National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun, in this interview, reviews some of the efforts being made by the party to reposition Nigeria. He also describes as nonsensical the insinuation that the running mate to the presidential candidate of the APC, Gen.Muhammadu Buhari, Yemi Osinbajo, is a stooge of the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Explaining that the party decided to assemble men of integrity to face the PDP in the February elections so as to tell Nigerians that change has come, Oyegun warns that the electorate will serve as vigilante against alleged plot to rig the elections by the PDP.
He speaks on other national issues including the return of some loyalists of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu in Edo State to the APC.
The APC held a successful convention. How did you make that possible?
There was really no magic wand, that was the APC putting on show before the Nigerian public what the APC is and what we are all about. All what transpired were, with all sincerity, honest of purpose, deploying the right personnel to do the job the way it ought to be done. We appointed a team that was up to the task, very honest and transparent. The team was headed by Dr Fayemi, a former governor of Ekiti State. There was this noise about consensus candidate but I told them that consensus is good if it comes from those directly involved.
I made it clear to them that I was not going to be party to twisting any body out of the race. What all the aspirants wanted was a level- playing field and transparency that they too could see. And we gave them that and that proved that Nigerians can be gracious losers. Nigerians can accept defeat when they see that the process was not skewed against them; that is the APC, that is what we are offering the Nigerian people.
People expected the APC to pick one of the South South governors as running mate to Buhari, but you went for someone who is considered relatively unknown. Why?
That is the APC for you, expect the unexpected. We had qualified people. As a matter of fact, the candidate had a list of ten from all over the country and the attributes that we were looking at were quite clear, given the nature of the aspirant that he has become to the nation a symbol of rectitude. We were also looking for some body of equal rectitude, totally none controversial, a dye in the wood professional, a very organized person.
It was a difficult choice because it took us a few days, it was a very difficult choice because every one of them in the field of selection was highly qualified. At the end, we thought this man best balanced the ticket and today we are presenting to the nation, the kind of persons that we think Nigerians can become; people who have succeeded through being transparent, hard working and dedicated. Everything we did we want to let the people know what to expect when they give us the mandate in February.
But many people see Osinbajo as a stooge of Asiwaju Tinubu?
It is only the people in the PDP that see it that way because they don’t know what is called integrity. I don’t know if anybody can be anybody’s stooge particularly a professional like that. And not just a professional he is also high in the hierarchy of the Christian world. He may get on with Tinubu, I get on very well with Tinubu, he is also close with Tinubu because he worked with him as a Commissioner years ago but since then he has devoted his time to his professional duties. So it does not matter if he is close to Tinubu or not. He is a highly qualified professional, he has made himself a success in that profession; so he is not looking for sustenance, people like that can never be stooges of any body.
INEC recently expressed fears over re-run in the 2015 polls. In case if it happens, what is your view?
INEC never fails to surprise us. Four years ago, we all knew there was going to be another election in four years which is this year, but you can see they have not proved to be ready even with four years of planning. I think unfortunately there is a lot of infiltration into INEC at the lower level particularly the ICT department and the voter registration department, those fields have obviously become the playing field of the PDP.
So one pities (INEC boss) Jega really because he is now dealing with a machine over which he does not exercise total control as those two departments have become agents by and large of the PDP. So I am not surprised that they are not ready, with the voters registration, they are not ready with the PVCs; I am not sure they are ready with card reader. So if there is going to be a re-run and with only seven days, to do that after the main election, at least it is good the INEC is confessing that they are also unlikely to be ready for a re-run.
What all that tells us is that we need to take a new look INEC; there is now no question about it, that has become inevitable but, of course, that cannot take place between now and the elections. But it is good they raised the alarm so we must begin to think now of what to do should that happen. We don’t expect that to happen because from our own investigation around the country shows we are going to have an outright victory on February 14.
A presidential aide likened Jonathan to Jesus. Do you see him that way?
I don’t want to be involved with this Jesus Christ debate because it is one of the most blasphemous thing that anybody can say. If anybody is given a responsibility, six years down the line and has not already proven and he is still hoping that, in future, he may turn out to be a saviour, six years he has not done any thing to show that he has started on that road. I think six years is enough for anybody to prove himself. Nigerians are fed up with the level of corruption, Nigerians are fed up with insecurity, so fed up with a litany of unfulfilled promises.
This is not a case now of some body failing an exam and he is being asked to repeat; when you fail so woefully in our days, you get thrown out, you will go and learn a trade or find something else to do. We cannot continue like this, the country is in pieces, our economy is in shambles. People troop to Abuja, states that have not paid salaries for one year like Kogi, Benue, there is no school open in those states due to non- payment of workers, yet you now went there to donate N50 million which you could have used to pay your teachers salaries.
