Immediate past national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, (APC) Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, speaks on the chances of his party and how efforts are being made to restore peace, endorsement of the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate by South-East and South-West leaders, among other issues. Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, brings the excerpts:
SINCE you left office as national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), it has been difficult to get you to speak on national issues. Is your stance deliberate?
I have decided to deliberately and totally stay out of controversy because we are in a system that is so dynamic and so active that whatever you say is capable of either being misinterpreted or not being particularly helpful. I have decided to keep away from the politics of who is right or who is wrong.
As an elder statesman, I want to make an appeal, first in the general polity for a lot more decorum and for our leaders to keep away from distractions and none issues. The social media is full of such terrible distractions, insults and humongous percentage of clear patent falsehood. This seems to have become the main issues whereas they are mere distractions. Such issues as whether people have certificate or not, whether they went to school or not, and quite a lot of other manufactured stories about prominent individuals. It looks as if the pastime is the search for scandal rather than an attempt to build up issues, debate alternative approaches. We all know the problem of the country, who has answers to these problems and what are the answers. These are the issues that the coming two and a half months should try to address.
As far as my own party is concerned, I have only one appeal: there should be peace and that every effort should be made to establish peace, such that we will approach the elections with a united front, united voice and as a united party, rallying around a united programme of action. There is no question now that there are lots of very serious disputations within the party, but I am very glad that peace teams have been sent out. I was happy to run into one of them while I was on personal engagement in the South-East and it is my prayer that they achieve the goals for which they were set up and for which they have been sent out.
However, it is necessary to emphasise that for peace to happen, all sides must be ready and willing to give and to take. There must be willingness for compromise that will bring the party back together again in the kind of fighting mood that we need to be in to confront the elections in February next year, which are bound to be challenges, given the state of the nation.
It is also the appropriate time to say that my attachment to President Muhammadu Buhari started way back when he was a military Head of State. I think outside Murtala Muhammed, he was the first person to appreciate the need for a disciplined society, the need for an orderly society, the need for basic ethics both in our interactions between one another, both in our business undertakings and dealings with the international communities. He understands the need for basic morality, the need for us as a people to start knowing very strongly, the difference between right and wrong. That is the challenge we still face as a people.
What is your reaction to the story trending online that you have left the APC?
I had intended to totally ignore that flown kite. I have almost succeeded in doing that but this will be an opportunity to emphasise that. We need to build a party that can be comparable in levels, strength and acceptability to the Nigerian public not for them to keep saying that they don’t like them yet they don’t have choice. Having been an originator to that process, it will be extremely difficult to see myself elsewhere.
Yes, the party has issues and problems but you don’t run away from the party because it is passing through a phase or difficulty. I cannot run away. I will rather give what I have to patch the cracks. We will maintain the direction and goals we have set for ourselves, otherwise the fluidity of the movement does not make sense and does not show commitment.
Yes, there are difficulties but they are meant to be addressed, sorted out so that the party does not lose its soul and the message that brought it into being. Those are the critical issues. The real problem comes if a party stands in danger of losing its bearing in those respects. I am APC and I don’t see myself somewhere else. I cannot just quite envisage it.
What is your take on the opinion of the Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, that the two frontline presidential candidates are undesirable to Nigerians based on their antecedents and achievements?
Well, I have the highest degree of respect for the Cardinal because he is a man of very acute intellect and wisdom. He happens to be part of Nigeria’s democracy, which allows us to have opinion on issues. What he has done was in exercise of his legitimate right as a Nigerian.
The candidates involved are Nigerians and whether we like it or not, the candidates have been selected by other Nigerians to be their standard-bearers. That is democracy and until we can bring angels to run and go through the mill, offer and place themselves and work, I don’t think you can do better than that. We pray that Nigeria will one day be populated all by angels and we will probably have the opportunity to have it.
The APC primaries that have since polarised it, would you have adopted other modes of primary elections if you were still in charge and what is your take on the position of some governors that they will only support Buhari’s re-election, but support their candidates in other parties in state election?
I can say one thing for sure. I am not happy as to the state of relative instability in the party. I don’t think there is a single person who is today happy either. However, the good thing is that there are peace missions that are found now all over the country.
At this point in time, it will be inappropriate for me to start saying that things went bad because that happened or because that was not how it should happen. As an elder statesman, I should not start passing my own personal judgement when there is a team already out there trying to broker peace. I will not be helping the situation. What we require is peace and I pray that God gives the team the wisdom required to work out the settlement to bring the party into strong political fighting shape.
Will the endorsement of the presidential candidate of the PDP by the South-East and South-West elders affect the outcome of the 2019 elections?
I don’t think it will affect the outcome of the election. There is one mistake many of our leaders continue to make and that is underestimating the voting public. They underestimate the farmers, market women, labourers. Yet they know what is happening in the society and do not need to depend on anybody in particular except the dye -in-the-wool party people like us.
