National chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, speaks with newsmen in Benin City, Edo State, on the chances of his party’s governorship candidate, Mr Godwin Obaseki, in the September 10 governorship election in the state and the crisis in Ondo APC, among other national issues. Excerpts:
The Edo election is less than two weeks. How optimistic is your party?
Our campaign has been very good. There was a period of drama, but all that is behind us and the arguments are very clear, irrespective of whatever individual issues there must be and there have been. The issue is simple. We have had the APC in government for seven years plus. Before that, we had the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in government in Edo for 10 years and the little I have been around, you can hardly see anybody who can point to any single substantial development in the 10 years of PDP compared to the almost eight years of APC under Adams Oshiomhole and that in fact decides the issue. When you ask people: what is your preference? Do you want the good times to continue or do you want to revert to the bad old days? The issue becomes very clear and then you get a resounding “Let the good days continue.” And that is where the debate rests and the result has been very good. Yes, there was a bit of time when there were all sorts of discordant tunes as a result of group and personal interests, but all that have been sorted out now. I think we are roaring down to a very substantial victory. No doubt at all.
But people see the PDP candidate as a politician who can create upset and give your candidate a run for his money?
Again, we are back to the same odious comparison. For most of the 10 years, Ize-Iyamu was at the heart of the mis-governance of the state. For a period of eight out of the 10 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, solid development in Edo. 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 the state? The answer is clearly no. Meanwhile, you have anObaseki who has been at the heart of the management of the economy of thee state throughout this hard time and everybody attests to that. The result is that out of the 36 states in the country, over 22 are unable to pay salaries and Edo is not one of them. Edo state is one of the states that are still continuing with development projects. The state has remained one of the fundamental ones that have tremendous development in the field of infrastructure and he [Obaseki] was at the head. So, what kind of man do we need to lead the state through this hard time? The person of course is Obaseki who was very successful in the private sector and then came to Edo to help out and has distinguished himself by making the state one of the very few that are keeping their obligation and at the same time continuing to work in developing the economy. So, we are lucky that we have Obaseki available for us in the state and my appeal has been clear. There is no choice at all apart from Obaseki. Ize-Iyamu, everybody will tell you, was even as influential as Lucky Igbinedion in the past administration. They ran the state economy down and practically crippled the entire asset of the state. So, is that the man you want for Edo people? No way. We are aware they want to come back through the back door. Our people are happy today because even the poor in Edo have been given a sense of belonging. The rich, yes they will cry because they don’t want to pay taxes and they are using that to deceive the masses who have nothing to do with taxation. Every body has seen what the tax money has done in the state and we want that to continue and Obaseki remains the answer, not Ize-Iyamu or any other person from PDP.
But there is this fear among APC members that the national economic hardship may affect your party.
Again, if you stretch it down, it is the same argument. One thing that pleases me today is that Nigerians and the ordinary voter are more perceptive than we think they are. Yes, the APC, at the national level, has 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 problems. Otherwise, as a people, we would have been going through a struggle for existence and a great challenge would have been confronting the nation. These were issues and challenges that were inflicted on the country by years of mis-governance at the national level. Unfortunately, as if that was not enough, we also took over at a time when the crude market collapsed from a $100 to sometimes $140 to a 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 in pains; it does not stop the fact that they are hungry. But they know these are not the creations of the APC and that what the APC under President Muhammadu 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 one crop or one mineral or one even one source of revenue. That we have to go through this pain is unfortunate. It is like saying a woman giving birth. There are pains, but the joy is going to come after delivery. We are going through these hard times now so to speak in the maternity, but the joy will come. We depended solely on oil and for so many years of PDP’s government. 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 was cumulative neglect in governance over the years when we had excess crude account and there wasn’t a single investment to develop new sources, whether in agriculture, solid minerals and even in petro-chemicals, so that we can supply ourselves the full diversity of petroleum products.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 the nation a very tremendous apology. The determination of the APC is to ensure that this will never again happen and that from now on, a solid base must be created for the economy so that when in a few years’ time, we will be talking about growth that is solid and well-based and that will never again result in the kind of situation we have today. The light is there at the end of the tunnel, but we have to pass through the tunnel. The people must know that this is not an APC problem, but we have come to solve the problem.
There are also fears that thuggery may prevail during the election and fears also about the level of INEC’s preparation.
There will not be thugs. There will not be anything like that. Don’t forget that before our 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 the same thing from INEC now that INEC has been removed from the shackles of influence. It is because this time we now have a government that will not tell INEC declare the result for us and let the other person do whatever he wants to do and go to court. 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 and I believe that is why we are seeing inconclusive elections. Buhari does not interfere in the workings of the commission at all.
The Ondo APC has been boiling over the choice of candidate in the coming governorship election. What is the party doing to resolve the crisis?
The party is not really boiling. I have 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. How you make that endorsement is that you tell the people and give a particular aspirant the 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 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.
What do you make of the reported request for emergency powers by the president?
I can assure you that President Buhari will not make such a request. 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 person, 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.
What are your happiest and saddest moments?
Basically, the job of a national chairman is to reconcile all 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. 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 in the pages of newspapers, while the talkative ones are talking. We are busy getting to the knitty-gritty and settling the issues not in the fashion of the old PDP that will say public issues are private family affairs. Where there are blames to be given, we do.
Can you compare life as a political activist and now as national chairman?
Well finally we are building what the pro-democracy fought leaders for, that is a country 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 them, correct such so 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.