National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, in this interview with journalists in Benin City, expressed optimism that APC would win next month’s gubernatorial election in Edo State, premising his position on the delivery of democracy dividends by the APC led government in the state, the pedigree of the party’s candidate and the poor record of performance of PDP when the party held sway in the state. He also spoke on several other issues. Adibe Emenyonu, who was there, brings excerpts of the interview
On fears that the national economic downturn under APC could sway voters against the party
Again if you stretch it down, it is the same argument. One thing that pleases me today is that the ordinary voter is more perceptive than we think he is. Yes, the APC at the national level have been in office for one year plus but everybody knows that the problems we have today could not have been created in one day. We have come to fix the nation, to fix the problems otherwise as a people, as a nation, we would have been going through a struggle for existence and a great challenge would have been confronting this nation.
These were issues and challenges that were inflicted on this country by years of or a decade and a half of mis-governance at the national level. Unfortunately, as if that was not enough, we also took over at a time when the crude oil market collapsed from a $100, or sometimes $140 per barrel, to a time when sometimes we were managing to make $40. At some stage it was less than $30 per barrel, that is the reality and the people recognise this.
It does not stop the fact that they are aching, it does not stop the fact that they are in pains, that they are hungry, it does not stop the fact that they are hungry but they know these are not the creation of the APC and that what the APC under Buhari is set to do is to ensure that the fundamental problem with the country – a mono-culture economy – is solved once and for all. That this nation does not ever have to depend on either one crop, one mineral or one source of major sustenance, that we have to go through these pains is unfortunate, it’s like a woman giving birth, there are pains, but the joy is going to come after delivery. We are going through these hard times now but the joy will come.
You members of the media have to be of help to the nation, you need to make the nation understand that the problem we are going through today were accumulated over the years when we had excess crude account yet there wasn’t a single investment to develop new sources, whether in agriculture, whether in solid minerals whether even in petro-chemicals so that we can supply ourselves the full diversity of petroleum products, whether it is AGO, whether it is aviation fuel whether it is LPO and the rest of it or whether it is the chemical that emanates from the oil industry. Yet we had excess crude account running into multiples of billions which we kept on sharing until nothing was left by the PDP administration. They owe this nation a very tremendous apology.
Between Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu
Again we are back to the same odious comparison. For most of the ten years Ize-Iyamu was at the heart of the mis-government of this state, for a total period of eight out of the ten years of non performance, at a time also when funds from the excess crude account were being disbursed, there wasn’t a single, and I stand to be challenged, one single item of solid development in Edo state in those eight years. He was one of the most powerful people in that administration. Now that times are hard, is that the kind of person anybody would want to bring back to manage the affairs of this state? The answer is clearly no. Meanwhile you have a Godwin Obaseki who has been at the heart of the management of the economy of this state throughout this hard times and everybody attests to that.
He was at the heart of the economic management of the state, the result is that out of the 36 states of the country, over 22 are unable to pay salaries and Edo state is not one of them. Out of the 36 states of this nation, Edo state is one of those that are still continuing with development projects, Edo state has remained one of the fundamental ones that have tremendous development in the field of infrastructure and he was at the head. So what kind of man do we need to lead the state through this hard times? The person, of course, is Obaseki who was very successful in the private sector and then came to Edo state to help out and have distinguished himself by making Edo state one of the very few states that is keeping its obligation and at the same time continue to work in developing the economy. So it is good for us that we have an Obaseki available for us in the state and my appeal has been clear, there is no choice at all apart from Obaseki.
Fear of thuggery and INEC’s preparation
There will not be thugs, there will not be anything like that, don’t forget that when we wanted to do the primaries, people were talking about thugs, about many other things people were fearful but these days, the political services are no longer under political control so they will make sure everything is under control. We are going to have a complete free, fair, violence free election.
