Nigeria: The Deserved Celebration of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun

20 August 2019

President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday congratulated Chief John Odigie-Oyegun on his 80th birthday, describing the octogenarian as a true example of a patriot and democrat. The President's spokesman, Mr Femi Adesina, in a statement in Abuja quoted Buhari as saying that Odigie-Oyegun's achievements included becoming a permanent secretary at 30, winning a governorship election in his early 50s and providing visionary leadership to unseat an incumbent government for the first time in Nigeria's history.

Earlier, Nigerian leaders on Saturday gathered at the International Conference Centre, Abuja to celebrate the former national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who turned 80 years old.

The leaders used the opportunity to explain why the former governor Edo State is worth celebrating by Nigerians. Leading the leaders who spoke on his leadership qualities was the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Osinbajo, who was the special guest of honour, said he had always admired Oyegun, for two reasons. He said, "First is that somehow he has always been his own man charting his own course, sometimes making some real trouble. For example, when as a federal permanent secretary, he risked contempt proceedings when he refused to testify on principle. "But almost always you find him on the right side of history; as a founding member of AD, member of NADECO, and founding member of the APC and its first chairman; one who led the party to its historic victory to unseat the ruling party (in 2015).

"But the second reason for my admiration is that somehow he manages to be so deep in the politics of Nigeria yet he doesn't ever look like a politician. He sounds always like a fine, well-bred, well spoken gentleman dragged into politics; but indeed he is a consummate politician and an astute strategist."

In his remark, the governor of Ekiti State, Mr Kayode Fayemi, who is the Chairman of Nigeria Governors' Forum, described Mr Odigie-Oyegun as a quintessential public servant, a committed and patriotic Nigerian.

First Lady Aisha Buhari described the former national chairman of All Progressive Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, as a complete gentleman and a peace maker. She made this known in her Instagram handle on Saturday in a message to celebrate the former APC chairman on his 80th birthday anniversary. The first lady also described the celebrant as a unifying factor who worked tirelessly for the development of his fatherland.

National chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Uche Secondus, has also described Chief John Odigie Oyegun, as a committed democrat and a model for younger generation of political leaders. In his good will message on the 80th birthday celebration of the former APC chairman, Secondus said Chief Oyegun brought high moral discipline to political party administration in the country.

Under Chief John Odigie-Oyegun's leadership the APC booted out of power the incumbent, corrupt and rapacious Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) along with its phantom dream of staying in power for 60 uninterrupted years. The first time in history in Nigeria that an incumbent federal administration was stopped through elections from getting a second term of office that is always taken for granted. He is also what is called a Super Permanent Secretary, a rare club that he belongs with such civil service legends like Philip Asiodu, Ayida and Ahmed Joda among others. These were civil servants who know their onions in public service and were movers and shakers of the administrations they served because of their knowledge and capacity, before the system was bastardized by the military.

When he retired from civil service in his early 50s Oyegun put his energy towards running his own business and became what he termed "a fisherman" and within two years he became the chairman of Nigeria Trolley Owners Association for two years. From there he ventured into politics when he was 52 and entered the race to be the governor of old Bendel State before the creation of Edo State where eventually he was elected as the first Executive Governor of the state. He later became the first deputy national chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and national chairman of the APC and thus became the first chairman of an opposition party to oust a sitting government at the federal level.

While Oyegun's leadership that ousted the PDP was commendable, many forget that Oyegun has a history of challenging the status quo since he joined politics as he was very active in the pro-democracy movement that emerged in the country after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election that was won by late Chief MKO Abiola. As a matter of fact Oyegun was politically active during the MKO Abiola presidential mandate and the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) days.

Oyegun is a man who when he believes in something he gives it everything regardless of the attendant risk to his person. This much he has demonstrated as a NADECO leader and the national chairman of the opposition party that rewrote Nigeria's political history and showed that incumbency is no longer a guarantee for success in a reelection bid at the federal level. It was this attitude that also took him to the pinnacle of the civil service of Nigeria at a relatively young age and also catapulted him to the seat of governor of Edo State. This great leader who in the 60s was witness and indeed participant in the quest to make Nigeria great is today unhappy that the country has not fulfilled its destiny. In a recent interview to mark his 80th birthday celebration he told journalists about his sadness. "We were ahead of Brazil, India who at that time people was dying in the streets of hunger. We were ahead of Malaysia and few other countries. We had the resources, good planning, we brought in UN, World Bank and it was fantastic atmosphere with expatriates, professors and civil servants planning for the growth and development of this country. "Seeing the bright future that was beckoning us, don't ask me where it all went wrong. Whether it was the nosedive we took into military intervention, I cannot tell. It is difficult to explain the persistent, inexorable downward trend to the extent that we now leave it to prayer warriors," he said.

Oyegun has also shown over the years of his political life that he is not a bread and butter politician. He is indeed a study in tenacity of an opposition politician and leader in Africa. He could have joined the then ruling PDP between 1999 and 2015 and be part of the money sharing jamboree. He did not join that gang of looters because he is not cut out for politics of underhand deals. He is a transparent politician, that is why he remains with President Muhammadu Buhari even when it was not fashionable to do so in Southern Nigeria.

As this apostle of politics without bitterness marks his 80 years birthday, it is important for politicians and Nigerians to heed to his advise against electoral violence. Asked for his advice to the young politicians recently, Oyegun said, "Our politics should not be bitter but must be based on principles, believes and rooted in service. Our politics must be removed from the realms of violence like losing anyone's life to get someone elected. It does not make sense to me one person dying let alone thousands. Power should not be at all cost."

We urge young Nigerians to emulate the leadership qualities and values demonstrated by Odigie-Oyegun when he served as a permanent secretary, governor of Edo and national chairman of APC. Chief Odigie-Oyegun has kept his name clean, right and fair over the years. Even as he left office as national chairman of the APC, it could be noticed that he has never engaged in any battle with anybody in the party. He deserves all the accolades he has been getting from Nigerians from all walks of life.

-Aluta Continua!

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