By Philip Ugbodaga
On this historic day, sixty-eight years ago, in the serene, arcadian town of Iyamho, Edo State, a child of destiny was born. Across the globe, in the hearts and homes of the millions that this uncommon leader, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole has touched, impacted and inspired with his leadership, they will definitely be full of praises to God for his remarkable and phenomenal life.
Oshiomhole, orator par excellence, courageous, restless, resilent and an embodiment of visionary leadership, cut his teeth as a unionist when he was elected General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria. This brought him into constant sparing with several of Nigeria’s mighty men of power and influence, as he fought to protect the interest of his constituency, in an industry that provided employment to Nigeria’s teeming population at that time.
He further sharpened his intellectual and union training at the Ruskin College, Oxford, United Kingdom, where he majored in economics and industrial relations. He subsequently attended the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru.
In 2007, Oshiomhole took the strategic decision to run for political office. He was initially disowned by my renown late mentor, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who wanted him on the presidential ballot. The Senior Advocate of the Masses (SAM) was to later make a volte-face when he eventually endorsed him for the office of Governor of Edo State, on the eve of the election.
In the run up to the 2007 Gubernatorial election in Edo State, the people wanted a leader who was courageous, serious-minded and determined to unearth the roots of the profound and multi-faceted, structural problems plaguing the State. Oshiomhole, quintessential, brief in stature, intellectually robust and very popular, who had then, just completed a second term as the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), became a natural choice for the people of the State.
On assuming office, in his first term as Governor, he stated his preparedness to cut off the toes of the powerful and offend the poor in order to bring about the much-needed transformation of Edo State by seeking to restore the State master plan. In doing this, he dismantled the apparatus of privilege enjoyed by a select few and replaced it, with a dynamic social organization, designed to provide several channels of opportunity for all those who aspired to engage in genuine enterprise and, by so doing, he created an atmosphere of equal worth and a sense of pride in all streams of Edo people, irrespective of their areas of origin in the State. Thus, within a very short period, Edo People saw how one man could completely change the character of a state and the industry of its people.
In the past, Edo people had leaders who lacked the political will, temperament, inclination, confidence and commitment to tackle the myriads of problems bedeviling the state. Thus, seeing all he accomplished within a few months of taking over the mantle of leadership in the State, Edo People within and outside the State were all genuinely amazed and happy at how he sought to proffer solutions to the many problems that hitherto plagued the State.
Oshiomhole laboured hard to lay a solid foundation for the development of Edo State. His major policies were pro-poor. He often stated that the worst thing about poverty was its cyclical nature, in which the children of the poor frequently inherited their parent’s lack of opportunities in life and so were themselves practically condemned to a life of poverty.
His postulation, which caught the attention of all and sundry, within and outside the State, was that this cycle of poverty, if left unchecked, would most likely go on forever and, in the process, the talents of millions of Edo people would go to waste, thus resulting in an endless continuation of the cycle of suffering that poverty brings, leading to the establishment of a ‘dynasty of the poor’ wherein the products of this dynasty would mostly be found in the motor parks, as touts and ready thugs that are deployed in periods of campaigns and elections by the political elite in the State.
He sought to break this cycle of poverty, through instituting various youth empowerment schemes and creating a conducive environment for private enterprises to thrive in the State.
In the eight years that he served as Governor, the people saw a leader who worked tirelessly to bring succor to the greater number of his people. There was a better tolerance of political opposition and the expression of alternative political viewpoints. In the process, though certainly not an easy task, he succeeded in cleaning up the state and re-establishing its hitherto dilapidated public infrastructure, which had gone into the doldrums and disrepair, due to decades of neglect, grand corruption and mis-governance.
The achievements recorded by the Comrade Governor, as he was popularly referred to in the state, did not come as a surprise to many, considering his eight-year tenure as the number one labour leader in Nigeria. This period was characterised by purposeful leadership, insistence on good governance and reinvigoration of the Nigerian workforce to a level never witnessed in recent history.
