As the All Progressives Congress (APC) marks its two years in power, its National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has said his party’s only regret is not recording major convictions in the anti-corruption war. Oyegun who spoke to some journalists in Abuja talked about others burning issues including the alleged frosty relations between him and President Muhammadu Buhari and the former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju BolaAhmed Tinubu”. Onyebuchi Ezigbo was there
APC is made up of different groups and you think there is no likelihood of any of these groups pulling out of the party?
There is no likelihood that it would happen, but if that happens, the damage it will do to the party will be very minimal. Which part of the country, the South-west? Who controls Ogun State, who controls Ondo State, Oyo State is on the fence, who will control Osun State, who is likely to control Ekiti State in terms of who will be the next governor? So the mainstream of the party is now well placed and the point has been proven clearly from Ondo State that in a free and fair election nobody’s word is certain.
Is it fair to add that APC has been completely democratised?
Totally! People don’t see it but there is a new party, totally new and stronger party.
Is it true that the Presidency and the party are working together to dislodge Tinubu in the South-west using the Ondo state elections as a template?
We are not working to dislodge anybody. In Ondo, we worked to establish permanently that the party is supreme. There are two different things, one is negative, by working against an individual, why? But when any part of the party wants to prove they are larger than the party then the party has to stand and fight and of course the President has always said the party is supreme. When he came back from his first medical trip I welcomed him and in all his courtesies before his statement and when he mentioned our ‘oga kpata kpata’ he meant it. The supremacy of the party is one thing he has always hammered on. I heard the question one of you asked about the relationship between me and him; yes the publicity secretary went a little bit too far in some aspects but he was correct in others. You have to work with the nature of the man you have hired as President. He is quiet and he is strict. I know what he likes and I know what he doesn’t like. He is the kind of man that doesn’t like crowd, he would prefer a one-on-one which we had, the moment he sees five people and he doesn’t know two out of them and he can’t trust them he cramps up and so you won’t get any value. So the publicity secretary was in his nature of description, totally the opposite. We have worked together from my civil service days so I know him better than a lot of people. So we get on very well. We complained about lack of funding in the party, again that is the nature of the man, he wouldn’t call the minister of petroleum to say make sure you give money to the party; he wouldn’t do it. He doesn’t want to be involved in anything that has any possibility of being shady; that is our president. We elected a symbol, we elected someone whose personality we want to use as a light house for the rest of the country. That is his major contribution to the change agenda, his integrity, strength of character are the major things but it is now left for us politicians to tap from the strong point which I have pointed out; but you know in politics there are other things that need to be done.
Some have alleged that for sometime now you have not been able to meet with him one on one. Could that be true?
When he came back from his medical trip, the first time, we saw and he has gone back now and I know he wants to be left in peace. Again that is my nature. I am not someone that gives in to every photo opportunity and rush. Once everyone knows there is going to be a group photograph with the president everyone dives but I don’t do that. I have done a lot of things with the president in the past so for me it isn’t a big deal. I don’t need all those courtesy. I was next to the president, we talked, during campaigns we were together every day, we gist, we talked, we laughed and he would point and say ‘John how can we satisfy the yearnings and screaming of this massive crowd. So I have known him from my civil service days, I have known him from military head of state days. I was one of his close aides so let them enjoy themselves and pose for photographs that isn’t the issue, the issue is that we communicate and the relationship is cordial.
There seem to be one critical thing lacking in your party presently and that is a robust reward system which members are complaining bitterly about. What do you say on that?
I think you have asked the most difficult question anybody has ever asked and I am not so sure from which angle to answer it. But first I must be very honest and frank, the reward system and appointment hasn’t been as pleasant to the party as it ought to be. Part of the problem is things haven’t been well thought out as it ought to be. We have cases which wouldn’t have happened where individuals who are currently in court with our elected officials; one case which is right now at the Supreme Court is about a governor that has been given appointments. We have cases at least one or two known current appointees that are of the PDP and we have cases where in a particular state from the same local government, I think going to the same ward, three people have been given appointments and many more have happened and the more important one is that we have a lot of cases where faces not known to the party during the most difficult part of the struggle of this party have got appointment. So it has caused a lot of disquiet within the party. I have been abused, I have been called names, I have received text messages of all nastiness, I have got petition in writing and there is a general sense in what is going on in the practice of the party all over the country. We have brought this to the attention of government and we hope and pray that what remains will be devoted to rewarding those who, actually worked for the party during the long, difficult period of the campaign. I think more than that, I should say that one has to be brutally honest sometimes in matters like this.