I can tell you that if any church today says that the entire congregation should vote for party X, they will accept and go home but will still vote for whosoever they have decided to vote for. That is the situation we are in this country. That was why I emphasised issue-based politics. The average Nigerian isn’t a fool not to know that no one person can solve all his problems. But he wants to be sure that you are going to make a good trial. He wants to have hope, critical that whoever he wants to vote for is likely to start the process of improvement to his personal circumstances so that he will have hope for the future, if not for himself then for his children. That is the motivation for some people.
We are going to see more adoptions and I expect to see some presidential candidates withdrawing and supporting one candidate or the other. The trading will soon start and we have more of such declarations. It is part of our politics and some of our leaders do it for their own personal reasons, but at great cost to themselves because they are underestimating the voting public.
What is your advice to the youth, security agents ahead of 2019 elections?
I have read a lot about fears of violence for the elections, but I think they are highly exaggerated. We are passing through the most difficult times in the process towards 2019. These are the critical periods and I just hope that the campaigns will not also provide platform for groups to clash. Once this did not happen, we are in for a violence-free exercise.
My advice is that the youth must know what is in their interest. Most of the parties we have today are youths-oriented and it shows the kind of difficulty we have as a people and a nation. I don’t think any three to 10 of them have been able to come together to endorse one of them as consensus candidate. That they are not able to do it raises issues of motive of why they are in politics.
Are they there to rescue themselves or impact on the direction of events? I would have been the happiest person if 20 parties with youthful candidates can unite to adopt a particular candidate. It is then that I will know that the youth are truly very serious about their own fate and about their ambition to control the political trends in the country.
They said that we should retire; yes we are ready to retire, but are the youth ready to take over? Why should we have 91 political parties mainly led by youthful Nigerians? It shows that they too did not appreciate the predicament and the work that they need to do to convince the older ones that they are ready for leadership.
The youth are the ones to help themselves and they cannot do that by being part of the violent groups to get a little change that can last them few months only to return to square one. I feel so strongly the way they are presented ahead of the 2019 general election.
What are your fears for 2019 general election?
Once we can go through the campaigns, the actual voting process will be more peaceful than what most Nigerians think. I am not saying that there will not be one or two odd happenings, but there will not be nothing much.
The other challenge will probably be when the result will be announced. But again, I don’t think there is much to fear because the electoral process has continued to progress. It is now sufficiently technology driven to remove all the issue of ballot box snatching, or involving fake voters or this issue of vote buying. How many voters can one buy to make the difference during the presidential election? I don’t think it will work and, believe me, if I know where they are buying votes, I will go and collect my own because it is stupidity to convince people with financial inducement. If you give them money, they will collect and vote according to their conscience. In a nutshell, I don’t have much fear.
Yes, we are moving ahead in the democratic process. However, the only problem we still have till this moment is the level of abuses, insults, seriousness in the campaign process to almost total neglect of issues.
We have neglected the real issues of how to make this country of nearly 200 million people a great nation and what we need to do to move Nigeria from point A to point B. We need people of that kind of vision to convince us that they are going to make that vision a reality. This is what we need to do, not all these insults been hauled all over the places.
I want to appeal to the media, especially the print, to help negate the social media that have gone totally ballistic with the kind of stories they carry these days. You can imagine people outside this country reading our social media. Are they really alright with the kind of things they now consider as breaking news in this country? It leaves a lot to be desired and I just hope it will not spread to the print and electronic media.
This also brings me to the recent unfortunate incident that happened in Borno State, where in a surprise attack, many of our brilliant and gallant military personnel were killed in cold blood. The newsmen are more knowledgeable about this and scholars will advise us to beware of the last kick from a dying horse.
There is no question at all that the Boko Haram group are in deep trouble. They have been diminished to the point that they are really not effective, but that does not mean they cannot, once in a while, have this great display which they start feeding the propaganda machine to make our military men look like they were falling asleep on their job. It is not like that. I have been very sad and unhappy reading some things and propaganda that trailed the unfortunate event in that camp in Borno State. We must not do anything to fall for the propaganda of these destructive Boko Haram insurgents.
Our men in uniform are doing a valiant job and once in a while the enemy manages to inflict some damage. It is very unfortunate, but it should not happen. What we don’t hear always is the amount of good work that our security agents and the non-uniformed ones are doing everyday to save us. The incidents they are preventing that they cannot go to the press to trumpet are humongous. My appeal is that we must stand with our military. We must not fall for enemy’s propaganda.
What is that particular thing you are missing so much outside the office?
I have to think very deeply to tell you what I am missing most since I left office. It was a very tough job; it was a very challenging job. Yes, I had my vision for the elections, how to approach it and get very resounding victory, but that is a matter for another day.
What is important today is that I am at peace. What is important today is that, having worked hard all my life from the very minute I got into the public service till this point, I am now beginning to appreciate the beauty of being at peace with myself, the beauty of being able to decide that I am not going anywhere today, the beauty of choosing which reception to attend and the one not to attend. I am no longer under pressure to attend functions based on my position as chairman of this or that. It is a beautiful freedom. So, all told, I am glad that I made the decision that I made.