“APC national chairman, of course, is the apex of what one can be in political party administration and management.”
Immediate past National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has sensationally revealed that his political feats were not miraculous. The former top civil servant and erstwhile governor of Edo state, spoke to Saturday Sun in Abuja about his upbringing, life as a youth, career and political days, maintaining that his achievements as a politician were carefully planned. Oyegun also revealed his high moment as a politician, while also saying that he was never free from sexual escapades.
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You were 79 years old on Sunday. What type of upbringing did you have?
Fairly strict! It was a large family. It was interesting because my mother was illiterate, but my father was educated, a civil servant, senior civil servant for that matter. He was in the judiciary. He was a polygamist with plenty of children and I was number five out of 26.
You live a very simple lifestyle. Where did you take that from?
I think it must have come from my family and upbringing. My father was a fairly simple man, fairly introvert and was not given to loud activities and gestures and the rest of it. We grew up not even knowing there was something called a birthday celebration. And I can’t remember him celebrating anything. So, it was that kind of modest, happy, sedate, strict upbringing.
Growing up, what was uppermost on your mind in terms of career choice?
Nothing! That is just the truth of the matter. We did not have the advantage of career advice. It was either you were a civil servant or a teacher basically.
Were you closer to mum or dad?
When you have a strict home, you are bound to be closer to your mother. When you are in a polygamous home, you are bound to be closer to your mother. So, inevitably, yes. In any case, even in monogamous homes, you find that children tend to be closer to their mothers.
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Who mentored you while growing up?
An uncle. I call him uncle even though he basically grew up with my father, one Mr Okundaye. I think basically, he dramatically affected the course of my life and my perspective about life. Very dramatic!
Did he influence your eventual career in the civil service?
Let’s put it this way: the civil service was the only place to go then, the best people, I am not trying to be immodest. That was just the reality at the time, colonial and post-colonial Nigeria. The civil service had first choice of the output of the University College, Ibadan, as it then was and it was those they didn’t take that strayed into the UACs, the Leventis and the companies that were prominent at that time.
How did you meet your wife? Was it in the university?
No. It was in the ministry, Ministry of Economic Development. I grew through rascality and I met the love of my life.
What were those memorable things you did while growing up? Did you ever attend night parties?
Modest parties. I was never the one for large parties, for example, in the university. You had the Sigma Club. That was the club to belong to, but I was never a member because I wasn’t that party type, the drinking type. Instead, I belonged to the Inner Cycle and the Embassy Club. They were clubs that were intellectually appealing and challenging and had something to offer to my intellect at that time.
What were the pranks you played while growing up?
I don’t know if one played pranks as such. Can I remember? I doubt it. When you were young, really young, growing up in Warri in those days, you call those pranks, you know this bicycle tube, you put a string to it, put it on one side of the road and when people are working, you are now pulling it across the road and of course, it looks like a snake and you just watch the reaction, the shock, the alarm, the exclamation and the rest of it, of whoever happened to be our victim at that time. Little things like that.
Did you ever indulge in truancy?
No, no, no.
So, you took your studies seriously?
Very, very seriously. Not seriously in terms of the fact that I read a lot, I mean in terms of studying textbooks. But I read very widely, very widely. At elementary school, I was already reading William Shakespeare and the rest of it. So, by the time I was in secondary school, I knew quite a lot of Shakespeare, including the famous Julius Caesar speech by Mark Anthony and the rest of it. I knew it off hand.
Was there a time you came face-to-face with poverty?
Of course, it was always there. My father was a civil servant. We were 26, he met the basics educationally. He made sure we all went to school, but after secondary school, there was the issue of who goes to the university and who does not. The male children generally were encouraged to go to the university, the
female had to take up the professions; by and large, everybody got to the top – teaching, secretariat work, medicine and things like that, and we all did very, very well.
Taking a look at your life, would you say it was a miracle becoming governor of Edo State and APC national chairman?
No, they were never miracles. They were things I wanted and I had that gift of discerning where I was needed, working for it and eventually arriving. And God was always there. God always help. For example, I wanted to be national chairman of ANPP as it were then, but God decided otherwise. I didn’t know I was being prepared to be national chairman of the APC. God had a hand in it.
