Following his voluntary exit from the All Progressive Grand Alliance, (APGA), sequel to the eight-year leadership crisis in the party he founded with support of others in 2002, Chief Chekwas Okorie, months back commenced the process of registering another party, the United Progressive Grand Alliance, (UPGA). But though he returned the certificate of registration of APGA to the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), the election umpire refused registration of UPGA following a petition by the embattled chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh to INEC against the registration of the new party. When some journalists ran into Okorie last week in Abuja and inquired to know what he is up to after INEC refused to register UPGA, he used the opportunity to comment on the current crisis in APGA, his ordeal in trying to register UPGA and his new effort to register a new party known as United Progressive Party, (UPP). EMMANUEL ENYINNAYA APPOLOS was there.
APGA is locked in another leadership dispute after your departure, they are now in court. What is your view on the current crisis?
It should not surprise anybody that APGA is in this pitiable situation. I said it clearly when I and my associates left APGA, that we left with the spirit and soul of the party, and left them the carcass. The people who did not share in the vision of the party, held the party hostage and hijacked it. So what is happening in APGA is nemesis at work. I can only say that they are fighting not even over the carcass of APGA, but right now, they are fighting over a decomposing carcass. It is a big tragedy, what Victor Umeh, Peter Obi, and later on, Rochas Okorocha, have done to APGA; this will count against them for the rest of their lives. They set the political agenda of APGA backward by several years. They have given the Igbo people who repose so much confidence in that party, so much heartache that the level of despondency among Ndigbo today in the Nigerian political setting is unprecedented. However, my message of hope is that we have since moved on to form yet another political platform that will restore the hope of the very masses for whom APGA was originally set up, and to restore the confidence of those who had looked up to APGA as a political party for their political liberation and emancipation.
When you moved, you talked about your efforts to register UPGA, which INEC refused to register, are you still pushing for registration of UPGA?
We moved on to register United People’s Grand Alliance (UPGA) with the symbol of the rising sun, and we fulfilled all the requirement in accordance with the Electoral Act to be registered as a political party. Surprisingly, Victor Umeh, aided and abetted by Rochas Okorocha, wrote a petition to INEC protesting the possibility of the registration of UPGA, and raised issues that are not in the Electoral Act. For instance, the issue of pronunciation and acronym UPGA was considered to be an offense because it sounded, by their own imagination, like APGA.
And the Electoral Act has no provision for pronunciation, and no law in the whole world can legislate on pronunciation because the issue of pronunciation is a matter of tongue. That was one of the reasons contained in their petition. They also said that UPGA was a party in the First Republic and that it belonged to Igbo people. That is another fallacy because UPGA was never a registered political party in the First Republic; but it was an alliance that didn’t participate in any election. It was an alliance of extant political parties at that time, but it was falsely described as a political party that belonged to the Igbo. Whereas that alliance belonged to the Action Group (AG) of the Western Nigeria, the NCNC and the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) and the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC). So UPGA in the First Republic was not an Igbo party, but like I said, it was an alliance of these parties I have mentioned.
The rising sun symbol we wanted to use for the UPGA that INEC refused to register, everybody knows that rising sun is a universal brand, the sun rises from the east of any part of the world. Sun is a celestial body, and couldn’t have been a property of the Igbo people. But it was written in that petition as belonging to the Igbo, belonging to MASSOB and also belonging to the defunct Biafra. Yet today in Nigeria, states are having their flags, coat of arms, and state anthem; but here a party symbol was made an issue and INEC surprisingly rejected our application, giving reasons that were recopied from the petition of Umeh, in other-words, a rehash of Umeh’s petition against the registration of UPGA. When we saw the intrigues and the malice in that, and we knew they wanted us to go to court, so they will take advantage of the weakness of our present day judiciary; but we decided that we will not play into their plot and left everything in the hands of God Almighty, and continued again with the spirit and soul that had left APGA, that was to reincarnate in UPGA and we continued with it to a new formation.
What is the new formation? Are you saying you people have gone to register another party?
Immediately after INEC refused to register UPGA based on the petition written by Umeh and Rochas, which I called the UPGA fiasco as it were, we re-applied to INEC to register another party called United Progressive Party (UPP) and also came up with a new symbol of the head of the tiger. This time, we took our time to take care of all of the observations that INEC gave as reasons for not registering UPGA. We decided to score 100 per cent on all criteria because we found out that in our case, the pass mark set by INEC is 100 per cent, so 99.9 per cent is not good enough, so instead of having our national executive members represent two-third of the states of the federation plus the Federal Capital Territory, we ensured that our NEC members represented the entire 36 states of Nigeria plus the FCT.
Are you saying UPP already has members across the 36 states and FCT?
Yes it has. Are your surprised at that? It was not difficult for us because Nigerians can remember that my leadership in APGA had followership and membership across the 36 states and FCT. One thing that has remained a surprise to me is that such followership and membership remained committed, loyal and many of them have so much confidence in our leadership that they are ready to follow the leadership to anywhere it goes politically. So it was not a difficult thing at all for us to constitute the NEC of UPP and our members also came to sign up the relevant INEC forms for the registration of UPP.
The tiger head we used as our symbol is not even an African specie, but a South Asian specie, so the leter head we used for UPP cannot be linked to Igbo or any tribe in Nigeria. That is not withstanding the fact that even in INEC list of political parties in Nigeria, there are parties registered with symbols that can be easily linked with a tribe or association or even an institution in Nigeria. There is party with the Yoruba talking-drum as its symbol; another party has a horse as its symbol, same horse that the Union Bank has as its symbol. When you go through the list of political parties in Nigeria today and their symbol, you will discover that many have symbols that can easily be linked to one thing or the other. We decided not to go near anything that will lead to another protest in choosing the symbol of UPP, that is why we used the head of the tiger.