As the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, he demonstrated a thorough understanding of the collective yearning of the Nigerian workers.
Having made such significant impact as Nigeria’s numero-uno labour leader, it was not surprising at all, when at the time that he decided to plunge into the murky waters of Nigerian politics, he was not associated with any godfather. Similarly in keeping with this egalitarian posture and his strong aversion to the principle of godfatherism in Nigerian politics, on assumption of office, the Comrade Governor, restated his commitment, to free Edo People from the shackles of godfatherism; and, in keeping with that commitment, he successfully fought it to a standstill in Edo State.
It is worth noting that in Nigeria, we have a legacy of a dysfunctional political process marked by executive dominance and political corruption. This has often created a “godfather” political culture that has seen government mainly as an instrument of personal power and accumulation of private wealth. This was the situation in Edo State before Oshiomhole’s ascension to power. The “godfathers” were intolerably powerful and were unimpeded by law. Their hold on power made them acquire more wealth and, therefore, more power to the detriment of the suffering masses of Edo State. This situation was not limited to Edo State and also served as a disincentive for progressives like the Comrade Governor, to aspire for political office. But being of a special breed, the Comrade Governor not only dared this political culture of godfatherism, but he also prevailed, to the joy and delight of Edo People.
Oshiomhole has always believed that making progress is about making politics work for the masses, because politics determines the choices we make. According to him, politics determines what kind of society we create, live in and ultimately hand over to the next generation. He also regularly states that it is progressive politics that will make poverty history.
There is widespread recognition that politics is fundamental in shaping development choices, strategies, trajectories and outcomes. It thus involves change that must inevitably challenge established interests and prevailing structures of power.
As the National Chairman of our ruling political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Oshiomhole has also realized that politics consists of two fundamental levels. The first concerns the rules of the game, that is the procedures and processes which underpin the structure of our political life, distributes power and authorizes its use in particular ways. The second, concerns the games within the rules, that is the normal contestations over policy, process and power.
Since the advent of our current 4th Republic, it is worth noting that, the fundamental rules of the game have yet to be well established. Consequently, Oshiomhole, as the Party Chairman, has been very dexterous in balancing the interests of an omnibus political elite to enable him preserve the party’s machinery and process of political ascension to power in readiness for the 2023 transition from the enigmatic President Muhammadu Buhari to a worthy successor within our political party.
Oshiomhole performed outstandingly as Governor of Edo State. He has surpassed the expectations of many as National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), where he was largely instrumental to the re-election of President Buhari and the seamless emergence of a progressive and collaborative leadership in the twin chambers of the National Assembly.
He has brought discipline and insightful leadership to the APC, as the party is no longer seen as merely a vehicle for the recruitment and selection of leadership personnel for government offices but as a party that is a central instrument of democratic governance in Nigeria, which is also determined to generate programmes and policies for the government.
It is not easy anywhere in the world to be a harbinger of change as even the people for whom change is intended often resist the change.
Institutionalising change and development in the party is an arduous process and those who despise his intentions and who fear losing out in the scramble for political power and influence have made it their pastime these days to denigrate Oshiomhole by engaging in character assassination, odious insults and throwing political innuendos and brickbats at him. He has remained unruffled, unmoved, untroubled and stoical. Although, unfair and unjust criticisms are imminent, he has continued to show unprecedented capacity for tolerance, understanding, forgiveness and allowing God to fulfill His promise in his life. This is borne out of his belief that malice may attack truth, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. Truth is the time companion that no one can cheat with lies or propaganda. Adams is not just an enigma, he is a cryptogram, a sphinx and a Gordian knot, distinguished by humane principles, refined values and remarkable achievements.
Happy birthday to our progressive leader and Comrade National Chairman, who will continue to be an issue in Nigerian politics for many years to come.
*Dr Ugbodaga is a Special Assistant to the Hon. Minister of State for Budget and National Planning