What has been your high point so far in your political life?
Was it as a governor or as APC national chairman?
I will say both. APC national chairman, of course, is the apex of what one can be in political party administration and management.
What particular incident do you see as your high point?
As a governor, when my election was annulled by the tribunal. The injustice was so apparent that virtually the whole nation rose as one man in my defence and it brought tears to my eyes and I was humbled. I didn’t know the nation was watching that particular contest because it was like a David and Goliath struggle. Through careful planning, because I planned properly, I was able to win that election. And for it to have been annulled for very spurious reasons, I think got the whole country shaking, really, really shaking.
What has been your low moment so far?
I hardly have low moment, even when things are not doing well.
When even as chairman Asiwaju Tinubu would write you letters?
They were destabilizing. But they were just challenges to be met. You see, it doesn’t drag you down because allegations were made, things were said and you knew in you, you have the strength of character to know that none of that was true. You were strengthened by the fact that there were no skeletons to unearth in the cupboard. So, it doesn’t drag you low; you are not afraid that people may chance on something disgraceful about your past, about your activities or about that. So, I just let them glide by. Of course, they were destabilizing. One had to manage the system such that the people don’t react against falsehood. By and large, you can see that it worked.
How do you unwind?
Basically these days, music.
What genre of music do you listen to?
I love soft jazz. I love jazz.
So, you don’t listen to traditional Edo songs?
Of course, that one comes. It is a matter of mood. You talked of relaxing. When you want to be energised, you have a different type of music. But when you talk of relaxing, you have had a hard day, you just put soft music like that, you forget even that there is music because it is inside you, relaxes you, becomes part of you and you are then able to empty your mind. I have that gift. People should practise it, it is absolutely wonderful.
What informs your choice of dressing?
Something simple, something not cumbersome! Basically, that is just one thing. Nothing cumbersome. I find wearing a shirt, a tie, socks, laced shoes very cumbersome. Very, very cumbersome indeed. Most of the time, you find me in two-piece – wearing a shirt and a trouser when I am truly relaxed, even to go out, or the native two-piece with a cap when I want to be slightly more formal or the safari. Those are my standard cloths, but of course, when it is a wedding and things like that, you go searching for the agbada you kept somewhere. So, simplicity and convenience!
How about your food preference?
For almost five days in a week or four days, I must swallow in the afternoon.
Pounded yam preferably.
And egusi soup?
No, draw soup of all types or Oha, Ofe-Onugbu and bitter leaf.
With goat meat?
Goat meat my favourite meat, or fish my favourite protein, as they call it in the hotel these days.
Where is your holiday destination?
Have I ever had a true holiday? Usually, the start is Britain. That is the starting point and the U.S.
With your wife or you go alone?
Often we go separately; occasionally, alone because really, what is a holiday? A holiday is when you want to do something totally different, empty yourself.
People believe that no matter how strong a man is, you can never separate him from a woman. Did you ever womanise, even while growing up and now?
Everybody did. To my mind, every man, unless the very select, unusual ones, does womanise. I don’t know whether it is part of the genetic composition of males. The difference is whether you are polygamous or you are not. But to say in all your life you never did, well, that will be a very unique somebody of the saintly category.
What is that thing that you can never be caught doing?
Taking something that doesn’t belong to me! Anything whatsoever; whatever way, anything that does not strictly belong to me and I won’t do anything too that will dishonour me. I have weaknesses like any other human being, but I have a high degree.
How do you keep fit?
Being active! I am a very active person normally. Not by formal exercise, but my life is usually very active: mentally, physically, very, very active.
So, you don’t do walk out?
Not formally! It is strange, but that is it. But I think I have enough walk about physically than most people even do walk out because I do a lot of things for myself.
What is your political future like?
Political future? At 79? My main interest now is that wherever my party needs my help, I will be there. I still believe very, very strongly in the change mantra, believe strongly in the person of Buhari, I believe even more strongly in the destiny of the Nigerian nation and in the very near future, I will probably begin to see myself as a figure that is available to all Nigerians whatever the political affiliation.