Oshiomhole is on his way to becoming Nigeria’s most powerful party administrator ever and here’s how we know

While the name, Adams Oshiomhole or more recently Osho Baba is not new on the country’s political terrain, the recent developments may have revealed a lot more than majority of Nigerians ever knew about the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

More so, if reports in the last few days indicating that he was reportedly detained and questioned between Sunday and Monday by the Department of State Services (DSS) over the fallout of the APC primaries is anything to go by, then the real test for the former Governor to either retain relevance or prepare for an unceremonious retirement from the Nigerian political landscape after now, may have just started.

But first, what manner of party administrator is Oshiomhole and just how did he become this powerful?

From his days as General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers, to the days where he held sway as President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), either leading strikes and demonstrations against increase in fuel price or campaigning for increase in wages for public sector workers, Oshiomhole had always proven to be a revolutionist with near radical views.

In his heydays as the country’s number one labour leader, Oshiomhole was arrested on a number of occasions, including the event of October 9, 2004, a protest at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport where he was allegedly “abducted by a team of State Security operatives who overpowered him, wrestled him to the ground and bundled him into a standby Peugeot 504 station wagon.”

As Governor of Edo, “Osho Baba” proved his mettle as one whose approach to governance was largely different from the average Nigerian politician. Further emboldened by the fact that he emerged as the state’s chief executive through a tumultuous period of court battles running up to 18 months, he took on the supposed “godfathers” in the state especially of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), prominent examples being Chief Tony Anenih (of blessed memory) and Chief Gabriel Igbinedion whose son, Chief Lucky Igbinedion (2 time governor of the state) is widely believed to have worked for his emergence as Governor of the south-south state.

However, this journey did not begin without a foundation for the task he was to embark on, and so barely 18 months after he assumed the seat of Governor, Oshiomhole on April 29, 2010, launched the ‘One Man, One Vote’ campaign with its accompanying slogan “Let the people Lead” at a rally held at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin which drew politicians from across political and ethnic divides in the country.

Forthwith, like a train in haste, he was ready to crush anyone on his path especially those who under any guise bore the title of “godfather,” boasting openly on many occasions that he was going to “sponsor” their retirement from politics.

Within two years, in leaps and bounds; Oshiomhole’s oratory charm, political sagacity, intelligence and daring approach to politics, despite being a former trade union leader or “tailor” (like his critics in Benin usually call him at the time), as well as his developmental strides in the short while, endeared him to thousands of politicians and residents in the state and as expected, in no time, members of the opposition PDP started flocking into his party – the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to “join the Comrade Governor in the development of the state” where they together elevated his trademark khaki uniform to the official attire of the party in the state while almost everyone who identified with his brand of politics, adopted for themselves the title “Comrade.”

Beyond his personal agenda, Oshiomhole is indisputably a core party man and a staunch believer in party supremacy who would even take a trip to the moon to see that the wishes of his party comes to fruition, such that in all the elections that were held in the state during his stint as governor, he personally took up the role of unofficial Director General of the campaign organisations of the various candidates representing the party at all levels, campaigning rigorously on television, radio, billboards, etc, as though his name was on the ballot.

Oshiomhole worked largely with technocrats in his cabinet to ensure his vision for the state was achieved (at least in his first term) and was willing to fire at any time, anyone who he felt was under-performing or losing steam in terms of loyalty to the government. He bulldozed physical buildings, political structures and ideologies to conform to his brand of politics and development in the state, such that he became what the Yorubas call ‘Ijaya’ (source of fear to someone) of the opposition party.

This explains why few weeks after he assumed office as Chairman of the APC and he threatened to expel from the party, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige for what he termed as incompetence, as they say in local parlance, ‘we nor count am as new thing.’

His battle with the godfathers and the opposition PDP in Edo was far from being the only battle he fought. Despite becoming governor at a time the state legislative assembly was PDP-dominated, he pulled some strings and in a few months upturned the majority to his favour – an arrangement that was maintained all through his tenure, and which he handed over to his successor, for whom he again fought all opposition in the nook and cranny of the state, to see to his victory as governor after him.

The former governor  also engaged in battle with private school owners, walkway traders, doctors, labour leaders (one of whom was beaten up mercilessly at a time), Civil society movement (shouldn’t that be surprising?), transport union leaders, media houses, his deputy governor (whom he later reconciled with) and even a prominent traditional ruler whom he suspended from the throne but to name a few. He defeated them all!

“Osho-Quake,” knew the enormity of his powers as governor and wielded it with almost no force to counter him. On becoming chairman of the country’s governing party in June, only a few persons who have followed his antecedents knew just what he was capable of doing with the office and candidly, he didn’t mince words when he recently said: “And those who know me know that at my age I cannot learn new tricks.”

“Let me say that if there is a choice between my conscience – what I believe is right and mortgaging that conscience in order to keep the job, I will have no difficulty resolving it in favour of my conscience.

Indeed, the handwriting on the wall shows that Oshiomhole is at the verge of repeating “everything” (success and mistakes he achieved or made) as governor in this current capacity as National Chairman of the ruling party.

When Oshiomhole took on fiercely, the case of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki wanting him to resign because he defected from the party, it was not a new script and like political observers have adumbrated, the fight was beyond a personal battle with the former Kwara governor. He was protecting the President who is far from being politically sagacious and as such will consistently have his policies, programmes and even his stay in office, be at the mercy of the opposition.

What kind of politician then is Oshiomhole? He is a rugged Maverick, unrepentant Leninist and Utilitarian administrator who believes so much in Democratic Centralism as the right approach to achieve his interest or that of a group he leads (especially when it’s a political party). He is almost by no means the everyday politician you find in Nigeria.

