The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Chief John Oyegun, in this interview with ALEXANDER OKERE, speaks on issues concerning his election, the Ekiti election, the crisis in the Edo State House of Assembly and the prospect of the APC in the 2015 presidential election
What are you, as the APC national chairman, doing to pacify those who were aggrieved as a result of the national convention?
On those who felt aggrieved, rightly or wrongly; it does not matter whether they were right or wrong, my job is to make peace. It is not just at my level. There were several levels during the convention and I have given equal attention to all. There was a little bit of bad blood on the position of secretary and over other positions and I have reached out to every one of the significantly aggrieved people. Some have responded. Some have not responded, but there is no giving up. I have realised that in a party that has no prospects, you beg people to volunteer for office; you virtually plead with them to accept offices; but because the APC has very bright prospects, it has become virtually the government-in-waiting, given the mood of the nation and the universal cry for change.
The APC is the party whose time has come. Because of that, the contestation of office becomes a little bit sharper than it would have been with a party without a prospect. Therefore, people naturally, like I said, rightly or wrongly, would feel a sense of loss at not being preferred for the various positions in the party. We had reached out to all of them. Most had responded positively. We will continue to reach out to those that are still nursing grievances. That, as far as it is concerned is a healthy thing because if the party was not a going concern, people would just say, ‘Oh, they do not want me to be X. That is their business; I wanted to do them a favour’. But it is not like that. This is a movement that is going to end up in Aso Rock in February of next year. We are doing everything to talk to them and get them back happily into the fold.
What has been the response of Chief Tom Ikimi to your reconciliation efforts?
Well, it is still an ongoing process. It is unfortunate that when you feel hurt, you threaten your party. That alone creates suspicion about you in the party that you still belong to. Let me say that it was a mistake for him to have threatened to leave the party. We value him. We have respect for him. I have tremendous respect for him; I used to go to him and have a good wine. I hope this had not separated us. It cannot. Politics cannot separate us. I pray that when he calms down, we will resume our very warm relationship not just with me personally but much more with the party.
What is your take on the Ekiti election as the national chairman of the APC?
On the Ekiti election, the first point is, because we are a party of change, a party that wants to show Nigerians that there is a different way of doing things; that politics does not have to be bitter in spite of all our reservations, the governor was advised to concede for a lot of reasons. One is that we did not think, given the heavy militarisation, that it was worthwhile raising tension which may lead to the spilling of innocent blood. I was there in Ekiti. I had to leave virtually in the dead of night because of the intelligence report that we received, driving all the way from Ado Ekiti to Lagos. Those that came by air could not go back by air because the airport was closed. There was this state of tension which needed just a little spark to set it off. And we said, ‘This is not our style of politics. Governor, do the honourable thing.’ We had a lot of questions about that election. We are going ahead with something even more detailed and a forensic examination of what happened. We know all was not well on the face of it. It was a very clever thing. The actual processes before election day were heavily faulted, of course, with the unconstitutional militarisation. But on the day of the election, the façade was presented that made everybody think that everything went normally. But we know that that was not the case. We took the part of honour and conceded and you can see that there was immediate peace thereafter. That is because we are a party of change and we hope Nigerians have taken note of what we did in Ekiti. We hope it does not get repeated because a lot of what happened was totally unconstitutional; you do not lock down a whole state for 48 hours. You are allowed to restrict movement for 24 hour before the election but not for 48 hours. You do not lock down a state, arrest the leaders of the governing party there; lock them down completely but allow the leaders of the opposition party as at that time, who had no business at all being in Ekiti. Minister of Defence, Minister of Police Affairs and Chris Uba were all there operating in those 48 hours. These are the facts, which the press must help to tell them (the FG and PDP) should not repeat themselves with the Osun election.
What is the APC doing in the meantime?
