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Published On: Tue, Aug 29th, 2017

2O19: Voters’ camps shall be for, or against restructuring –Chekwas Okorie

National chairman of the United Progressive Party [UPP], Chief Chekwas Okorie, has come up with a startling prediction – that the currently, raging divide of ‘Restructuring’ will separate political parties and candidates in the 2O19 general elections, whereby voters would flow with the candidates who represent what they believe in. In his interview with CHIBUISI AMA-OHAKA in Abuja, Chief Okorie said the UPP not only aligns with the widely held quest for restructuring the country, the party also has Referendum, Self Determination, Resource Control, State Police, Community Policing, and Unconditional Freedom for Freedom Fighters as manifesto and ideology. He also speaks of the determination of the UPP to take control of the November gubernatorial elections in Anambra state, describing the party’s governorship aspirant in the state – who was erstwhile Corps Marshal and later Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka – as the man to beat in the elections Excerpts:

The word ‘Restructuring’ is one word putting Nigerians on opposing sides now. On which side do you stand?
The truth is that it is not a new thinking in Nigeria. When NADECO spoke about true federalism, they were referring to restructuring. In 2O15, when I ran for presidency, I spoke about restructuring, state police etc. At the presidential debate with former President Goodluck Jonathan and others, I started my address with the position that Nigeria was not structured for development. The way we are tends to restrict the federating units from exploring and exploiting the comparative advantages that will engender rapid development, including the creation of jobs, and the capacity of the federating units to develop.
Nigeria is built on too much power to the center. Some of the items in the exclusive legislative list are not supposed to be there as responsibility of the federal government. What happened was that succeeding military administrations in Nigeria’s political history structured the country without consulting anyone. In a true federal structure of government, the center is concerned with fiscal and monetary policies, defence, immigration, certain aspects of internal security, foreign affairs, etc. the rest are left in the hands of the federating units that could be zone, states or regions.
Today in Nigeria, the center bother itself with criteria for admission into tertiary institutions, wherefore, most times there is a clash of interest. As a result, education in Nigeria is retarded, and we have been unable to match global standards. Federal government has not business with agriculture. Imagine the federal government enmeshed with the politics of fertilizer, grazing rights and sites, farmers’ credit facilities etc.

Are you surprised that the ongoing Constitutional reforms may wind up without addressing the Restructuring question?
I am not really surprised, because the military administrators, during their time, created a structure which will naturally fight and crush proposals like restructuring, referendum, resource control and self determination, in time to come. As you can see, majority of the legislators are from a certain part of the country. Before you can secure any amendment in the National Assembly, you need a two-third majority, and as long as the status quo is in their favour, any agitation will be fiercely resisted.

Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and indeed a number of political commentators have said that the matter could be revisited after adequate dialogue with currently dissenting Nigerians. What do you think is the way forward on restructuring?
One will be to revisit the 2O14 National Confab. Two, and most expediently, is for Nigerians to vote the United Peoples Party [UPP] into power at all levels, because our manifesto contain the way out for Nigerians. The Confab, which cost Nigeria over N7 billion should be revisited. The decisions at the Confab were arrived at after consensus. Unfortunately, the government that convoked that gathering lacked the spine to implement the recommendations. Ostensibly, they thought they would win the elections, so they delayed until they were unable to do anything
Unfortunately, the All Nigeria Peoples’ Congress [APC] led by President Muhammadu Buhari, does not share the vision of continuity, and so did not see anything good in the National Confab. Otherwise, the 2O14 National Confab is the way to go for Nigerians clamouring for restructuring. The federal government should return to the Confab and implement the proposals. Otherwise the issue will become a campaign issue in 2O19; and I want you Nigerians to take note of this prophesy from me.

