In June, last year, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun came to the expected terminus of his job as national chair of the All Progressives Congress (APC), having spent about four years in the saddle. Very early under his leadership of the party, precisely in June 2015, Oyegun’s leadership demonstrated a lack of capacity, political sagacity and strategic nimbleness to push through the party’s anointed candidates for the positions of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
For as long as Oyegun was in the saddle, the opposition group in the APC-controlled National Assembly comfortably unsettled the party from within, making governance, that was supposed to be anchored on robust executive-legislature relationship, problematic for President Muhammadu Buhari because scant effort was invested in that enterprise. Oyegun’s leadership could not forge unity in the APC caucus in the National Assembly. The leadership spectacularly failed to entrench the culture of party supremacy and discipline.
Under his leadership, the Governors’ superintending influence and imperial control of party structures in the states were writ-large. That fed authoritarianism in the administration of the party at the sub-national government. The concomitant result was the reign of impunity that the vast majority of party members and many leaders were subjected to. Oyegun could not rein in the governors, who had built pseudo-political empires that ran parallel to the national leadership of the APC in their respective states.
In the circumstance, Oyegun was understandably overwhelmed by the vagaries of political tensions and crises within the APC enclave. His consequent underwhelming performance had thus discounted the prospects of tenure renewal for him. A tribe of progressive and forward-looking leaders and stakeholders, who enjoyed presidential approbation, had seized the momentum to search for a swashbuckling replacement to Oyegun who could clean the Augean stables of indiscipline and disrespect for party supremacy.
It is a no-brainer that Oyegun would not have been sent packing if he had been able to effectively manage the disparate interests in the governing party. His leadership style was considered too laid-back and could not have galvanised the party to the next level in the pragmatic institutionalization of discipline and supremacy as essential credos that underpin the zeitgeist of the new APC leadership on the watch of former governor of Edo state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
APC’s stakeholders and apparatchiks that searched out Oshiomhole and pushed through his candidature were quite strategic and considerate in their choice. They looked into Oshiomhole’s antecedents that were as solid as Oyegun’s and, equally importantly, in the direction of Edo state to pick Oyegun’s successor as both the predecessor and successor remain great sons of the State.
As it is, Edo state, which remains the only APC-controlled state in the South-south zone, courtesy of Oshiomhole’s plucky and audacious politics, justifiably retains the critical position of national chair. Indeed, the change of baton had appeared seamless; and, Oyegun had largely been credited for making it possible. His equanimity and statesmanship were considered salutary in the realisation of the overall picture of peaceful change and handover of power.
Indeed, Oyegun never betrayed emotions even if he harboured any. He was stoical and earned for himself plaudits as a statesman. But unfortunately the former national chair has, in recent times, exposed his true emotions about the political circumstances that culminated in the non-renewal of his mandate as national chair of the APC. His spokesperson, Ray Morphy, had on two critical occasions involving the reputation of Oshiomhole, spoken on Oyegun’s behalf in outright condemnation of his successor (Oshiomhole) leadership of the APC.
The first occasion was when the embittered Deputy National Chair of the APC (North), Senator Lawali Shuaibu (now suspended from the party), wrote an open letter to Oshiomhole, blaming him for all the mistakes and failures of the party in the 2019 general election, and calling on him to resign from office. Shuaibu was to, on that pretext, act as the arrowhead of a group that had planned an ill-fated nationwide agitation for the removal of Oshiomhole as national chair. It has since been confirmed that Oyegun was enamored of the idea, going by the tenor of the statement Morphy issued on his behalf.
The second instance is the festering crises in the Edo State House of Assembly that have pitched the State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, against forces that are believed to enjoy the backing of Oshiomhole. Morphy had, on behalf of Oyegun, accused Oshiomhole of fuelling the crises and had alleged that the national chair of the APC was guilty of the charges of godfatherism and anti-party activities. Without a doubt, these anti-Oshiomhole sentiments have sheared Oyegun of his statesmanship.
Read Morhpy, in part, on behalf of Oyegun: “The recent outburst by Governor Obaseki and the report by the House of Representatives’ ad hoc committee, indicting the current national chairman of the APC, have confirmed my earlier claim that Oshiomhole is not only the architect but also responsible for fueling the crisis in Edo state. In the face of these confirmations, I want to urge Oshiomhole to stop disgracing the ruling party and the good people of Edo State. I wonder how he could easily forget that I never interfered or bothered about how he ran the government as the then Governor of Edo state all the while I occupied the position of the party’s national chairman.”
The entire statement was replete with bile. He turned Oshiomhole into a justice-seeking cockroach, in the face of the avalanche of accusations, amid the gathering of fowls. How can Oshiomhole get justice in such a gathering presided over by Oyegun, who has decided to dismount the high horse of statesmanship into the odious abyss of partisanship, fueled by the primordial Benin ethnic jingoism? This, intriguingly, is the platform on which Obaseki is sponsoring a fight-back at forces believed to be working round the clock to upend his re-election bid in 2020.
Whatever the motivation was that made Oyegun to discountenance the very high ideal of statesmanship, such that he has resorted to pitching his tent with warlords in the narrow boundaries of ethnicity, it has done a great disservice to a hitherto luminous leadership profile in decency, equanimity, self-restraint, nationalism and, above all, statesmanship. Oyegun has lost his essential moral high ground to be an impartial arbiter. I am at great pains to contest his statesmanship in the present circumstance.
The fact that Morphy is speaking on his behalf makes his attempt to hide behind a finger, which the strategy employed typifies, quixotic. Oyegun has taken sides instead of deploying the magnitude of his position as former national chair to intervene or intercede impartially in helping to resolve the festering crises in Edo state. Interestingly, Simon Ebegbulem, Chief Press Secretary to Oshiomhole, in response to Oyegun/Morphy’s antics, has called Oyegun, whom he described as a respected leader of the party and an elder statesman, out to openly address Oshiomhole who succeeded him as national chair instead of using Morphy.
Obviously, Oyegun has chosen to cross the partisan line. He has lost faith in his statesmanship and has sadly become a party to the crises, thus discounting the tribe of statesmen with an obligatory duty to pursue utilitarian and amicable resolution of political crises such as the ones besetting Edo state on Obaseki’s watch. Now that the issue of Oyegun’s statesmanship is a sore point, who else in the APC family in Edo, remains inebriated in pristine impartiality to intervene and help restore amity to the State chapter of the APC? The answer is blowing in the wind.
· Ojeifo contributed this piece via firstname.lastname@example.org