Out in cold, UPP opts for alliances

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Chief Chekwas Okorie

The United Progressives Party (UPP) appears to be at crossroads. The party, which was formed in 2013 by founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie, has not discovered its rhythm, more than four years after it made a bold entry into the country’s political space.

Okorie, it would be recalled, formed APGA, following the political battles of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the southeast.With the formation, former Biafra warlord, late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was recruited into the party and crowned its father. Ikemba Nnewi became its first presidential candidate in 2003.In 2003, APGA won its first political office – Anambra State’s gubernatorial seat– in the person of Mr. Peter Obi. But Obi did not mount the seat till 2006, following a tribunal ruling that ousted the then PDP governor, Dr. Chris Ngige.

Through the machinations of fellow stakeholders within APGA,Okorie found himself tossed out of the party for reasons that remain foggy till date. Okorie fought vehemently to return to the scheme of affairs, but the resources to wage battle against the new structure in the party proved insurmountable. So, he lost out in the end. It was this development that gave birth to the new movement – the UPP.

At inception, Okorie pride UPP as the one that has come to fill the political void created by absence of a party with an Igbo bias. He stated that the crises in APGA and the long litigations had denied it opportunity to play expected prominent role, especially in galvanising Igbo political interests to enable the people play national politics, hence, the emergence of UPP as a true platform for Ndigbo. He accentuated the claim during a political summit organised by the Southeast Development Association (SEDA) in Enugu in 2013, where he attributed lack of viable political platform as part of the conspiracy that denied Igbo opportunity to ascend the country’s presidency, explaining that UPP had come to rewrite the ugly history and provide veritable platform to enable Igbo actualise their political aspirations.

Those who read Okorie’s lips on the political misadventure of APGA, following the party’s leadership crises and the coming on board of UPP readily agreed that anyhow it is looked at, the existence of the two political platforms would open up more spaces for Ndigbo to play in national politics.But this does not seem to be the case. Indeed, since that observation was made, till now, several other political parties have been registered, with Igbos at the headship without any of them playing in national politics.

Checks by The Guardian revealed that of the 91 registered political parties in the country, at least 25 of them have Igbos at their headship.Despite this number, the void has persisted. It has become increasingly difficult for politicians outside Igbo land, or even in Igbo land to aspire to the highest political office in the land with political parties that have Igbo appeal.

The case of APGA, which fizzled out after two attempts with Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, has become the lot of UPP. Ojukwu was coaxed on two occasions to vie for presidency on the platform of APGA, apparently to enable the party have a national outlook. And since then, APGA has resorted to adopting presidential candidates of other political parties.

In 14 years, APGA has localised itself in Anambra State, playing active roles in governorship, national, state Assemblies, as well as local government elections. In fact, it has never won election outside Anambra State. And despite the euphoria that accompanied its registration five years ago, the Okorie-led UPP is not singing a different tune. It has consciously joined the bandwagon of political parties with Igbo appeal shying away from playing national politics, but just content with being a registered political party.

UPP, which appeared on the national scene during 2015 general elections, when its founding chairman, Okorie contested presidential election of that year on its platform will in 2019, not present a presidential candidate.

This aside, other elections in which the party had participated since coming on board had ended on an abysmal note.Pundits, who had hoped the party would use the 2019 general elections to make some impact and deepen its root in the political scene, were disappointed, when its National Executive Committee (NEC) rose from a meeting to announce their unwillingness to field a presidential candidate in the election for reasons beyond the party.

Instead, the UPP, according to their resolution, would prefer to support a presidential candidate of northern extraction from any of the leading political parties, while it hoped to contest presidential election in 2023.

Chief Okorie told The Guardian that the decision was in the party’s best interest, as there appeared to be an unwritten rotational convention existing between the north and south by leading political parties on power acquisition at the centre. He said: “That unwritten convention on rotation of presidency started in 1999. Olusegun Obasanjo, who came from the south, handed over the Yar’Adua. From Yar’Adua, it went to Jonathan and from there we now have Muhammadu Buhari. The point is that there seems to be an understanding among leading political parties on how power should rotate, and any party attempting to change this must have resources and should be ready to go into alliances with other political parties to muster enough strength.”

Okorie explained that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supported the unwritten convention, shortly after the 2015 general elections, which it lost to the All Progressives Congress (APC), when it set up the Ike Ekweremadu Committee that zoned its 2019 presidential ticket to the north, arguing that, producing a candidate from other parts of the country, outside the north would mean swimming against the tide.

Therefore, rather than contest in the presidency, he said: “The Party shall use the period between now and 2023 general elections to consolidate its nationwide political structures and concentrate energy and resources in active participation in other elective contests, namely, Governorship, Senatorial, House of Representatives, and State Assembly.

“UPP shall continue to explore possibility of constructive engagement with a political party or parties through alliance for enhanced advantage in democratic contests.Besides, he stated that the support for any presidential candidate must come with some conditions that include someone that believes in progressive ideology and is ready to hearken to the yearnings of Nigerians on restructuring, devolution of power and establishment of state police, among others.

Pundits say by the party’s decision to opt out of presidential election, it has become clear that UPP was more interested in becoming a regional political platform, adding that the euphoria that heralded its emergence was fast fading away.

A political analyst, Ikechukwu Nnanna said: “The UPP appears to be mired in the politics of the individual behind the party. That is a major problem with many registered political parties in the country. To be able to effectively play in national politics and probably serve Ndigbo’s political needs, I think there is need for the party to go into alliance with other parties. The problem here is that UPP may not be prepared to lose its identity and that being the case; it is still a difficult and long road to breaking into the national space.“Again, Ndigbo will always identify with any political platform that has large followings, because Igbo votes alone will never give victory to any candidate in any presidential election.”

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