I expect same thing from INEC now that INEC has been removed from the shackles of influence. It’s because this time we now have a government that will not tell INEC declare the result for us let the other person do whatever he wants to do and go to court. Our administration is not that type. INEC do your job, follow the law, follow due process, decide according what the rules say. A Buhari administration will not say declare for APC, no, there is no such interference anymore. So INEC calls it as it is.
On tension in Ondo APC
The party is not really boiling, I had to call them to Abuja just to tell them the difference between endorsement and imposition. Basically, anybody can endorse just as it is anywhere; and how do you make that endorsement? You tell the people, you give the person support to move on, that is endorsement and people do it but imposition is if the party itself now decides that it is a particular candidate that must be. No, the party will not do that, it will provide a level playing field for every one of them because all the aspirants are equally respected members of the family. So we had to get that difference clarified and cleared out so that you don’t think because an important member of the family has declared support for one of them it becomes the position of the party, no, that is not the case and they understood the situation. So we are prepared to go ahead with a transparent and free primary in Ondo state.
Issues that have shaped his life at 77
Basically, I do not do anything that I will not want to see in your headlines the next day. I sleep very well, I sleep very soundly. If they say there is a group of policemen outside, I say tell them to come in because it doesn’t ever occur to me that they may be after me because there is actually nothing for them to be after. I don’t fear about thugs because I don’t go into deals and I don’t take shortcuts that could create mortal enemies for myself. If somebody calls me his enemy, it is either because he doesn’t like my face or he doesn’t have integrity so I have no worries and that in truth is the only way to live. Obey your conscience, know the difference between right and wrong and try to keep yourself on the right track, you will live long, you will live healthy. I can drive myself anywhere without a single fear that somebody will be after me.
On life as activist and politician
Well, finally we are building what the pro-democracy fought, for that is that the nation will be under the control of the left to the centre party where the welfare of the people is the prime concern of government, they have no other business except to manage our common patrimony to utmost benefit of the common people. I bought into the struggle only because it suddenly dawned on me that the military was the major problem of this country, it doesn’t mean that the politicians are perfect, it doesn’t mean that the system is perfect, it does mean that politicians must now be allowed to make mistakes and then learn from it, correct it such that we continue to correct our democracy in stages and that is what brought me to the pro-democracy group and that is what is still influencing my attitude and actions.
On call for dialogue to end Niger Delta crisis
The two must go together, I think that is fairly clear because the government has a duty to make it clear that they are ready to defend the nation but at the same time the government also has a duty to listen to whatever grievances people have, if they are sincerely and genuinely ready to also talk. But it cannot say because there is hope of talk therefore it will just sit down and watch things rot; government must defend its people at the same time be ready for peace.
On calls for restructuring
We are looking at that, we haven’t publicly taken a party position but there will be a party position, we are studying the options right now and once government decides on that we will make it public.
Happiest and saddest moments
Basically the job of a national chairman is to reconcile all the interests because there are so many interests in every party and you have to make sure that at all times, everybody must have a bit of the action and ensure that no one person becomes so dominant and will now feel he or she owns the party and of course at every stage, you have to give policy direction so that everybody can subscribe to it. So that is a continuing challenge. The way we operate we don’t settle our issues on the pages of newspapers. While the talkative ones are talking, we are busy getting to the nitty-gritty and settling the issues not in the fashion of the old PDP that will say public issues are private family affairs, no, not in that fashion. Where there are blames to be given we do.
Emergency powers for the president
No, not this president. The reality is that in spite of his military background, he is more democratic than a lot of us who never got near the military. He is a strictly due process persons, strictly rule of law person. Like when you asked why INEC is declaring elections inconclusive, he will not take his phone and call INEC to declare for APC and let them go to court. He will ask you what does the law say, do it according to the prescription of the constitution or whatever relevant law there is. So I have no fear about that at all. If anything needs a quick fix and he needs the powers to do it, that is how he will do it. Look at the cases of corruption, a lot of us have been asking for a quick fix process to fight the battle against the corrupt elements but he insists on the rule of law.