A presentation by the National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie at the recent World Igbo Summit in Enugu
The unfortunate state of affairs that has led Ndigbo to where we are in Nigeria today calls for dedicated, selfless, focused, and patriotic leadership that will provide direction and articulate a properly thought-out political roadmap that will re-launch a sustainable Igbo political resurgence in spite of man-made obstacles.
There are certain potentialities that Igbo political leadership can wield into an irrepressible political force on the platform of a political party we control its machinery, which also has its Manifesto registered with INEC, with provisions that articulate policies and programmes that are inclined towards the realization of Igbo political aspirations and agenda.
Studies have proved that Igbo people are the most widely dispersed people in Nigeria. We are at least the second largest population in most states of Nigeria and constitute the overwhelming majority of the people in the South-East geopolitical zone of the country.
It has been conservatively estimated that we constitute about 40 per cent of the population of Lagos State and about 60 per cent of the population of Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC) of the Federal Capital Territory. In political terms we can mobilize minimum of 25 per cent of the voting population of 31 states of Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, while controlling 99.9 per cent of the voting population of the five states of the South East geopolitical zone.
In Nigerian democracy population and spread are the critical factors that can determine the direction and control of power after every general election. Ndigbo have no business being irrelevant in the matter of politics in Nigeria with what God has already given to them.
A properly organized political platform championed by the Igbo that promises true federalism, devolution of power, resource control, State Police and Community Policing etc shall attract the involvement of people of other geopolitical zones that are similarly inclined such as the South-South and North Central geopolitical zones. Such movements will also attract interest from other sections that share in such political ideology.
We must not forget that in the Second Republic, Plateau State led by Dr. Solomon Lar formed a State government elected on the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igboman. What is clear is that the Igbo is like a sleeping giant. The challenge that we face today is the proactive steps we need to take to arouse this giant from its slumber.
This Summit is a commendable step in that direction. It was upon the realization of the Igbo political dilemma as far back as 1995 that I mobilized my associates to commence the process of forming a national political party based on Igbo initiative. In 1996 we approached the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) to register the Peoples Democratic Congress (PDC) but the political association was not registered. In 1998 we made the second attempt to register again the Peoples Democratic Congress.
We were for a second time denied registration. In those two attempts we had the Cock as symbol because we realized that our people needed to be woken up from slumber and in Igboland as in other places in Nigeria the Cock crows to signal the dawn of a new day.
We also had “Be Your Brother’s Keeper”, in Igbo, “Onye Aghala Nwanneya” as the motto. In 2001, when the opportunity presented itself again for the registration of new political parties, we had realized the intrigues and the machinations that played out in the two failed attempts.
We therefore changed tactics and strategy and succeeded in the registration of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), still with the cock as logo and “Be Your Brother’s Keeper” (Onye Aghala Nwanneya) as its motto. The Certificate of Registration of APGA was received by me in the company of the Protem National Officers of the party on June 24, 2002. APGA then became the first political party registered in Nigeria based on Igbo initiative.
I entered the history book as the founder and National Chairman of this historic political party. The excitement among Igbo people at home and abroad was palpable. As a result of that accomplishment Ohanaeze Ndigbo under the leadership of the indomitable Hon. Justice Eze Ozobu (rtd) former Chief Judge of Enugu State and now a traditional ruler of his community conferred on me the title “Ogbaturu Enyi Ndigbo.”
With all humility, I remain the only person, whether living or dead that has ever been conferred with a traditional title by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo since its formation in 1976. Our first policy pronouncement was to zone the presidential slot of the party to the South East geopolitical zone for the 2003 presidential election. It was at this point that I and my associates came face to face with the timidity that had afflicted Igbo political leaders.
There were not less than 6 carefully selected Igbo persons who were politicians of appreciable political profiles we approached to fly APGA Presidential flag. One after the other, they declined. In deep sadness and frustration, I went to Hon. Justice Eze Ozobu, the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to share my experience with him.
I resisted the temptation to fly the presidential ticket myself like what those who founded political parties did in the past. I refused to be persuaded because I had convinced those who supported the effort morally and/or materially that I did not lead the initiative for personal aggrandizement and I was determined to maintain that principled stand.
It was Justice Eze Ozobu that advised that we should make the same offer to Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, whom I had been closely associated with as my leader for over 20 years since he returned from exile in 1982. I requested Justice Eze Ozobu to present Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu to the party leadership at a private ceremony in Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s residence for reasons that space will not permit me here to narrate.
That presentation was done on 24th December, 2002, in the presence of people who are still alive but whose names shall be mentioned in a book that is still work-in-progress.
On 26th December 2002, two days after Justice Ozobu’s presentation of Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu to the Party, I addressed a World Press Conference at the Zodiac Hotel, Enugu where I proposed Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as APGA presidential candidate. His candidature was ratified at a well-attended National Convention of the Party at the Old Parade Ground Abuja on January 10, 2003, where I handed over to him the Presidential flag of the Party.
That event signaled the match for Igbo political resurgence. Majority of Igbo people all over Nigeria, especially those in the South-East voted overwhelmingly for Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as presidential candidate and other candidates who contested that general election on the platform of APGA
. The young party lacked the financial resources to protect its votes and the candidates also lacked the resources to defend their mandates except Mr. Peter Obi of Anambra State who had the support of the people of Anambra State and the resources to defend his mandate at the Election Petition Tribunal and ultimately prevailed to become the first elected governor on the platform of APGA. Unknown to us, the presidency under President Olusegun Obasanjo was uncomfortable with the emergence of Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu as our Presidential candidate.
APGA was viewed as a national security risk, based on the morbid fear that if Dim Odumegwu-Ojukwu gained political foothold in Nigeria, he would re-enact the effort to lead his people to secede from Nigeria, a second time. This accounted for the undue attention paid to APGA to ensure that the Party’s candidates were denied their victory through massive rigging.
It was in April 2003, after the election that the then President Olusegun Obasanjo told me pointedly in his official residence in the Presidential Villa that I committed a “Political Sin” by presenting Dim Odumegwu- Ojukwu as presidential candidate. The conversation lasted for hours and we touched on so many other issues that are not proper to be disclosed on a presentation of this nature.
The Presidency was determined to decimate APGA and in no time they established a weak-link within the Party’s leadership which they used to launch their attack on the Party on the 15th of December, 2004, via a Press Conference at NUJ Press Centre, Abuja in which spurious and unsubstantiated allegations were spewed against me.
Before this press conference that signaled the unfortunate balkanization of APGA, the perpetrators of this act had craftily placed a wedge between me and our erstwhile presidential candidate with whom I had associated for over 20 years. The dispute that ensued lasted for more than 8 years, resulting in over 20 litigations that saw us approach the Supreme Court 3 times without resolving the issue of the authentic leadership of the Party.
Some of the litigations were still pending at the lower courts when we decided to let go and regroup to float another political party with the same vision, orientation and more radical and revolutionary agenda. This initiative led to the formation of the United Progressive Party (UPP) which was registered on October 2, 2012.
The attitude and the timidity of the Igbo political elite has not changed, instead it has further degenerated and retrogressed. In spite of the fact that we zoned the presidential slot to the South East geopolitical zone for the 2015 presidential election and given the fact that APGA adopted the presidential candidate of PDP, former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 general election and repeated the same thing in 2015 general election, no Igbo aspirant stepped forward to be considered for the UPP presidential ticket.
It could be recalled that UPP became the first registered political party in Nigeria to host its National Convention in Igboland. It was on the eve of that Convention that took place at Aba in Abia State, that the National Executive Committee (NEC) of our party in a pre-Convention meeting nominated me and Barrister Bello Umar from Zamfara State to become Presidential candidate and Vice presidential candidate respectively.
The 2015 presidential election is now an eye-opener to us in UPP and to Ndigbo in general.The inescapable truth is that, it is only when all eligible Igbo men and women begin to actively participate in the electoral process, wherever we are domiciled in Nigeria, that we shall begin to recover our long lost place of relevance in Nigeria and reap the benefits of quality representation, accountable leadership, respect and governance at all levels of government.
If we do not stir up ourselves and perform the civic responsibilities we owe to ourselves and our race, perpetual lamentation, shall be the outcome of political apathy and indifference. We must bear in mind that the economy of Ala Igbo, our businesses, our religion and the way we choose to worship, our self and group esteem, the quality of our education and our quest for self-determination are all inextricably woven around politics. This is the truth that is selfevident.