We are taking various actions in the interim just to prevent that. We are not going to court over the election itself. But we are going to court to uphold the fundamental rights of citizens. Whether you are a governor, party leader or an ordinary citizen, you have that right of free movement in this nation. That cannot be abridged by anybody except there is a good cause to do so. There is no such law in this nation of locking down a state for 48 hours. Bringing the military so forcefully into the political arena is also not accepted by any law or practice in this nation. With all these, we will take the appropriate legal action so that our legal authorities will tell us what the legal boundaries are for governmental action. Finally, let me say that it was a blow for us. But we have gone over that now. It is alright for the Federal Government to bring all the army, all the police to a one-state election because the PDP is in power at the federal level. To start with, that is one of the best arguments I have seen recently for state police. Secondly, we need the army and the police in Borno and Yobe. We would have been glad if these people were deployed there to get back our girls. But the PDP is desperate and they think that making a point with Ekiti will set a bandwagon effect for others. When the time comes in February, the whole nation will be voting at the same time, let them take all the soldiers out of Bornu to police every single state and see if there will be a Nigeria left at the end of the day. Ekiti was a very regrettable loss but the D-Day is still coming. We are very confident that when it comes, the people of this country will decide for change.
How will you manage the interest of some northern leaders like General Muhammadu Buhari(retd) and Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso to fly the presidential flag for your party?
I do not know if there is a management problem. I am praying very desperately that there should be more aspirants because that is what builds a party. Each of them will have a support base. Each of them will be able to entice a lot of party members and non-party members interested in the party. Each of them will get people to look with a magnifying glass at all the people offering to be our president. I will just sit down and smile, hoping they come and pay our fees; that way we can make quite some money for the party. Also, it becomes the duty of the party members represented by the delegates to decide which one, in their opinion is most likely to help us win the election and provide a good leadership for the nation. Mine is to be a very impartial referee to provide a level-playing ground for all the contesting interests. There is nothing to manage. The more, the merrier; I know a lot more who are interested in being president on the platform of the APC and I have given them my word that their candidacy for the nomination will be most welcome.
What is the true position of the APC on the issue of a Muslim-Muslim ticket?
I do not know where people get the thing about a Muslim-Muslim ticket, Christian-Christian ticket, pagan-pagan ticket or whatever they want to call it. I am the national chairman of this party. What I can guarantee Nigerians is that we are going to have a totally above-board primary for the rank and file of the party to decide who will be their candidate. That is the way it is going to be. Of course the party members, whose job it is to select their candidates, will do whatever they need to do on the basis of the need to win an election. Whatever the party decides, it is not me or any individual; it is the totality of the members of the party properly acting through their delegates who will select a candidate for the election. As far as John Oyegun is concerned, anybody is qualified to vie for the presidential ticket. That is the law of the party. Thus, whether it is Christian-Christian, Muslim-Muslim or animist-animist ticket, it will be the decision of the party. We will deal with the issue when we get there.
Does it not appear that your party is still far from picking its candidate for the presidential election in February?
Every party is still far away even though, in the case of the PDP, there is a presumption. But do not be fooled because it could change very dramatically. It looks like a one-horse race. But on the eve of selecting candidates, it may be otherwise. We, in the APC are listening to the people. We can hear what they are telling us because we have people we consult with all over this nation, who are telling and giving us vibes about what Nigerians feel and expect. Therefore, presenting a candidate in two or three months will not be an issue. What is important is, ‘What does the party stand for? How can it prove that it is different? How can it prove that it is serious?’ That is the task that we have between now and the selection of the candidate. Once the people of this nation buy the fact that the APC is a party they can trust to deliver change, the candidate becomes number two issue.
Can you react to the challenges facing some of the APC states?
