By Patrick Obahiagbon
I take my cue for this write-up from THISDAY newspaper’s lead story of Friday, April 6, 2018 with the banner headline: “Jostling for APC Chairmanship Begins, Oyegun, Oshiomhole, Ebri Emerge Contenders…” My intervention is not a confirmation of any sort that my boss, Adams Oshiomhole, whom I served as Chief of Staff from 2012 to 2016 when he was in the saddle as governor of Edo state is interested in the position of national chair of our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). On the other hand, it is not a repudiation of his possible interest in the top party position.
My intervention, therefore, in this circumstance, just in case he is being tapped for the task of leading the party, is to present a testimonial of a man that has forcefully defined his eon in the socio-political cosmos of our nation and cut a niche for himself as a dependable, charismatic and emblematic leader in the topsy-turvy trajectory of labour politics and the realpolitik of our nation state. Oshiomhole is an enigmatic labour activist cum leader, an inimitable realpolitiker who is persistently very pragmatic and passionate about the crystallization of tangible results in all of his utilitarian engagements.
It is against the backdrop of the adumbration supra that I set out, in a staccato-like fashion, as the portrait painter of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1688) did, to paint the portrait of the ebullient and sagacious Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole, “pimples, warts and all” as I see him. This exertion does not present any impossibility. Validation: Oshiomhole’s persona is an open book. What I intend to do is to populate each chapter of this fascinating manuscript and present necessary finer details in much bolder relief for public approbation.
First, Oshiomhole as a labour union leader broke the glass ceiling in providing sharply-focused leadership for the period he was in the saddle as president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). He showed courage. He demonstrated very rare guts. He led the NLC to challenge anti-people policies of the Federal Government especially under Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. In doing so, he found and assumed a place in the hearts of the Nigerian workers. His worthy stewardship would thereafter open the way in Edo for his political canonization that resulted in his emergence as governor of the state in November 2008.
A summation of his era as NLC president could not have, understandably, escaped essential indictment of Oshiomhole by the Obasanjo administration as a labour union “gadfly”. To the administration, he was a nuisance, a pest, an irritant; but to the mass of the people, he was a patron saint. His leadership of the labour movement did not verge on extremism. It was moderated by patriotic zeal and nationalistic temper. He was a leader who was committed to the national interests over and above insular, egocentric and unsophisticated interests. He gave the task his best such that he could say “Veni, vidi, vici”, meaning ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.”
But Oshiomhole, whose life exemplifies the labour struggle, has continued to identify with and energise the struggle. There is no retirement for him in the struggle. While in the saddle in Edo state, he maintained a close-knit relationship with his labour union constituency. Little wonder, mutual respect preponderated government-workers’ interactions in Edo for all of eight years from 2008 to 2016. Even now that he is out of office, he continues to appropriate the gregarious spirit that defines the struggle and its essence; that can-do and never-say-die spirit of an avatar.
With an expansively vast mind in the labour movement, I am not in doubt that Oshiomhole will keep marching with the movement till he breathes his last. That commitment is not fugacious; rather it is the diktat of his spirit, permanently etched therein, and against which he has no power to submerge in the mundane or the inane that obviously assailed him while in office as governor. As governor, he shunned the luxury of office and would, with his trademark aluta khaki outfit, hit the street to receive workers on protest for better welfare package. Oshiomhole enjoys the credit of increasing workers’ minimum wage from N18,000 to N25,000.
Second, Oshiomhole’s governance model enjoyed the buy-in of those of us who worked with him. He was an archetypical team leader. He ran the administration in the team leadership spirit where every appointee had a role to play and there was a performance measuring index that was available to determine how governance and policies had impacted positively on the mass of the people in the nooks and crannies of the state. The comrade dismantled the behemoth of godfatherism that had held the state prostrate before he stepped in the saddle and the result was his manifest imprimatur in the pervasive infrastructure development in the state, especially in the building and renovation of classrooms, roads and health centres. The list is endless.
His political savoir-faire is amazing. Blessed with the capacity and the legerdemain to sidestep political thalidomide, Oshiomhole has become a master of the game of brinkmanship. He did that with the opposition in 2008 at the outset of his governorship in Edo when he upstaged the then ruling party from power through the instrumentality of the court. The Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal ruled that Oshiomhole won the highest number of validly cast votes in the election against Professor Oserhiemen Osunbor of the PDP.
Initially, there was political accommodation of the PDP elements in his government because the party was in the majority in the State House of Assembly, but when the elements started to overstep their boundaries; he strategically decided to take no prisoners. He ensured they were sacked. That paved the way for Oshiomhole to espouse the philosophical underpinnings of his administration and to defend their ramifications. For instance, the mantra of “one man, one vote” was a writ-large enlightenment campaign to sensitise the Edo electorate on the purity of the electoral process. In other words, it was a strategy to condemn elections that brought the previous administrations of the PDP to power as manipulated and unconscionably rigged. That effectively de-marketed the PDP and rendered it unpopular in Edo.
Third, Oshiomhole assumed the role of a salesman for his government and his party. He was able to articulate and defend his actions and inactions. There was no disconnection between government and the people; and between policy formulations and policy implementations. Essentially,Oshiomhole rambunctiously seized the public space of Edo state to appropriate the people’s minds in a cultic grassroots followership. The people became fanatical supporters of the Oshiomhole prodigy. That is what it means to be the people’s governor.
Sans docility, timidity and tardiness in response to people’s agitations, et al, Oshiomhole redefined governance in Edo. He reworked the political party architecture of the APC in the state such that there was a synergy between government and party in the rationalization of government policies that were anchored on the party manifestoes. The Godwin Obaseki-led administration has continued the process of consolidating the Oshiomhole legacies and he enjoys the support of all of us.
Therefore, permit me, at this intersection, to recommend the Oshiomhole therapy and panacea for the APC at the national level in the arduous and committed task by President Muhammadu Buhari of rebuilding and strengthening the party. Oshiomhole is an avatar whose political philosophies, exertions, modus operandi, modus vivendi and joie de vivre will be salutary to the president’s endeavor at APC’s “Risorgimento”. He has the profound intellectual rampart to provide requisite support for the president’s visions, socio-economic and political ideals and programmes. It will be a productive combination of a taciturn and sharply focused president and a rambunctious,utilitarian,energetic,audacious public space national chair to achieve national redemption and APC’s resurgence.
Honourable Patrick Obahiagbon, an APC chieftain, contributed this piece from Benin.