Listen to voices of eminent Nigerians, free Nnamdi Kanu, Chekwas Okorie tells Tinubu

Founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie, has said that Nigeria is in a precarious situation, insisting that the insecurity in the country might bring the country to its knees. 

In an interview with VINCENT KALU of The Saturday Sun, Okorie, described the 1999 constitution as ‘obnoxious’, adding that it is such a lopsided document that would never give Nigerians a democratic practice that is fair to all.

Twenty-five years of unbroken democracy, how has Nigeria fared?

It is heart-warming that we have managed to sustain democratic practice for 25 years. But, looking at the quality of that democracy, it is not much to celebrate because the democratic content of the government we have had for 25 years is very low. Starting with the recruitment of our leaders from the local government up to the president, the electoral body has short-changed the electorate, creating the impression that it is the Nigeria electorate that chose the type of leaders they have had. Like it is normally said that people deserve the leaders they have chosen, but Nigeria’s case is different, we have leaders that are imposed through manipulated and fraudulent election process.        

We also have a constitution that ushered in that democracy, a constitution that was imposed. It is a constitution that started with a lie in its opening page, saying: “We people of Nigeria having given ourselves this constitution…” So, we are operating a constitution that started with a very big lie and it is the content of that constitution that has been generally regarded as obnoxious and it is such a lopsided document that there is nowhere it is going to give you a democratic practice that is fair to all; a democratic practice that is consistent with the old and now new anthem we are singing- a country where nobody would be oppressed.

It is that aspect that I think Nigerians and our lawmakers and the leaders, even though most of them are beneficiaries of what I have just talked about, if they really have the interest of this country at heart, everybody should put hand on deck to have a truly people’s constitution and electoral process that would allow the people’s voice and franchise to be fully expressed during elections. And it is only then that we can say that our democratic process has come full circle and we begin to fully enjoy the benefit of a democratic government.

How can you describe the state of the Nigerian nation?

The situation in this country is very precarious; we are sitting on a tinderbox that with a very little ignition can result to a big conflagration that can consume Nigeria. They say, a hungry man is an angry man and an angry man is an irrational and a violent man. So, we have not created a country where majority of Nigerians have accepted their situation such that if you are not able to feed well or do something for yourself, you don’t turn around and blame it on the government of the day, you blame it on yourself for being lazy because they would always be lazy people. But very hard working people have been denied the opportunity to benefit from their talents and hard work.

The injustice going on has not given anybody the room to beat his chest and say, he is a Nigerian. There is nothing to be proud of as a Nigerian, but we would like to be proud Nigerians, but that situation has not arisen based on the type of leadership we have. Not just this one we have now, but the quality of leadership we have had right from the time the military began its incursion into our national life, and up till the time it gave us this constitution that has never allowed us to grow. Nigeria ought to be the food basket of the entire African continent and even the world, but there is hunger everywhere. The kind of money that we know is being looted and embezzled by just a few is mindboggling.

Insecurity may be the thing that will eventually bring Nigeria down to its base. People are resorting to self-help in all circumstances. Look at what is happening in Rivers State. A group of people whose tenure has expired threatened they won’t leave office and the central government didn’t come out early enough – a government whose duty is to ensure that there is peace and order because they have control of all the security agencies, but didn’t come out in time to say that you cannot do that. The state Assembly doesn’t have to power to make law extending the tenure of the elected local government chairmen, who was elected under the constitution of Nigeria.  It got to the point where because of the complacency or even what may look as complicity, the Ijaw youths decided that they would take the law into their hands and chase the people away. It is after that the police began to make statement that they have dispatched men to go and take control of the 23 local governments. If that clash happens, what would happen to the economy of Nigeria? That clash definitely will lead to the disruption of our oil production and the already bad economy would get worse.

We have not reached a situation where our leaders are proactive and our security agencies can have intelligence in good time and do pre-emptive work. All they do is to react. We pray every day that we see the next day. Nigeria is in a very precarious situation.

While the National Assembly is on another constitutional amendment journey, some want the 2014 Confab report implemented. There are those clamouring for restructuring. What is your position?

