Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Ray Murphy, Special Assistant on Political Affairs to the immediate past national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, speaks on the task before President Muhammadu Buhari in his second term, his grouse with the party over his failed senate ambition and why his party could not succeed in his home state, Cross River.
What is the way forward on the leadership problem in the APC?
I was there when the consensus process that produced Oshiomhole was put together. I was the Chief of Staff to the National Convention that produced Oshiomhole. The way forward is the return of the process to the democratic space called APC. Since the APC is not a one man’s party, we should not treat any member with disrespect and disdain. The leadership of the APC must remember that people are watching and seeing. They should put every process in place to support our people in governance and not to distract them. The party must support those elected on our platform, deploy subtle reminder of our manifesto.
A political party as an intellectual organisation should not be run by those trying to play to the gallery. Apart from those benefitting from the way the party is run, other rank and file are dissatisfied with the way and manner the party is being run in the recent times. We must institute processes that are democratic not authoritarian.
Having supported Oshiomhole’s emergence; did the current faceoff between him and your principal, Oyegun, come as a surprise to you?
I love the era of the older men I saw growing up. It was the era of morality, live and let live and the era of not lying. To be frank, I don’t believe that Oyegun is in any trench with Oshiomhole. As Oyegun’s adviser on Political Affairs, I will repeat what I said earlier, Oyegun has retired after meritorious service as the party chairman. What you saw as an attempt by the party to elongate his tenure by one year was not Oyegun’s personal agenda. It was because of the issues surrounding primaries and other sundry matters. He handed over when the rank and file of the party did not want it. He never uttered one word in the last one year until recently when people began to defame him at random in an effort to excuse some of the failures in the party.
As an elderly man, he decided to put things in the proper perspectives. The fact that he kept quite all these while does not mean people should be using his name the way they like. He wishes the party and his successor well yet they decided to use him to make excuses for failure. It was a case of people who are not doing their jobs looking for all manners of excuses. Come to think of it, he puts everything in place during the convention for Oshiomhole to emerge the national chairman. Instead of us to do post-mortem of the general elections after losing five states to the opposition, they rather blamed it on Oyegun with the claims that he laid landmines for Oshiomhole to fail.
What I see as the main problem of the APC is that it has leadership that is not living up to the billings. The party must endeavour to put its best foot forward. Some of the heats the president and governors are receiving are the ones to be absorbed by the party leadership. I believe strongly that the current leadership of the APC will naturally give way. Like reptiles that outgrown its skins, the party as it is now, is too big, diverse and intellectually tasking for Oshiomhole to run successfully. It is not a place you can order people around. Oyegun ran the party as an organisation where due processes were followed, sub-committees were operational and everybody did job for which they are elected. But today under Oshiomhole, many National Working Committee (NWC) members have complained of him usurping their responsibilities. Why can’t Oshiomhole learn from Mr. President who does not interfere in the day-to-day running of the party?
If you recall how the crisis started, it is left for those that started it to say sorry to the man they offended. Since he started insulting him before he responded, all he needs to do is to tell him ‘papa sorry o’. Any young man who offends an elder and does not want to apologise is full of arrogance. Oshiomhole must apologise to Oyegun. The crisis in the APC is that we have wrong set of leadership. We have wrong set of people leading the party.
How true is the speculation that you are very angry with the national leadership of the APC because you did not get your senatorial ticket?
I have always known that there must be a winner and loser in any contest involving more than one person. It did come to me as a surprise that I lost the senatorial election. I am from a school of thought that believes that any time you lose; God may be preparing you for something. I can never harbour any bitterness. As a philosopher, I am not inclined to short term ideas. I believe that life is a marathon race not short sprint. Losing may not mean in the long run. The military say you can lose a battle but win the war. I am not the kind who takes bitterness out of losing something.
The problem we have is the way and manner those primaries were conducted. And in that respect, I am certainly not alone in expressing my dissatisfaction with it. Many people across the country and in many geopolitical zones have gone to court to express their bitterness about how the primaries were conducted.
