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Worst mistake I made as APC chairman – Oyegun

Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he speaks about his experiences and the party’s difficulty…

Chief John Odigie-Oyegun is the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he speaks about his experiences and the party’s difficulty in making appointments.
What has been your experience in the effort to transform the APC from an opposition party into a governing party?

 It has been tough, rough and, absolutely, stressful. But it is totally a rewarding experience. I did not know I still had so much to learn. I am still learning every day. We were dealing with groups that have never held power at the centre. So, there was a little bit of inexperience. Before we got into government, the vision was a lot clearer. The mission was definite-get rid of these people who are ruining the country, destroyers of our nation. So, we all rallied around that single banner. We succeeded. But once you succeed, the issue of putting everyone in position becomes problem number two. How do we fill the positions? Who is more important? Who occupies what position? Which are the most important groups in the party? What level of hold would they have on the structures? All those issues became divisive issues which, to be honest, we have not totally resolved. It gives rise to some of the problems that came up in the National Assembly and other places. But we are working on it. In the long run, people would start accepting the relative positions within the party. They will settle for what they have, or what they can get. The party will get into a state where people will start accepting the realities that we need everybody on board. That influence within the party is to be shared equitably. All those who contributed majorly to the victory must feel an equal sense of belonging, an equal sense of ownership. Once the individuals start accepting that it is not an all-or-nothing situation, this unfortunate problem would recede to the background.
If you have another opportunity to change one decision you took in the past, what will that be?
There are lots of decisions, not just one, some of which are private. If you want to limit it to the recent past, I would say the decision to call the meeting that took place on the day the National Assembly was inaugurated. That was a bad mistake. I was persuaded and I agreed to call that meeting. Had it been it did not take place, we probably won’t have a PDP person there today as the deputy Senate president. The anger within the leadership of the party may not have turned out as strong as it became.
What was your childhood like?
It was lovely and beautiful. We had a large family with a well-educated father, working with white judicial officers at the early stages. He went on tours with magistrates at that time. He was a court registrar. Whenever he returning from trips, we were always happy because there would be lots of chicken. It was fun because there were many children. We were 26 and things went relatively well. Of course, in a situation like that, you tend to depend on your mother. But our father coped in spite of the large family. He was a one-child product of his family. I suppose he wanted to ensure that the family name lives forever. He has succeeded because there are so many ‘Oyeguns’ now all over the place. He paid our school fees religiously and our mothers took care of the rest like garri, sugar and all those things you take along. Of course, at that time, there was this tendency to ask the female children to go into one of the professions after secondary school, while the male children struggled along. Many of us went to university on scholarships, so it helped a lot. I was preparing to go to University of Hall to do a degree in law when my federal scholarship arrived. That changed my career path. Since there was not enough to meet all our needs, most of us, the older ones, took to supplementary jobs to earn pocket money. In those days, the scarcest commodity in Benin was water. With just few taps in the city, you had to queue for a long time to get water. What we did was to work at building sites, filling drums with water which they used to mix the concrete. Occasionally, we hired and used trucks to carry things for market women. The third thing, a lot of us did, was to hawking. I sold soap, especially Sunlight and Lifebuoy.
Why did you choose University of Ibadan (UI) for your degree?
At that time, the wish of most students was to go to the UI. It was only when you were not qualified to be admitted that you then sought other avenues. The University of Ibadan was the pinnacle of your ambition. If you did not get your three papers at one sitting, you did not stand a chance of getting admitted.
You served briefly as governor of Edo State. How did you feel when your tenure was cut short?
I felt very bitter. It’s not because my tenure was cut short that I was angry,  it was because it was a period of promise. You could see the future. The governors were mostly of high quality and we interacted very well. We had a vision of where the country was going. Then, the military struck again. It became clear to me that the military men were the source of the nation’s problems. They had to be taken out of the political scene on a permanent basis. That was why the National Democratic Coalition of Nigeria (NADECO) came about. That was the mission of NADECO-bring an end to military rule. June 12 was included when Abiola came to join us. We were meeting somewhere in Ikeja GRA, when Abiola applied to join. I remember, I got up that day and said he had to accept that the core of the struggle was putting a permanent end to military rule. Once we got the military out, we could cope with democracy with all its imperfections. It is still a better option than military rule. We fought till the end and won 50 per cent of the battle. We would have won 100 per cent but for the strange death of the dramatis personae late (Chief M.K.O. Abiola). But we got the military out of politics.

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