Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), has been in the hot seat since APC emerged as the ruling party in Nigeria. Seeing the former Permanent Secretary, last week, at his residence in GRA, Benin-City, you will behold a troubled man. He bared his mind on the leadership crisis in the National Assembly. According to him, those accusing the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration of being slow are unfair. He also spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:
People are complaining that this APC government is slow. What is happening?
No, I don’t think the government is slow. Like I always say, we are not talking of 16 years, we are talking of over 50 years. Since independence, this country has been ruled by the same tendencies. So, it is good to go with deliberate speed, deliberate steps, make as few mistakes as you can in the appointments that will come. So, that process is nearing the end now. As you can see, appointments are being rolled out, the activities people thought were slow are taking place, even the implementation of some aspects of the programmes of the party that we promised are already underway. All that is left now is the list of the ministerial appointees and it will come out anytime from now and we will be up and running. So, there is the need for us to be cautious, given the fact that this is our first experience in governance. There is need to be careful given a totally different nature of our manifesto and the social welfare promises that were made to the people to be sure that those the President wants to bring in to execute these policies, which are dramatically different from anything we have experienced before, are also dramatically different; they understand what is required to be done, are passionate about what is required to be done and have ideas about what is required to be done. Once prime appointments are settled, things will move. The issue of insecurity is being addressed, the war against corruption has started in various parastatals; the government is already very well on steam.
Are we going to see technocrats or politicians in the cabinet?
It will be a mixture of technocrats and politicians. There are politicians who are technocrats, we seem to forget that, but it will be a fair mix.
The leadership of the party is yet to come to the reality of the emergence of Senator Saraki and Hon. Dogara. How long will it take to come to the reality and stay with the fact?
The reality is there. I don’t think there is any leader who doesn’t realize that Hon. Dogara and Senate President Saraki are a reality and facts of life. But there is also no leader in the party that doesn’t recognize that this went against the basic position of the party and that has created problems. The issues border on discipline, supremacy of the party and the rest of it. We are hammering on indiscipline and, at the same time, creating an environment that everybody within the party will find comfortable to work with. I hope, by the end of this last week, we would have arrived at some workable arrangements to put these issues behind us. But it has attracted this attention because, so to speak, it was the only subject in town. Now, there are other issues that are beginning to engage the media and we will get a little bit less attention to what is going on in the National Assembly.
Lack of appointments for the South-East and South-South
Why does the public think that if you appoint three people it must be balanced when, in fact you are just at the elementary stage of appointments? They should hold their breath for a little time to come. The ministerial list has not come, the chairmanship of boards has not come, there are so many first rate appointments that are still coming down the line, the ones that have happened are more or less specialized, they are more or less appointments that have some degree of severity governance around them. If you talk about the security agencies, you must pay due attention to the requirement of this time, the reality of the security situation in the country. So it is unfair to make three appointments, everybody expects to see one from A, one from B, one from C; no, it is the total package. It is when the total package is presented that you will now start looking at who is in what ministry, the status of the ministry and the caliber of the ministry. It is then you can really now make a fair assessment. It is still too early and the appointments we have made now are too specialized for us to jump to that kind of conclusion.
Talk about Nigeria going into dictatorship/strangulating PDP
Well, I will need to see one example. We don’t have time for them (PDP) yet, all that we are doing today is to put ourselves on the ground, put the government in place so that we can start responding to the yearnings of the Nigerian people. PDP hasn’t put itself together yet, so they are no source of concern to anybody. I don’t know what they have to cite to substantiate that issue and I can’t think of any.
Do you have the fear that the leadership crisis in the National Assembly might lead to defection of your members to the PDP and emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu?
Let’s not start building theories and scenarios that don’t exist and are not likely to exist. The PDP still hasn’t found its feet, voice and relevance. That was an aberration which sooner than later will be taken care of. You all know the way it happened; we had an unfortunate incident on the day of the inauguration of the Assembly and the situation could have been worse. There was a mistake that was made and we paid for it, but that too will be taken care of in due course. The party made a mistake for calling a parallel meeting on the same day as the inauguration of the Assembly. That is why that happened. It is sad, it is unfortunate and we will take care of it in due course.
Have Saraki and Dogora apologized to the party for disobedience?
As you can see from the letter released to the media, we are obviously still in communication and we are still in discussion.
