By Sufuyan Ojeifo
It is a season of incendiary, partisan frenzy in Edo State. This is, perhaps, understandably so. Although he is not a contestant in the state’s September 19, governorship election, former governor and, until recently, national chair of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, is central in the cast list of the unfolding, high-octane political drama in the state.
His estranged protégé, Governor Godwin Obaseki, who is Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship standard bearer in the election, has inextricably been enmeshed in bitter overdrive to construct extreme, fictive narratives about the persona of Oshiomhole. We are, without a doubt, witnessing a burgeoning grudge fight between Comrade and Godwin. Both make no pretenses about the raison d’etres of their operations- to decimate each other politically.
Often, during the ongoing campaigns, one is wont to hearing Obaseki boasts of having successfully neutralized Oshiomhole at the national level and that he would deal with him again at the state level. On his part, Oshiomhole is evidently committed to the enterprise of ensuring that Obaseki is defeated in the September 19 poll. But I do not think the actions of both men are misplaced. In the Edo guber poll, Obaseki’s fear of Oshiomhole is the beginning of wisdom. Oshiomhole does not appear to be in doubt that the APC’s candidate, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu would unseat Obaseki on September 19.
Interestingly, Obaseki’s quirky project clearly targeted at taking down Oshiomhole who has considerably impacted his milieu, left an indelible mark on history and is clearly not done with externalizing his seething inner vision of a new Nigerian state, faces a difficulty of statewide appeal and validation. Oshiomhole’s eight-year legacies as governor continue to endear him to a vast majority of the people. He defined his eon with a number of infrastructure projects that people could eye-mark.
Oshiomhole was exemplary, especially when his performance in his first four years is juxtaposed with Obaseki’s. This is not to suggest that Oshiomhole as governor was perfect or saintly. Significantly, the parameters for measuring performance and patriotic political leadership in Nigeria do not specify sainthood as a key requirement. Oshiomhole’s impactful trajectory from bruising engagements as an astute national labour leader to two-term governorship mandate and national chairmanship of the ruling party, simply acknowledges the capacity of focused individuals to change their society for the better.
For decades, both as labour leader and politician, he has provided clear, pragmatic leadership during periods of self-doubt by a challenged citizenry. He apparently enlisted that alchemy as an untiring catalyst for progressive change to transform the APC, force the opposition PDP to revise its gratuitous assumptions and finally, hugely, to aid the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. A grateful Buhari acknowledged this himself.
It is against this background that a fair deconstruction of the curious project to demonise and dress up the Edo State-born activist-politician who remains irrepressible by time and the avalanche of political traducers, in the fictive borrowed robes of a “godfather,” can best be attempted.
It could be readily recalled that in the aftermath of the party’s NWC’s dissolution and the appointment of Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State as acting party chairman by the party’s NEC, Oshiomhole, with an equanimity which probably surprised both friends and foes said he had accepted it in good faith. He immediately told party faithful at a news conference in Abuja, that he had no regrets for the actions he took while serving as national chairman, as they were in the interest of the APC.
Despite his loss of the position of APC chair, Oshiomhole remains his ebullient self, showing commitment to the party and governorship campaign of APC in Edo State. He simply titillates and scintillates with his trademark “Azonto” dance steps. Seeking what could pass for an effective script and fitting label to demonise Oshiomhole and diminish his powerful image both nationally and in his native Edo State, Obaseki had conjured the “godfather” label. But it is a moot point whether or not Obaseki grossly mischaracterized Oshiomhole with the “godfather” tag.
Both conceptually and contextually in Nigeria, godfatherism (godfathers), a quaint brand of political dictation, ordinarily means a towering political figure who imposes, dictates, stifles, deliberately asphyxiates, and forcibly imposes his choices in his political space. Oshiomhole’s well-known cosmopolitanism and modernist worldview hardly make him fit the bill.
