of the president that will do this or that. That will be very academic, rather what influences voters to cast their votes one way or the other vary from place to place and that is the beauty of democracy. What is important is to have a free, fair election with a level-playing field before local and internal monitors. Whoever emerges the President is the one Nigerians deserve and they are going to have for another four years.
Can Nigeria afford another president who is probably practising nepotism and even selective in the prosecution of anti-corruption war as has been alleged?
This was exactly what I had in mind when I answered the way I did. What influences voters’ are quite different from state to state and we have not run away from religious considerations and sectional or ethnic considerations. All of those factors will always play critical role in our choices.
So if a majority of Nigerians feel differently and they vote according to the way they feel, you get the result that are in line with that general feeling. But in the face of all of these you mentioned, but some people believe that the devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know, then we will be having the same kind of government for another four years.
And if situation is more so because PDP which is the major opposition party is one that had had its own chance for 16 years and those who are running are not angles from heaven. They have held one office or another and they have record of their performance while in those offices. So they all have their baggage, their antecedents and all of these things will come into play.
So let us see who the PDP will ultimately throw up because if you look at the party they are 91 of them and some of them, about 40 or more have signed up for the PDP and said: ‘whoever you bring, (whether he is lame duck or whatever), the candidate is what will we support.’ It is a very awkward arrangement but that is their choice. But you have APC whose candidate is cut out for it, and some people might say here is a man who is fighting corruption; he might not be doing well in other area, but when you put all these on the scale, I prefer him to the other persons whom I know their antecedents. All these will count- whether Nigerians will want to go back to the PDP or stay with the APC. So is a question of Nigerians choosing to return to Egypt or preferring to move forward.
What do you make of the current cost of nomination forms and expression of interest which hover around N45million and N22million for presidency and the rest?
That is the beauty of multi-party democracy. Some people may think that their product is of great quality and once you win their nomination you are as good as winning the election. That might be the only reason for that. Then others could think differently.
For instance, UPP has domesticated the Not-Too-Young-to-Run Act, to the extent that any eligible Nigerian of the age of 30 and below running on the platform of our party, any woman running on the platform of our party, no matter her age can obtain our forms free of charge and that goes for any physically challenged person. And for the ones who are above 31 who will run can take our forms at a very cheap rate. For instance if APC takes N800,000 for State Assembly forms UPP can peg its own at N50,000. You can compare it, even the governorship position of which they are charging N22million, UPP is charging N2million. The beauty of multi-party democracy is to give people options and in this case the young persons are not disenfranchised because there are other platforms on which they can run.
There was a media report that APC is hoping to defeat PDP in the South-East and South-South. How feasible do you think this is?
Well, if you look at the 2015 elections, the APC was almost like a pariah party in those areas, but the situation has changed diametrically in the past three and half years. Former governors, former Senate President, most of them from the PDP are now in the APC and all of them are not part of those who returned to the PDP. Looking at the South-East and South-South and each of them has some followership even in their immediate wards. So there is no way that there would be no improvement over the five per cent vote cast for the party this time. Whether that will increase to 25 or 30 per cent is yet to be seen, because the process of political re-alignment is still on-going.
Don’t you think the recently enumerated 69 on-going contracts in the South-East will also be a factor if executed?
It will be a very important factor, because incidentally the South-East has been an area I have been passionate about for the past four decades. And I know for sure that the little federal presence in that area has gone into serious dilapidation such that it is almost irretrievable.
Yes, the previous PDP government was so wicked that it awarded contracts on the basis of private sector participation for over N200billion here and there, but they just dug up the whole places and abandoned site during the 16 good years. The major roads we are talking about now were built by the Shagari administration about 40 years ago and they have deteriorated over the years.
And now this government came and decided not to embark on white elephant projects but insisting on retaining all the old ones. And all the contractors were not sacked and new ones brought in; rather the old ones were just mobilized to site. Now this government awarded it directly and the amount is less than 50 per cent of what PDP did and today the projects have gone up to 30 or 40 percent stages of completion.
For instance the moment you do the foundation of the River Niger Bridge for instance the rest moves faster, and that has been done. Some of us from that side will be looking at that. If in 16 years we saw nothing and in three years we are seeing so much, despite our five per cent contribution to the election of President, I can tell you that if we do more we will have more claim because you cannot be making claims where you have not invested. In shareholding it counts and now that we are talking about democratic dividends, if we do more we will make more claims.
And that is why UPP is not fielding any candidate at this time, but we are not going to fold our hands. We are going to weigh in and come up with various reason we are weighing one way or another. We have not concluded any arrangement as we speak but when it is concluded, we will be out there in the field to make sure it is actualized.
Recently it was revealed that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu might be taking a shot at the presidency in 2023, when the South-East is being considered for the position. Don’t you think this will amount to a conflict?
It will not a major conflict but a major contest. I see it as a major contest. For instance, right now the presidency has been zoned to the north and all manners of peoples who believe they are qualified are out their jostling for the ticket to run. So when the thing comes to the south you cannot deny Tinubu his legitimate right to be president of Nigeria. Though that is the same time that UPP will be fielding candidate who will fly our flag.
If APC swings to the West on its presidential candidate you can be sure that UPP will pick a South-East, South-West or north presidential candidate. Then what determines it will be whichever party is able to win more supports form the geo-political zones. Such as South-South, Middle Belt and the North. It will be a contest instead of a conflict. The contest will now be more robust, more vibrant and more challenging.
What do you make of the recent scramble for Africa by foreign countries like France, China, Britain and Germany?
Well, because of the trend in world economy, Africa has become very attractive investment destination and some of the governments in Africa now have begun to deliver on good governance, including ease of doing business and issuance of visa, and repatriation of profits.
So Africa, which was hitherto unexplored has now become centre of attention. In the case of Nigeria, no matter the level of propaganda, there is something this current government is doing that is of interest to the developed economies. This is especially in the area of fighting corruption because no one wants to do business in a highly corrupt country.
It is quite impressive that these countries which for many years distanced themselves from Nigeria are coming back and getting our investors and theirs engaged in investment proposals and implementations. So things are looking up.
In the area of credit facilities and loans, is it not vital for Nigeria to be cautious?
The fact that they are granting loans show that the environment is conducive for it, because the loans are tied to specific project and the fact that the government abhors corruption even makes them ready to grant such loans. These loans are not to be used for non-regenerative efforts or social activities. No investor will give you loan if he is not sure there will be return on investments.
News24 hours ago
VIDEO: Fayose arrives EFCC office in company of Gov Wike
Metro and Crime23 hours ago
NIS rescues 88 trafficked victims in Oyo
Politics10 hours ago
Enugu: The return of Nnamani’s Ebeano political dynasty
Metro and Crime11 hours ago
Kidnapping: ‘Madman’ arrested with phone, receives N1.5m alert
Metro and Crime11 hours ago
Protest as LAUTECH hikes tuition fee from N65,000 to N250,000
Politics10 hours ago
How APC panel ensured hitch-free primaries In Edo
Metro and Crime11 hours ago
Ex-Nigeria Airways worker dies at verification centre
News12 hours ago
Primaries: Imo elders petition Buhari against Okorocha