Are you comfortable with their leadership?
How does the issue of comfort come in when all issues have not been resolved? All issues have not been resolved and when all issues are resolved, yes, then we speak of comfort.
Don’t you think Nigerians will be disappointed if you are talking about zoning instead of merit?
I will return your question to you: please name one section of this country that doesn’t have men of merit. Name one section of this country that is so backward that it can’t provide a first class material for virtually any position that you can think of. This is a gifted country. It is left for the people who have the duty to make a choice to pick the best available to them. If they decide to go and pick second rate material, then so be it. But there is no part of this country that doesn’t have a first class material for virtually any job available.
Politicians from the North are aligning ahead of 2019
That is part of the speculation that I have heard being thrown around and, if that is true, it makes me very, very sad indeed because these people are playing god. We still have almost four years to go and people are already posturing for 2019; is something between them and their Creator. We have a pact with the Nigerian people in the next four years, and what concerns us today is to work to justify their confidence; 2019 will take care of itself. If we don’t start working now to make us a desirable party in 2019, then all the playing god, all the posturing would come to nothing; so we are concentrating as a party and I can say Mr. President is concentrating on the promises we have made to the people and we are not going to be diverted by any individual who may be playing god by posturing for 2019.
But it seems some northern leaders are against the visibility of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who, against all odds, worked doggedly for the success of APC?
I don’t know about what situation you are trying to paint. The APC is an agglomeration of three parties and fractions of others and, as a result, it is quite clear that there are interest groups within the party as it is, and they just want to be relevant to actualize their goals. But, again, that will continue, that will not stop in any party, that is always there. And, of course, it is accentuated in a party where independent parties came together to sink their individuality and became one party. So those interests are there, there are pressures from outside, there are power groups within, interest groups within the APC, but I am not aware Tinubu is trying to take over the way you are putting it. And the job of the Chairman is to arbitrate between these interest groups within the party and I think we are managing to do that, but, of course, it is not always that everybody will be happy and satisfied and, again, it is the job of the Chairman to make sure everybody has the sense of belonging in the party. People have contributed immensely to the success of the party and Tinubu is one of those people who contributed immensely, there is no question about that; we have to accept that and give all due credit to him, but so did a lot of other people contribute to the success that is the APC today. And all everybody wants is a sense of relevance within the system and that we are determined to provide for all these groups that have created the success that is APC today.
How has it been managing the crisis?
It has been very challenging, very interesting. You will learn a lot about human nature and what people are ready to do to get to where they want to be and it is a challenging experience.
Have you ever thought of resigning?
No, it has never occurred to me because, as the saying goes, when the going gets tough, then the tough must get going.
Were you comfortable when they said you accepted bribe?
How can anybody be comfortable with that? But I let my antecedents speak for me. In politics, if you want to cut somebody down, that is the popular thing to throw at me. But you are talking of collecting bribe from someone for whom you can do nothing. I think the allegation is that I took bribe from the Senate President, what could I do for him? Nothing. What did I do for him? Nothing. When we conducted our shadow poll, it wasn’t his group that won; so why would he come and give me bribe? It just didn’t make sense and those that know my antecedents know me well enough. The only time you get worried or you get uncomfortable is when you truly have skeletons in your cupboard. I happen to be in a situation where any cupboard you want, you can open it, there are no skeletons there. My style of life, everybody knows from time, all those who have worked with me or have associated with me in any way knows me; so it doesn’t bring me discomfort. When I got emotional, if I was able to tell the President, ‘ look, I went into exile. In doing four years in exile, I lost everything, my economic base. I came back. Which party did I join? AD. I didn’t rush into the winning party. I went into one of the smallest of the small parties. I think that is enough. If I can give up all that and now; the twilight years of my life I start taking peanuts for any purpose, then something must be very, very wrong with the 75 years of my existence. It doesn’t make me uncomfortable; it only makes me laugh because when you do a thing like that, you must provide some iota of credible evidence. But there is no such thing.
Edo election in 2016. Are you zoning the ticket to any particular senatorial district?
I am the National Chairman, it is a question you must ask the State Chairman and the governor. I have no role in that; whatever I have has to be inside me, but I can’t carry the elephant and, at the same time, carry the antelope of Edo State. I think I have enough challenges as you very well know.