By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is today being honoured as the Alumnus of the Year by the University of Ibadan Alumni Association. The honour which is reportedly the highest honour given by the association is undoubtedly reflective of the grit and grandeur with which the 76-year-old politician has bestrode the political space. A gentleman to the core, Odigie-Oyegun shows a refinement that captures the grace and polish that is reflective of the finest of human nobility. But as with every mortal, there is a dark side that the chief would always rue, maybe on account of his relationship with Muhammadu Buhari.
Few Nigerians would remember how almost thirty years ago how a Lagos High Court judge, Justice Yaya Jinadu opted to resign from the bench after Odigie-Oyegun, then a federal permanent secretary refused to give heed to the order of the court supposedly on the prompting of the Buhari led military junta of that time.
That blight was, however, of little consideration in 1991 when the people of the newly created Edo State were called upon to choose between Odigie-Oyegun and Chief Lucky Igbinedion, who had performed beyond expectation as chairman of Oredo Local Government Area, in Edo State in the governorship election. The electorate partly moved by the whispering campaign of a royal disapproval for Igbinedion swept Odigie-Oyegun to power to become the first elected governor of Edo State.
As governor, Odigie-Oyegun proved that his snub of the Lagos judiciary was not his style, and he subsequently endeared himself with democracy enthusiasts in his advocacy for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. On account of his June 12 advocacy, he went on exile returning home after Sani Abacha’s death. Though his party, the All Peoples Party, APP lost out in the presidential election, of 1999, Odigie-Oyegun proved his consistent self and refused to defect to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He remains one of only a few leaders in the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, who were never part of the PDP.
However, he was not totally immune from the intrigues that played out in the opposition. His role, if any, in the conspiracy against Buhari in the ANPP in 2007 remains unclear. Willy-nilly of the smooth faces that they showed after seemingly selling him out, Buhari was said to have vowed to work only within ideological puritans in his future presidential quests, and hence his formation of the Congress for Progressives Change, CPC, the vehicle with which he prosecuted the 2011 presidential election. Despite the euphoria about the Buhari Phenomenon in much of the North that year, his bid was easily deflated without much organisation and money.
Odigie-Oyegun was not part of the ‘puritans’ that went with Buhari to the CPC. In fact, he was against Buhari in that election, having been running mate to Ibrahim Shekarau, the ANPP presidential candidate. Shekarau, many would also remember, came to political reckoning as governor of Kano State on the coattails of Buhari in 2003. That betrayal of Buhari by Shekarau remains a sour taste in Buhari’s mouth and it is doubtful if Buhari would ever forget if he forgives.
However, Buhari was a political realist. In 2014 as the political opposition assembled the machine to confront the PDP, Buhari did not raise an objection when his new political partner, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu fetched Odigie-Oyegun to become the substantive national chairman of the APC. Odigie-Oyegun was to subsequently hand Buhari his first election victory in life in March 2015. He did so without minding the fact that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the ultimate loser was also from his South-South geopolitical zone.
Following the inauguration of the APC government, Odigie-Oyegun became the object of several power intrigues in a telling confirmation of the saying that ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.’ Odigie-Oyegun stood firm and in a way somehow won the confidence of the Buhari inner circle against the machinations set against him. Indeed, at the peak of the conspiracies against his chairmanship of the ruling party earlier this year, Odigie-Oyegun opted for a medical leave. His foes took it upon themselves to say that it was preparatory for what they described as a “soft landing.”
However, such suggestions seemed farfetched, as Odigie-Oyegun returned to office with great aplomb; physically and mentally reinvigorated for what some have described as the battle at home.
The APC national chairman is set to prove naysayers wrong with his determination to ensure a level playing ground in the primary contest in his native Edo State. His proclivity has not helped his poor standing with some political leaders in Edo who have through innuendoes derided his attempt to derail an agenda to predetermine the contest. Odigie-Oyegun it appears knows that whatever legacy he would leave in Abuja could be soiled by how he approaches the Edo election. It is thus not surprising that in the face of his strides, struggles and successes that he has sometimes excused himself from issues that have to do with Edo. But in the end, sooner or later, he would be returning home, and he knows that how he prepares his bed would indicate how he lies on it.