I did not bother myself to go to court because of my kind of person. I followed the party process by writing petition to the APC Primaries Appeal Committee headed by Professor Oserheimen Osunbor. But surprisingly, none of us was invited to any committee sitting. The committee was supposed to sit for a length of time, but they never showed up for several days until one day they had few people and it was over. They acknowledged the submission of our petitions, but nobody cared to invite me because there was preordained agenda. You don’t treat party men that way. I don’t have government appointment and it was difficult for me to pay that huge sum of money for the forms. Paying the money was a confirmation that I am interested. We were not only denied a fair race but also the right of complaint. I have no problem with my party, but there is problem with the leadership style of the current national chairman of our party.
The problem is not with the NWC but the behaviour of the national chairman who tries to run the party like an executive chairman. He has a method of running the party singlehanded and getting his team to endorse after problem arises. He usually goes the extra mile with endorsement and inducement. When was the last NEC meeting called since June last year but when these issues came to the fore, how many meetings has he called. People that don’t know our background should not just think that I am coming into party politics now. I was the national assistant secretary of ANPP South South. I was the secretary of ANPP Appeal Committee under the headship of now late Umaru Shinkafi. I know the way we ran the party. As an appeal committee, we sit for weeks to listen to people’s grievances. Even when we ruled against the petitioners, they will understand that the committee made efforts to listen to them. I have been national vice chairman South South of APGA; I was director of administration and planning for Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) founded by Bafarawa with Shuaibu Lawal and others. I would have been deputy chairman but because we want to build a structure. I have a strong background in party formation and party administration. I have been in politics not because I want to make out anything but because I want to have opportunity to be in the level that Nigeria can be administered. I was the first Southern Nigeria coordinator of TBO (The Buhari Organisation) in 2002 and 2003. So, I am not a greenhorn in party politics. I persevered because I don’t believe in the politics of money and or thuggery. My political philosophy is to bring good to bear in the society. I have kept the struggle alive. It pains to see people in our party, the APC, being arrogant, selfish and un-intellectual in approach to issues with the possibility of distorting our relationship with the masses. My objection to the way they run APC is my concerns about the principles of governance.
As a man who takes strength from history, I know that God promotes those who did not get what they want. As a young man in my 20s, the then military governor of Cross River State, Ibrahim Kefas, wanted to appoint me a commissioner, but my father refused. I was very angry, but my dad, a wiser man, insisted that I was not ready for such position. What would I have done as a commissioner at 20? Even though I have intellectual competence, I however lacked the experience and sagacity required to make any meaningful impact in that position. Again, my community nominated me to represent them at the Abacha Constitutional Conference, but my father also stopped me with the excuse that I will not take the mandate of my people to be a tea boy since I lack the requisite competence then to match those elderly participants at the conference. We look at service as a job today. I wanted to go to the senate because I want to impact positively on my people. I want to push the agenda for education. I was looking for better platforms to influence my colleagues to appropriate more to the people rather than to funny things.
Did the outcome of the general elections in your state surprise you?
Yes and no. Yes because it was very clear before the election that our people did not want Governor Ayade back for so many reasons. Roads were scraped off but not done. Shops were demolished to construct roads but were abandoned. There was no real progress in the state rather everywhere were deteriorating. It did not come as surprise because the crisis generated in the state APC. We went into the election with two parallel executives and two parallel candidates’ lists for most positions in the state. The crisis created by the Oshiomhole-led leadership did not help matters. The same NEC that inaugurated him also inaugurated the state exco, yet he refused to accord the exco recognition. At the end of the day, INEC did not allow us to participate because it claimed that the signals coming from the court ruling in favour of one candidate or the other, was not favourable.
Which area do you want President Buhari to improve on in his second term?
The areas I want him to improve on are in security, education and most importantly poverty. In my view, the president is moving in the right direction. I commend him very much especially for the June 12 initiative. Another area I am concerned about is inclusiveness. Many Nigerians feel excluded in his government. They feel as if the president is not paying attention to Nigeria as a nation. He should be president of Nigeria not president of those that voted for him. It is an important factor we must always put before us.