Chief Chekwas Okorie, a politician and chieftain of apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in this interview with IGBEAKU ORJI, speaks on the quest for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023 and calls for restructuring, among other issues
What are your thoughts on the quest for Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023?
The call for a president of Igbo extraction is a call that is timely. The Igbo people deserve to be given a sense of belonging in a country they have contributed and sacrificed to its existence, including the battle for independence.
When you talk about the economic and social development of this country, you will find out that the Igbo people are making contributions with fixed assets and not with assets they could take away at any time they wish to do so.
We are the ones that have seen Nigeria as home but the continued denial of Ndigbo the presidency of Nigeria has created the impression that they do not belong to Nigeria. To some people, it is as if the war that ended about 50 years ago has actually not ended in the minds of some political leaders in the country.
Nothing will complete the reintegration of the people in Nigeria as well as the reconciliation with the rest of Nigeria as promised at the end of the war in 1970 by General Yakubu Gowon, who was Head of State then.
Nothing will complete it far more than giving the Igbo the opportunity to produce the president of this country at this time. It is not as if we have not tried in terms of contesting for the office, but there has been high level conspiracy to stop Igbo from achieving that and it is also well known.
But for the first time since the end of the civil war, there is a near consensus of Nigerians that it is indeed the turn of Igbos to produce the president.
This sentiment has been expressed in political, social and across board in the North of Nigeria. So, the call for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction is one whose time has come.
Do you think that Ndigbo are prepared for the task?
Yes! In fact, the Igbo people are more prepared now than any time in the recent past.
They are now beginning to coalesce in the two major political parties compared to what happened in the past three or four dispensations, when it appeared that they put all their eggs in one basket.
Now, they are nearly balanced in their presence, especially at the level of the leadership of the two major political parties
I am an example; I founded the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the purpose of that was to give the Igbo people political identity at that time and also create a platform for political engagement with the rest of Nigeria.
And we practically conscripted, if I may use that word, the late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, to fly the presidential flag of APGA, even when I was eminently qualified to fly the flag of a party I founded. At the time we did it in 2003, I became the only Nigerian, who founded a political party and did not use it to run for presidency.
Every other person, Chief Awolowo, Malam Aminu Kano, Waziri Ibrahim, name them, founded parties and used their parties to fly the presidential flag.
But that was not the purpose for APGA’s formation. I have talked about the purpose, so we had to look for somebody who will be a better rallying point for Ndigbo than myself and we found that in Odumegwu Ojukwu.
We went to him; he didn’t come to us. That was why I said we practically conscripted him to play that role. But, unfortunately, that didn’t work. Before then, Dr. Alex Ekwueme was promised a presidential ticket by the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the time to reward him for his unqualified loyalty to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.
So, there was the general impression among Igbo people that they needed to rally round Dr. Ekwueme in the party where he belonged in order to show that he has a strong home base. That was what accounted for the entire South-East becoming 100 per cent PDP. But Ekwueme was short changed in a manner that was so unconscionable.
Today, I have led APGA and United Progressive Party (UPP), which I also founded, particularly UPP, to collapse into the All Progressives Congress (APC). I am now, of course, by virtue of my earlier positions, an automatic member of the party’s caucus from my state and the national level.
So, we will do whatever it takes to convince other political blocs to support our candidate during the presidential primary election.
We also hope the PDP will do the same. But I can tell you outright that the PDP is never in any mood, by their spoken language, not just body language, to consider the South-East for its 2023 presidential ticket. In fact, if I go that area, we may not end this discussion any time.
But take it that they are not in that mood, except if they are forced by the preponderant opinion of well-meaning Nigerians to have a rethink.
In the event that it fails to work out the way you envisage, what options do you think Ndigbo have to realize their ambition?
They are two things that are paramount to the average Igbo person whether he is a politician or not.
First and foremost, it is the restructuring of Nigeria because once that is done, there will be a level playing field for the Igbo man to plan and achieve the great potentials that God has already given to him.
But we also believe that where that restructuring, in the holistic manner we expect it to be is not possible, then a president who is favourably disposed to restructuring will now be the next option.
So, we are approaching this thing knowing that it is a contest from two main objective points; to produce a president who in addition to rendering quality service to Nigerians, will ensure that Nigeria is restructured in order to unleash its potential for exponential growth.
But on the alternative, we will continue the struggle for restructuring by other means, definitely, not anything than practical peace.
From what you have said, you seem to be in support of restructuring, but it appears to be at variance with the position of APC because it promised restructuring but has since evaded any reference that …
I will doubt that very much because it is the same APC as a party that set up the Governor Nasir el- Rufai committee to interact with Nigerians and make recommendations on restructuring and the committee went round the six geopolitical zones and collated memoranda from so many stakeholders, not just party members, and came up with very far reaching positive recommendations, including producing a bill that incorporates all of their recommendations that will be submitted to the National Assembly for consideration because at the end of the day most of the issues involved such as devolution of powers, and so on, will require constitutional amendment.
But shortly after that, the leadership problem in the APC took the centre stage.
So, the leadership that was supposed to make that presentation to the National Assembly, because the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party, although I was not a member at the time, had already approved these recommendations, got itself engrossed in crisis.
But right now, APC is not only taking about that document but working on presenting it to the National Assembly for the constitution amendment that is ongoing.
It is the PDP that never promised restructuring; it is not in their constitution and they have done nothing whatsoever, not even in terms of submitting a memoranda to the National Assembly.
They have had three constitutional amendments and all failed deliberately. However, it is the APC that is showing the most interest on the issue of restructuring.