BY ANDREW ESSIEN
The national chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun in this interview bares his mind on a myriad of national issues, ranging from the challenges, achievements and expectations of the federal government which it controls. He also opened up on some of the intricacies in party’s administration. He spoke with ANDREW ESSIEN.Excerpts:
APC is made up of different groups. Do nurse any concern that any of these groups will pull out of the party?
There is no likelihood but should it happen, the threat and damage it will do to the party will be very minimal today. Tell me, Which part of the country? The mainstream of the party is now well placed and the point has been proven clearly from Ondo State that in a free and fair election, nobody’s word is certain.
Has APC, as a party, become completely democratised?
Totally! People don’t see it but there is a new party, a totally new and stronger party. The president has always said that the party is supreme. When he came back from his first medical trip, I welcomed him and all his courtesies before his statement and when he mentioned ‘our oga kpata kpata’ he meant it.
The supremacy of the party is one thing he has always hammered on. I heard the question a journalist asked about the relationship between me and him; but you have to work with the nature of the man you have as President. He is quiet, I know what he likes and I know what he doesn’t like. He is the kind of man that doesn’t like crowd, he would prefer a one on one interaction, which we had.
We have worked together from my serving days. I know him better than a lot of people that know him, so we get on very well. We complained about lack of funding in the party. Again, that is the nature of the man, he wouldn’t call the minister of petroleum to say make sure you give money to the party; he wouldn’t do it. He doesn’t want to be involved in anything that has any possibility of being shady; that is our President. We elected a symbol, we elected someone whose personality we want to use as a lighthouse for the rest of the country. That is his major contribution to the change agenda; his integrity, strength of character. It is now left for us to tap from the strong point which I have pointed out, but you know in politics there are other things that need to be done.
Is it true that the disagreement between the presidency and the party leadership, after the National Assembly tussle, got to a point where it became practically impossible for you to meet one on one with the president. It is said that up till now that the president is having health challenges, the party chairman has never been with him one on one. Could that be true?
When he came back the first time, we saw and he is gone back now and I know he wants to be left in peace. Again that is my nature, I am not someone that rush to every photo opportunity. Once everyone knows there is going to be a group photograph with the President, everyone dives but I don’t do that; that is me. I have done a lot of things with the president in the past so for me, it isn’t a big deal, I don’t need all those courtesy. We talk. During campaigns we were together every day, we gist, we talk, we laugh and he would point and say John how can we satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of this massive crowd? I have known him from my civil service days. I have known him from the days he was military head of state, I was one of his close aides, so let them enjoy themselves and pose for photograph that isn’t the issue, the issue is that we communicate and the relationship is cordial.
Still on your cordial relationship with the President, is it true that while he was in London, he refused your coming to see him?
You are right and wrong! I was to go and he said ‘look there is no need’ because he knows the people he is dealing with. He knows those that have to see him because they need to see him and he knows between us there isn’t that kind of pressure and necessity. I asked him, do you think I should come and he said don’t worry I would be coming back soon and to me that was good enough. I know maybe from the point of view of public relations, maybe once you go there and sit there and get photographed, you might have a point, if you look at it from that point of view. What is important is that when he finally arrived, he personally arranged that I was one of the very few people to come and welcome him. What more do you need?
Let’s look at the party? Why hasn’t there been a robust reward system in place which, as it is known, can foster cohesion that hasn’t been there and nip in the bud, the unhappiness felt by party faithfuls?
I think you have asked the most difficult question anybody has asked and I am not too sure from which angle to answer it. But first, I must be very honest and frank; the reward system and appointment hasn’t been as pleasant to the party as it ought to be, part of them haven’t been well thought out as it ought to be. We have cases which wouldn’t have happened, where individuals are currently in court with our elected officials.
We have situations where, at least one or two known current appointees of the PDP have been given appointments. We have cases where, in a particular state, from the same local government, I think going to the same ward, three people have been given appointments. And the more important one is that we have a lot of cases were faces not known to the party during the most difficult part of the struggle of this party have gotten appointment which has caused a lot of disquiet within the party.
