Oshiomhole on Workers’ Day


First, kudos to the Kukah Centre for organising recently a forum on the topical question of national integration. The success of the effort is a measure of the increasing relevance of the Abuja-based think tank. Cynics may dismiss such a platform provided by the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, as just another “talking shop.” But it is wrong to assume that issues in Nigeria have all been properly defined. So any serious gathering aimed at further clarification on the numerous problems would be in order.

The senator representing the Edo north district, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, by his own admission, “invited” himself to the occasion. He felt the topic of discussion was an important one.

A clip of Oshiomhole’s contribution at the dialogue has since gone viral in the social media just like the clips of some of his recent statements on the floor of the senate. The indisputable fact is that Oshiomhole has been making truly progressive contributions to the debate in the national parliament. His background as a labour leader is manifest in the positions consistently taken in the course of debate. He has been remarkably flying the flag of the true labour tradition in Abuja.

At the Kukah Centre, Oshiomhole spoke on the central issues of the polity, economy and society. These issues include the class nature of the application of the rule of law; the funding of basic education; ethics and values; homosexualism and the economic trend of de-industrialisation as a cumulative effect of decades of failed policies.

He deplored the failure of the elite to give leadership that’s necessary for making progress while admitting that he is part of the system having been governor, party chairman and now a senator. Oshiomhole even made a critique of religious bodies and identified himself as a member of one of the marginalised minority ethnic groups in Nigeria. He is an Etsako man from the northern Edo. He said that the total population of the minority ethnic groups is a higher number than the totality of the majority ethnic groups. This, he said, would make the minorities to be the real majority if put together.

Expectedly, the video of the Kukah Centre event has generated diverse reactions. Oshiomhole has been justifiably applauded in some quarters as speaking for the common good and progress. From other perspectives, criticisms of his positions have been legitimately made in the true nature of public debates.

However, the latest video has also revived the seasonal Oshiomhole bashing which some pundits have made a pastime since the senator’s transition from labour activism to politics 17 years ago. Indeed the attacks on Oshiomhole have come from left, right and centre of the Nigerian ideological spectrum in the most uncharitable manner. In extreme cases, outright lies have been told to denigrate Oshiomhole.
Like any other activist turned politician, Oshiomhole has made his own serious mistakes. His errors have been both tactical and strategic in nature as he navigates the immense contradictions of Nigerian politics.

He readily admits this fact himself.

Pray, who is that politician who ever acts without committing errors?

The important thing is how the error is corrected going forward.

While it is legitimate to criticise Oshiomhole’s mistakes, it is utterly wrong to distort facts or tell half-truths in order to put him in bad political light.

Samples of the twisted stories circulating about Oshiomhole could be highlighted to demonstrate this point for historical purposes.

On November 29, 2013, Governor Oshiomhole was on an inspection of the work of a task force on environmental sanitation in the bid to beautify Benin. One of the offenders caught was a widow, Mrs. Joy Ifije, hawking by the road side. The poor woman begged for mercy as officials confiscated her wares. In a moment of indiscretion, the governor shouted at her: “go and die.” The ugly incident was widely reported and it naturally generated outrage from foes and friends of Oshiomhole alike. For instance, as friends, this reporter and his wife and fellow reporter, Funmi, angrily called the governor from Lagos telling him: “Comrade, this act of yours is unacceptable; it is unlike the Adams we know…” Oshiomhole’s daughter, Dr. Winnie Owumi, a urologist specialist, called from the United States also criticising her father with strong words for what happened.

Calmly, Oshiomhole responded to comments by simply asking what could be done to mitigate the damage.

As Oshiomhole later explained he received criticisms and suggestions from various quarters including, of course, members of his government.
The governor then took the following steps to correct the error. He invited the roadside trader to the government house as his guest. Over a cup of tea, the widow, accompanied by her son, received the unequivocal apologies from the governor.

On that occasion, Oshiomhole said inter alia: “Let me apologise for the way I spoke to you. I am very sorry about the statement. I have also realised that even in anger, one could still achieve the same result that he set out to achieve without provocative outburst. I apologise from the bottom of my heart. Sometimes you get angry when people compromise your efforts…”

The meeting ended with Oshiomhole appointing Mrs. Ifije as an ambassador on environmental sanitation. On some occasions, the lady went round the city with the governor to sensitise residents on the compliance with environmental regulations.

