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Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former governor of Edo State emerges as the new national chairman of the All Progressives Congress at its inaugural national convention held in Abuja, writes Chris Ajaero.
It had all the trappings of a game of political intrigues and horse-trading as the All Progressives Congress (APC) elected its new national executive officers during its inaugural national convention held at the Eagles Square, Abuja on Saturday, June 14.
During the convention, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, former governor of Edo State emerged as the national chairman through consensus. The emergence of Odigie-Oyegun, as the consensus candidate for the position was an arrangement believed to have been perfected by the party leadership and executed by the Alhaji Kawu Baraje-led election sub-committee of the first national convention planning committee. It was gathered that the race for the office of the national chairman stretched the leaders of the party who met for two days before reaching a consensus on Odigie-Oyegun. Before the convention, three other candidates from the South-South geo-political zone had indicated interest in the position. They are Chief Tom Ikimi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs from Edo State, Chief Timipre Sylva, former governor of Bayelsa State and Chief Sam Jaja, a political ally of Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State. However, a few hours before the convention, a powerful lobby initiated by Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a stalwart of the APC succeeded in persuading two other aspirants to step down for Odigie-Oyegun, the preferred candidate of the kingmakers in the party. Chief Jaja was first to step down for Oyegun. He told journalists at the convention venue that leaders of the party from the South-South geopolitical zone had agreed to zone the position to Edo State. Chief Sylva who is believed to have enjoyed the support of most of the APC governors also stepped down. Sylva while announcing his withdrawal from the contest, said he took the decision in order to maintain party unity. He expressed support for Odigie-Oyegun, the preferred choice of the party.
However, Chief Ikimi insisted on going ahead with the contest but was absent from the venue of the convention apparently because he could not get the support of many delegates at the convention. This paved the way for the Alhaji Kawu Baraje-led election sub-committee of the first National Convention Planning Committee to announce that Odigie-Oyegun had emerged as the new national chairman of the party through consensus. It marked the return of Odigie-Oyegun to national limelight. It is noteworthy that Odigie-Oyegun, an old political war horse, was the Executive Governor of Edo State between 1992 and 1993, during the aborted Third Republic.
Other members of the new national executive of the party include Alhaji Ibrahim Bala Gubi , national secretary , Mr. Segun Oni, former governor of Ekiti State, who emerged as Deputy National Chairman (South), Alhaji Lawal Shuaibu, deputy national chairman (North), Alhaji Lai Mohammmed, National Publicity Secretary and Hajia Ramatu Tijani, National Woman Leader.
Although virtually all the candidates emerged through consensus, delegates still voted to ratify the selection in line with the guidelines of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on party convention.
In his post-election speech, Chief Odigie-Oyegun, promised to work closely with other leaders of the APC to wrest power from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general elections. He said: “In 2015, Nigerians will finally have the opportunity to kick out a long-ruling party that has, among other things, failed to provide them with stable power supply, failed to provide them with security that will enable them sleep peacefully on their beds at night, failed to provide employment for millions of Nigerian youths, and failed to stem the tide of corruption that is robbing Nigeria’s children of their future.
“In 2015, the All Progressives Congress will provide Nigerians with a visionary, dedicated and people-oriented leadership that will liberate the nation from PDP’s rule of poverty and oppression. Under the stewardship of the APC, Nigeria will progress and Nigerians will thrive. This is our sacred pledge to Nigerians tonight,” he said.
Odigie-Oyegun, however, cautioned the party faithful not to think that the political battle ahead would be an easy one. “We must not be under any illusion: our work will not be easy. The very task of salvaging Nigeria will, on its own, be hard because the rot is deep. But the task will be made even harder by the fact that we have, as opponents, a political party that will stop at nothing to frustrate our mission. We know the make-up, the habits, the philosophy and the mind-set of our opponents. We know the extent they will go to cling on to power,” he said.
Like Chief Odigie-Oyegun, other speakers were unequivocal in expressing the party’s desire to take over the reins of power from the ruling PDP in 2015.
General Muhammadu Buhari, former Head of State said the 2015 general election would be a watershed in the country’s political history and vowed to work relentlessly with the new executives of the party to ensure that APC wins next year’s general elections.
Atiku Abubakar, former vice president was emphatic that the 2015 general elections would bring to end the era of impunity that had allegedly characterized the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Chibuike Amaechi, governor of Rivers State asked APC members to protect their voting rights to be able to effect the desired change in government at the national level in 2015.
Tinubu boasted that the successful hosting of the APC national convention has shamed its detractors who had predicted that the merger would not stand the test of time. “We have every reason to congratulate ourselves not only for the history we have made, but for showing that we are capable and ready to bring that which Nigerians desire. They have attempted to brand us a religious party, yet they failed. They should know that poverty knows no religion. We are making history today and we must remain united,” Tinubu said.
In are rare spirit of comradeship, the PDP sent a congratulatory message to the newly elected leadership of the APC. In a statement signed by Olisa Metuh, its National Publicity Secretary, he enjoined the new APC leadership to “ensure an issue-based opposition that will purposefully and constructively engage and challenge the PDP with decency and maturity as prescribed by democratic tenets and principles.”