“I am absolutely committed to justice, fairness, I am a stickler to enforcement of rules; because the source of relevance is derived from rules. I have lived my life fighting for justice and fairness.” 

In addition, part of a recent statement credited to his spokesman in the heat of his current travails (although later retracted) read, “Comrade Oshiomhole envisions an APC that is capacitated to pragmatically build a corpus of leadership and membership that do not only submit to the high ideal of party supremacy but also the credo of party discipline.”

That’s it! An Aluta General in the capacity of a national party chairman, handling all issues with similar approach and temperament needed for a trade union battle.

How else can one explain his introduction (of) and insistence on direct primaries to the operations of a ruling party in a country like Nigeria with high-wired intricacies and political dynasties within parties?

An Oshiomhole is a stickler to rules and legislation that he would care less about whose ox is gored but would in another breadth step down the rules to ensure the party wins and the major interests on which his stay in office is guaranteed are satisfied.

Doesn’t this explain his insistence on democratic principles and ethos, yet he turns around to fight for automatic tickets for a number of legislators to balance the interest of the party in parliament – leading ultimately to predictable squabbles that led the likes of Senator Shehu Sani out of the governing party?

How can one explain Oshiomhole’s battle with Ogun Governor, Ibikunle Amosun who he accused of working out arrangements to become the Emperor in the Ogun APC, yet keep mute about the primary in the Centre of Excellence, where the party’s state executive decision overrode that of the electoral panel of the Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC), or even in his home state (Edo) where he is having an undercurrent with his successor over allegations of his plans to control the politics of the state and the heavens didn’t fall?

With his propensity to always voice out his position and bring everyone to order with his oratory ability, an Oshiomhole would therefore be likely to double speak as he did in the case of Governor Samuel Ortom in the twilight of his decision to quit the party, and unfortunately also destroy previous success he has gained.

Remember, he occupied the airwaves in the first three months of his stay in office calling every Tom, Dick and Harry to order and bringing every internal party issue to national television?

Far from what many think, an Oshiomhole fears no one and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him square up against a Tinubu even with all of his influence in the APC.

“If there was any temptation in Nigeria, it is temptation towards power not temptation towards the powerless.

“So, all I have tired is to find some courage to enforce the rules and I think an overwhelming majority of the governors appreciate that I have done my best because change is not easy.

From Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara, to Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, Rotimi Akerodolu of Ondo and even in states not under the control of the APC, Oshiomhole has stood his ground on the decision of his National Working Committee (NWC) as it relates to the outcome of the primaries, save for a few instances as those of Adamawa, Kaduna and Niger, addressing news conferences at every slight opportunity to reiterate his stance on the issues at stake.

“It is not surprising that there is some disquiet but I remain a friend to these governors, I respect them; I appreciate them for the fact that but for their support, I will not be chairman and you don’t go stepping on toes of those who helped you to get into position.

“But however, I thought I was clear and I remain clear that helping me to get to the position, it was to help APC to return to its core values of progressive politics, of fairness, of justice, of adherence to rule of law and total submission to the extant provisions of our party constitution.

“In doing that, you don’t look at power; you look at what is; what is just. I think that with time, we will reconcile all these. It is just that once you stick to the goal, sometimes, you either get caught on the right side or the wrong side.”

Who wouldn’t have considered it a mirage in this country’s political history, for the chairman of the ruling party to brazenly and fearlessly challenge the interest of nearly half a dozen governors in his party, including that of the Chairman of the Nigeria’s Governors Forum (NGF) and Chairman of the Governors Forum of his party, not excluding the head of the legislative arm of government in the country on the eve of a general election and continue in office without being hurt?

And while majority of these governors have continued to shuttle the Presidential Villa to either explain their plight to the Commander-in-chief of the nation’s armed forces in an attempt to persuade him to influence the outcome of the primary elections in their respective states in favour of their anointed candidates (which is by the way, the norm around here), Oshiomhole remains adamant on his position. Doesn’t that mean that even the President cannot call him to order?

Again, not many appear to understand the choice of Oshiomhole to run for the office of a “mere” party chairman when he could have been a Super Cabinet Minister or hold any other key position in the present administration, given the support he gave to the Buhari candidacy in 2015.

Oshiomhole does understand that in an ideal situation (at least in conformity with his brand of politics), all political office holders including the President is subject to the party where which the party chairman is the custodian. Believe it, like the office of the President, there are indeed enormous powers in that seat. It is the fulcrum of power and centre of attraction in the party, but you will need an Oshiomhole to make you see this.

“I have no illusions; this job I am doing is not a pensionable job; but I did promise myself that if I am going to be on this job for one day, I will go according to the rules and according to my conscience; I will be fair and just to all and God will give me the courage and the wisdom to do his will. How far that can take me is exclusively in the hands of God,” he said recently.

It remains to be seen any party chairman who has wielded anything close to this much power and served out his tenure in office completely since 1960.

Not in any of the political parties or coalitions of the first, second and third republics (including the all-powerful Babagana Kingibe of Abiola’s SDP) nor under the PDP where every chairman was subject to President Olusegun Obasanjo‘s ideals and interests or even in the skin of an Alhaji Bamanga Tukur who became the sacrificial lamb for the Jonathan second term after which 5 governors and ranking members exited and for which the party paid dearly.

Not in the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) that was close to an auto-driven vehicle, not the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) where former Governor Bola Tinubu as National Leader was the Generalissimo or the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) that had a General Buhari as its Commander-in-chief of party affairs.

Needless to say that though his approach to party administration is nowhere near what is generally expected of party chairmen, he is not a bad leader. His success can indeed midwife system-driven politics in the country. Reports also say the DSS told him to resign. And so, one really wonders if the former labour leader can survive this.

If he does, just maybe he would have warmed his way into the annals of history as the country’s most powerful party administrator ever.

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