As political associates across party lines, family, friends, and well-wishers joined the immediate past national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, John Odigie-Oyegun to celebrate his 80th birthday Monday in Benin-City, Edo State capital, Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo has described his life as one of “tireless, selfless, and patriotic service to the fatherland. In a personally-signed letter to the celebrant, Obasanjo who regretted his inability to be present at the ceremony acknowledged Oyegun as a distinguished public servant and one greatly admired by the general public and revered by his peers and subordinates.
The former military head of state also described Oyegun as “a straight-forward and complete gentleman and also as an indefatigable politician at various times in his life”. Further eulogising Oyegun, Obasanjo recalled how during his regime as military head of state between 1976 and 1979, “you were one of the federal permanent secretaries who earned my confidence and respect by dint of hard work and resourcefulness. You demonstrated rare qualities of commitment and courage, always upholding cherished traditions of the public service”.
Obasanjo noted that as permanent secretary on economic matters, and later on communications, Oyegun’s performance “was definitely outstanding by so diligently, efficiently and patriotically deploying your sound knowledge of the public service and wealth of experience in economic development matters such that our policies were appreciated and understood by the general populace”.
The respected elder statesman said without doubt, the celebrant, who was also the first civilian governor of Edo State, remained an icon and a major source of blessing and inspiration to Nigeria and many generations of Nigerians “who are looking up to a better and greater Nigeria with good governance based on democratic principles and practice leading to unity in diversity, justice and equity, political stability, nationalism, popular participation, peace and security, and socio-economic progress with strong leadership “.
Uche Secondus, national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, led a strong delegation of the party comprising Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin Kingdom, his former governor son, Lucky Igbinedion, Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a pastor and governorship candidate of the party in the 2016 election, state chairman of the party, Dan Orbih and members of his executive. Secondus’ APC counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole, was, however, absent at the event though he had placed congratulatory adverts in several national papers.
Speaking at a thanksgiving mass held at the Saint Paul Catholic Church, Bishop of Archdiocese of Benin, Rev. Fr. Augustine Akubeze, described Oyegun as one of the few former governors “who is living out his faith”. Akubeze posited that Oyegun did not join politics to fool the electorate but to convince them. Commenting on the crisis rocking the Edo State House of Assembly, Akubeze urged Oshiomhole and his successor, Godwin Obaseki to meet and discuss on ways to move the state forward. The Catholic priest said Edo people saw Oshiomhole as a leader who aligned with the poor, and Obaseki, a technocrat, who believed in rewarding merit and ensuring that the resources of the state were used for the good of the people.
According to him, “Edo State needs men like Obaseki and Oshiomhole to come together for the good of the people they love so much. We have seen political crisis because of the issue in the Edo State House of Assembly. What is surprising to many people is that we have never seen an intra-party crisis of this level”. While noting that “all elected members of House are of the same party” he was miffed that “yet the state is in the news for the wrong reasons”. Akubeze, therefore, called on all leaders to embrace the call for peace and justice. He also called on Oshiomhole and Obaseki to discuss ways to move Edo forward.
Responding, Obaseki however, insisted that there was no issue between him and Oshiomhole, stating that he had met with his predecessor and efforts were being made to resolve issues created by “third parties” in the state. Obaseki assured that efforts were on in pursuit of peace in the state. In his words, “we have met – me and my predecessor in office – and fortunately, we do not have any fundamental issues. And because we do not have any fundamental issues, I believe that whatever third parties are trying to propagate, I am sure we can talk over it. I assure you that very soon, things will return to normalcy in Edo State”.
The governor announced that the Civil Service Training Center presently under construction would be named after Oyegun for his contributions to the development of the state and the country at large. “We know your passion for public service; we know and acknowledge the contributions you made to public service in Nigeria. It will be known as the John Odigie-Oyegun Institute for Public Administration. Minister-designate, Osagie Ehanire, a medical doctor, said Oyegun deserved all the accolades and was being celebrated having achieved what many people only dreamt of.
Among dignitaries who graced the occasion were the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege, representatives of the Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare 11, as well as other chieftains of the APC and PDP from Edo and Delta States as well as other parts of the country.