Restructuring is the umbrella word for all of these things you mentioned whether we are doing constitutional amendment by the NASS, which falls within their purview, it is just to find a way to change the obnoxious constitution we inherited.  The whole essence of the 2014 National Conference was to restructure and that is why I said, restructuring is the umbrella word for all of the initiatives. We are trying to make changes in the way we relate with one another and the way we are governed. However, the easiest and less expensive way to go, especially now that if we are serious about cutting cost is that, we are already have the 2014 confab report. The report has 660 recommendations made by consensus. That type of situation has not happened in Nigeria where a conference of that magnitude would make recommendations by consensus up to 660. But, unfortunately former President Jonathan didn’t seize the moment and former President Buhari swore that he would never touch it even with a long spoon and he never did.

Now, we have President Tinubu who has the credential or profile of a democrat and who has also fought for true federalism, one would have expected him to show more than causal interest in that 2014 confab recommendations. It cost Nigeria at that time about N7 billion to fund that conference. The value of that N7 billion at that time with the value of Naira today, you are looking at probably between N21 and N30 billion naira. That is what it cost taxpayers to have that document that has been allowed to gather dust.

The president should set up a small committee of eggheads who are not people in government but people who have distinguished themselves as true patriots to take a look at the recommendation because time has passed; 2014 and now is far, and a few things may have changed. So they would look at the recommendations and perhaps reduce it. That conference didn’t end up with recommendations, they also produced a draft constitution incorporating most of the things they recommended. So that draft constitution would now be looked at again and presented to the president to send it as executive bill to the NASS or the president would send executive bill for a referendum to be passed so that we can lawfully conduct a referendum.

The terrorism charges of Miyetti Allah leader and that of Sowore were withdrawn and they were set free, but Nnamdi Kanu remains in detention. How can his issue be resolved?

Nnamdi Kanu matter is the same thing as the Igbo dilemma in Nigeria. Kanu is an Igbo son and they have seen him as the symbol of the Igbo man’s struggle right now and that is what he has earned. Like Ojukwu was the symbol of the struggle until now. Kanu is the living symbol of the Igbo man’s struggle in Nigeria.

So, when they deal with him, they believe that they are dealing with one man, whose pain will also be the pain of the entire Igbo; otherwise Bodejo and Sowore are similar cases. The Miyetti Allah people have killed so many people. If we have food insecurity in Nigeria today, it is no thanks to the Miyetti Allah and their herders. These are people they treat with kid gloves and in the case of Nnamdi Kanu, whose only crime is that he has taken the agitation for the marginalisation and injustice meted to his people to the level of saying,  ‘if you don’t want us let us leave this country.’ So, he became the leading agitator for exit and that is why he is still there.

President Tinubu will do well for himself and the country if he hearkens to the voices of reason by many eminent Nigerians, who are not even Igbo and have drawn his attention to the issue of Kanu and the alienation of Igbo people in national matters. If anything happens to him when he is still under their custody, Nigeria may not survive it because that would be taking Ndigbo for granted too far and it would be difficult to imagine that Igbo would not respond. That response would lead to the total disintegration of Nigeria. This is avoidable.

I say to Tinubu, you have a singular opportunity as president; you have the presidential dispensation as it is enshrined in our constitution to direct your Attorney General to enter a Nolle Prosequi in court and get Kanu out. All these excuses about court ruling doesn’t impress anybody because we know the number of times that presidents in the past had used similar powers to get some leaders who were being tried out of trouble. Even himself, President Tinubu, has been a beneficiary of Nolle Prosequi, the records are there. I believe he is in a position to resolve it and it is not difficult; it is just the will that is not there. That would save Nigeria an impending calamity and cataclysm if anything happens to Kanu. I have been saying it right from the very first day Kanu was arrested in Lagos, that a political solution would resolve the issue. I have never changed from that position. It is a political solution that can resolve the matter; it is not a matter for the courts.

The young man was not set out to disintegrate Nigeria. When APGA was founded, I approved his appointment as the chairman of the party in the United Kingdom in 2002 and that was when I identified his passion and commitments to the struggle. It was ten years after that, he saw that the political solution was not actually working; he decided to take the issue of exiting Nigeria to a higher level. He wasn’t the person that started the issue of the exit. Chief Ralph Uwazurike initiated it with his Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra  (MASSOB), but Kanu took it to a higher level and got traction both home and abroad. However, the government thought that the best way to solve it was to go and kidnap him in Kenya, bring him here and put him in custody. Instead, the situation has worsened and it can get irredeemable should anything happen to him while in government custody. My prayer is that President Tinubu should do what is right and set him free. I’m not ordering him, but appealing to him to see the urgency of the matter, but at the same time he should know that his refusal to do something can lead to something beyond his control.

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