We are surprised to hear you say you have a cordial relationship with the president because what we heard was that while he was in London he turned down your request to see him
You are right and wrong! I was to go and he said ‘look there is no need’ because he knows the people he is dealing with. He too knows those that have to see him because they need to see him and he knows between us there isn’t that kind of pressure and necessity. I asked him, do you think I should come and he said don’t worry I would be coming back soon and to me that was good enough. I know maybe from the point of view of the public relations maybe once you go there and sit there and get photographed maybe yes, if you look at it from that point of view you have a point. What is important is that when he finally arrived he personally arranged that I was one of the very few people to come and welcome him. What more do you need?
You appear to have a major crisis on your hand regarding the 2019 presidential election with the uncertainty of Buhari contesting in 2019.
Why build bridges if there is no river to cross? Why don’t you wait until you come across a river then you build a bridge. With all due respect for what it stands for, what is critical today is that our good Lord will restore the president to good health; that is the first thing. Thinking that ‘will he be president in 2019’ is really not doing any good. His need today is good health when we get to 2019, is for him to decide if he wants to run or if he doesn’t want to run and to consult the party on his decision. If he wants to run, good and if he doesn’t want to run, the country is not bereft, the party is not bereft of capable hands. But the important thing is what will happen to him today, not 2019. But to have his health fully restored and I am sure he will give anything just to have his health restored.
There are 81 electoral promises made by your party but most of them seem to have been forgotten or abandoned. Is it that your party underrated the situation of things in the country before you took over power?
No we didn’t underrate it neither did you and anyone else unless you have this gift of prophesy you couldn’t have known what was coming. If I ask you to describe the situation in 2015, I am sure you won’t have added that the crude oil market was going to collapse. Did you foresee that? We knew we were going to take over a battered economy, we were glad that oil was still coming at 2.5 million barrels a day. We were glad that prices were still hovering around a $100 occasionally during the years of PDP, it was going between $100 – 120 a barrel and we took over a totally ravaged economy and we were prepared for that because we also thought since we didn’t have the gift of prophesy that Nigeria will continue to be blessed with oil resources, 2.5 million barrels sometimes 3 million at $80 a barrel, sometimes $100 a barrel, we were ready to get the nation moving quick and we took over, as if that wasn’t enough with a battered economy. The very next week or so crude market collapsed at a stage that the price of production of a barrel and the price we were getting it from the world market was almost the same; about $30 a barrel. You are a man; if today you get out of employment and you don’t have a job your wife has to understand that things are different, that things are hard and that we will shoulder through together. This is what happened in the country. It is always good to look at the background. If you don’t move from the background you will think that ‘oh we are so incompetent’ in fact it is the opposite praise that you should be singing. That this country didn’t collapse economically; that is the reality. I am a trained economist, I am a development economist. You should look at the reality; forget the hunger, there is hunger in the land but you should wonder why this country didn’t collapse with virtually no income, no foreign exchange; nothing! And we are still here today, that my brother, is the reality and it has nothing to do with incompetence. We had no revenue, we had no foreign exchange, we were an economy that exists to function. When President Buhari managed and painfully, I know the pain we went through to allow the price of petrol to go up. For a long time when we came if you could remember the news were still on and off but there was no other solution than to let go. You can’t continue that regime of subsidy which was one of the things that almost bankrupted this nation. We had to bring in the Treasury Single Account, had to make sure every kobo was accounted for, had to go abroad and the press started telling everyone that he lives in an aircraft from one capital to another to draw up resources to keep the nation afloat. Then came the recession and in a situation like that was inevitable, we had to spend to get out of recession; we had no savings. Honestly if you people want to do this country a favour you should tell anybody who was a main person in PDP that they ought to hang their heads in shame and you should pray that we never have a government again. The signs were there, they fought over oil blocks endlessly. Nobody ever thought that this resource is one that will finish one day. Nobody ever thought giving those 16 years of PDP rule that every day they were talking of renewable energy resources they were planning no longer to be dependent on this war ravaged areas for their own industrial fuelling. Our government for 16 years just kept importing petrol and exporting crude, sending away shiploads of crude that was not accounted for; individual appropriating the money that belonged to me and you; to the nation. So please be a little bit softer, kinder and look at the details of how we got to where we are today. I am not going to abuse PDP or anybody but this is the reality, this is the truth of how this country is where it is today and we are labouring, the President is labouring now to diversity the economy. It is a foundation that totally cracked and collapsed. Crude was no longer relevant as a propellant for growth in Nigeria, what other thing was available to diversify the country? What had our previous government put in place to propel the economy of this nation? You don’t know how close we were to collapse. So please tell your colleagues because when I read some of these things I am pained to the marrow. This country was almost destroyed and I tell you whatever people are saying, it is good that president Buhari came at the time he did; that is the reality, is not that we weren’t prepared we were very prepared.