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What do you mean by the Restructuring question becoming a campaign issue in 2O19?
Restricting is one of the items under which the APC rode to power in 2O15. From all indications, Nigerians want the country to be restructured, and they feel highly disappointed by the way it is being resisted a few vocal minority. And whereas the agitations currently going on among the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria are about the perceived inequalities, injustices in the system, resource control, etc, which keeps certain sections of the country perpetually on the receiving end, 2O19 will present a good opportunity for Nigerians to choose between candidates that represent what they desire and those that are against them. It will be as simple as that.
I foresee that election becoming a sort of referendum. It will be a Yes or No voting thing. That is my prediction. The usual rhetoric of provision of infrastructure, education, jobs creation, agriculture etc, will go backstage, and the main issue will become; ‘do you support Restructuring or not?’

Do you see the people at the grassroots understanding the arguments concerning ‘Restructuring’ enough to make it a voting-side factor?
The United Peoples Party had a non elective convention on June 29, 2O17 in Awka. The highlight was the ratification of our updated manifesto and amendments to our Constitution. The amendment includes Self Determination, Referendum, Resource Control, Restructuring, State Police, Community Policing, and Unconditional Release of Freedom Fighters. UPP believes in freedom of expression. No one should be punished because of his views on national issues. The laws are there to take care of any offender. Locking people up indefinitely is not the solution.
Our manifesto is our social contract with the people. What we need to do is to break down our mobilization and communication channel down to the electorate in the grassroots, and educate them on the positions of the United Peoples Party, and hope they will buy into them.

You speak of things in your manifesto that the federal government could be said to have taken a kind of position against.
Manifesto is an intension of what one would do if voted into power. If we win power at the federal level, we can go about it in various ways, including, generating executive bill and sending to the National Assembly, or if need be, and we can muscle enough support, go through Constitution amendment to let Nigerians get what they want.
We are also saying that Nigerians should be allowed and encouraged to read party manifestos and make their choices. We do not believe that the lawmakers who voted against restructuring are the true Nigerians.
Gradually, as a nation, we have arrived at the point in our democracy that votes now count. Certain constraints that impeded our democracy had been removed. For instance, there is no more ward and local government collation centers during elections. Right from the polling units, the results are transmitted to the central server where then authentic result will reach Nigerians. It will be at that time [2O19] that the APC administration and whoever becomes their presidential candidate will test their popularity.

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People might say that your ideologies look like those of the Biafra agitators. Does this image bother you?
They were not the decisions of one person. As I told you, the amendments came at a non elective convention of the party where our party executives from Ward to LGs all over attended. We have officers in all wards and local government areas in the country. The decision on the amendments and manifesto was taken by party National Executive Committee [NEC]. It was presented and ratified by the entire party.
The South East states are just five states from Nigeria’s 36 states and the FCT, and we have officers and stakeholders in those states. They all sat down as a party and agreed on the manifesto and amendments. In Article 31 of the Ethiopian Constitution, there is the provision for exit from the country union. Since 3O years, the law has been there but no one has taken advantage of it in Ethiopia. In Canada, the French people of Quebec have called for referendum twice but lost both opportunities to get freedom. A referendum does not always result to a yes vote, but we are saying, let it be there in the Constitution.

The UPP just emerged from crisis in Anambra state and the gubernatorial elections are at the corner. Again, you are fielding a green horn as candidate; what are you chances?
Disagreements in politics are normal. The crises in Anambra state UPP are over, and we are looking very much ready to occupy the government house in Awka. On the green horn theory, our candidate, Hon Osita Chidoka is young, experienced and very well accepted by the people of Anambra state. While he served as Corps Marshal, and as minister of aviation, he kept close touch with the people, and they have all joined hands to ask him to rescue the state from the APGA oligarchy
Speaking of being green horn, most of the past governors of Anambra state were green horns as you would have it, yet some of them won their elections and performed excellently well. Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife was fresh from civil service life when he won election as governor of the state. Same for Willie Obiano, Mbadinuju, Chris Ngige and Peter Obi who I midwife his election into office as governor.
So, the gubernatorial candidate of the UPP, Hon Osita Chidoka, is widely accepted as the candidate the youths want, and he is the man to beat in the November elections

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