By Dapo Akinrefon
Chief Odigie-Oyegun was one of Nigeria’s most accomplished civil servants having retired as a permanent secretary in the eighties. His first political advent was in the early nineties when he beat the odds to emerge governor of the newly created Edo State in January, 1992 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.
As governor he was one of those in the frontline for the actualisation of the presidential mandate of Chief Moshood Abiola after the June 12, 1993 elections. On the return of military rule, Odigie-Oyegun relocated abroad where he joined forces with other advocates of democracy under the aegis of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO.
At the advent of the Fourth Republic, Odigie-Oyegun joined with some other NADECO chieftains in the All Peoples Party, APP and ran unsuccessfully as the presidential running mate in the 2011 elections. Following the formation of the All Progressives Congress, APC in 2013, Odigie-Oyegun was in 2014 elected the first national chairman of the party and eventually led the party to success in the 2015 presidential elections.
Oyegun in this interview, insists that no single individual assisted him to emerge as the party’s national chairman.
He also gives reasons why the party is having difficulties in paying salaries of its staff and states why it is imperative for President Muhammadu Buhari to seek a second term in 2019 among other burning national issues. Excerpts:
What major challenges have you faced since assuming office as the national chairman of the party?
There are challenges everyday so it is difficult to pick on one as the most challenging but the main issue I can say is the arbitration between the different major interest groups in the party. It is an ongoing thing but in spite of that, the party is coalescing into one strong force despite the occasional outbursts of dissatisfaction of leaders and the problems that we have in the National Assembly which we are now getting on top of in order to ensure that there is civility and amicable relationship. That does not mean that everybody must agree with one another but it means that in our disagreement, we must be civil and principled.
Some members of the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) members recently protested against what they called alleged marginalization by President Buhari. How do you respond to that?
I don’t know about that because we no longer have CPC, ANPP and ACN members anymore. I wonder why anybody, for purposes of forming a pressure group will still go back and exhume names that have long since been buried. We have no such members in our midst. We only have APC members and if anybody within that family has an interest he wants to push, they have the liberty to do that but not to go back into history that is long forgotten. So, I don’t know of any CPC members in APC.
Some are alleging that you have not been fair to those who assisted you to emerge National Chairman of the party, especially, Bola Tinubu. Is this true?
Everybody assisted me to this position and I am grateful to all of them. The only thing is my personality and integrity; I don’t joke with these two things because they are the only currency that I have and I will defend them at any time. I don’t believe one particular person solely assisted me to this position, everybody assisted me and someday, the story of how I became chairman of APC will be told. You will then see that everybody did assist me to become National Chairman. This means that I am there for everybody. I don’t belong to any camp in the APC. I belong to all members of APC high and below.
A former Minister of Information and chieftain of the party, Prince Tony Momoh said though you are doing well in running the affairs of the party, the party is in dire need of funds because Governors are not funding the party. What do you think is responsible for this?
I am not quite clear what he meant by Governors donating or funding the party. What the governor or any major supporter does is to bring his friends together, solicit for funds and then move those funds to the party. A governor can donate from his own personal resources but this is the Buhari administration and we have just come out from a disastrous PDP administration where government became an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), a situation whereby government funds are diverted into politics. That will not and cannot happen under this administration and that is what is going on today. So, the party therefore has to be innovative in raising its own funds. We have concluded all the arrangements, put the machineries in motion. We now get regular contributions in the executive arm of government, meaning government or political appointees. We get from the Senate, we also get from the House of Representatives and we have concluded online arrangements to get from the generality of membership all over the country. Every member will now have to pay the sum of N100 only per month as a member. And if at the end of one year there are members who do not pay at all, then they are automatically delisted. For any member of the party to be qualified to vote or be voted for, you must have valid membership credentials, which includes paid up membership. So, the party is set and running. It has taken time to fine-tune, particularly the membership drive nationwide and we have to take the general educational level in the rural areas into consideration and of course, since it is a low level of cash but cumulatively amounting into a lot of money, we have to design a system that is as fool proof as possible. That is being rolled out in another month and then the party will be relatively better off but of course, this does not obviate the need for well-off members to also help the party when major events are coming up.
Are you now in support of the process that brought the leadership of the National Assembly into office?