It was such an obscene show that clearly indicated that the PDP no longer has any respect for the people of this country and no longer cares for the people. And I think when February 14 comes the people will also show that they too have had enough of the PDP administration in clear terms. Jonathan is desperate; we know but that won’t save his party, they are gone.
PDP’s N21billion presidential campaign fund
The N21billion does not bother us, we are even happy they raised N21billion because they will be so preoccupied sharing the money and, by the time they finish sharing and quarrelling over it, the elections will be over. You see the power of incumbency and the ability to rig elections go with
relative popularity of the incumbent party. You rig where support is very high and I don’t think the country is in that mood now. But, of course, we are going to factor that into our campaigns and our preparations.
We are not taking that lightly; it is a fact, it is a reality. We are also aware that our greatest defence against incumbency and against any attempt to rig will be the people of this country who want change. They will be the vigilante that we have, they will check any attempt to rig or use security agencies to rig. We are prepared for all those eventualities.
One will hope the PDP doesn’t rig. Two I hope they realize that there is a great movement for change and they recognize it and will allow the peoples votes to count. The international community has been sensitized, you can only rig when the people largely are on your side. I expect that they won’t be foolish enough to attempt the kind of crude and blatant rigging that can up turn the results that we expect and up turn the wishes of the people. I cannot predict, we are not in control of security forces, we are not in control of the police, we pray for peace, we want peace, we desire peace in the interest of the long suffering people of this country. But they will need to do something totally crude that any blind man can see for them to succeed in February, that I think is virtually impossible.
Jonathan’s visit to IBB
I don’t think it is an advantage to Jonathan. If a visitor comes to your house, you have to be nice to the person. I will leave it at that particularly when the cameras are rolling. We have confidence in the force for change in this country and we are very happy that even those at the top echelon of our society have seen the need for change. But that does not mean they won’t be good hosts, they will be good hosts.
Don’t you have the fear that Buhari’s war against corruption may pit him against the elite?
The only people I can think of who will fear the Buhari presidency are those who do not want change, those who want to continue with business as usual, those who want to continue to profit from the level of corruption in the society. We will have no apologies for people like that. But it is clear that from the Buhari perspective, the future of the people of this country is too important for us to spend valuable time trying to undo the past. The first moment of a Buhari presidency, the outlook is on the future.
The message will be clear, whatever you engage in before that is detrimental to the people of this country, please stop it, change has come. It is time for change and anybody who decides that he does not want to be part of change and want business as usual, that is his choice. And we are going to go into a situation post-May 2015 where the law will normally take its course, there is not going to be any looking back. Anybody who believes that the future of this country is greater than his personal proclivities will have nothing to fear.
There will be a line drawn on the sand, one part is the past, the other side is the future. If you are part of the future, part of change, part of changing society from all these ills that have brought us to our knees, you are our friend, you have nothing at all to fear. We don’t have time to go digging into the past, the future of our people is the challenge that we have, not the past.
APC will win South-East
We are working very hard in the South East. Fortunately, we have a very very hard working and performing governor in Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, who has become the standard in that area for what good governance should be. Secondly, the South-East case is a bit peculiar, they have always been part of the federal system, that is there history whatever excuses people are giving. But we are beginning to point out to them that for that kind of unending loyalty you lose respect, you being taken for granted, you are not getting any thing from the Federal Government. May be few of your leaders are but you the people are not.
Take the Onitsha to Enugu Road, the major connecting road in the whole of the South-East is almost impassable, take the Port Harcourt axis too. The only motorable road there is from Onitsha to Owerri, so what are you people getting? The Niger bridge has been launched two to three times. They have been awarded many times, I don’t know if the first load of sand has gotten there yet to start building the foundation. So what are you people getting for this loyalty? So we are bringing this to their attention, we are beginning to get positive vibes and, of course, the crisis in the PDP in that area we are capitalizing on immensely. So we expect the results to be better now than before. The South-East is not benefiting from this blind unyielding loyalty.
We observed that those APC members in Edo who defected to the PDP with Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu are beginning to come back to the party. What is your view?
We are glad that they are coming back. Remember the Biblical injunction that a man will abandon 99 sheep that are safe and welcome the one that is lost. And, of course, the story of the prodigal son who went and blew everything he had, he came back and was forgiven. So we want to also assure those who have been loyal and faithful, they have been with us, we will not forget them. Those who are coming back, they have shown regrets we welcome them back to the fold. We hope they have learnt their lessons. And for those who have not yet come back out of shame, we have to tell them that they are welcome if they make up their minds.