All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman Chief John Odigie-Oyegun spoke with reporters in Benin City, Edo State capital, on the crisis rocking the ruling party and why President Muhammadu Buhari should seek re-election in 2019. Excerpts:
APC chieftain, Tony Momoh has said the party is in dire need of funds because governors are not funding the party. What do you think is responsible for this?
I am not quite clear what he meant by governors donating or funding the party. What the governor or any major supporter does is to bring his friends together, solicit for funds and then move those funds to the party. A governor can donate from his own personal resources, but this is the Buhari administration and we have just come out from a disastrous PDP administration where government became an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), a situation whereby government funds are diverted into politics.
That will not and cannot happen under this administration and that is what is going on today. So, the party therefore, has to be innovative in raising its own funds. We have concluded all the arrangements, put the machineries in motion.
We now get regular contributions from the executive arm of government, meaning government or political appointees. We get from the senate, we also get from the House of Reps and we have concluded online arrangements to get from the generality of membership all over the country. Every member will now have to pay the sum of N100 only per month as a member. And if at the end of one year there are members who do not pay at all, then they are automatically delisted.
For any member of the party to be qualified to vote or be voted for, you must have valid membership credentials, which includes paid up membership. So, the party is set and running. It has taken time to fine-tune, particularly the membership drive nationwide and we have to take the general educational level in the rural areas into consideration and of course, since it is a low level of cash but cumulatively amounting into a lot of money, we have to design a system that is fool proof as possible.
That is being rolled out in another month and then the party will be relatively better off but of course, this does not obviate the need for well-off members to also help the party when major events are coming up.
But, the reports everywhere right now are that the party is in huge financial crisis; salaries are being owed and you are unable to meet other financial obligations. How true is this?
The reality is that yes, we have had difficulties on paying salaries once or twice. That is normal in the situation we are in. People are missing the point. The Buhari administration will not touch one kobo of government funds for political purposes. So, the party, like any other institution, will have to raise funds. Occasionally, we don’t get all the funds that we require to meet all our commitments, but things are improving on a daily basis and very soon, all these will be things of the past.
What was the major challenge you faced since assuming office as the national chairman?
There are challenges everyday. so, it is difficult to pick on one as the most challenging. but, the main issue I can say is the arbitration between the different major interest groups in the party. It is an ongoing thing but in spite of that, the party is coalescing into one strong force despite the occasional outbursts of dissatisfaction of leaders and the problems that we have in the National Assembly which we are now getting on top of in order to ensure that there is civility and amicable relationship. That does not mean that everybody must agree with one another but it means that in our disagreement, we must be civil and principled.
Some members of the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) recently protested against what they called alleged marginalisation by President Buhari. What is your view on that as the national chairman?
I don’t know about that because we no longer have CPC, ANPP and ACN members anymore. I wonder why anybody, for purposes of forming a pressure group, will still go back and exhume names that have long since buried. We have no such members in our midst. We only have APC members and if anybody within that family has an interest he wants to push, they have the liberty to do that, but not to go back into history that is long forgotten. So, I don’t know of any CPC members in APC.
Can you say you were fair in your handling of controversy surrounding the governorship elections in Kogi?
There is no problem in our handling of the Kogi governorship election. The court has pronounced on that and that is the final word. They went to court and the court has said we did the right thing. So, the case is closed.
Many Nigerians have criticised you for saying you will beg President Buhari to seek re-election in the 2019 general election. Given his state of health, don’t you think it is best to advise the president to rest so as to attend to his health?
This is a free country. I have my views and I have expressed them. Why do I say so? I said so because the main gift President Buhari is giving to this country is what he represents and that is his absolute integrity. What Nigerians should aspire to be, the kind of country that we want Nigeria to be. a country where a man’s yes is his yes. A country with leadership that treats with respect public resources, a nation that is disciplined; a nation that is not wallowing in indecent corruption that we have today that is making one ashamed, that is what Buhari represents. He is like a General leading a charge against the major ills of this country. The job is so enormous that one term cannot do it. The job is so enormous that two terms cannot do it. Even after President Buhari’s tenure, we still need people like him to continue in office. So, my prayer is that God gives him robust good health and once he enjoys that, of course as an individual, I will work that he comes back for another term. But those things are in the hands of God because we are not God and we cannot play God. I am only saying that because of the enormity of the task that we are facing. When we talk of change, a lot of people talk about physical change. The main one is the change in the mentality and ethics of Nigerians, especially the attitude of Nigerians to right and wrong. So, the task is enormous and we need continuity in principled leadership which President Buhari represents.
Do you think the APC still enjoys the support it got from Nigerians in the 2015 general elections?
Every election that we have held so far has indicated that. We know that things are hard at the moment but we are grateful to God that people do understand how that came about and they are giving us all the opportunity to come out of it, and which President Buhari is determined to do. We are beginning to see an upward swing and there is no looking back.