Oshiomhole: Celebrating a Labour Activist and Political Leader at 67

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Adams-Oshiomhole

By Simon Ebegbulem

Human epochs are replete with great men and women in the various fields who defined and continue to define their peculiar histories with the magnitude of their accomplishments. Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, mni, CON, national chair of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) is one member of that tribe. It is on this score that it becomes apposite to celebrate the former president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and former governor of Edo state who turns 67 today (April 4, 2019).

Comrade, as he is popularly referred to by associates and devotees, happened on the national stage in 1999 when he emerged as the 4th president of the NLC. As someone who restlessly craves the institution of legacies for posterity, he immediately set out and committed himself to building an independent, militant and socially responsive fighting organisation. To be sure, the independent, militant and socially-responsive dispositions were not for gratuitous appropriation of the spoils of office.

He deployed the powers of his NLC presidency in becoming the number one defender of the rights and welfare of the working people. He provided leadership by staying in the frontline in resisting arbitrary increases in the prices of petroleum products. The NLC on his watch was a nemesis of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration on its harsh fuel pricing policy as well as other socio-economic policies that were injurious to the wellbeing of Nigerians.

Combating arbitrary increases in fuel pump prices was one turf of policy antagonism; the other turf was the battle for salary increases for workers. He secured significant salary increases for workers, the last being the 15 percent increase across board. Under his presidency, the NLC became the most popular and influential non-State actor in the country, which provided effective opposition to then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

For his courage, tenacity and single-minded devotion to labour issues, he earned himself such monikers as “Hurricane Adams” and “Adamant Adams”.  But the workers and masses loved to refer to him as the ”People’s President” (which was eventually as the title of a book written on his eight-year robust leadership of the NLC that was publicly presented in Abuja on 10 February, 2011).

In April 2007, he was overwhelmingly elected governor of Edo state on the platform of the Action Congress (AC) but his mandate was stolen, thus precipitating an intense legal struggle to reclaim his mandate.  The Edo State Election Petition Tribunal restored the mandate, which was re-affirmed on November 11, 2008 by the Court of Appeal.  On November 12, 2008, he was formally sworn in as governor of Edo state.

As governor, Oshiomhole adopted what is now popularly referred to as participatory, people-driven and bottom-up approach to governance.  This is based on his well-advertised campaign slogan, that is: “Let the People Lead.”  He shunned the bogus title of “Executive Governor” and did not tolerate the pretentious appellation of “His Excellency.”  To Edo people, Oshiomhole was simply and truly the comrade-governor, people’s governor or just simply, comrade.

A foremost apostle of “one man, one vote” and the most methodical visionary and transformer that the Edo people have seen in this generation, Oshiomhole was rewarded with a resounding victory for a second term in office in the governorship election that was held on 14 July, 2012.  For the first time in Edo state, Oshiomhole won election in the entire 18 Local Government Areas.

He was a national phenomenal figure whose wisdom was required by the Federal Government in conflict resolutions. For instance, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua requested him to negotiate and resolve the stalemate that led to a three-month strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). Comrade did not fail to deliver.

Oshiomhole shattered the assumption, prior to his emergence as governor that labour leaders don’t do well in public offices, by delivering the goods in Edo state. Having inherited a state with decayed infrastructure, a state that was held hostage by powerful cabal in the PDP, he did not despair but rather rose to the occasion by confronting the problems head-on.  He did not complain but rather he started the battle by ensuring that his party, the then ACN got the majority in the state House of Assembly and eventually took over the leadership of the House.

Oshiomhole strategically embarked on massive construction of roads across the state, commenced what was referred to as the red roof revolution in both primary and secondary schools through the construction of red roof schools equipped with modern teaching facilities in all the local governments and 192 wards in the state.

In addition, he embarked on a N30-billion Benin water storm project which had effectively checked the menace of flooding in Benin City and its environs. His administration also built a state-of-the-art Benin Central Hospital, which was geared towards bolstering the health needs of the people of the state and the South-south zone.

Even out of office, Oshiomhole is widely known as the father of modern Edo State. And one unique thing that endeared him to the people while he was governor was his penchant for inspecting projects even at nights. He constructed solid roads with walk ways and street lights across the state. He provided water especially in Edo central senatorial district, an area where it was earlier believed that it was difficult to extract water.

Oshiomhole was adored in Edo state due to his uncommon humility, service to humanity, protection of the poor and his demystification of governance. Today, elders, youths and women cast their votes for Oshiomhole’s party in every election. That was why he has become a thorn in the flesh of the PDP leaders.

Associates and devotees celebrate the transformation of Oshiomhole into an aficionado of politics, whose moves have become a veritable bugaboo to his opponents. Many, who earlier questioned his political sagacity, have done so to their own peril. A Majority of such people have been victims of Oshiomhole’s dexterous politics.

Some politicians who started well did not end well when it has to do with enthroning a successor. But Oshiomhole is not in that category. He used his political foot soldiers – the good, the bad and the ugly – to deliver the incumbent governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who was the Chairman of the state’s Economic and Strategic Team, as his successor

Despite several efforts by his adversaries to muddy his good name, Oshiomhole has continued to soar higher politically.  On the 23 of June, 2018, he was unanimously elected as the national chair of the APC and  promised to embark on reforms that would shape the future of the party and he has not looked back since then.

Observing that some powerful individuals within the APC had hijacked the party, Oshiomhole promised to return the party to the members who overwhelmingly voted for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. He commenced the direct primary mode of selecting candidates for the party so that all members of the party would be part of the process of electing their leaders unlike when it was done through few delegates.

For the first time in the history of the politics of the nation, a presidential candidate of a party, in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari, emerged through direct primary election. That paid off as the president garnered overwhelming victory across the nation in the just-concluded presidential election. When he accepted the job of national chairman, Oshiomhole made it clear that the national working committee (NWC) would embark on reforms that might not be easy but that such reforms would make the party much stronger and people-oriented. He had pointedly indicated his readiness to wield the big stick where necessary.

According to him, “It will no longer be business as usual in party affairs. From membership, discipline, funding, party management and respect for party constitution to conduct of party members in the arms of government; working with the president, we shall reinvent the ability to reward positive conduct and sanction recalcitrant, anti-party conduct. My task is to work with Mr. President, governors, leaders of the party at all levels and other stakeholders to pull our members together to build a strong and united party.,,,”

Oshiomhole has not deviated from his promises ten months after he stepped in the saddle. For instance, through his reforms, ministers who were not at home with the party or their people were disqualified from participating in the primary election.. Governors who played gods in their various states against the party’s interest, including alleged involvement in anti-party activities, were either suspended from the party or queried.  For Oshiomhole’s NWC, supremacy of the party is paramount. Whether you like him or not, under his leadership, President Buhari was re-elected. The APC is on the path of nicking the leadership of the 9th National Assembly where it enjoys overwhelming majority just as it maintains a majority control in the states. Happy birthday to a dogged fighter and reformer.

  •  Ebegbulem is Chief Press Secretary to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole