GUEST Column by Patrick Obahiagbon
Somehow and, understandably, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the national chair of our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has become an issue in the ever-increasing conversations around leadership and reforms in our party. He has also become the issue in the calculated attempts by desperate forces to insinuate him into everything negative that has happened to anyone in the party on account of the new deal and pristine approach to party administration.
Pigeonholing him for denunciation by those who have lost either entirely or partly their pseudo-political empires in their respective states is the essential burden that the comrade chair has stoically borne in the task of cleansing the Augean stables of pestilential indiscipline and monumental disrespect for party supremacy.
While some forces, especially those who lost control of party structures in their states, have sworn to a life and time of revenge, those that the new leadership style has liberated are in a celebratory mood and would remain eternally grateful to Oshiomhole’s single-minded leadership in helping to redefine their essences in APC’s political enclave such that members have taken ownership of the party.
Indeed, Oshiomhole’s role in bringing that about is a throwback to his many years of active struggles as a peripatetic labour unionist in the circumference of the Textile Unions, which he led at different times and in different capacities and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over which he would later preside from 1999 to 2006 or thereaout. On that pedestal, he had led a series of protests against perceived anti-people policies of the Federal Government.
In September 2004, for instance, the NLC under his leadership gave the Federal Government an ultimatum to reverse the decision to reintroduce the controversial fuel tax or face a nationwide protest and strike. His inimitable spirit was not shy of galvanizing the strike despite a ruling by a Federal High Court in an earlier dispute that the NLC lacked legal power to call a general strike over government policies.
He was arrested on October 9, 2004 at a protest at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and later released after a “chat” with officials of the State Security Services (SSS). He had many confrontations with the state in the course of discharging his onerous responsibility of providing proactive leadership to the labour movement. For a man who was burnished in the blistering furnace of labour unionism, he defined his eon by deploying his stentorian voice in ceaseless articulations of pro-workers, pro-people issues.
Oshiomhole’s luminous epoch in socio-economic and political crusading and the legacy of commitment to good causes that he left behind in the labour tradition of struggles would recommend him highly for appropriation and endorsement by the political elite in Edo state in their search for a new leadership in a great moment of anxiety over the future of the state.
To upend the business-as-usual approach to governance in the state that was under the overbearing influence of some obdurate godfathers, Oshiomhole was summoned by providence to become a battle axe in the hands of politicians with whom he was in consensus ad idem to dismantle the conservative culture of executive genuflection at the table of godfathers.
Stepping in the saddle as governor following his victory at the Court of Appeal, he invested all that was at his disposal to overwhelm the tribe of godfathers in the state. For eight years as governor, Oshiomhole provided leadership that reset the politics of Edo and ensured that the people decided who their governor would be and not the godfathers in the old-fashioned style of obligated imposition of candidates.
Today, as much as I have always contended that godfatherism is an ecumenical concept and a cosmopolitan reality, Oshiomhole’s attitude to politicking and succession politics in Edo explicates his republican spirit that drove the choice of leaders through utilitarian engagements, catholic conversations and coruscating selection processes that placed the people above the leaders and thereby put the party in their hands.
And, as national chair of the APC, he is replicating that exemplar. Indeed, at the intersection at which he accepted the challenge to step in the saddle of leadership in June last year, it was clear to Oshiomhole that the political voyage was not going to be jollity. One, he must have realised that Edo state is just a microcosm of the Nigerian nation-state. Therefore, he was prepped to deploy his vast knowledge and experience acquired in the labour struggles and governance of Edo state in dealing with problems confronting the APC.
He identified indiscipline among party leaders and members as one problem. The significant other was contempt for party supremacy. Basking in a vaudeville of countrywide approbation that culminated in his emergence as a consensus candidate, he knew much would be expected from him by the powerful forces that rallied support for him in the spirit of quid pro quo.
But as one who is not given to such mundane considerations that discount the place of the people in the leadership of the party (and to be sure, while in Edo, he promoted the mantra of ‘let the people lead’ and the philosophy of “one-man;one vote”), Oshiomhole knew from the outset that human nature would always resist changes; and on that score, he was going to have problems with many of his associates.
Regardless, he was in that context, and acting in pari materia with the zeitgeist that recommended him for the assignment, committed to take both the credit and the blame for actions and inactions of the party leadership on his watch. And, expectedly, he has been getting both commendations and condemnations. He has taken both in his strides and he remains sharply-focused on consolidating the party on the trajectory of finding anchorage in members who are in the majority rather than in the minuscule leadership.
This explicates his dignified silence in the face of a carefully-composed symphony by some aggrieved leaders about his alleged actions and inactions that led to losses by the party in some states. Specifically, the court decisions that stymied the participation of the APC in all the state-based elections in Rivers and Zamfara states were beyond the contemplation of Oshiomhole.
The denouements in both states were products of the pigheadedness of local political warlords who were inebriated by power and would not sheathe their sword in a debilitating supremacy battle for the souls of the party. Had they been reasonable and respected the supreme decision of the party on the method of electing candidates, perhaps, the law would not have foisted the faits acomplis that paved the way for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to ride to power seamlessly in the affected states.
But Oshiomhole realizes that in any battle that involves attitudinal changes, getting people’s buy-in is not always easy. He has thus put his nose to the grindstone and become more sure-footed in driving the regime of reforms that is unsettling some leaders who do not believe in it. In the face of pockets of protest and resistance, underpinned, perhaps, by a grand conspiratorial alliance calculated to project him as incorrigible narcissist, the Iyamho-born labour activist turned politician continues to fix his eyes on the ball in an epistemological and enigmatic fashion.
Very knowledgeable and nimble in the milieu of the nation’s cloak and dagger politics; and, carrying on amid airs of inscrutability, the atomic Oshiomhole, like an atomic bomb, has become a veritable bugaboo to those baying for his blood, or asking for his head on a charger. Oshiomhole is enjoying well-deserved presidential approbation and support by critical stakeholders of the APC countrywide. With these providential gestures, he is primed for total victory.
Indeed, to God be the glory, the coast to the next level remains clear for Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. He has taken the opportunity to etch his name in gold. It would be said of him by posterity and as Julius Caesar said of himself after he had achieved a quick victory in his short war against Pharnacles 11 of Pontius at the Battle of Zela: “veni vidi, vici”; that he came, he saw and he conquered.
· Hon. Obahiagbon, a former Chief of Staff to Oshiomhole, contributed this piece from Benin City.