What of the cabal?
I am more interested in the economy of the country, we are still looking for the cabals and when we find them I will let you know.
The PDP has accussed the APC government of running the economy without a strategic plan. Isn’t that correct?
We all have this boreholes and tanks and if you tank up there are two or three leaks what do you do? Do you just let the water run up or do you say please try to block those holes? I said we had an economy in a state of collapse, will you then gather economists and say gentlemen you have one month to write a blueprint of how we will save the economy? You have to do things to ensure that we don’t get deeper in the mud and when you have stabilised which is what we have now and then the blueprint comes because now we are able to look a little bit further. It is a matter of everything has its time, the economy has levelled up, the indices are getting much better whether poverty level, inflation rate, prices have stabilised. They are still high and I am not saying they are low, but they have stabilised. They are calming down, they haven’t gone anywhere near what they used to be and eventually we have gone through that stage and we are now constructing; we have stabilised the economy and now we are constructing; we are building roads, we are trying to take care of this terrible electricity situation where again let’s go back, the past government signed out all the undertakings to the DISCOs all over to people who knew nothing about electricity. We have started the construction of a new railway system which has been on the drawing board. I am not saying we originated it but what I am saying is that in the time of plenty they couldn’t start, they couldn’t pay the counterpart fund. The Chinese loan has been available for years, they were so busy sharing national patrimonies which really didn’t mean anything to me but to put our own counterpart fund in place they did not. But just blocking all the leakages in our system alone was enough to generate resources for this government; the Buhari administration to pay all the counterpart funding that was needed to approve the new railway standard gauge system. Agriculture is totally like a revolution, in two years we should be self sufficient in rice production. Just imagine if our military was going in the direction it. Was it going in the right direction when the military had become part of the sharing party? So he has not only succeed in taming Boko Haram, he also saved our military, there are so many things to be grateful to God for that we just ignore because the people are hungry. We see them and it is unfortunate, it is sad, it is bad but believe me we are building a better nation.
You demonise the PDP as being made up of people who are after the treasury but interestingly, the APC is largely made up former PDP stalwarts and some of them are being shielded by the party and the government.What is your take on this?
This is a question you people keep asking and we keep answering; there was no APC four years ago, there was no APC government. So it is only those that were in office and in power and dealt with our patrimonies as if it belonged to them. It is inevitable in any case. Those join us thinking they would get cover are being affected, some of our own original members left, governors and public functionaries are being affected, there is no protection but of course that is the issue you are raising. Where there are 10 from the past administration, they may be one or two only and not as dramatic of the APC. So it is natural that it is those that commit the crime that have to face trial. If this government wasn’t conscious of its image why would the APC go through the financial constrains that it went through? We are the party in power. A minister can just be told to take care of the party but they are not doing that, the minister who is a politician who knows how these things were done in the past is even afraid to do it because he would account for it. So you should give us some credit and as I said in an interview, forget this politically based red herring. We are not getting the degree of convictions that we should have. I think as a national chairman and a citizen, what I think the problem is at the moment, is the procedures of the judicial system; that is the problem. It is simple; we found N200 million in your bedroom, you bought houses for even unborn children, you are a government official, oga tell us how? A very simple matter! So we start but we start quoting law, this and that, the man has headache so his passport must be returned and only in London his headache can be cured and all that. So from my point of view, the only way we can fight corruption is to take a more practical and simple approach. As far as I am concerned, first you strip the man of his possessions. Make an example of him and that is the only thing that can cure corruption. That is what I said you should be talking about; why are we not getting a lot more conviction at the speed we are seeing the evidence deserves?