In desperation, the Federal Government is creating problems for us in all our states. Let us start with the present insecurity. Watch the way it is spreading. I have read once or twice that these crises are the handiwork of the opposition because they do not like the government. But do you kill your family to prove that you hate someone else? How come that the crises are in APC states? Now it is crawling into another APC state – Kano. We know what has happened in Rivers State, where they have a very courageous man. When a party is seen as having prospects, the struggles for offices get a little bit keener. That is what is happening in a lot of these states. All of these we will resolve in quick order and that has been the priority. We have already set up a high-powered committee working on the issues, headed by former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, with membership drawn from truly respected party leaders.
Edo state’s case is clear. You can see what is happening from the time we had some defections. I think the PDP saw it as a wonderful opportunity to undermine the state government and keep it under crisis, particularly as four or five members of the House also defected with the group. But what you should see in it is this: it was these defecting members who went to court to seek two redresses. First, that their seats should not be declared vacant. Two, that they cannot be and should not be impeached. The court granted the first request that their seats should not be declared vacant. The court rejected the second request, saying that they cannot interfere in the proceedings to that extent. The APC complied; they did not declare their seats vacant. But they went ahead, since they had the legal clearance, in terms of the suspension, and suspended them. These people are not obeying the orders of the court. They are now operating outside the ambit of the law. That is what the media should see and emphasise and tell our security agencies to please help in enforcing the law of this nation. Otherwise, the two sides can resort to jungle justice and God forbids that we should ever get to that kind of situation. As a result, it is very clear that the opposition in Edo State, the PDP, using totally illegal and crude tactics to try to undermine the government of this state. That is unacceptable. It is illegal and must not be allowed to stand.
Is it true your party lacks internal democracy?
Internal democracy means that there is a law and you must conduct yourself according to law. The APC has a constitution and the constitution says clearly that consensus is a preferred way of reaching a decision because all leaders would have subscribed to that consensus. It means nobody has everything he wants but everybody has something. Consequently, we are able to live happily together. But it states clearly that where that consensus cannot be reached and even a single member insists on a proper election, again, according to the rules of the party, so be it. We, then go and have an election. That is what we are operating. Unless somebody else has another definition of internal democracy, what is important is that we are abiding strictly by the constitution of the party.
Was your emergence part of the internal democracy?
Yes, it was by consensus. In spite of that, there was still an election. There was still voting; you could have voted ‘No’, even if I was the only candidate. In fact, there was nobody competing with me who did not voluntarily withdraw, except the one who did not even return his forms because he saw the evidence on the ground that it will become a non-issue. There was nobody who came to the convention venue that insisted on a vote and the vote was not taken.
What are the prospects of your party at the 2015 general elections?
It is clear that the Nigerian nation is broken and change must come. Let the Nigerian people try something new for democracy to thrive, even if they are not sure of what we stand for and for the PDP not to take the nation for granted as it has done today. People should show they have a choice and that it is their right to hire and to fire. They should show the PDP they want to try something for a change. If that change did not satisfy the people, they can fire the new government. That is the kind of democracy we should have.
The PDP has managed to maintain itself in power in such a way that they really do not care anymore what the people think. They fix the votes, they fix themselves in power and they rule us with impunity. It is now for Nigerians to decide whether they want to continue in that condition where nothing is working. We are going to tell Nigerians that it is time to try something new. We are presenting ourselves as something new, something different. We are presenting the states that we govern as signposts. In Edo State, when people come here, I say, ‘Look, if Oshiomhole can do in Abuja what he has done here then we do not have problems. We will see visibly what our resources are being used for.’ It is not when ministers now have two jets. People steal pension funds and get away with it. The fuel subsidy issue has disappeared from public discourse. The N20bn has disappeared from public discourse. Bombs blasts have become like a normal thing. Is that the life we want for this country?
We are presenting our party as new, as different and we have done the studies as people who truly care. There is no way we can prove it to you because we have never ruled this nation. But we can tell you, ‘Look at our states.’ We are not pretending to be angels. Politics is not a seminary nor is it the papacy. But what is important is, ‘What are you doing with the lives of the people?’ That is what is critical. Are you restoring hopes to their lives? Are you making their lives better?