Oshiomhole and the quaint politics of a unionist
Whenever the history of unionism and opposition politics in Nigeria is written, the name of Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole will be indelibly stamped in whatever khaki colours labour unionism is adorned with. He is a man who successfully mounted the ladder of labour leadership and climbed on from there to the political stage and interweaves the lyrics of labour and politics sometimes to harmonious symphony and sometimes to discordant tunes.
Oshiomhole burst onto the national stage in 1999 at the inception of the current democratic dispensation when he was elected national president of Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), having served as General Secretary of National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria since 1982. He met his match in the person of President Olusegun Obasanjo with whom he squared up for the better part of that administration. His diminutive stature that belied his strong personality, his fluid oratory that carried in plaintive tones the labour issues he espoused at the time to win majority to his side, and his expansive gestures marked him out as a man made for higher purposes, not least an imported pretty wife. His trajectory so far has borne out of higher calling.
He cut many deals that today’s labour enjoys, like negotiating 25 per cent wage increase for workers with Obasanjo. But he soon fell out with the president on his administration’s inability to revive the refineries for local fuel production as prices of oil began to rise in the international market. In fact, it was his activism against Obasanjo on fuel price increases that literally threw up Oshiomhole as a force to reckon with. One would have expected that he would also deploy the same unionism zeal as All Progressives Congress (APC) national chairman to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to build new refineries for country.
Perhaps, he has been humbled to the fact of governance complacence as an inside APC man and likely rues his old activism against Obasanjo on the issue of moribund refineries. With four years of Buhari’s administration, there has been one narrative to yet another about fuel importation, whether there is subsidy on which the party mostly rose to power. For Oshiomhole and his party the narrative about fuel importation is endless and they must begin to sound hollow to themselves the web of unending narrative they have entangled themselves with.
But Oshiomhole would rather his past be buried in the trenches of unionism. Exhuming the ghost of that era when he joyously enjoined Nigerians to stock up food supplies for the mother and father of all strikes to get Obasanjo to reverse pump prices isn’t pretty. From the N87 his APC met pump price of premium motor spirit (petrol), the party hiked it to N145 with the glib promise that subsidy was gone with former President Goodluck Jonathan. But it has turned out a lie that Oshiomhole’s APC can’t spin satisfactorily to Nigerians. And so through the backdoor, Buhari’s government smuggled in the vexatious subsidy with Oshiomhole as key witness to the policy flip-flop.
And so when Oshiomhole joined partisan politics on the platform of Labour Party in his native Edo State, many were agreed labour had at last found its voice in the political arena and could very well match strident labour activism with progressive political action and development. For his first term in Edo State, ‘Osho baba’ literally ran ‘amok’ in his bid to deliver the dividends of democracy to a people for whom PDP had starved of development. He turned Benin City into a huge construction site, but by the time the debris cleared it turned out the more you look the less you see. The city relapsed into its old, quaint, empire-day form as if Oshiomhole never happened to it.He would reward himself with a sprawling estate in his Iyamho village that some litigants are alleging he built from the proceeds of illegal acquisition while he served his people of Edo State.
But perhaps what would stamp Oshiomhole most indelibly on the minds of Nigerians is his tendency to talk too much. Yes, he has lifted loquacity to statecraft. In his labour days, he could talk nineteen to the dozen and his meteoric rise to the Government House, Benin City, did not change anything. He has since turned it into soapbox melodrama and most times into nasty vituperations that veer off tangent as he rails against his political enemies, particularly the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and some of his own party men. For a man who has led labour and seen governance at the highest levels, Oshiomhole is at home descending into the gutters just to score political points, which continues to baffle many of his admirers who see these as unbecoming of his status.
But his ‘bole kaja-type’ (come down let’s fight) politics is beneath the finesse required of him by his admirers. Right at the backyard of Imo State’s governor Rochas Okorocha, he spared no punches for his top party’s man as he called him out during the electioneering campaigns leading up to the general elections. ‘Osho Baba’ has a knack for the dramatic and it often shows in many of his outings where he sometimes comes across as a small emperor on the loose, as he heckles his opponents and friends alike.
In a lighter mood, his ‘bend down low’ dance step in one of APC’s campaign rallies was talk of the town, as he showed he could not be outdone in the dance and athletics department. His athleticism was on display during the Opkepke Mountain race as governor, which he initiated where he showed skills. But if anything he has failed to transfer that athletic grace of winning and loosing that are part of the game to the political arena, as he is obsessed with his party winning at all cost even at the expense of fair play. His alleged quip not long ago that becoming a member of his APC party automatically makes one a saint is at variance with the athletic propensity he espouses.
Which begs the questions, was unionism for Oshiomhole just a mere ladder to climb onto political haven and then kick that ladder away in disdain as most Nigerian civil rights activists are wont to do? What exactly is Oshiomhole’s essential politics? For a man who personified labour philosophy that took him to the pinnacle of political power in his state, at what point did he abandon his pro-people labour leanings?
What is more, Oshiomhole has mocked PDP’s presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, for going to court to contest the election Oshiomhole’s principal, Buhari, won, and going as far as vowing that Atiku will not rule Nigeria. For a man whom the courts awarded governorship victory in 2008 when he contested against PDP’s Oserheimen Osunbor this is ironic. Is it that what is good for the goose isn’t good for the gander? Having had his own victory validated by the courts why is he quick to dismiss another man the possibility of the same victory on the judicial platform? It shows just how much of a summersault political leanings can make many a man to stand on their heads and insist it is the correct position.
This seems in tandem with the rising popular feeling within APC’s ranks that Oshiomhole might have lost touch with reality in his brand of politics. He orchestrated direct and indirect primaries for the APC’s governorship elections across the states and set the stage for bitter acrimony in many states. Only Ogun and Lagos States survived that ambivalent order and returned APC as governors-elect. Other states are still reeling in the political confusion of Oshiomhole’s action and many have held him accountable for most of the party’s woes. An APC chieftain Dr. SKC Ogbonnia heaps most of the blame regarding the party’s failures on Oshiomhole, saying the party’s chairman’s stance has worsened the crisis in the party.
If the courts uphold Buhari’s victory at the poll, what manner of chairman will Oshiomhole continue to be? Some party faithful are of the view that dictatorship seems so near at hand it may cause implosion in the party. Will he wield his office to further harm the party’s fortunes before Nigerians or will he temper his peppery politics and assist Buhari and put his economics and labour relations training to better use to direct the economy from the Poverty Capital of the World status? This is the million naira question Oshiomhole must address himself to in the next four years of APC’s possible hold onto power.
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