BY LEWIS CHUKWUMA
At the level of small talk and humour, you could hardly get the better of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, former governor of Edo State, currently, national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. But for a former national trade union leader of awesome repute, more at home with focused dialogue, analysis and action, this trend of interaction could pall easily.
Cut to the bone, Oshiomhole’s tough-guy image evolved over decades of challenging trade unionism and often bruising engagements with recalcitrant governments – both military and democratic. This unwittingly feeds a perception that the Edo-born leader, now a mainstream national politician is a fellow to be leery of. When this scenario interfaces a milieu where national interest often comes a poor second to personal, sectional and other untoward agenda, both the messenger and his message become objects of suspicion and fear, for friends and foes alike. This arguably sums up Oshiomhole’s apparent public relations quandary.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a little less than three months after he formally took the baton of leadership of APC from Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, his approach to leadership has come under serious public scrutiny, especially because of what pundits see as a belligerent style he is perceived to have adopted. But much of this scrutiny is ungoverned by good faith.
His now famous warning to two ministers (the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige and Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, to inaugurate all the boards under their ministries immediately), the rhetoric during the Ekiti State governorship election, his reaction to the gale of defections, the controversy over the choice of primary method adopted, and the dissolution of some state excos, among others have made some party members jittery as to his capacity to mediate genuine reconciliation in the ruling party ahead of 2019 general elections.
It could also be recalled that the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Lasun Yusuff, who was angered by the outcome of the Osun State governorship primary election which he lost, warned that Oshiomhole would destroy the party with his leadership style. There is more.
Although Oshiomhole made considerable overt and covert efforts to stop the eventual defection of Senate President Bukola Saraki, Governors Abdulfattah Ahmed, Kwara; Ortom, Benue; and Aminu Tambuwal, Sokoto, the 15 senators, and 37 members of the House of Representatives, his interventions did not succeed. Rocket science is not needed here to understand the underlying dynamics of these defections. The politicians had already made up their minds to leave for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to pursue their ambitions even before Oshiomhole’s mandate came on-stream.
Significantly, a common thread undergirding all these scenarios leans heavily on personal interest. They have pretty little connection to party interest or ultimately national interest. These primordial agenda unfortunately form the key conceptual planks of politicking in Nigeria.
Oshiomhole’s choice to lead the ruling party by its top echelon was not accidental. It is essentially to change that old, unseemly narrative, revamp the progressives’ vanguard and compel the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to revise its gratuitous assumptions and ponder its future, a hitherto unaccustomed footing.
He has indeed taken this responsibility very seriously. The position of national chairmanship of a political party carries considerable weight, especially in charting the course of progressive engagement with the critical elements in a democratic mix. That the inherent power of the office of the national chairman, its responsibility and authority have been watered down and often caged by forces out of sync with transformative politics doesn’t mean its occupant must jettison principled and disciplined conduct. The days of Chief Adisa Akinloye, national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, of the Second Republic come to mind here.
In the evolution of the Nigerian state, it cannot be denied that Oshiomhole has played his own role and in the process honed administrative, governance and political skills that can help leverage the lot of the current ruling party, especially as it enters a period leading up to an important national election.
In the shark-infested waters of Nigeria’s politics, the former Edo State governor represents a powerful force feared by the opposition and false friends as well. Many of the allegations against his style fly in the face of objective analysis of the multi-hued challenges facing his party.
It’s hardly surprising then that since his assumption of office as APC national chairman, Oshiomhole has received strident flak from the opposition PDP. This is understandable given that his well-known strength, gung-ho oratory and organizational acumen pose a direct threat to their plot of retrieving power. Internal criticism is of course what the diminutive dynamite from Edo should take seriously, so far as they are sincere and objective.
Significantly, a consensus is emerging within APC that the former labour leader came at a ‘difficult’ period. According to the Director -General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mazi Osita Okechukwu as well as a political analyst, Elder Emmanuel Okoro, the position Oshiomhole met requires some combat and reconciliation as well.
In Okechukwu’s words: “I think the position he met on the ground requires some combat and reconciliation as well. So, he has to bring his own character to his administration. There is no way he can avoid that provided he works within the law.
“He is coming on the eve of a major general election. He has to draw up his arms. The only thing I will advise is that whatever he does, it should be within the law because we are running a constitutional democracy. Otherwise, you cannot change a man that is over 50. You can’t change him. He is a combatant person by nature.”
For Elder Okoro, the former governor of Edo State met the party under a very difficult situation that requires total inclusion of party chieftains adding that Oshiomhole needed a high-profile team to help him puncture the bottled-up grievances of the party chieftains across the country.
Clearly, Oshiomhole is not a saint. But the parameters for selecting the national chairmen of political parties in Nigeria do not specify sainthood as a key requirement. The choice of Oshiomhole as the new helmsman of the party became inevitable following the collapse of an obviously impossible reconciliation task placed on the shoulders of former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
His choice tacitly acknowledges the capacity of focused individuals to change their society for the better. For decades, he has provided clear, pragmatic leadership during periods of self-doubt by a citizenry under siege by patiently deploying the instrumentality of law to achieve what many thought were lost causes.
Today, Oshiomhole who has now been deservedly transformed into an active, circumspect and intellectually focused national political figure can do no less.
** Mr. Chukwuma, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja.