Kayode Komolafe’s last intervention on the outcome of the recent governorship election in Edo State had all the ingredients of a well thought ‘review of important variables for good governance’. President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisah Metuh, who congratulated Governor Adams Oshiomole after his electoral victory, were responding in the manner expected of self-respecting public figures. Such reactions from a national party that was roundly trounced and actually scandalised by the election results suggest a leadership that is more concerned about national values, while not renouncing tendentious group interests and loyalties. To say that this is a major gain for the PDP may seem an absurd point to make, considering that it put up a perfectly miserable performance. Yet it was a resounding victory of sorts for the party.
A man may sometimes gain more by a loss that reaffirms his humanity and buys him some slack and goodwill among those who were getting accustomed to calling him a never-do-well. The PDP has not always conducted itself with any form of dignity or grace during elections and, while it shares this ‘defect of character’ with the other parties, it was easily stigmatised because it was the ruling party at the centre. But let us follow Komolafe’s piece further by looking at the main winners in that election.
The list, ambience and voice of stakeholders who consider themselves important in Edo State have expanded under Oshiomole. Without prejudice to the views and comments of those who mentioned logistical and other challenges in some areas during the elections, it must be said that the people of Edo State are enjoying an unusual air of freedom with conspicuously limited rancour. This issue is important because the state has moved from a restricted and restrictive political culture of a narrow people base for consensus building to a progressive expansion of loyalties beyond geographical and political lines. There seems to be a broader consensus among Edo people from all political, ethnic and geographical (and water), divides to work in aid of what will help the state and its people. It is no longer sufficient to speak of political parties and expect perceptive adults to continue to insult themselves by going along with what does not make sense in the courts of natural justice equity and good conscience.
So welcome to a new Edo State that must not rest on its shaky oars, lest it become windborne. It is no longer a matter of parties, but a matter of the people coming out to speak with their votes despite their avowed and widely known party loyalties. No one took to the streets, even where some felt aggrieved. No one mobilised any private terror machines for mayhem and contrived ‘ungovernability’. Thugs had an unseasonal bad market. Five years ago, no one would have expected that this ‘industry’ would suffer such monumental setback; when it should be booming. This means that the massive machinery for the ruination of peoples’ children, called political thuggery, may be facing an irreversible downturn in Edo State. This is good. Other sectors of the economy and empty skills centres may be getting more applications.
Further still, the re-elected governor of the state, Oshiomole, took off in his acceptance speech by openly acknowledging that the verdict of the people only obliges him to bend down and do more work in his second term. This is commendable. While his victory may not be entirely surprising, its overall implications must be considered surprising, especially when looked at against the background of the politics of Edo State and Nigeria within the last 12 years before his election. A redefinition of the criteria for political relevance is emerging. The winners’ list in the last election is a big one and those who think that Oshiomole’s new victory gives him the opportunity to finally bury the political forces he dislikes in the state should think again.
The state needs rebuilding and realignment along the paths of development and reconciliation, not the atavistic distraction that comes from a contrived isolation of perceived political enemies. It is expected that the people will learn the right lessons and begin to use party platforms to throw up those they know, trust and believe can perform; rather than use party politics to midwife a subtle political terrorism in the land.
Perhaps we should also use these election results to reflect on Oshiomole himself and the fears that greeted his foray into partisan politics.
When it became public knowledge that Oshiomole, the diminutive labour leader of troublesome inclinations, would go into partisan politics, some observers openly laughed and said that the man was about to get his ‘baptism of fire’. The logic was that someone who had spent the better part of his life fighting the perceived enemies of the people would have got so used to complaining and grumbling that he must have lost all capacity for doing any constructive work. In fact they expected that Oshiomole’s experience during the election would be reminiscent of that of Gani Fawehinmi, who was thoroughly clobbered by the elections results when he ventured forth to contest for the office of president. Those who argued that an Adams will all the more likely do well in public office, because he had used opposition to understand and develop alternatives to the bad policies he was fighting, were laughed out of court.
But see how wrong they were about Oshiomole. With all his good points, the redoubtable Gani was part of public conscience and his forte was public and publicised interventions, as well as judicial expositions. He contributed more than any other Nigerian to the development of jurisprudence, especially as it concerns revisiting the validity of certain enactments that successive, and often repressive, governments were eager to pass off as laws.
His many court cases ultimately led to the abrogation, or questioning, of many obnoxious laws; as well as a revalidation of the intent and purport of several constitutional provisions. Gani’s mistake was to venture into that area of public intervention for which he was one of the least prepared. Elections are worn with active machineries, not by acknowledging the cheers of large crowds of no particular address. Crowds will always disperse after an event, until the next speech day and a party crowd is held together by some kind of coping stone – and this was not anywhere around Gani. Part of the strength of any party machinery comes from its loyalists, who hold the ground in specific areas; by nurturing ideological loyalty (as distinct from the money loyalty in vogue).
Gani and Oshiomole had the common objective, and even similar profiles, of always taking on people-oriented fights, but Oshiomole had the advantage of working with organised groups. The deception, betrayals and internal survival politics within unions were most probably better understood by Oshiomole, so he relied on the people while making sure that the people did not fail him. Having repeatedly mobilised strikes in the past, he knew that any mass action requires you to agree on such details as timing and logistics with team leaders across the nation. Genuine labour leadership is, therefore, an administrator’s nightmare and Oshiomole has the advantage of having lived with and survived several such nightmares and being in the field in a way that Gani never was. The surprise of the last Edo election would have been if such a man would lose the turf after having been in the saddle for four years – and especially given his performance in office.
The only other collateral observation here, perhaps, is to say that the PDP now has all it needs in order to go back to the drawing board and organise itself. It should move beyond the quarrel over positions to actively develop an ideological wing that must take over from the hit men it had relied upon for the last 12 years. Its youth wings should begin to sift their contents, so that the thriving culture of money-driven political loyalty, including jobless young men and women who own several four-wheel vehicles as glorified thugs, may change into something better.
The party must, at last, develop the capacity to speak intelligently on national issues, campaign coherently during elections and stand up to defend its victories, instead of always looking and sounding guilty simply because it never occurred to its leadership that there are people out there who need to be convinced about what it represents.
All things considered, the Edo election puts INEC and Nigeria in a position to take more realistic steps towards sustainable party politics and national development.
*Dr. Ikechukwu is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board and his column “Edifying Elucidations” debuts next Tuesday.