Once they have emerged, there is nothing anybody can do. The president said let the National Assembly elect its people. We had our views as a party and we tried to guide as to what ought to be done which was not largely complied with.
The House of Representatives did a lot better, they did comply largely with the advice that was given by the party. It wasn’t quite so in the Senate. But since then remedial actions have been taken by the Senate. The officers there are a reality and we have to work with that reality. That is not what I want or anybody wants.
The impression many Nigerians have is that they are trying to hold the president to ransom. Do you also share this view?
Yes, I have heard that. Quite a few of people have that impression but look at it, in most cases where there had been disagreements, take for example like the EFCC chairman’s confirmation case but the most critical bills of the president have sailed through the National Assembly.
So, disagreements have to come once in a while; it is natural. If you look at the United States today, you will see the disagreement that is going on between the Senate and the president over their critical Health Bill. The Senate in fact, virtually turned it down and it is a Senate controlled by the same party that produced President Donald Trump.
So, these are checks and balances that are built by our constitution drafters into the system. What I am insisting is that even when there are disagreements, it must be contained within civil and civilised limits.
But the reports everywhere right now are that the party is in huge financial crisis; salaries are being owed and you are unable to meet other financial obligations. How true is this?
The reality is that yes, we have had difficulties on paying salaries once or twice. That is normal in the situation we are in. People are missing the point. The Buhari administration will not touch one kobo of government funds for political purposes. So, the party, like any other institution will have to raise funds. Occasionally, we don’t get all the funds that we require to meet all our commitments but things are improving on a daily basis and very soon, all these will be things of the past.
Recently, some members of your party threatened to petition the EFCC over alleged financial mismanagement. They said the party leadership cannot account for the billions of naira it made during the 2015 general elections through sale of nomination forms. They claimed that you shouldn’t be talking of inability to pay salaries two years after if the money was judiciously spent. What do you make of this?
That shows they are not real party men. The party had a mini- convention which costs a lot of money. The party contributed to the presidential election. The party also funded the presidential primaries in Lagos held at the Teslim Balogun stadium which cost a lot of money. The party organised the primaries that produced candidates for all our governorship and senatorial seats all over this nation.
All of that cost money. Not only that, we have rendered audited accounts, both to the structures of the party, that is the NEC and also to INEC. So, there is no problem about how the party’s funds are being spent. Anybody who is in doubt can come and pick up a copy of our audited accounts.
Some Nigerians have criticised you for saying you will beg President Buhari to seek re-election in the 2019 general election. Given his state of health, don’t you think it is best to advise the president to rest so as to attend to his health?
This is a free country. I have my views and I have expressed them. Why do I say so? I said so because the main gift President Buhari is giving to this country is what he represents and that is his absolute integrity. What Nigerians should aspire to be, the kind of country that we want Nigeria to be, a country where a man’s yes is his yes. A country with leadership that treats with respect public resources, a nation that is disciplined; a nation that is not wallowing in indecent corruption that we have today that is making one ashamed, that is what Buhari represents. He is like a General leading a charge against the major ills of this country.
The job is so enormous that one term cannot do it. The job is so enormous that two terms cannot do it. Even after President Buhari’s tenure, we still need people like him to continue in office. So, my prayer is that God gives him robust good health and once he enjoys that, of course as an individual, I will work that he comes back for another term. But those things are in the hands of God because we are not God and we cannot play God.
I am only saying that because of the enormity of the task that we are facing. When we talk of change, a lot of people talk about physical change. The main one is the change in the mentality and ethics of Nigerians, especially the attitude of Nigerians to right and wrong. So, the task is enormous and we need continuity in principled leadership which President Buhari represents.
You once opposed the emergence of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Reps, Yakubu Dogara in June 2015. Have you softened your stance now?
I never opposed their emergence.
What is your perspective on the whistle blowing policy of the federal government?
It is very effective. It is obviously working and I commend the federal government for coming up with that policy.
There has been controversy surrounding N13 billion discovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in a luxury apartment at Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos. Are you not worried over the way the issue is being handled?
That is not part of my job. The EFCC is handling that and I have no doubt that very soon, they will come to the bottom of the issue at the end of the day.
The post Why Buhari should go for second term — Oyegun, APC chairman appeared first on Vanguard News.