I have been abused, I have been called names, I have received text messages of all nastiness. I have got petitions in writing and there is a general sense in what is going on in the practice of the party all over the country. We have brought this to the attention of government and we hope and pray that what remains will be devoted to rewarding those who really, actually, worked for us; the faces I saw, the faces my state chairmen saw working, taking risky during the long and hurdles period of the campaign. I think more than that, I should say that one has to be brutally honest sometimes in matters like this.
Is there any truth to the impression that the presidency been hijacked by a cabal? And do you think that APC as a party is helpless in that situation to break the ranks of the government?
I am more interested in the economy of the country, we are still looking for the cabals and when we find them I will let you know.
APC may have a major crisis ahead of the 2019 presidential election. What strategies are you putting in place because from the situation on ground it isn’t very sure if President Buhari will contest in 2019?
Why build bridges if there is no river to cross? Why don’t you wait until you come across a river then you build a bridge. With all due respect for what it stands for, what is critical today is our prayer that the good Lord will restore the president to robust, good health; that is the first thing. Thinking that ‘will he be president in 2019’ is really not doing any good. His need today is good health when we get to 2019, it is for him to decide if he wants to run or if he doesn’t want to run and to consult the party on his decision; if he wants to run good and if he doesn’t want to run the country isn’t bereft, the party isn’t bereft of capable hands. But the prime thing that if he will be wanting today isn’t to think of 2019, is to have his health full restored and I am sure he will give anything just to have his health restored. Let’s terminate it at that point; when 2019 comes we will deal with the issues that arise.
Looking at the second anniversary celebration of APC in office, Nigerians are complaining about the state of affairs in the country. I have 81 electoral promises made by your party. Could it be that APC underrated the magnitude of problems the country was facing, even though it appears your party has stopped making reference to PDP?
No, we didn’t underrate it, neither did you and anyone else could have known what was coming, unless you have this gift of prophesy. If I ask you to describe the situation in 2015, I am sure you wouldn’t have added that the crude oil market was going to collapse. Did you foresee that? We knew we were going to take over a battered economy. We were glad that oil was still coming at 2.5m barrels a day, we were glad that prices were still hovering around a 100 dollars occasionally. During the years of PDP, it was going between 100 – 120 dollars a barrel and we took over a totally ravaged economy. We were prepared for that because we also thought since we didn’t have the gift of prophesy that Nigeria will continue to be blessed with oil resources at 2.5m to 3m barrels and at 80 dollars a barrel. Sometimes it reached 100 dollars a barrel. We were ready to get the nation moving quickly and we took over. As if that wasn’t enough, with a battered economy, the very next week or two crude, market collapsed at a stage that the price of production of a barrel and the price we were getting from the world market was almost the same; at about 30 dollars a barrel. You are a man; if today you get out of employment and you don’t have a job your wife has to understand that things are different, that things are hard and we will shoulder through together. These are what happened in the country. It is always good to look at the background. If you don’t move from the background you will think that ‘oh we are so incompetent’. In fact, we should be praised that this country didn’t collapse economically; that is the reality. I am a trained economist, I am a development economist. You should look at the reality. Yes, there is hunger in the land, but you should wonder why this country didn’t collapse with virtually no income, no foreign exchange; nothing! And we are still here today. That my brother, is the reality and it has nothing to do with incompetence. We had no revenues, we had no foreign exchange, we were an economy that exists to function. President Buhari managed painfully. I know the pains we went through to allow the price of petrol to go up. For a long time when we came, if you could remember the news were still on and off, but there was no other solution than to let go. You can’t continue that regime of subsidy which was one of the things that almost bankrupted this nation. We had to bring in the Treasury Single Account, had to make sure every kobo was accounted for, had to go abroad from one capital to another to draw up resources to keep the nation afloat, even though the press started telling everyone that he lives in an aircraft. Then came the recession. In a situation like that was inevitable. We