By Eddy Odivwri
Hitting the public dais at a time Nigerians were somewhat disenchanted with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) under the lackluster leadership of late Mr Paschal Bafyau, especially on his role during the June 12 (1993) struggle, the advent of Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole was like a deliverance. He came with poise. He had some charisma. He was articulate (never mind his strong Bini accent). He seems to have understood deeply the nuances of government versus Labour. His presentations were flawless. Almost. He took on governments fearlessly.
For a while, it looked like a redeemer had finally come, for the Nigerians workers, nay, all Nigerians not in government. He said what the people wanted to hear. He was clearly a man of the people. Those in government top position did not like him. He was seen as a trouble maker, a game spoiler etc.
I recall one morning, on AIT, when then presidential Spokesman (to then President Olusegun Obasanjo), Dr Doyin Okupe challenged Oshiomhole to debate on fuel price increment.
Oshiomhole came prepared. He was firing from all cylinders. He was quoting figures and citing local and international examples. Through out the entire session, Okupe looked like an intimidated school urchin. He was miserable. Such was the awe and aura around Oshiomhole, as the President of the NLC.
What’s more, he was ascetic (what with his signature khaki and khaki outfit). He was articulate, dainty and dramatic. Never mind that some uncharitable persons keep making a heavy weather over his not having certificates from formal education. Still, he made it to the cover of many news magazines.
His image grew big and waxed strong, so much that he nearly looked like an alternate president of the Federal Republic.
Then he waded into partisan politics. Many were somewhat disappointed that he had to stoop low for the governorship of a state, because he had shown enough presidential acumen in him. His leadership equipage was high and strong.
But he decided to test the waters from the state level. And so, when he contested for the governorship of his Edo State with Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, and the latter was declared winner (with the aid of the legendary Mr Fix It— late Tony Anenih), everybody cried fowl, insisting that Oshiomhole couldn’t have lost the election. Truthfully, 17 months after, the election tribunal declared that Oshiomhole was the winner.
He then became a governor and decided to truly govern, if nothing else, to shame those who wanted to scheme him out. He was courageous in taking on projects including hiring (10,000?) youths at a go, across the state. He literally opened up the inner recesses of Edo State, not forgetting the city.
He made a song and a dance about killing godfatherism in the state. He put it succinctly: “A situation where one man decides, has been abolished. All I want is for power to move to the people. The people should decide who becomes their leader and that leader will not be answerable to any godfather, but to them.” He orchestrated the mantra of one-man-one-vote to the level of a political anthem in the state
Getting a second term was therefore not a problem.
Towards the end of his second term he was already inching into troubled waters. He was always quarrelling with the then Finance minister, Dr Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
At the end of the Jonathan administration, Oshiomhole emerged as the National Chairman of the party, after his kinsman and predecessor, Chief John Odigie Oyegun was edged out, no thanks to Ahmed Bola Tinubu who did not like how Oyegun checked his plot to produce the Ondo State governor at the time.
Oshiomhole’s emergence not only created factions in All Progressives Congress (APC), it increased the enemy index of the former NLC president. And that marked the beginning of the Oshiomhole slide.
If there was any doubt about how Oshiomhole’s personality and governance style affected the fortunes of the party, it is sadly on the shrinking of the APC size.
While Oshiomhole inherited 24 states controlled by the APC, by last May when he left, the political networth of the APC had shrunk to just 19.
Finally, two weeks ago, he lost even his own state to the PDP.
Next week, the Ondo governorship poll will take place, APC’s chances also look shaky.
His style of governance became an issue. He stopped being rational. The might and awe associated with his office as chairman of the ruling party, circumscribed his person. He listened more to himself, and nearly had the mien and mind of an alpha and omega. He believed, wrongly, that if Tinubu be for me, who can be against me?
Opinions from those outside the Tinubu-circle were rebuffed. It took a toll on the fortunes of the party. It soon landed in lots of faux pas leading to several needless losses. That is why his troubles began even from his home when some unknown political quantities conspired to suspend him from his ward. That was the beginning of the troubles.
Today, APC is smaller than it was four years ago. Oshiomhole cannot shake off the blame. Some say he is a bearer of bad luck.
So, if Oshiomhole’s worth as a leader is to be measured by the vicissitude that befell the APC, the judgement will be harsh, because the fortunes of the party plummeted under him.
Worse still, he is now in the woods. It is bad enough that he lost his state, yet it is doubly worse that he seems to be hanging there as an ordinary party man, stripped and frustrated. Last June, his profile crumbled when he was sacked from office as National Chairman with a presidential fiat, when an interim National Exco headed by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, was inaugurated. A new and proper election is due at the end of the year. It is not certain if Oshiomhole is in control of any lever of power and influence in the party any more. His structure has been dismantled. He is clearly now outside the power loop of the party.
Perhaps, he would have had a thread of relevance and influence if and only if his party won the Edo election. Then he would have settled for the godfather status that he always condemned but inadvertently laboured to be. But no. Edo state is lost paradise. So where would the Iyamho-born politician take refuge now? His country-home mansion, will certainly be too big for him alone. With no immediate family members, nor political allies and associates, the mansion in Iyamho dorp will be a hollow enclave that will stamp home the frosty message of political winter.
Oshiomhole seemed to have lost out on all fronts. Not even those 14 state lawmakers who were not sworn-in would be happy with him. With no allies at the national level, nor affinity at the state level, Oshiomhole is sure on a boring retirement.
Relief might however come his way if the presidential moves of his backbone: Bola Tinubu makes a head way. But the handwriting on the wall does not suggest that there will be light at the end of that tunnel.
But Oshio Baba, as his supporters hail him, had casually dusted off the impact of the hit he got, when he said “in life, you win some, you lose some” adding that “life goes on”. Good philosophy! But Oshiomhole will soon realize the barbed reality that comes with political orphanage.