By Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
NATIONAL Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun does not hesitate in baring his mind on happenings within the polity, his party and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In a chat with select journalists, Odigie did exactly that as he shared his thoughts on a number of touchy issues in the polity. Excerpts:
Your party, last week resolved the seeming intractable crisis rocking the APC caucus in the House of Reps, how did you achieve that?
We are glad that the misunderstanding in the House of Representatives has been amicably resolved; thanks to the intervention of Mr. President who once again made it quite clear with everybody, that there is no alternative but to listen to what the party says.
He emphasised the fact that all of us were what we were and what we are, thanks to the platform that the party provided for everybody.
I think his message resonated very intensively with all the members of the House. Yet, he did not interfere. I want to make that very clear. His parting words to us was that the presiding leadership of the House and the party should go and resolve whatever issues there are that were militating against the resolution of the problem. And that exactly is what happened.
When we were leaving there, the press was very anxious to hear that A, B and C have been appointed to whatever positions but that is not what happened. I promised that within a few hours, it would be resolved. Precisely, I said that by the next morning, the nation will be glad knowing that this issue would have been resolved and put behind us.
We left there and went a few hours later into consultations and discussions with the presiding officers of the House of Representatives. Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to their maturity, to their sense of responsibility. I pay tribute to their loyalty to the party and above all, tribute to their sense of general good, meaning the patriotism displayed by the Speaker and his Deputy.
It did not take long, necessary concessions that had to be made were made. The very next day, I think you all witnessed the general jubilation that greeted the final resolution of what was proven to be an intractable problem. One behind us, one to go. Everybody has ended up being happy with the solution that was proffered to the problem of party position primarily being upheld.
But some members appear to have been cheated in the way the matter was resolved. Are you not concerned that the South East could not get anything in the sharing arrangement adopted by the party?
The sharing process is not over. I want everybody to get that very clear. In the House of Representatives, it is not yet over, all the zones yet to get anything will be taken into consideration when other positions in the House are being distributed, I have no doubt.
But the House has only six principal offices and they have all been shared, what exactly are you telling South East to expect?
Here, we are talking of real life. In real life, there is no perfection. In real life, there are pluses and minuses, in real life there are ups and downs. In real life, there are valleys and there are peaks. What is important is that the system functions, the system went out of gear with the very first election that was made.
What is it that the party could not do all these while that made the House crisis to linger?
Easily, one can say, Presidential prestige came into play. That means a lot and it counts for a lot. I won’t want to elaborate, but I want to make it quite clear that we emphasised the fact that the people had not got his message before. He was re-emphasising it, that in this political system as we are operating, the party is number one and everybody derives whatever he becomes from the party.
I think that finally resonated.
What is your take on insinuation in some circles that your leadership contributed to the National Assembly crisis?
How? We organised primaries to select candidates who wanted to contest for public offices, you mentioned specifically the presidential. What happened there was that all the aspirants cooperated, all the aspirants contested and a winner was declared and everybody agreed to work with the winner.
In the case of the National Assembly, for whatever reasons, what you called mock polls could as well pass as a primary election. But if some candidates say they won’t honour the primary; it is a fundamental right of Nigerians, you can take them to court, you can discipline them of course according to the party. What the party planned is exactly what you are seeing indeed for our primary elections to select better candidates for the various offices.
Human feelings and being what they are in a situation where the voting is limited, very limited; everybody knows everybody and of course, people reacted differently. It was not like our primaries where you have thousands of people forming the electorate. In the Senate, we have 59 and in the House, we have 220 member electorates, so you can understand why what happened took the way it did.
You were able to resolve the House of Representatives crisis temporarily?
Did you say temporarily, why temporarily?
Is the party not worried that some members are still murmuring and that may cause another crisis in the chamber? What is the next step for the party in resolving the crisis in the senate?
Do you know the rules of the House? You can only remove the leadership with a two -third majority, so what makes it temporarily?
Simple, in the case of the House that we have just dealt with, they got to the bridge but had not crossed it. They had not named any principal officers, obviously, it was a lot easier to handle.
The Senate has named its principal officers and by their rules, they can only be removed either when they voluntarily resign or when you command a two – third majority to vote them out.
So, the approaches obviously will be totally different in the sense that, in the Senate also, I hear there is a court process underway, that makes a lot of issues sub judicial. It changes the picture, doesn’t it? Is not enough for us with what happened in the House but we are also watching that and we are going to engage in the Senate situation and by God’s grace, it will also be resolved.
Do you agree with claims in some quarters that APC believe that it’s goverment will not realize its Change agenda with Saraki holding sway as Senate President and Ekwermadu deputising ? Secondly how true is the widespread rumour that your party is behind the current probe of Saraki’s wife by EFCC?
Change agenda, I don’t see how it will be affected. I will be very sorry for any member of the House who demonstrates objection to any measures or proposed laws which are directed towards the change agenda.
Will someone stand up and say he likes corruption to thrive? Will somebody who will stand up and say we don’t need to do what we need to do to restore peace; that is to defeat the insurgency there? Will anybody stand up to say that the power sector should not be made functional? Will anybody stand to say we should not ask for billions or trillions of Dollars that have been stolen to be refunded or retrieved? That is the change agenda.
I don’t think that will happen on both sides of the divide. I do not see that happening in the National Assembly. I don’t see that happening. You are speculating; so we wait until we see it happen.
