The first executive governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun has emerged as the new national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
He clinched the position last night at the party’s national convention in Abuja after former governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Timipre Sylva withdrew from the race at 11.27 pm.
Oyegun’s other rival for the post, Chief Tom Ikimi, was yet to show up at the convention at press time, while Chief Sam Jaja, who was also touted as showing interest in the race, did not purchase the nomination form.
Party leaders had on Thursday night prevailed on ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who was Ikimi’s major backer, to ask the ex-Foreign Minister to step down for Oyegun.
Although Ikimi seemed to have bowed to the wish of the leaders, there were speculations that he might defect to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has been making overtures to him.
Other leaders set to emerge at the convention are ex-Governor Segun Oni (Deputy National Chairman); Lai Mohammed (National Publicity Secretary); Hon. Zakare Ede, National Vice-Chairman for North-Central; Hajiya Ramatu, National Woman Leader; Jock Alamba, Deputy Welfare Secretary; Hajiya Hassan, North-Central Zonal Woman Leade; Hon. Nelson Alapa, ex-Officio from the North-Central; Deputy National Chairman (North) Senator Lawal Shuaib and National Secretary, Alhaji Ibrahim Bala Gubi.
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.
A reliable source said: “The party leaders took time to weigh the democratic credentials of all the four candidates before choosing Oyegun, who was rated as consistent in his commitment to progressive cause.
“His moral integrity also buoyed his chance because in spite of his portfolios as a Federal Permanent Secretary, he did not acquire even a plot of land.
“His sacrifice as the Secretary of the defunct National Democratic Coalition(NADECO) abroad also counted in his favour as a politician who cannot be manipulated by any bigwig in the party.”
The source said Oyegun’s fairness would make him withstand pressure during the forthcoming presidential primaries of the party with the governors and leaders of APC accepting the strong recommendation of a national leader of the party that Oyegun is the best for the job.”
Another source said: “We have got indications that Ikimi may defect to PDP, although some of our leaders are trying to persuade him to have a rethink.”
Pomp and pageantry heralded the convention opening at the Eagle’s Square, Abuja.
For about six hours, delegates and party members overwhelmed the Square and its precinct, singing and dancing.
The convention took off at about 8.50 pm with opening prayer by Alhaji Gambo Magaji and Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu.
In his farewell address, the Interim National Chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande, said the party was solid and strong enough to defeat the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in 2015.
He asked President Goodluck Jonathan to stop playing semantics with his anti-corruption agenda.
He said: “President Goodluck Jonathan has been trying to make distinction between stealing and corruption. We say to him, corruption is corruption which has eaten deep into the fabrics of our society. This is no time for semantics.”
On the security challenge in the North, Akande expressed regrets that President Jonathan had refused to accept suggestions made by the APC.
He added: “While we can say that the state of our party is strong, we cannot say the same for our country. Nigeria that had contributed troops to global peacekeeping is today overwhelmed by insurgency.
“The US, the UK and others are assisting us to rescue over 200 students. This is a clear failure of our country’s leadership.
“We have stretched our hands in a non-partisan approach to end the insurgency. As I speak, the government has not acknowledged our efforts. Instead, they blamed us for the crisis.
On the 2015 poll, he said inasmuch as the party will insist on free and fair elections, APC members should be vigilant.
He added: “No free and fair election has been held under the watch of the Peoples Democratic Party. In recent times, the PDP under the government it controlled at the centre had moved to emasculate the court. They did it in Anambra election; they are attempting to do it in Ekiti and Osun states.
“I urge you all to be vigilant as eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Ultimately, power belongs to the people and no one can take it from them by force.”
He said “in the face of persecution, APC will reach the Promised Land. We have been able to create alternative for Nigerians who are already tired of the PDP.
“The state of our party is strong and our achievements have surpassed our expectations.”
In his address, the Chairman of the First National Convention Committee, Governor Aliyu Wammako, said: “Out of historical exigency, we have realised and we have come to accept that Nigeria has never been pulled down like this.
“All the crises pose threats to our economy; there is a nightmare in the name of insurgency. Despite this, they want to take power at all cost. The Federal Government is adopting divide and rule tactics. However all hope is not lost because Nigerians are rising above ethnic divide.”
The Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, said APC is different from PDP because it is more democratic.
He asked Nigerians to vote for APC in 2015 to effect change in the country.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, asked APC members to protect their voting rights to be able to change the government in 2015.
A former Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Modu Ali Sheriff said the atmosphere at the Eagle’s Square showed that Nigerians have faith in the opposition and they are ready for change.
A former National Chairman of the defunct ANPP, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, said the opposition parties came together in order to rescue the nation.
Those at the convention were ex-Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari; ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar; a National Leader of APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the outgoing Interim National Chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande; a former National Chairman of ANPP, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu; ex-National Chairman of CPC, Prince Tony Momoh.
Also at the convention were almost all the APC governors led by the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; Rauf Aregbesola; Rabiu Kwankwaso; Rochas Okorocha, Babatunde Raji Fashola, Kayode Fayemi; Aliyu Wammako (who was the Chairman of the National Convention Planning Committee); Ibikunle Amosun; Abdulfatai Ahmed; Tanko Al-Makura; Murtala Nyako and Ibrahim Gaidam.
Others were ex-National Chairman of ACN, Chief Audu Ogbeh; ex-Governors Bukola Saraki, George Akume, Abdullahi Adamu, Niyi Adebayo, Sha’aba Lafiagi, Segun Oni and ex-Military Governor of Kaduna State, Jafar Isa.
Others were all members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly on the platform of APC; ex-Minister of State for Defence, Chief Demola Seriki; Senator Isiaka Adeleke; the deputy governors of Osun, Oyo, Ekiti and Imo states, among others[The Nation]