Oyegun to Stand Down from APC National Chairmanship Race

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Abimbola Akosile

Following the advice of a very senior aide to President Muhammadu Buhari that it would be impolitic to oppose the choice of the president in the impending contest for the national chairmanship of All Progressives Congress (APC), the incumbent National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, may have decided to step down.

APC is scheduled to elect new national officers at its national convention, expected to hold in June. The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party had earlier fixed the convention for May 14, but the date was shifted indefinitely on Friday even as the ward, local government and state congresses were rescheduled for May 5, 12 and 19, respectively. They had been scheduled for May 2, 5 and 9, respectively.

A web of controversy had engulfed Odigie-Oyegun’s political future since the president torpedoed an earlier attempt to elongate his tenure by one year, effective from its June 13 terminal date. Although the president had met the national chairman and his promoters halfway by securing a waiver that allows him and his colleagues in the National Working Committee (NWC) to re-contest their offices without stepping down, as required by the party’s constitution, Odigie-Oyegun’s sponsors, also believed to be close to Buhari, persist in their effort to have him retain his seat, possibly without a contest.

But as THISDAY reported exclusively last Sunday, the president had decided to take firm grip of the party, including determining the outcome of the impending national convention. Part of his task, say THISDAY sources, is to take hold of the NWC by ensuring that his trusted candidates win its positions, particularly, the national chairman.

Buhari began the execution of that task last Tuesday, when he met with APC governors and told them in plain words that the immediate past governor of Edo State, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, was his choice for the party’s national chairmanship position, soliciting their support for him. The Odigie-Oyegun camp’s response to this has been muted, even though, one of those believed to be supporting him, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, has said that Buhari’s preference is not necessarily binding on the party.

Although Odigie-Oyegun has not formally declared his intention to run, his body language suggests he is interested in spending four more years on his seat, more so when he is being spurred by first term governors of the party who are interested in seeking a second term of office.

Asked about his reaction to the purported adoption of Oshiomhole as the consensus candidate of the South-south branch of the party for the top position, Odigie-Oyegun had described it as childish, saying the chairman of the party could only emerge at the national convention.

But sensing that the national chairman might have allowed himself to be convinced to take the president on, a very senior aide of the president was said to have visited Odigie-Oyegun at his Asokoro residence last week to admonish him not to stand in front of a moving train. According to a reliable THISDAY source, the presidential aide told Odigie-Oyegun that opposing the president, who under the 1999 Constitution, as altered, is next to God, was tantamount to committing political suicide. The aide warned him not to be deceived by the grandstanding of some governors purporting to be behind him, recalling to him how the same governors were not able to sustain their opposition to the president’s objection to the elongation of Odigie-Oyegun’s tenure. The presidential aide, reportedly, advised him to approach the president for a soft-landing, as it would be difficult for him to pick the chairmanship at the national convention in spite of the president’s opposition.

Odigie-Oyegun, according to the source, told the top presidential aide that he was not so politically naïve that he did not understand the overall implication of standing up to a Nigerian president and that he would act appropriately.