National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie- Oyegun, believes that the era when government funds were diverted for politics is over. He also speaks in this interview with FELIX NWANERI, on the anti-corruption war and the 2019 presidency
chieftain of your party recently said though you are doing well in running the affairs of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party is in dire need of funds because governors are not funding it. What is responsible for this?
I am not quite clear what he meant by governors donating or funding the party. What a 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 and this is the Muhammadu Buhari administration. We have just come out from a disastrous Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration in which government became an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), a situation, whereby government funds were diverted for politics.
That will not happen under this administration. So, the party therefore has to be innovative in raising its own funds. We now get regular contributions government or political appointees.
We also get from the Senate and House of Representatives and we have concluded an online arrangement to get from the generality of membership all over the country. Every member will now have to pay the sum of N100 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 finetune, particularly the membership drive nationwide and we have to take the 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 would 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 report in some quarters is that the party is in financial crisis; salaries of staff are being owed and that you are unable to meet other financial obligations. How true is this?
We have had difficulties in 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 would be of the past.
Some members of the APC recently threatened to petition the Economic and Financial Crime Commissions (EFCC) over mismanagement of funds accruing to the party. They said the leadership cannot account for the billions of naira it made during the 2015 general elections through sale of nomination forms. What do you make of this?
That shows they are not real party men. The party had a miniconvention, which gulped a lot of money. The party contributed to the presidential election. The party also funded the presidential primaries in Lagos, which cost a lot of money.
The party organised the primaries that produced candidates for all our governorship and senatorial seats across the nation. All of that cost money. Not only that, we have rendered audited accounts, both to the structures of the party, that is the National Executive Committee (NEC) and also to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). So, there is no problem about how the party’s funds are being spent. Anybody who is in doubt can come and pick up a copy of our audited accounts.
What is the major challenge you have faced since assuming office as APC national chairman?
There are challenges every day, 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.
How would you respond to the allegation that you have not been fair to those who assisted you to power as the national chairman of the APC, especially the party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
Everybody assisted me to this position and I am grateful to all of them. The only thing is my personality and integrity; I don’t joke with these two things because they are the only currency that I have and I will defend them at any time.
I don’t believe that one particular person solely assisted me to this position. Everybody assisted me and someday, the story of how I became chairman of APC would be told. You will then see that everybody did assist me to become national chairman. This means that I am there for everybody. I don’t belong to any camp in the APC. I belong to all members of APC.
Would you say that you were fair in your handling of the controversy over the governorship election in Kogi State?
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 said we did the right thing. So, the case is closed.
Some Nigerians have criticised you for saying that you will beg President Buhari to seek re-election in 2019. What is your take on that?
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.
The kind of country that we want Nigeria to be is one where a man’s yes is his yes; a country with leadership that treats public resources with respect; a nation that is disciplined; a nation that is not wallowing in indecent corruption.
President Buhari 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 good health and once he enjoys that, of course as an individual, I will work that he comes back for another term.
When we talk of change, a lot of people think 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. You once opposed the emergence of Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. Have you soften your stance now? I never opposed their emergence.
Are you saying you were in support of the process that brought them to office?
Once they have emerged, there is nothing anybody can do. The President said let the National Assembly elect its people. We had our views as a party and we tried to guide as to what ought to be done, which was not largely complied with. The House of Representatives did a lot better, they did comply largely with the advice that was given by the party. It wasn’t quite so in the Senate. But since then, remedial actions have been taken by the Senate. The officers there are a reality and we have to work with that reality.
The impression many Nigerians have is that the National Assemblyis trying to hold the President to ransom. How true is this assumption?
Yes, I have heard that. Quite a few of people have that impression, but in most cases, where there had been disagreements, apart from the EFCC chairman’s confirmation, most critical bills of the President have sailed through in the National Assembly.
So, disagreements have to come once in a while; it is natural. If you look at the United States today, you will see the disagreement that is going on between the Senate and the president over their critical Health Bill.
The Senate in fact, virtually turned it down and it is a Senate controlled by the same party that produced President Donald Trump. So, these are checks and balances that are built by our constitution drafters into the system. What I am insisting is that even when there are disagreements, it must be contained within civil and civilised limits.
What is your perspective on the whistle blowing policy of the Federal Government?
It is very effective. It is obviously working and I commend the Federal Government for coming up with the policy.
There has been controversy over N13 billion discovered by the EFCC in a luxury apartment in Lagos. Are you not worried over the way the issue is being handled?
That is not part of my job. The EFCC is handling that and I have no doubt that very soon, it will get to the root of the matter.