Oyegun and the Abuja Disease

Chief John Odigie-Oyegun

Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the All Progressives Congress

Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, national chairman of the All Progressives Congress

By Louis Odion

The Abuja disease is a peculiar affliction in Nigerian politics. It refers to the tendency of an actor with an otherwise modest endowment or from a humble station to transmute to a monstrous creature once he/she enters the nation’s capital and begins to frequent the power circles.

Intoxicated by a new false sense of identity, such upstart does not consider it abominable to now point at his or her cradle with the proverbial left hand, mocking old benefactors, before new friends.

Chief Odigie Oyegun would appear the latest sufferer of this pathology. With a straight face, the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has been toiling hard lately to deny allies who smoothed his path to office. Perhaps the most audacious of such exertions is an interview published by Vanguard on Monday, where he sought to disavow a known truth: the decisive role played by both Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in his emergence in 2014.

Specifically, the interviewer asked: “Some are alleging that you’ve not been fair to those who assisted you to emerge National Chairman of the party, especially Bola Tinubu. Is this true?”

Hear Oyegun: “Everybody assisted me to this position and I’m grateful to all of them. The only thing is my personality and integrity; I don’t joke with these two things because they’re the only currency that I have and I’ll defend them at any time. I don’t believe one particular person solely assisted me to this position.”

And in what sounded more like a poor imitation of Buhari’s now famous inaugural “I belong to everybody and nobody” phrase, Oyegun added: “Some day, the story of how I became chairman of APC will be told. You will then see that everybody did assist me to become National Chairman. This means that I’m there for everybody. I don’t belong to any camp in the APC. I belong to all members of APC, high and below.”

With that, the APC chairman could, however, only be said to be deceiving himself in his desperation to impress a national following that does not exist. In the same interview, even more disturbing was his showcasing of a poverty of ideas so blissfully, over the reported insolvency of the party’s national secretariat. We shall return to this presently.

Now luxuriating in his new-found glory, Oyegun must be assuming that the nameless – but nonetheless discerning – porters at the Benin airport have forgotten the wilderness days of 2013 and early 2014, when they often would relieve an elderly man, regularly clad in French suit, of his little bag, after rushing in from his hermitage on the sedate Reservation Road in Benin GRA to catch the evening Arik Air flight to Lagos – tellingly at predictable intervals.

Easily given away by the littleness of his luggage, no one needed further proof that his missions to Lagos could not be other than for political meetings, hosted by folks whose generous hospitality he now belittles.

So, when Oyegun speaks in such imperial tone these days, he must also have assumed that no one remembers how the Edo chapter of APC had unilaterally issued a statement endorsing his then arch rival, Chief Tom Ikimi, solely for the office of APC National Chairman in 2014, obviously to foreclose his (Oyegun’s) chances.

If Oshiomhole ensured home anointing for Oyegun, Tinubu sold him to his allies at the national level, obviously out of a nostalgia for – and maybe over-romanticisation of – their NADECO past. We are talking of the days of innocence of APC when key gladiators still related as comrades united by a shared resolve to oust Goodluck Jonathan from Aso Rock…

Unhappy with what he considered “an anti-democratic manoeuvre” and “a crude attempt to close the political space”, then Governor Oshiomhole had to make a passionate appeal to the state party executive to shift ground. They were incensed that even with the convention barely a few days away, Oyegun still had not thought it courteous to formally intimate them of his interest in the big job.

Following Oshiomhole’s intervention, the Anselm Ojezua-led state exco backed down and granted Oyegun audience to make a presentation. Thereafter, the Edo APC recanted its earlier position by issuing a statement also acknowledging Oyegun and wishing both contenders good luck at the national convention ahead.

That development would cost Oshiomhole his political relationship with Ikimi, seen largely as the man to beat for his greater national visibility, which he was too eager to flaunt to the point of hubris.

If Oshiomhole ensured home anointing for Oyegun, Tinubu sold him to his allies at the national level, obviously out of a nostalgia for – and maybe over-romanticisation of – their NADECO past. We are talking of the days of innocence of APC when key gladiators still related as comrades united by a shared resolve to oust Goodluck Jonathan from Aso Rock; when the atmosphere had not become poisoned by mutual suspicion and deep bitterness arising from a sense of alienation.

Of course, it is an open secret that over the years, Asiwaju and Ikimi never got on well over the former’s memory of the brutal repression he suffered as a NADECO exile under the dictatorship of Sani Abacha in the 90s, with the Oduma of Igueben serving as the voluble foreign minister.