Luckily, INEC approved our name, approved our symbol, INEC came for inspection at our national office in Abuja and saw for themselves that we met all the requirements and they verified our claims. INEC brought another dimension that was not there before. It said that our NEC members who had already signed the relevant INEC documents for our registration, who also came for verification should produce their identification card, which will be either inform of international passport, national ID card, drivers license or ATM card to confirm that the names on those identity cards corresponded with names we wrote on relevant INEC forms for the registration weeks before, and that the signatures on the cards also corresponded with the signatures we signed on INEC form PA1 weeks earlier.
Because we are genuine and there was no fluke in what we didn’t, we were never bothered being subjected to all manners of trials for the registration of UPP, and there was no make-believe in what we did, everything went well. The same people, the same ID cards, the same names, the same signatures. That is why I said we scored 100 per cent on all scores. Our constitution and manifesto passed the test and so we expected therefore, that UPP will be registered within the timeline prescribed by law.
The Electoral Act prescribed that if after 30 days of submission of application and all relevant forms, and INEC has not written you to say you are registered, such a party is deemed to have been registered. For UPP, the 30 days elapsed on 15th of July, 2012. But we decided that we will not preempt INEC and launch out the party, rather we decided to wait patiently for INEC to formerly write us a letter for the registration of UPP.
If according to the provision of the Electoral Act UPP is deemed as a registered party by July 15, and there is delay on INEC side to write officially, what is the reaction of members of the party, on the registration UPGA by INEC.
That is the worrisome part. On my part, I am worried, on the part of the party members, they are agitated. The members across the country are mounting pressures on their state and zonal leaders, and all these pressures are transferred to me; they call me on phone every minutes to know what is happening, because the only news they want to hear is that INEC has written us. I have been trying my best to calm them down and appeal to them to be patient and wait on INEC, so that we cannot be accused of preempting INEC or being confrontational and so that our detractors will not find rooms to begin their usual antics against us again.
But the pertinent question our members have always raised each time they call to know what is happening in INEC with the registration of UPP, which I have no answer to is: whether INEC is at liberty to obey or chose when to obey the laws of the country at its own convenience. Even though I do not have answer to the question, but I share in their concern not because their pressures are on me, but because I know that as a government institution with the responsibility of overseeing the process of election in the country, chosing when to obey any law of the country as regard the process of election, will be sending wrong signals to Nigerians and the international community of the capability and willingness of the commission be an unbiased umpire. Therefore, the commission should show good example by complying with the provisions of the electoral act other relevant laws of the land regarding the registration of political parties; this has not been the case with respect to UPP and I do not answer to this kind of inquiry.
Therefore, while we are still waiting on INEC, I will appeal to our members to continue to be law abiding and exercise restraint and I do believe that it may not be too long again, for INEC to do what it is supposed to do regarding the registration of UPP. 2015 is not too far and we need all the time in this world to build and strength our structures and prepare ourselves for the next general election because other major parties are already on ground preparing for the same election and we need to hit the ground running, and so the delay is worrisome.
And I will appeal to INEC too, to please release UPP registration formerly, so we can begin to make our own contribution to the development of democracy in the country. We have a mission, we have an ideology; we are not like any other party and we can’t wait to showcase what we have. I am sure INEC will be proud to be associated with our party. I do not think that INEC under Professor Attahiru Jega has registered any party since it came into office, so UPP will be the first party the Jega leadership in INEC will register, and I am sure his board of INEC will be proud to have registered UPP because of what we will do with it.
What is your take on the call by northern branches of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on President Jonathan to resign?
It is a very extreme reaction resulting from certain level of frustration for CAN to demand the resignation of the President. The frustration in the sense that one can understand the dilemma and pains of Christians, especially in the north where churches and places of worship are targeted for attacks, but the answer to that could not be to call for the President’s resignation; if he resigns, who will take over? What is the guarantee that the person they want will be better than President Jonathan? I do not believe that anybody can claim to be patriotic than President Jonathan when he is presiding as President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria.
The president should be given the benefit of the doubt that he means well for Nigeria. His method may not have met the expectation of most critics; there is no doubt that nobody is perfect to meet the expectations of all, but it is good enough to make suggestions; it is also good to criticise where you think certain things are done the way you think is not proper and proffer your own solution or they could be done better; but to ask him to resign is an extreme reaction and it will not go down well with the country. As you are saying this, the international community is listening, and they will not applaud you for a wonderful suggestion, because what you are suggesting will cause instability in the country.
Same with the so called impeachment threat on the President by the minority leader of the House of Representatives, who happens to be a member of the ACN, that failing to implement the budget to 100 per cent by September that the House will commence process of impeachment against the president. Again, that is recklessness. Impeachment clause is there in the constitution, but it is not to be used recklessly. I think they would have simply stopped at inviting the Minister of Finance to explain the constrains that made the budget implementation not to be done to the expectation of those of them that appropriated the budget and the expectation of Nigerians.
But to go beyond that and say that you will begin an impeachment process if the budget is not implemented to 100 per cent by next month; are you trying to scare away investors from the country because once you begin that, you will start the process of impeaching Nigerians. Because I can assure you that you will not be halfway into that impeachment before Nigeria breaks into pieces. This is a country that is already at the brink, sitting on a keg of gun powder. There are so many flashpoints and the place is restive, and your suggestion on the issue of budget implementation is to invoke impeachment notice. The man who raised this issue of impeachment and his sponsors should be watched, because they are the people who want the country to be torn apart. Wait until 2015 and you come along to take over power through democractic process, and take us to Eldorado. If they begin the process, everybody, not only Jonathan will be the loser.