His bold and progressive vision of a new Edo State and Nigeria at large simply cancels out such regressive and Victorian era impulses. Oshiomhole’s current campaign exertions are not motivated by the desire to be a godfather. He is only working for Ize Iyamu to ensure APC wins just as Ize Iyamu worked for him as the Director-General of his campaign in 2012 to win his re-election in all of the 18 Local Government Areas of the state.
The fictive narrative that Oshiomhole wants to be a godfather cannot therefore be an issue with Ize-Iyamu as governor. Ize-Iyamu is not a godson to anybody. He enjoys that aura of respectability. It could be recalled that Ize-Iyamu set up the Grace Group to fight the godfathers in 2007. It was that group that produced Oshiomhole on the Action Congress platform. So, the former APC national chairman knows that there is nothing like godfather’s influence in Ize-Iyamu governorship deal. Ize Iyamu too knows this.
Perhaps it is only Obaseki and his deputy, Philip Shaibu, that are inebriated in their concocted narrative about an imagined godfather. On the flip side of the coin, if Comrade were a godfather, did they give him respect as one? Did they not deal with him as a minion? And yet they mouthed and continue to serenade the state with the cacophonous godfather mantra just to parody him.
But in retrospect, Oshiomhole, in charting the course of informed engagement with the critical elements in a democratic mix, had demonstrated a rare sense of responsibility as well as authority. With principle, pluck and discipline as watchwords, he had efficiently driven the party in power. His abbreviated tenure significantly evoked the days of Chief Adisa Akinloye, national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, of the Second Republic. He had evoked a whiff of independence in office to the chagrin of the imperial state governors.
Although much of the internal political landmines that ruffled APC primaries were laid well before his ascendancy as national chairman, instructively, he was never heard to grumble about these; but, immediately defined new directions. That is leadership. Like other leaders of note, Oshiomhole disdains hazy journeys and consequently prefers to clearly define directions.
By effectively overhauling the party’s internal governance template and processes and resolutely standing down party spoil-sports, Oshiomhole simply proved he is indeed a sublime command room guru. In no small way, this gung-ho footing played a crucial role in APC’s victory in one of the keenest presidential electoral contests in the nation’s history. This trait, apparently feared by his political foes, remains at the core of his unswerving strategy of political action.
Though large-hearted, Oshiomhole surely has his prickles. When his traducers cross the line, he takes his time but pushes back strongly when necessary. Take the verbal onslaughts against him by the Director-General of Progressives Governors Forum, Salihu Lukman, for allegedly being the face of Ize-Iyamu’s campaign: Lukman, behaving as a fifth columnist, would want Oshiomhole to stay at the background. If he had pandered to that shenanigan, the excitement and mojo he is injecting into the Ize-Iyamu electioneering would have diminished. But it was not difficult to know that Lukman was acting out a script by the opposition.
Lukman had also curiously accused Oshiomhole of frustrating the Caretaker Committee to ensure that he was returned as the party’s national chairman. In his pushback, Oshiomhole had stated: “So do I have to win Edo to become the chairman? Do I look so unemployed? I’m 68! So, what they don’t understand is that, it is not the office of chairman that made me who I am. It is my pedigree from my days as a labourer in the textile industry – to become the general secretary of textile workers all over Nigeria and becoming the president of NLC.
“There is no village I go to that people do not know me and this is what I used to override the godfathers in Edo State for two consecutive terms and even got the governor elected through election; and no violence before becoming the national chairman. It’s like our president now. Though I cannot compare myself to him, but it is like President Muhammadu Buhari by 2023, when his tenure would have lapsed as President. But those who believe in him, in 2024 and beyond, each time they see him, that trust they have in him will always be there. He bonds with the people. That bond was not created by the fact that he is the president; in fact, he became the president because of that bond.”
Indeed, drawing from a history of tough, diverse labour and political engagements, Oshiomhole unquestionably continues to provide nimble guidance, intellectual spunk and bold political leadership for the ruling APC, both at the state level and nationally. The APC can only trifle with this clout – which the opposition PDP secretly envies – at its own peril.
· Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via email@example.com