By Chioma Gabriel,Â Deputy Editor
Chief John Odigie Oyegun was the Third Republic governor of Edo State whose tenure in office was truncated by the June 12 1993 struggle. He spent four years in exile in the heat of the struggle and since then, things were not the same for him politically but in this encounter, Oyegun says he has no regrets.
Itâ€™s been 17 years of struggle to actualise genuine democracy. How do you see things today?
We are on the way. I think one good thing about June 12 is the fact that we have permanently put an end to the military rule. That was the fact of the struggle. What remains now is the restoration of democracy and on that, we are also on the way. Although we donâ€™t have democracy yet, there is hope around the corner.
We got this far because the people are insistent on what they want and when the people put their foot down, they will eventually win. We are not yet there but we are on the way. We still have a long way to go, we still have battles to fight but if we are steadfast, we will win.
How do we get there? What should be done?
The only way to get there is to return power to the people. The people are the ones to be in power. They decide who to hire and who to fire. Until we begin to conduct free and fair elections, we will not get there.
The people must know that their votes count and that they can express their wish through their votes. If they donâ€™t want someone to represent them anymore, they can recall him or vote him out in the next election. The people should exercise the power ofÂ hiring anybody and firing anybody through the ballot boxes.
When you said we have put an end permanently to military rule, what do you have to say about retired generals wanting to comeback in civilian agbada?
The beauty of democracy is that every citizen is free to contest election. Democracy allows people from different backgrounds to participate and there is nothing to do about that other than rejecting the candidate we donâ€™t want via the ballot box. You cannot deprive anybody of his basic right to vote or be voted for.
There is nothing wrong with any retired general aspiring for any position in office. That is one of the attributes of democracy that we fought for and we are still ready to sacrifice for.
MKO Abiola won election in the North outside the zoning formula being practised today. Do we need zoning in politics?
I laugh when I read some of the statements that people make today about zoning. Zoning is a fact of political life, not only in this country but everywhere. There is need forÂ balance of interest in politics. There is need for balance in terms of geographical location, ethnicity, religion and what have you.
You cannot concentrate on a particular group ofÂ people at all times whether in elective offices or appointive offices.
You must spread out power. The principle of zoning must spread across states, religion, age, ethnicity or what have you. There must always be balance. That is the fact of political life everywhere.
Would you say we have realised the reason for Abiolaâ€™s death?
We are ready for yet another election. Abiola was a symbol ofÂ free and fair election. So, the fact remains that we are ready for election but whether we are ready for a free and fair election is another matter. I cannot speak on free and fair elections authoritatively.
So far, I have not seen any verifiable structure on the ground that will guarantee free and fair election. There is no votersâ€™ list or register. What the National Assembly is doing is not what we are asking for. Talking about independent candidature is not the substance ofÂ the issue for a free and fair election. We have issues like electoral reform and appointment of an independent umpire for the elections. You cannot expect one of the contestants to be the one that appoints the umpire.
The issue of the mode of voting is critical. Our own democracy should be tailored to suit the kind of people we are and that is why the open-secret ballot system, aÂ modified option A4 is what we need at this point of our national development.
What we need is a superior voting method and that is very critical. Then, there is the issue of voters registration for us to know the true figure of the voters. We want an independent executor, free of government control, otherwise we remain where we are. We can put anybody we want there. We have had election violence of all manners at the end of which nothing happens.
There are many issues to free and fair elections and then, what about the electoral reforms that we have been agitating for. We have not addressed these issues and so we still have a long way. There are cases of the last elections still pending in courts. We have not addressed the issues. Abiola won because of the mode of voting. So, let us go back to the mode of voting that produced Abiola.
So, what happens now that these issues you raised have not been addressed?
What happens now is for those of us in the campaign train to tell our people to do what is legal to protect our votes. This is an incredible country.
As we celebrate June 12, what does that mandate signify in todayâ€™s democracy?
Abiola is a martyr of democracy. As long as all these issues raised are not corrected, Abiola and June 12 will continue to be the rallying point of all the people who wish this country well and who wish democracy to concretise and who wish Nigeria to prosper. June 12 will continue to be the rallying point.
Babangida was quoted to have promised to immortalise Abiola if he becomes President. Whatâ€™s your opinion on that?
I totally agree with that but the only way to immortaise Abiola would be in the area of free and fair election. As a matter of fact, another thing that worries me is the issue of Kudirat. It bothers me that the women organizations ofÂ this country have not taken up the cause of that courageous woman. I am surprised that women organisations have not done anything to immortalise that woman or even to support her cause.
What advice do you have for Nigerians concerning the aspiration of IBB to become the next President?
We are in civil rule, aspiring towards democracy. Nobody should say IBB should not contest election. I am one of those affected by IBBâ€™s annulment ofÂ June 12 and termination of the transition of the Third Republic.
I was the governor of Edo State and due to what happened then, I spent four years in exile. I was virtually crumbled economically but that doesnâ€™t mean that Nigeria should not move forward, that doesnâ€™t mean I should hold any bitterness against IBB. We should let the past remain in the past.
If IBB is the one God would use to rectify the mistakes of the past, he should convince the people to vote for him.
We should forgive him if we can and also listen to him, listen to his message and what he plans for Nigeria in the future. Let us leave the past to where it belongs and look forward to the future. If God will use him to make up for the mistakes of the past, we should at least listen to what he is saying.
Can he ever make up for the past?
I donâ€™t see why not. Itâ€™s a difficult question but perhaps he can. When he apologised for the past, it is because he wants to make amends and the only way we can know ifÂ he can is to listen to him and hear him out and how heâ€™s going to do it. But that depends on his ability to convince the people of his good intentions.
What are your expectations of President Jonathanâ€™s government?
He should not listen to praise singers or those who want to make the next election his focus. He must realise that there are other things besides election. We need power, infrastructural developments, good roads, and so on.
He must understand that he inherited a lot of problems and therefore, find a way to write his name in history by leaving positive footsteps on the sand of time. It is what he is able to do within this short period ofÂ time that will determine if he will be Nigeriaâ€™s next President.
So, he shouldnâ€™t see it as a do or die affair to become President?
No. He shouldnâ€™t. He is on the threshold of history and should ensure his name is written in gold as one of the true leaders of modern Nigeria. He shouldnâ€™t just be one of those who contested for office and didnâ€™t know what to do with it. He should make sure his name is written in gold.
Do you have any regrets being part of the struggle?
I have no regrets but if I can rollback the clock, there will definitely be one or two things I would have done differently. But I have no regrets spending four years in exile or being part ofÂ the struggle despite losing much.