What will the ruling party show to Nigerians that it has achieved?
We have had two difficult years; we have had two years of blocking all the loopholes, two years of rebuilding the fractured natural resources, two years of preparing bases for a new economic blueprint, of a new economic take off for the Nigerian nation. It has started to bear fruit already but until it trickles down to the ordinary man, he will not recognise that we have taken the turn for the home stretch. So our expectation is that a lot of things we have been doing will now start manifesting, will now start bearing fruits. In agriculture, production is being encouraged at such a rate that in one or two of the critical crops we expect to be self-sufficient in the next two years. In two years we expect massive implementation, accomplishment as far as the new railway system is concerned. I think they will finish the Lagos – Ibadan end by the end of next year and most importantly, people will see them generate income, generate employment. In the field of solid mineral, a lot of work has also been done and also a lot of interest is being generated by those who want to process locally. These are some of the things that are happening now; mineral resources were being shipped abroad in large lumps and blocks and a lot of these things are going to be processed locally with backward integration into the actual mining activities. So the fruits are beginning to manifest but the critical area we still have to beat is power sector and once you can get power stable even at the low level, it is bound to increase generation and the problem today is that we can’t distribute the little that is even produced and once that is sorted out then it is going to give a feeling to the medium and small scale businesses which are the real employers of labour. So once power is available as it would be in the next few months employment becomes real. All that we are doing today, social intervention programmes – how many people can government employ? But if you give the blacksmith, the shoemakers, the welders and all these little industries power then you have created massive employment within the economy. Even those coming out of university today that we are teaching various skills will then overcome one of the major hindrance by their being able to establish themselves. So things are beginning to be better. The rate will accelerate and people will begin to see that after all we suffered, we were in pains but we can now see where we were going all along. So I think that would reshape things and that we have finally delivered on our promises but while they are crying as it is today that people seem to think that the world is over; no it is not! There is progress going on all the time but you people must help us tell them why the country is where it is.
If you would be honest enough what is your most challenging period?
It is normal for people who face challenges occasionally to say ‘what is all this, is it worth it? What am I getting out of it? But look again, from a very personal point of view, I will take it that I was born at a very wonderful period of the history of this country and I have seen the various phases of this country and I was lucky. I went to university on scholarship. I went to the place where you can virtually get anything even as a student and when you came out you had a job and a few weeks later you had a car. So it was built in me that this nation doesn’t have to be different. That this nation doesn’t have to be as bad as we have made it. I went to the civil service and I got to the top and left the civil service, went into the industry and became a national chairman of the Nigerian Trademark Owners Association, left and went into politics, my first trail became governor of Edo State and there is no pretence about this that I owe this country something; the country has been good to me and as long as I have breath I should try to give back what I got. A lot of things are wrong and as I told you I am a trained development economist and I spent most of my career at the ministry of economic development and the potential here is just tremendous and sometimes I think oil spoilt things for us because every other thing was thrown overboard because of oil. By the time I joined the civil service in the ministry of Economic Development, we were at the same level as Brazil in fact we had much greater potentials according to World Bank assessment at that time; Brazil, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea all those countries we were better advantaged at time than those countries. There are times one feels like that but you don’t give up. I have a calling, I have a duty at 77, God has given me good health, strength, energy so why do I want to go and sleep on my bed and wait to be carried out in a stretcher? I don’t have a house in Abuja, it is not as if I can’t own but I don’t want to start building and amassing wealth at 80. There are times you feel low because sometimes people are very unappreciative and not just that, so wickedly, unfair and petty and you then say to yourself ‘what is this? Why do I put up with all these idiots and all these insults and abuses’ people who when I was something you were not there… That fellow who you people are always putting on TV, he wasn’t wearing pants when I was permanent secretary, you just look and you say well that is the sacrifice.
When is the APC going to hold its mini convention?
I think it will hold, we are almost at that point now and we have to hold it. Let me be frank, the health of the president hasn’t helped, more so because there is a clear indication of the respect he has for the party; he wants to attend. He wants to be there. But perhaps he doesn’t have to be and I think at that point I will and I don’t want to give a date and say later that it has been postponed but we will have it once all the factors are in place.