The governor gave Mrs. Ifije two million naira to get a shop and establish a more decent trading business. He offered to personally pay for the education of the widow’s son to the university level. The son is now a graduate. The trading business has flourished. The widow has built for herself a three-room bungalow in Benin. She calls Oshiomhole on phone occasionally to update him about her progress in life.
The later mitigation part of the story was widely reported just like the verbal assault on the roadside trader. But pundits conveniently ignore the good part when recalling the story to lampoon Oshiomhole over a decade later. Oshiomhole’s denigrators never forget the bad part of the story; but they pretend not to remember the happy ending of the incident.

That’s bad faith.

If politicians on the hustings could be excused on this score, it is certainly less than professional for newspaper editors, columnists and television anchors to conceal facts in order to demonise a political personality. .

In any case, how does the half-truth being told about this 2013 incident diminish the importance of Oshiomhole’s 2024 position that governors should fund basic education adequately so that out-of-school children could be taken off the street?

Another false allegation against Oshiomhole is that he once told a politician who decamped into the All Progressives Congress (APC) that his “sins are forgiven.” The insinuation here is that a politician could circumvent the law as a member of the ruling party. Oshiomhole never said such a thing. Here is the true story: As chairman of APC, Oshiomhole received into his party some politicians in Edo state who decamped from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). From the podium, Oshiomhole threw some banters at one of the politicians, Mr Iluobe. Roughly translated Iluobe means “I don’t do bad.” Oshiomhole said specifically of Iluobe that if he could act in the true meaning of his name, by not doing “bad’ even though he was moving from a “bad party, the PDP,” his “sins are forgiven no matter the bad things (he) did in PDP.”

Meanwhile Mr. Iluobe was not holding any political post at time. Neither was he being investigated or tried by any law enforcement agent.

Since the statement was made not a few top members of APC who have held political positions have been taken through the justice process by anti-corruption agencies in the same way that politicians from other political parties have been treated. Those who keep repeating the line of “your sins are forgiven’’ have not pointed to any case involving the politician in question, Mr. Iluobe, which was manipulated. Yet the utter misrepresentation of Oshiomhole’s statement has continued till this day.. The bogey of “godfatherism” of Oshiomhole is resurrected at every season of primary election in Edo state. Understandably, politicians seek his endorsement to secure the party ticket. Some of those who fail to win the ticket often turn round to accuse him of playing the “godfather.” The friction between Oshiomhole and his successor and erstwhile political ally , Governor Godwin Obaseki, is the most authoritative case cited in the trial of Oshiomhole in this respect. Meanwhile, it does not occur to Oshiomhole’s traducers that even Obaseki himself is no more singing the tune of “godfatherism” as he approaches the end of his tenure in Edo government House. Few months ago, Obaseki invited Oshiomhole to a forum where he honoured past governors of the state for their respective contributions to the development of the state. The two politicians made complimentary remarks about each other at the event. Only two days ago, Obaseki handed over to the Edo state chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), a secretariat complex constructed by the state government. The magnificent building is named “Adams Oshiomhole Labour House.”

Even in the heat of the last APC primaries, some commentators displayed in their fecund imagination Oshiomhole’s “political coffins.”
Yet, the former labour leader is still speaking for the common good in Abuja.

Oshiomhole should be steadfast in articulating the cause of the common good regardless of what the cynics may say.

To do so doesn’t even require a radical disposition because that is what any decent liberal should do in the Nigerian condition.

This position is inimitably formulated by a notable liberal scholar of the Harvard University, Michael Sandel, in his book, “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?”

Writing on the “Politics of the Common Good,” Sandel puts the argument this way: ”If a just society involves reasoning together about the good life, it remains to ask what kind of political discourse would point us in the direction…The challenge is to imagine a politics that takes moral and spiritual questions seriously but brings them to bear on broad economic and civic concerns, not only on sex and abortion.”

The public sphere is impoverished when public intellectuals are so fixated in their concealed partisan positions to the extent of manipulating facts to justify their positions.

That is doubtless not in the public interest.

Happy May Day

The theme of today’s May Day cannot be more apposite: “Celebrating Workers Resilience and Contribution to National Development.”
To enhance the contribution, the method of labour may have to change in tactical and strategic terms.

While acting locally, the outlook should be global.

This is because the forces shaping the concept and the environment of work sometimes do not respect even national boundaries- climate change, technology, geo-political dynamics, pandemics etc.

Beyond perfecting their dexterity in collective bargaining, labour should muster the strengthen to influence policies by the sheer force of ideas. Labour must be properly equipped to defend its alternatives to policies. It should acquire the organisational capacity to mobilise not only workers, but also the whole of the society around the options of fundamentally fighting mass poverty and gross inequality.

With proper organisation the fight for social justice can be won.
Solidarity for Ever!

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