In the build up to the last Anambra State governorship election, many Nigerian commentators were of the view that there was no much difference in terms ideology between the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the United Progressive Party (UPP).
There were also others who felt that rather than have fractions of parties in the South East, which in the end may not attract any political benefit to the region, efforts must be geared towards having a single but strong political platform that would help the Igbo’s political bargain in Nigeria, following APGA’s inability to perform the role effectively due largely to crisis bedeviling it over the years.
Apparently, in response to the calls, by last year, there was reconciliation between APGA’s former rivals, Senator Victor Umeh and Chief Chekwas Okorie.
And perhaps as a follow up, Daily Sun can reveal exclusively that APGA and UPP are currently negotiating a merger, which will see them form a formidable platform ahead of the next general election.
But when contacted for reaction, the National Chairman of APGA, Victor Oye, said there are no plans for a merger between both parties.
Okorie however confirmed the development to Daily Sun. He said “I am already initiating a move in which wide consultations have been made to get UPP and APGA to come back together as one. I am working on a merger of both parties and we have made a lot of progress. I just have a few more consultations to make and then we will roll out. Many have speculated that Governor Willie Obiano, the only APGA governor has plans to join the APC but I am the one telling you for a fact that it is not true. Trust me when I say that the speculation is false. This merger between APGA and UPP will alter the political equation and I can confirm to you that it will not take this entire month before everything will be out in the open. “
Okorie and Umeh’s chequered past
In 2001, Okorie founded the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA) which was then an association but later transformed into the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and became registered as a political party on June 22, 2002. Okorie at the time was the National Chairman of the party, while Umeh was the National Treasurer. Both men later fell out over who continues as party chairman and the prolonged tussle tore the party into two factions. The leadership tussle dragged on for years in court until July 2013 when the Appeal Court sitting in Enugu unanimously gave a judgment declaring Umeh the authentic chairman of the party.
Having lost out, Okorie moved with his supporters and formed the United Progressive Party (UPP) and it was registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in October 2012.
Several years after the bitter fight between both men, Nzuko Umunna Ndigbo, a group of professionals from the South East, last year, mandated the chairman, South East caucus in the National Assembly, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe to broker peace between both men. The three hour meeting was attended by Prof. Chidi Osuagwu; Ozioma Izuora; Rev Anthony Ezeoke; Dr Efere Ifendu and Chief Patrick Chidolue, at Abaribe’s Apo Quarters residence, Abuja.
The meeting was successful as both men agreed to bury the hatchet. “The hatchet is already buried. They agreed that everything that happened before now is now in the past and buried and we are moving forward with a new spirit of a greater Igbo nation,” a source at the meeting volunteered.
Senator Umeh, who was the first to speak since after the peace move said “Myself and my brother Chief Chekwas Okorie have come a long way before we went apart. It’s a very great reunion for both of us. We don’t quarrel outside; we greet ourselves, but we retained our differences. But today, we have buried the hatchet. We don’t have any difference anymore. Chekwas is my brother and I cherish him a great deal. We even exchanged gifts after the reconciliation.”
Okorie in his response said that the resolution was welcomed by him and he looked forward to a time the APGA and his UPP would work together for a restructured Nigeria and united South East.
“I look forward to the time that UPP and APGA will come together because they have the same DNA, same parentage, same ideology, same vision and if they ever come together, the politics of Nigeria will benefit from a united, vibrant Igbo front because whether we restructure or not, a very constructive engagement from various power points of Nigeria will bring about a better Nigeria, not the dominance of one group against the other. Once we are divided, we open ourselves to dominance,” Okorie said.
Okorie’s desire to see a merger between APGA and UPP may come to fruition as he recently revealed to Daily Sun that negotiations are ongoing on a merger between both parties. He said that the merger would give the South East the leverage to win the 2023 presidency and that is why serious consultations are ongoing.