I Want to assure you without any doubting that the APC absolutely has nothing to do with it. She’s not on trial by the way. It is an investigation that has to do with the Senate President’s wife, at all.
You saw all the speculation in the media. As a matter of fact, this could have been triggered by the opposition party itself; the PDP has admitted that its branch in Kwara has done that.
They have to be nudged to make a recant that they were not the originators of the petition or whatever triggered this investigation.
We are totally, completely, absolutely, innocent of it. What we have not done like in the PDP days is to rush and say and interfere with the processes of the EFCC. Our president has made it quite clearly that everybody should be ready to carry out its legitimate functions without interference. The EFCC is doing what it thinks it has to do.
Away from the National Assembly, what do you make of the deluge of complaints over the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari to probe only the administration of president Goodluck?
The President I’m aware knows that he has only four years, minus 2 months. So it is not four years anymore and if he wants to probe Nigeria, where does he stop? 16 years? 50 years?
Where do you stop when you want to do that kind of probe? What is important is that the level of impunity in the last six years was high. The level of rot in the last six years, the extent to which the economy of this nation has been damaged in the last 6 years is something all of us agree needs to be looked into.
It is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal I do not know. I can’t speak for the President, neither can I speak for the Presidency but I’m not aware there is going to be a formal probe, meaning the High Court Judge with a few people sitting with him. But these things are there even if you don’t want to see them, they are sitting right in front of you.
The impunity of the corruption is looking at you in the eyes. Nigerians by the time we are talking about saw people not bothered about hiding anymore. So, when talking about probe, you can turn without seeing the damage, the theft, massive theft; so that is the way I interpret it.
What manner of input is APC leadership making in the next cabinet? Why is it that APC government seems to be confused about forming a cabinet hitting the ground running ?
If we have not hit the ground, how can we run? We are going to hit the ground and we are going to run. It is just that expectations were so high that everybody thought that, as a matter of fact, people thought that the day he was declared president elect, things will start changing. That shows you the anxiety among the Nigerian population.
100 days is just three months; when you start running, you certainly will run and that is what we are promising this nation. Once the government is put in place, the kind of people we expect to man it, then you will see results and you will see results pretty quickly.
The moment this Government took over, many expected that the issue of security must and should be tackled. Could you explain why your government has taken a’go slow method ‘ in addressing this issue?
You are talking from a point of view as if a lot of progress has not been made, but considering that the full government is not in place yet, the achievements recorded in the last two months have been solidly tremendous. To start with, one of the priority concerns to you, security, I want you to look at the fact that security is in fact improving. I want you to remember that insurgents including foreigners in their midst do no longer hold the territory and form government in any part of the country.
If that is not improvement, I don’t know what it is? I want you to know that one of the first things Mr. President did was to redeploy the operational head quarters back to the area of conflict. If that is not improvement, I don’t know what is? I would want to refer your mind to the fact that any dyeing elephant kicks very hard, very, very hard. Because the insurgency has been deprived of territories, they have now resorted to soft targets and let us face it, any fool, any idiot can bomb a church . Any idiot can bomb a market place, it is very unfortunate, it is very sad because these are soft targets.
What we are in the process of doing is that because the insurgency is being massively defeated, they have resorted to creating this atmosphere of fear by picking on soft targets. It is a slight re-orientation of priorities and tactics with the new and growing realities, the process of wiping them out or largely put the insurgency under control is now underway.
If you want to think of achievements in two months, they have been tremendous. Look at the last event, the visit to the United States, something that has never happened before to any Nigerian President in over 50 years of our existence as a nation. In two months, Nigeria has suddenly become one of the nations to be reckoned with, not just in Africa but in the entire face of the globe.
He has attended the G7, privileged group and he has been received in the United States. No President of Nigeria has been received that way before; so that status of Nigeria, that impression of Nigeria around the world as always bad news- it’s either drugs or that, in two months, it has been obliterated. In fact, the challenge before us now is to maintain and build on the achievements on just the two months of Mr. President, changing the image of the Nigerian nation and it is a precursor to foreign investment which is a precursor to economic growth and development.
If you don’t call these achievements, I don’t know what definition of achievements mean.
In the last two months, we have not seen the Buhari government implement some of the things he promised like allowances to the aged and the unemployed. Could that be as a result of the huge rot and financial mess the government claimed it met on ground ?
We don’t have anything to tell Nigerians except the truth; if there is rot, we will tell Nigerians there is rot. The people of this country know. Come to think of it, if anybody has not received his salary, in some cases up to one year, if that is not rot, what do you call it? Even the Federal Government can no longer meet its obligation, if that is not rot, what do you call it? Look at your airport road, Yar’Adua boulevard contractors have moved out and that is what we see every week because contractors have not been paid.
Look at the East – West roads, it has not been completed up till now. Look at one of the few international airports we have, Port Harcourt, it is an abandoned project.
When you add that to a nation where governments are unable to pay workers, what is due to them, not for two months, not for three months, if that is not rot of the very worst kind, I don’t know what rot is?
You have to tell the people this. We are all prepared to bite the bullet if needs be, but getting the nation out of that rot is why President Buhari was elected and there will be no excuse. We intend to accomplish that and we intend to embark on the process of fulfillment of our promises to this nation. This is not a poor country, it is not and we intend to plug all the loopholes. Mr. President has said that quite clearly.
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