Oshiomhole For the People!

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The Horizon ByKayode Komolafe   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com        0805 500 1974

KayodeKomolafe

The people jubilated when the mandate given to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole in the 2007 gubernatorial election in Edo State was restored on November 12, 2008.  It is historically fitting that the same people would have cause to bid him a very cheery farewell from the government house on Saturday when he will hand over the reins to his successor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki.

That is how it should be for a people’s governor. Among the placards in the spontaneous rally that followed the court verdict eight years ago was a memorable one that described Oshiomhole as “The Obama of Edo State.”  The judicial validation of Oshiomhole’s election coincided with the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States of America. The point made by the placard was that the emergence of Oshiomhole as Edo State Governor would be   a turning point in the politics of the state just as the significance of Obama’s election promised to be of immense historical proportions.

Oshiomhole’s background as a combative labour leaders fuelled the huge expectations in many quarters. His election had generated interests beyond the boundaries of Edo State, as not a few other Nigerians were curious about how he would perform as governor.   Doubtless, looking back to the last eight years, the tenure of Oshiomhole as governor of Edo Sate has   indeed moved the state many steps forward on the path of progress.

It is safe to predict that the verdict of history would be that Oshiomhole has served the interest of the people.  As a man of action, Oshiomhole has held steadfastly to the organising principle behind his activities; that is the principle of putting the people first in taking policy steps. It was the same principle that guided his earlier trade union career. So his class origins shaped his application   of this organising principle.   He got the opportunity in Edo state to show that the name of the people should not be invoked in vain as some members of the political establishment often do with reckless abandon.

By sheer force of example, Oshiomhole has categorically put a lie to the cliché orchestrated by the liberal socio- political elite that activists never do well in governance. The elite would lecture you ad nauseum how writing a placard to say “No” to government is different from sober   policy conceptualisation and careful implementation. They often dismiss activists seeking political office contemptuously as being illusory in their ambition.  But as Oshiomhole himself once put the matter squarely, “one man’s idealism is another man’ s reality.”

By demonstrating his true mettle, Oshiomhole has proved that the hiatus often claimed between activism and governance is actually a false one. In fact, activists should govern so that the ideals they profess so passionately could be put to test. The tests came up severally during Oshiomhole’s tenure.  In his many battles, he has upheld the moral fabric of the politics of Edo State. His tenure has brought some sanity and civility into the political landscape of the state. It is most unlikely that the people would ever allow some political merchants to take them for a ride again. This point has come out forcefully in Oshiomhole’s   oratory as the “fight against the political godfathers.” In retrospect, it was an inevitable war Oshiomhole had to fight if the severely limited resources of the state would have to be devoted to the execution programmes that would benefit the people.

The evidence abounds all over Edo State today   that Oshiomhole’s policy choices have benefitted the people.  He rejected the option of servicing a cynical political elite with the resources. Instead, Oshiomhole has chosen to put the money in building quality  “red-roof” schools, well-equipped hospitals, solid roads and an exemplary fight against erosion that ravaged the state. Quality services   in the social sector and infrastructure should be accessible to the people.

And you cannot do that when the government outsources its responsibility   for developing public schools and health institutions.  Even the fiercest of his opponents and critics cannot deny the quantity and quality of the developmental projects. What is more, the areas where Oshiomhole’s government recorded progress were the sectors that suffered terrible decay before he came into office.

For Oshiomhole, policy choices are not value free in the face of limited resources. Forget the technical arguments to the otherwise by our experts. The truth is that in making the choices, there are trade-offs.   The question is simply this: to whose benefits are the trade-offs?  So, like President Muhammadu Buhari rightly acknowledged while commissioning an ultra-modern hospital in Benin two days ago, Oshiomhole preferred building such a magnificent public healthcare institution to building a “befitting” state house.

  Oshiomhole elected to rescue a whole area of Benin sacked by erosion by investing in   a massive drainage system instead of concentrating resources in the Government Reservation Area (GRA). This policy choice has naturally engendered the utter disgust of the elite, some of whom resisted payment of property tax, in the first place. His government focussed on linking up the rural areas with well-built roads and bridges. If there is a reason to choose between the area of the poor and that of the rich   in the allocation resources for development. Oshiomhole would rather be  in favour of the poor people who are, in any case,  in the majority.

Now this is socially legitimate and democratic. A segment of the socio-political elite has fought him unyieldingly because of this “sin” of bias for the people. The prognosis is that the fight may continue even after he ceases to be governor.  For this segment of the elite development merely means their maximum comfort and government satisfying all their selfish interests. This segment of the Edo elite, of course, has many reasons not to forgive Oshiomhole.   The good news, however, is that it is for the same reasons that the people hail him as their hero.

To be sure, the development of Edo state is far from being a finished business. Oshiomhole himself is the first person to stress this obvious fact despite his achievements. He is leaving Edo State government with the state far better than he met it.  He has expressed optimism that Obaseki would even do better than him while consolidating on people-centred development and avoiding his mistakes.

No person in the saddle, of course, is perfect.  Oshiomhole made his own mistakes. He had his dilemmas. Some strategic goals could have been better achieved with different tactics. For instance, one day he got exasperated with street traders constituting environmental nuisance on Benin major roads. He told one of them, a widow, “to go and die.”  This expectedly generated uproar.

Promptly, the governor took steps to correct the grave error. Oshiomhole later invited the widow to the state house and offered her apologies in the presence of other ladies. The lady was given some money to get a proper shop.  Her son got a scholarship. She was enlisted into a team helping government to against street trading. The refusal of Oshiomhole’s government to pay some judicial workers on strike would remain controversial.

All told, a judicious assessment of his performance would readily return a clear verdict that Oshiomhole conscientiously worked for the people. By that he has done progressive politics proud. He has demonstrated the possibility of his working class roots with which he remains firmly connected.