Monday Column by Emmanuel Yawe
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It was a gathering of who is who in Nigeria at the International Conference Center in Abuja on 17th August 2019. The Vice – President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, led a top heavy contingent of officials to the occasion to mark the 80th birthday of John Odigie Oyegun, the founding Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha was there while Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the former Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations was also there as the Guest Speaker. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti led a crowd of Governors and former Governors to grace the occasion while he personally presided over it as Chairman.
There was a long list of governors and ex-governors in attendance. Apart from Kayodi Fayemi who chaired the occasion, other governors in attendance were: Atiku Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi, Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki of Edo State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Rotimi Chubuike Amechi former Governor of Rivers State, Comrade Adams Oshomoile, former Governor of Edo State and current National Chairman of the APC, Dr Chris Ngige, former Governor of Anambra state and many others who turned up.
The celebrant, Chief John Evboyomvan Kenneth Odigie-Oyegun was born on the 12th August 1939 into the family of Pa Daniel Osagiede Odigie-Oyegun, (MBE) and Mrs Shaka Elizabeth Odigie Oyegun. He attended Holy Cross Catholic Primary School in Benin from where he proceeded to St. Patrick’s College Asaba, 1954-1957 for his Secondary education. He was admitted to the University College Ibadan 1960 and bagged a Bachelor of Science, (Hons) London in economics in 1963.
He joined the Nigerian Federal Civil Service in 1963 and got married to Victoria Nkosenyem Oyegun (nee Ugbode) in 1965. His progress in the civil service continued to rise steadily as he worked in several departments in various capacities and at different levels. His records in service reveal that he was in the Cabinet Office, Ministry of of Housing and Urban Development, Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Commerce and Industry. In 1975 he made history with his appointment as a Federal Permanent Secretary at the youthful age of thirty six.
As he served in the Federal Service, he continued to develop his intellectual endowments by attending the following institutions for his postgraduate studies: The United Nations Economic Development and Planning Institute, (IDEP) Dakar, Senegal between 19666 and 1967. There he was the only participant that earned his postgraduate Diploma at merit Level and the Economic Development Institute of World Bank in Washington DC USA in 1970.
Chief Odigie-Oyegun, at various times, served on the boards of several public, private and international entities. Some of these include the now defunct Nigeria Airways, Nigerian National Shipping Liner, Nigerian Ports Authority, regency Paints Ltd, Editorial Board of Guardian Newspapers etc.
In 1989, he took a shot at politics. Armed with his experience in planning and management experience he made very significant progress against all odds. In 1991 he contested and won on the platform of the Social Democratic Party and became the first Executive Governor of Edo State in January 1992.
Described as a man of steadfast principles, courage and conviction, he sacrificed all to play a key role when Nigeria was thrown into confusion following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election. He was a founding member of the National Democratic Coalition NADECO, a resistance group that was formed to protest the voiding of the June 12 election by the military.
Recounting the events of those years, Chief Segun Osoba who was also elected Governor of Ogun on the ticket of the SDP had this to say of Oyeguns role: “Following the events of June 12 1993 presidential elections, he hosted the leadership of SDP and Governors in Benin, where it was resolved that we must all fight to regain the party’s victory. He faithfully implemented the Benin declaration and suffered severely for his faithfulness.”
When his life was threatened on several occasions, he fled Nigeria and became the Executive Secretary of NADECO abroad. Working with other pro-democracy activists like Wole Soyinka and Anthony Enahoro, they waged a ferocious war against the military to quit the political scene and enthrone a democratic culture.
With the return of democracy in 1999, he continued to play significant roles as an opposition leader against the ruling People’s Democratic Party PDP. In 2014, those efforts paid off when the major opposition parties merged to form the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Oyegun was elected as the first National Chairman of the party.
In his capacity as the National Chairman of the APC, he led the party to an unprecedented victory that saw an opposition party defeating an incumbent government for the first time in the democratic history of Nigeria. The APC won not only the presidency, the National Assembly but also the majority of the gubernatorial offices.
Chief Segun Osoba believes that Oyegun remains a national icon for the legacy he has left on our body politic. “John Oyegun’s resolve of never giving up is the final coming together of progressive forces to form the current All Progressive Congress.