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It is a measure of Tinubu’s blistering networking that Ikimi eventually faced stiff resistance from almost everyone who held the ace within APC then, except Turakin Adamawa (ex Vice President Atiku Abubakar). Out-muscled, he had no choice than withdrawing a few hours to the commencement of voting at the convention. In pulling out of APC eventually, Ikimi enacted much drama and a lengthy epistle dripping of bile and acid.

Reminding the public how he had hosted several exploratory meetings that led to APC’s birth in 2014, Ikimi likened what happened to “someone taking away my pot of soup”, more or less dismissing Oyegun as a political merchandise, with little or no electoral value.

Indeed, in hindsight, Ikimi would now seem vindicated. At home, Oyegun has in the past three years been exposed as grossly impotent politically. In the 2015 general polls, not only did the APC national chair fail to deliver his polling unit in Oredo, his ward, local government and the entire Edo South senatorial district were also lost to the PDP. It was only Oshiomhole’s rally in his native Edo North that ensured APC eventually delivered 45 percent to Buhari’s victory in the historic March 28 polls.

Even more humiliating was the outcome of the state governorship primaries in 2016. Oyegun’s anointed in the shadow polls came a distant third to Godwin Obaseki. In the September 26 governorship polls proper, Oyegun, the great national chair, failed again, as PDP won his polling unit right there in Oredo, the heart of Benin City.

Back in 2011, even as the presidential running-mate to Shekarau on the ANPP platform, Oyegun’s showing at home was no less disastrous. ANPP performed woefully across Edo. In fact, on account of the sparse number of votes recorded in Benin City, it would not have been an exaggeration to have said that no one outside Oyegun’s family members and a few loyal neighbours came out to support a ticket that supposedly had “the son of the soil” on it as the vice presidential candidate.

Taken together, no one is begrudging Oyegun whatever super stardom he thinks APC leadership now confers on him. But what we only expect of those whose palm kernel has been cracked for them by some benevolent gods is simple – humility. While Oyegun now makes a fetish of some self-declared “personality and integrity”, we only expect a demonstration of this virtue in a fidelity to the facts of history, particularly when the memory is still fresh.

Acknowledging those who provided you the ladder to climb to a certain height will not in anyway diminish your stardom. On the contrary, it would confer greater nobility on you. Only those incurably afflicted with the Abuja disease would seek to belittle, without qualms, their key enablers of yesterday.

On APC’s state of financial health, Oyegun also misses the point by dragging President Muhammadu Buhari’s name into the story of APC’s illiquidity. Contrary to his insinuation, no one is saying or expects Buhari to dip his hands into the public treasury to fund the party’s activities. I think the issue is about whether enough incentives are being created for party members or blocs to have a sense of ownership that will, in turn, ginger them into freely bringing their widow’s mite.

How was the party able to finance itself before gaining power?

Theoretically, a party is supposed to draw oxygen substantially from membership fees, dues and levies by those who subscribe to its charter of values.

To be fair to Oyegun, party finance remains a sticky point even in the so-called mature democracies. In the United States, the corrosive influence of Wall Street was a big issue in both the primaries and general polls of last year. The challenge has been how to evolve an institutional bulwark against kickbacks, influence peddling, embezzlement and extortion on the party’s behalf.

In the present circumstance, it is, however, debatable whether Oyegun has been able to draw on his much vaunted “personality and integrity” to provide an exemplary leadership that towers above the squalour of partisanship and therefore commands the greater loyalty and trust of all and sundry. It then explains why the national secretariat appears increasingly deserted and the earth vanishing under Oyegun’s bare feet.

Nothing illustrates graphically that loosening grip than the reported tumult in Abuja on Tuesday by the state chairmen of the party. While Oyegun would typically choose to live in denial, the party’s chief spokesperson, Bolaji Abdullahi, was forthright enough to admit that the state leaders were bitter over Buhari’s “lopsided appointments”, which have only succeeded in casting the government as sectional; a total negation of the promise of 2015.

With the deafening rabble at the door, the question now is whether Oyegun, as the embodiment of the heart and soul of APC, has the courage and the gravitas to convey the message to Buhari with a view to winning back those who genuinely feel alienated. That may be a tough call for a pensioner feverishly afraid of losing his own share of the spoils of office in Abuja.

Meanwhile, with his kinsman now appearing to totter under the weight of office in Abuja, I can see Ikimi taking another sip from his favourite cognac this moment, smiling mischievously.

Louis Odion is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE).

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