“The South East should not expect to be given power on a platter of gold in 2023. I have always maintained that nobody gives any person power on the basis of the milk of human kindness of the giver; in other words, political power is contested for and won or lost. For the Igbo presidency to work, it means that we have to win it in a contest. So, what you see that is playing out is that in 2023, the North will be looking at the South, to see how they play it. Buhari never waited for the presidency to be zoned to either the North or to himself before he contested four times and eventually won. Most northerners whom I know form the political class are very favourably disposed to the South East producing the next president based on so many factors including the fact that since independence, no person from this zone has been elected president despite playing a key role in getting independence for Nigeria through Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe .
“But the truth remains that the South East needs to get its act together. If they are waiting for the presidency to be micro zoned to the Igbo people, I do not see such possibility. As for the North posturing to retain power, one can say that it is within their legitimate right to do so, but it is not morally right. They will not make it because even President Buhari who has more following in the North did not succeed in his presidential bid the first three times that he contested. It was when he got support from the South West that he was able to win. It means that the North alone cannot produce a president without support from the South,” he said.
The battle for 2023
The outcomes of the 2019 general election and the ongoing National Assembly leadership tussle have already thrown up questions as to which zone will win the 2023 presidency. Though some might say it is a little premature to start conjectures on which zone will win the presidency, such permutations are not uncommon in democracies the world over.
For instance, shortly after Donald Trump of the United States won the presidential election in 2017, there were reports from international media that his campaign was already strategising for his re-election in 2020. It therefore did not come as a surprise that there are ongoing discussions on which geo-political zone will eventually win the 2023 presidency.
However, opinions are divided. Some prominent Nigerians like the former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah, believes that there may be no country in 2023 for elections to hold in the first place, unless the country is restructured.
Organisations like Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum and other prominent groups also share this school of thought. As far they are concerned, no one should be talking about 2023 presidency unless there is restructuring.
Attah recently told Daily Sun that despite the lukewarm response by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to the issue of restructuring, if sufficient pressure is applied by proponents of federalism, there will be hope that the process may be kick started.
Other groups like the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) do not share the same passion for restructuring. They believe that what the country needs is good leadership and all will be well. As it stands, there is no consensus from all sections of the country on the best approach to tackle the many severe issues bedeviling the nation.
Despite the fact that the South West had the presidency from 1999 to 2007 through former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, prior to the 2019 election stated emphatically that the APC will zone the 2023 presidency to the zone. The South South through former President Goodluck Jonathan, had the presidency from 2011 to 2015, while by 2023, the North West would have held the position for over 10 years (the late Umaru Yar’Adua held the position for three years). Of all the zones, the South East and North East are yet to have a shot at the presidency.
But is the South West presidency in 2023 a done deal? Ndukwe Ikoh, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from Abia State does not think so. Though he says it is too premature to pontificate on what will happen in the next four years, he believes that 2023 is an open contest. He says APC South West leaders cannot lay claim to the ticket in 2023 because the zone performed below expectations at the recently concluded presidential election.
He further said “Buhari got the required 25 percent of the total votes cast in most South East states. That is a huge improvement from what he had in all his previous four elections from the South East. In 2015, there was no APC Senator from the South East but now we have two, which, to me is a big breakthrough.
“You cannot compare the South West and the South East because unlike the Yoruba, the Igbo didn’t have any stake or incentive to vote APC. A zone that produced the Vice President is not expected to produce the same number of votes with the South East. There was no single incentive or promise officially made by APC to the South East that when it wins, they would be compensated. The South East had no incumbent Vice President or super minister with powerful portfolio like the South West has Yemi Osinbajo and Babatunde Fashola. So there was no incentive for anyone to now say they should have produced the same number of votes with other zones.
“There has been political consistency in the South East that is trustworthy but in the South West, PDP won Oyo State governorship and also won the presidential election in Ondo State. In Osun State, Buhari won by a slim margin and Lagos was seriously struggling to deliver victory for Buhari. If you compare how the South West voted for APC in 2015 to 2019, would you say they progressed or retrogressed? To me, the South West retrogressed but APC made more progress in the South East this year than it did in 2015,” the APC chieftain said.