By Tonnie Iredia
Quite often, some current events remind me of memorable occurrences in my early days as a reporter in a television newsroom. The one I can hardly forget is my discovery of an editor who could report on an event he didn’t witness. When I pleaded with him to let me into the secret, he confessed it was an unwritten template. He was just gifted to instinctively know what the guests at an event would likely say on each occasion. For instance, he knew that in deference to the African cultural injunction precluding anyone from speaking ill of the dead, all funeral orations in Nigeria take the form of eulogies.
People would shower praises on a deceased well-known thief provided he was never caught before he died. In the case of public officers, he explained that good things are said only after such persons had left office, such as at send forth parties or at the marking of other achievements. When I asked why that was the fate of public officers, my editor said those who would have appreciated them were usually busy plotting to remove them from office. So, when a tenure is over, or the plot to remove a person succeeds, the urge for blackmail and false allegations dies a natural death opening eyes to virtues that were hitherto unseen.
Against this backdrop, I enjoyed last week’s celebration in Benin City of the 80th birthday of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, immediate past national chairman of the ruling APC. The testimonies were concise just as they aptly reflected the reality; no embellishment whatsoever. It was hard for one not to be proud of Oyegun because the speakers were men of substance who spoke in unison about the solid personal achievements of a great patriot, statesman and decent politician.
For example, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State described Chief Oyegun, as an enigma, a reference point in terms of humility, selfless service and integrity in public service. Fayemi added that the younger generation of public servants and politicians have a lot to learn from the track record of the great leader- retired Permanent Secretary, a thoroughbred administrator who built an enviable public service record through sheer hard work, brilliance and integrity. In the words of another APC governor- Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, Oyegun is an enigmatic leader with inviolably unassailable leadership qualities whose life is a study to all. Akeredolu further avowed that because history preserves the memories of men and women of exemplary courage and impeccable character, Oyegun’s life of selfless, dedicated and uncompromising service to humanity cannot but be recorded.
The testimonies of these two governors alone may have made some people to wonder why the APC allowed the end of the tenure of the same Oyegun to be controversial as if he failed the party. That obviously not the case if as recorded by the media, the Plateau state governor Simon Lalong described the celebrant as a politician whose life and conduct have always been about the people. In the words of Lalong, who currently chairs the Northern Governors’ Forum, “Chief Oyegun has continued to be a unifying factor and one whose experience and candour provided the needed advantage that culminated in the APC defeating a sitting government during the 2015 general elections, a feat that remains the first in the nation’s political history.”
No less a person than the nation’s number one citizen, President Muhammadu Buhari affirmed that Oyegun “set a standard for consistency, honesty and integrity in Nigeria’s politics as he championed building of strong democratic institutions, and promoted the virtue of looking beyond elections and positions to growing and unifying the nation for posterity.” These are no doubt commendable words to be said of a man who traversed the vagaries of Nigeria’s bumpy political weather more so as the leadership of the unyielding opposition PDP gave Oyegun similar accolades at the celebration.
Of course, Oyegun is free to expect many more compliments as another party in his honour was scheduled for Abuja a week later to be followed in the next 60 days by the unveiling of a public service academy to be known as – John Odigie-Oyegun Institute for Public Administration. The edifice, which would be the largest facility for training public servants in Nigeria is being organized by the ‘wake and see’ governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki who himself has proven to be an effective quiet achiever amidst political distractions. Naming such an edifice after a seasoned past federal permanent secretary of edo extraction underscores Oyegun’s antecedents which must have aided his managerial acumen in politics.
As former President Obasanjo recalls, Oyegun during Nigeria’s military government in the 70s, demonstrated rare qualities of commitment and courage by always upholding the cherished tradition of the public service. In other words, it is not enough to jump into political party leadership without a robust management background and successfully coordinate and aggregate divergent and competing political interests. Unfortunately, that is the fate today of most of Nigeria’s political parties, a development that needs to be quickly redressed.
For this to happen, political parties in Nigeria must get to understand that an election is a game with rules for which proper coaching, planning and coordination are an imperative. It is not everyone that can serve as a party leader. Warren Bennis, who for decades led other leadership theorists always stated that the leadership qualities of vision, passion and integrity are basic prerequisites for managing entities. Every organizations needs them. For this reason, the APC, Nigeria’s ruling party clearly needs another Oyegun to bring to an end avoidable bickering that normally follows rancorous primaries which portray leadership deficiency.
The party needs to avoid another Zamfara, Rivers and Edo House of Assembly debacles. This admonition is not new. Last year, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, organized a retreat on ‘’The Dynamics of Managing Political Parties Professionally.” Speaking at the opening session, Yakubu Dogara, immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives was greatly concerned that “In Africa and Nigeria in particular, political parties are weak, lacking not only a stable and functioning party apparatus, but also a clear programmatic appeal. They also suffer from low organisational capacity and a lack of internal democracy.”
Exactly 30 years ago, President Ibrahim Babangida IBB, dissolved all the political associations seeking to be registered as political parties and by the use of government fiat established two parties for politicians. He then appointed seasoned public servants to manage the parties for a given period. We all blamed him then for seemingly militarizing politics, but he made a quiet point which many ignored, that Nigerian politicians had a deficiency in their capacity to organize people into political movements. According to IBB, what appears to interest our politicians is not the running of political parties but the running of government. The indicting observation is as valid today as it was when it was made on October 7, 1989.