SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview, says his party is not worried about a mega party said to be in the pipeline and allegedly being formed to rival APC, saying his party will win the 2019 presidential election.“He also speaks on many other issues, including his planned meeting with the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Economic recession is biting harder, particularly in this festive period. How do you see the situation as the National Chairman of the ruling party?
I hope it was low key, but what is important is that you could see signs of fun everywhere. Which means that inspite of everything, people are happy. That is not say that there is not some degree of belt tightening. I can feel it but what is also good is that people are still able to eat rice. We have become a bit of wasteful society; now we are being forced to adjust, measure the way we spend money. People hardly fly business class these days.
These are signs of growing realism, growing change, an acceptance that it can no longer be business-as-usual. But, personally, what made me glad this Christmas is the existence of local rice; we now have Ebonyi Rice and the Lake Rice. Nigerians are beginning to domesticate their taste in the local rice they prefer, which is very good.
The fact that there was so much in terms of quantity of local rice all over the place is something that makes me glad. It means that there was good harvest, and that, next year, for the fact that the market has now been established, it means we can even export rice. So, thank God, out of every seeming adversity, the good Lord opens windows of prosperity. I think we are at the start of a prosperous period, when this country will be depending not just on oil but on a broader base of production.
Are you not scared that the recession may degenerate to depression?
We are working hard. We are not even thinking of depression, we are thinking of getting out of the recession that we are in. And all government policies and projects are geared towards getting this nation out of the recession as soon as possible. Perish the thought of depression, we will never get there. What is happening with rice now, the same thing is going to be replicated in the agricultural sector and, as soon as the power sector stabilizes, we will get industries like the textile kicking back into production. We can only look upward and not backward.
Your party has been accused by the PDP of rigging recent elections that took place in the country. What is your view?
Accusation of that nature is basically stupid and silly. Anybody who knows the President and what we stand for as a party and the true meaning of change, will notice that what is being done is that every effort is being made to create the atmosphere for Nigerians to exercise their fundamental right to choose in a free and unfettered atmosphere. But the reality on the ground is that there are still people who are not used to free and fair voting. That is why there is this strong presence of security to ensure that nothing untoward happens. Security was provided in Edo State during the election and we saw how it went without the loss of a single life. It happened in Ondo State where we had a free and fair and transparent voting without the loss of a single life.
We have the singular exception of Rivers State. And let us be honest with each other, Rivers is a state that truly never genuinely voted in the past, that is the reality. Port Harcourt, yes, there is a show of voting, in the past, but in the riverine areas, that was a totally different kettle of fish and, you know, if you are honest to Nigerians, you will know that people in the riverine areas of Rivers never voted in the past, these are areas where the PDP just wrote results. Buhari and APC this time ensured that people felt free enough to come out and exercise their voting right and, to do that, you have to massively police the area. And you can see that inspite of that there were still a lot of violence to the extent that police officers were beheaded. And if you read papers you will find that this violence is still going on in Rivers.
You have a government there that came into office, the verbal language of that government was one that is virtually saying that it is legitimate to employ violence. Speeches were being made that any INEC officer coming who does not dance to their tune should write his will before coming to operate in Rivers. You cannot have a situation like that in this country. When we campaigned, we had to be robust; why we were robust in our rhetorics was because we wanted to give people the courage to come out and vote. If you did not do that, they will say these are people that will just come and talk and go back and there won’t be anybody to protect them. So we tried to be robust to give the people the courage to come out in the knowledge that enough security had been put in place to protect them. So the accusation by anybody that the APC is rigging elections is silly and stupid and totally untenable.
Rumoured formation of mega party
Mega party, I don’t know where the name mega party suddenly came from in the lexicon of politics in this country. When two people gather to have a meeting, it is a mega meeting.
We don’t feel threatened; we will in fact encourage a mega party, because with the gradual collapse of the PDP, we want a party that can make us sit upright and be on our toes in terms of delivery of service to our people; a party that will make us feel challenged, that will make democracy real, offer the people a real choice.
We are not threatened at all, we are focused on our mission made difficult by the current economic situation worldwide, which of course is compounded with the collapse of the oil market. You will observe that I have held meetings with the National Assembly leadership, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and we are waiting for the arrival of Asiwaju Tinubu who is outside the country. Once he comes back we intend to visit him and have meaningful discussion.
We are reforming this country, reforming it ethically, morally and economically by building a fresh economic base which will no longer depend on an extractive industry which does not involve the people.
Now we are pushing agriculture, most Nigerians are in the field of agriculture. We are pushing extractive minerals which of course are virtually all over the country, a lot of Nigerians will be involved in that enterprise. We are pushing power generation and distribution because that will also energize the small and medium scale industry. So we want an economy in which most Nigerians are participants, it is no longer oil which is highly technologically based. So it is a different reality we are trying to build and establish. It involved sacrifices, hard work but what is necessary today is that we are focused. What is real today is that the government of Buhari is passionate about seeing this thing to its logical conclusion.
This nation must change and the change is so fundamental that there is no question at all that a lot of people are going through temporary hardship but the situation is such that, tomorrow, everybody will be glad that we pursued this line of development inspite of the problems we are facing currently. So we are not bothered about the rumoured formation of any new party.
The APC is solid enough to win any election including the 2019 presidential election. And I can tell you that some of these our leaders who they are using their names to talk about the new party thing is not true. Some mischief makers are trying to use their names to achieve their selfish interest. APC is intact, and that is the secret of our success so far.
It is a war that in the interest of this nation must be won. What has destroyed every facet of this country is corruption.
We had 16 years of PDP government; tell me one of the national problems that was ameliorated? Corruption was high, not that they wished the country ill but they were so corrupt that they did not see the need of focusing on development either of the citizens or institutions; everything today is in a total state of decay because of the corruption entrenched by the PDP. We must beat corruption, it may again mean taking a few short cuts.
I know of course that the law to create special courts for corrupt people is under way but, as far as I am concerned, we should not allow the technicalities of the English legal system to hold back the reality. A man is getting half a billion Naira every month and you allow him to take ten SANs to go and argue the case, it will be difficult for the government to secure convictions. Why should a man get half a billion Naira every month and be buying houses for his children? This is my personal view, it has nothing to do with APC. We must beat corruption or corruption will beat Nigeria. Buhari has zero tolerance for corruption and we must end it this time.
People see INEC as an appendage of the APC-led government. Are you not bothered?
That is part of the PDP propaganda. They talked about postponement of elections and cancellations; do you expect the Commission to go on with an election from security reports that said the election will be bloody? Let me tell you, in the Edo election, we knew the kind of thuggery the PDP wanted to unleash and the kind of resources the PDP states in the South-South allegedly deployed with a view to rigging the election here. States like Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, which are the wealthiest states in the South-South allegedly brought money here to rig the Edo election. And INEC postponed the poll for security reasons and you know that the INEC work with the security agents to ensure credible election. And inspite of the long delay in the Rivers election we still did not get away with it violence free and that I must say is a major consideration. We don’t want lives lost because somebody wants to be in office, that is not acceptable. And that is why you see INEC shifting polls and you cannot blame them. We want elections but not bloodshed and you cannot blame the commission for trying to save lives. The NYSC people, are they not human beings, you want a parent to train the child, the person dies conducting an election, haba. It is left for politicians to behave themselves so that elections will be held as scheduled. So, let us stop blaming INEC on every issue.