had to spend to get out of recession; we had no savings. Honestly if you people want to do this country a favour, you should tell anybody who was a main person in PDP that they ought to hang their heads in shame and you should pray that we never have a government again like what the PDP did to this country. The signs were there, they fought over oil blocks endlessly. Nobody ever thought that this resource is one that will finish one day. Nobody ever thought, in the 16 years of PDP rule, that every day they were talking of renewable energy resources, they were planning no longer to be dependent on this war ravaged areas for their own industrial fueling. Our government for 16 years just kept importing petrol, export crude, sending away ship loads of crude that was not accounted for, individuals were appropriating the money that belonged to me and you and ultimately to the nation. So please be a little bit softer, kinder and look at the details of how we got to where we are today. I am not going to abuse PDP or anybody but this is the reality, this is the truth of how this country is where it is today and we are labouring; the president is labouring now to diversity the country. It is a foundation that totally cracked and collapsed. Crude was no longer relevant as a propellant for growth in Nigeria, what other thing was available to diversify the country? What had our previous government put in place to propel the economy of this nation? You don’t know how close we were to a collapse. So please tell your colleagues because when I read some of these things I am pained to the marrow. This country was almost destroyed and I tell you whatever people are saying, it is good that president Buhari came at the time he did. That my brother is the reality, it is not that we weren’t prepared we were very prepared.
Still on the performance of the economy. PDP has said that while your party believes Nigeria has cause to celebrate your two years in office, APC only came up with its main economic policies in the twilight of its two years in office. They added that APC within that period didn’t know what to do with the Nigerian economy which was the reason that made the economy hit the ground?
I think the answer I gave earlier basically covers this one. We all have this boreholes and tanks and if you tank up there has two or three leaks what do you do? Do you just let the water run up or do you say please try to block those holes meanwhile I will try to buy a new tank subsequently and get it replaced? I say we had an economy in a state of collapse, will you then gather economists and say gentlemen you have one month to write a blueprint of who will save the economy? You have to do things to ensure that we don’t get deeper in the mud and when you have stabilised, which we have, all these fancy about blueprint comes because now we are able to look a little bit further. Everything has its time, the economy has levelled up, the indices are getting much better whether poverty level, inflation rate, prices have stabilise. They are still high and I am not saying they are low, they have stabilised, they are calming down, they haven’t gone anywhere near what they used to be and eventually we have gone through that stage and we are now constructing; we have stabilised the economy and now we are constructing; we are building roads, we are trying to take care of this terrible electricity situation. Again let’s go back, the past government signed all the undertakings to the DISCOs all over to people who knew nothing about electricity. We have started the construction of a new railway system which has been on the drawing board. I am not saying we originated it but what I am saying is that in time of plenty, they couldn’t start, they couldn’t pay the counterpart fund. The Chinese loan has been available for years, they were so busy sharing national patrimonies which really didn’t mean anything to me. Just to put our own counterpart fund in place, they did not. Just blocking all the leakages in our system alone was enough to generate resources for this government; the Buhari administration to pay all the counterpart funding that was needed to approve the new railway standard gauge system. In Agriculture, like a revolution, in two years, we should be self sufficient in rice production. Just imagine if our military was going in the direction it was going when it had become part of the sharing party. But the President has not not only succeed in taming boko haram, he also saved our military, there are so many things to be grateful to God for that we just ignore. Yes, the people are hungry, we see them and it is unfortunate. It is sad, it is bad but believe me we are building a better nation.
A part of APC’s major campaign promise is to fight corruption. But in fighting, the opposition believe that you haven’t really done so with all sincerity and fairness. They also point out that while you demonise PDP members for allegedly looting the treasury, persons within the APC fold, who also have allegedly committed same act are shielded by the party and its associations. What is your take sir?
