He was once the governor of Edo State, but many do not know his antecedents in the public space. He recently opened up to Happenings.com.ng, Managing Director, Mercy Alexander on how he veered into politics and many more issues that surround his controversial position as the National Chairman of the federal ruling party, All Progressives Congress. Excerpts…
Sir, can you tell us how you ventured into politics?
Well, let me say it was from one accident to the other. It was one of the professions that was farthest from my mind. A friend, the late major General Agbazi Kaiyimi, had invited me as a resource person. I attended a meeting at his house in that capacity because I am an Economist by background and he wanted to put up a programme affecting Edo state and they needed analysis on what to do and implementation. Eventually, I looked into their plan and decided to help them but along the line, I found out that as far as specific issue of candidacy was concerned, they were headed in the wrong direction. In the process, I stumbled on information indicating that both the opposition party and the group that invited me and which later metamorphosed into the Social Democratic Party, this was in the days of political associations where we were to truckloads of papers of registered members to Lagos. I found that one person was controlling the aspirants in both parties and I wasn’t going to allow and watch that kind of a thing happen. Anyway, one thing led to the other and they said ok, if we cannot do it, who will? So, I had to make a sacrifice of myself and that is how I got into elective politics by accident. The political associations were subsequently dissolved, Bendel state then was split into two to become Edo and Delta states and I said thank God, I can now withdraw from the whole thing not knowing that I had stepped too deep into the waters. Nobody was ready to let me go. People had pitched their hopes for the future on me and I said no enough! I may have been interested in the Bendel state governorship but I am not interested in Edo state governorship. They would not have that and that was how I became the governor of Edo state.
You were barely up to two years in that office before you were booted out by the military government of the late general Sani Abacha. How did you feel about that occurrence?
We were booted out of office by the fiat of guns so feelings didn’t come into play at that time. I was very bitter. Not because of what happened majorly but because it finally dawned on me that the biggest problem in Nigeria’s politics and why it cannot mature is that it has not been allowed to make mistake, learn from those mistakes and proceed. So, the biggest problem was the military and they had to be fought and made to realize that they have absolutely no place in democratic politics. Democracies advances and people make mistakes, learn from it and the next generation would improve on it. So we fought that battle, I gave it my all, my life, time and resources. It was fought at great risk to life, family, and my businesses which I had built over the years collapsed because nobody wanted to identify with an Oyegun Enterprise that was NADECO. But it was a sacrifice worth making because we succeeded. People think that the Abiola aspect was the real thing but no, that coalition was formed to get the military out of office. Abiola’s case came on board as a secondary issue. I’m glad we took the steps, I am glad we succeeded. In any case, the world has changed and it is no longer fashionable for the military to be in power.
What has it been like as the National Chairman of the ruling APC?
It has been a bitter sweet experience. There have been ups and downs but what is important is the real feeling of achievement, that rare feeling that you have achieved more than even what you purposed in life. Long before the APC came together, I have worked assiduously and it was clear to all that a factionalized opposition can never remove an incumbent government. The challenge was very clear and we made it clear for everybody to see that if Nigeria was going wrong, the opposition was also to be blamed. Because they know why things were going wrong, they knew that the people were hungry for the opportunity to have meaningful choices which did not exist and that would only be possible if the opposition parties came together. I must have worked on that for close to ten years. I was chairman of one of the committees jointly with Aremo Segun Osoba, twice we signed agreements, twice the agreements did not hold because of the several interest groups within the parties that didn’t wish us well and so the agreements fizzled out. Finally, and of course, we were able to convince people like Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu. At this point, it is important I give him his due credit. He came on board with the might of his party, the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN, he had the clout to bring in key personalities. So, it was finally possible to achieve the historic agreements that birthed the All Progressives Congress, APC. It was my privilege and absolute honour to be elected the first substantive chairman of the party. I knew the minute we signed that agreement that we were going to win. I knew it and I never doubted it for once. So, when victory finally came, all we did was to express our gratitude to God.