This is a question you people keep asking and we keep answering. There was no APC four years ago. So it is only those that where in office and in power and dealt with our patrimonies as if it belonged to them that we will look at. It is inevitable in any case. Those who have joined us thinking they would get cover are been affected. Some of our own original left and centre governors and public functionaries are being affected. There is no protection but of course concurrency that is the issue you are raising. Where there are 10 from the past, there may be one or two only which are not as dramatic in the APC. It is natural that those who committed the crime has to do the time. If this government wasn’t conscious of its image, why would the APC go through the financial constrains that it went through? We are the government in power, a minister can just be told to take care of the party but they are not doing that. The minister who is a politician who knows how these things were done in the past is even afraid to do it because how does he account for it? So you should give us some credence and like I said in an interview forget this politically based red-herring. We are not getting the degree of convictions that we should have. I think as a chairman and a national citizen, the problem is at the procedures of the judicial system; that is the problem. It is simple; we found 200m in your bedroom, you bought houses for even unborn children, you are a government official, tell us how all that was possible? A very simple matter! So we start but we start quoting law this and that; the man has headache so his passport must be returned and only in London his headache can be cured and all that; British tradition that don’t exist here that is what we are applying. So my point of view is that the only way we can fight corruption is to take a more practical and simple way. As far as I am concerned, first you strip the man of his possessions, make an example and that is the only thing that can cure corruption. That is what I think you should be talking about; why are we not getting a lot more convictions at the speed we are seeing the evidence deserves?
Two years is gone, as a ruling party that will be expected to seek re-election, what can you show as prove to Nigerians that you have given them the change you promised?
Yes, we have had two hard years. We have had two years of blocking all the loopholes, two years of rebuilding the fractured natural resources, two years of preparing new bases of economy blueprint for new economic to take off for the Nigerian nation. It has started to bear fruits already. But until it sits down, the ordinary man will not recognise that we have taken the turn for the home stretch. So our expectation is that a lot of things we have being doing will now start manifesting. It will now start bearing fruits. In agriculture, production is being encouraged at such a rate that in one or two of the critical crops, we expect to be self sufficient in those two years. In two years we expect massive implementation, accomplishment as far as the new railway system is concerned. I think they will finish the Lagos – Ibadan end by the end of next year and most of the others, people will see them generate income and employment. In the field of solid minerals a lot of work has also been done and also a lot of interest is been generated by those who want to process locally. Those are some of the things that are happening now; minerals are been shipped abroad in large lumps and blocks, and a lot of these things are going to be processed locally with backward integration into the actual mining activities. So the fruits are beginning to manifest but the critical area we still have to beat is power and once you can get power stable even at the low level it is but with increase generation and the problem today is that we can’t distribute the little that is even produced. Once that is sorted out, then it is going to give a feeling to the medium and small scale businesses which are the real employers of labour. So once power is available, as it would be in the next few months, employment becomes real. All that we are doing today, social intervention programs how many people can government employ? But if you give the blacksmiths, shoemakers, welders and all these little industries power then you would have created massive employment within the economy. Even those coming out of university today that we are teaching various skills and the rest of them will then overcome one of the major hindrances to their being able to establish themselves. So things are beginning to be get better, the rate will accelerate and people will begin to see that after all we suffered, we can now see where we were going all along. So I think that would reshape things and that we have finally delivered on our promises. But while they are crying as it is today that people seem to think that the world is over; no it is not! There is progress going on all the time but you people must help us tell them why the country is where it is.
When is APC going to hold its convention. It was muted at some point. So when are we expecting your party’s national convention?
I think it will hold. We are almost at that point now and we have to hold it. Let me be frank, the health of the president hasn’t helped more so, because there is a clear indication of the respect he has for the party; he wants to attend, he wants to be there. Yes, he wants to be there and we are very grateful but perhaps he doesn’t have to be and I think at that point I will and I don’t want to give a date and say later that it has been postponed but we will have it once all the factors are in place.