Your party is giving President Buhari the full support to contest for second term in 2019. Don’t you think that will affect the chances of others within the party who may want to contest?
Today, President Buhari is the president and he has not yet publicly told us that he wants to recontest. We are hoping that someday soon, he will do so. But I’m the National Chairman and anybody who wants to contest is free to come into the ring. Although, we succeeded in removing former president Goodluck Jonathan, but I know that it is usually very difficult to remove an incumbent president who from our judgement has done well. We are open to correction and will accept anybody who wants to vie but he himself has not told us he wants to vie yet. So, the issue is still very open, it is still basically academic.
Who is Chief John Oyegun outside politics?
I am a quiet person, I like a good laugh, I enjoy jokes, I have a relatively small circle of friends, enjoy good music, I am very strict in observing the difference between right and wrong. I am also very careful about due process, very very much against injustice of any type. I have seen people almost hang for what they did not do but for the saving grace of God and ones inspiration. One day I will tell that story of people who gave fake evidence about something they knew nothing about but somebody was being charged for murder and through my intervention, a life was saved. I also like happy people because they make me happy because when you are happy, you lead a healthy and long life, particularly when you don’t plan evil against any of God’s creation. If you don’t plan evil, evil will not come to you.
What would you want to be remembered for?
That I gave my all to make things better than I met them.
What do you have to say to Nigerians considering all that have been happening in the polity?
Well, things are tough now, no question about that. Times are hard no doubt about that but the farmer goes through labour, hardship to plant but at the end of the day, rejoices when he harvests. Even the Bible says when you are going to farm you do so in tears but come back with joy and happiness. This country will be full of songs and laughter very soon, the foundation has already been laid.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo recently wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him not to contest the 2019 elections. Do you think he has the moral right to say such.?
Nobody can take away the fact that General Obasanjo has utmost love for this country and nobody can take away the fact that he is irrepressible as far as the politics of Nigeria is concerned. My party has responded and the Minister of Information has also responded. In any case, I give him the respect that is due to him, but the fact remains that he doesn’t have to be always correct. We have about 70 something parties in this country and it seems what he is proposing is that we must go and invent a new system which is capable of governing this country. I think he should trust the Nigerian public, trust the Nigerian voters. We should let governments come in, make their mistakes and then let the voters decide whether they deserve continued patronage or they don’t. I think that is the bottom line.
I have confidence in the Nigerian voter. I know we have had challenges, I know we haven’t fulfilled all our promises and being an insider, I know that the system is working round the clock, day and night, to turn around the fortune of this country. Given the base where we took over from, given the condition of this country, I must say, that even though I am not an impartial observer, I must give it to the Buhari administration, because we are succeeding in building a solid foundation for the growth of this country, to become the most powerful black nation on the surface of the earth. People should give this system time to grow and correct its mistakes. We are just three years old as a party and national issues, national difficulties are not solved in one year or five years. Take the PDP administration of sixteen years and somebody should tell me which problem they succeeded in ameliorating and not even solving, in the entire sixteen years? Did we have power, railways, good roads, national airlines and so on? So, to start castigating the government of just three years, given the base upon which we started, given the collapse of the oil market from one hundred Dollars per barrel to just over thirty when we started and now it’s just over fifty. However, that is not the basis anymore for this nation to plan, we must now base the future on what we can do, what we can make and produce. We can no longer plan on an ephemeral thing like crude oil. The world is moving away from hydrocarbon, America signaled that years ago and everybody is going eco-friendly now. So, we cannot base the future of this country on hydro-carbon.
How do you feel being the National Chairman of the ruling party?
I have been chairman for almost four years now and it’s been a wonderful experience. It’s not been without its thorns and difficulties but I can say quite clearly that as at today, judging from where we started and given the fact that the national executive was made up of people from different power blocs within the party and we had the challenge of welding this different groups into one focused party behind our president. By and large, it was a difficult task but we have succeeded.