By Patrick Obahiagbon
On Thursday, June 25, 2020, the National Executive Council (NEC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) held in the bowel of Aso Rock Villa in Abuja. At the meeting, President Muhammadu Buhari, among other issues, recommended that the National Working Committee (NWC) be dissolved in the light of the many centrifugal forces pushing the party to several dangerous directions and precipices. That advice was carried and a caretaker committee was emplaced in its stead.
In the light of the chaotic and conflicted background leading up to the NEC meeting, foisted on the party by agents of revisionism and prebendalism, a red card for the NWC was not within my contemplation as an option; yet, who in that meeting could have suggested a contrary line of action to the President’s? You know, the President is the leader of the party and perhaps, largely, the only person that could be vouched for as neutral in the leadership intrigues and crisis. There were hidden masquerades everywhere.
To be fair to President Buhari, he had tried to rein in the revanchist and philistine forces whose conservative teeths were set on edges from day one by the reformist politics and policies by the enigmatic Comrade Adams Oshiomhole. As expected, the event has been interpreted in several perspectives. One, Senator Bola Tinubu and his rumoured presidential ambition have been dealt a seeming deathly blow. The assumption behind this reasoning is that the former party chairman, Comrade Oshiomhole, is a protégé of Tinubu.
Two, that for Adams Oshiomhole, it was a disastrous crash that may have possibly sent him on an impromptu retirement from politics. Indeed, Senator Tinubu and his tendencies within the APC may have suffered a temporary setback but I dare pontificate that the man is too strategic and resilient to be wasted by a single masterstroke. Those who have followed his politics will readily admit that his adversaries are merely celebrating a pyrrhic victory. In short, the Jagaban can take care of himself!
Those who think that Oshiomhole has been disgraced out of office, perhaps, are also not good students of party politics in the country. They do not understand the eggs a national party chairman has to walk on every day to carry out his assignments. This might not have been how the Comrade had scripted his egress as the chairman of APC, but human beings can only wish. The forces that pushed Oshiomhole out are still the same forces that have been forcing out chairmen of the ruling party since the return of democracy in 1999. Once a national chairman emerges in any of the ruling parties, be it APC or PDP, such a chairman must learn to become a willing tool in the hands of two distinct but very powerful forces.
On one side of this divide are the governors and on the other side is the leviathan silhouette embedded in the presidency which may not necessarily be the president. The longevity of any chairman in office is largely determined by his ability to maintain a delicate balance between these two forces. Once a sizable number of the governors agree with that leviathan presidential silhouette on their discomfiture with any particular chairman, he begins to skate on thin ice. In his two-term tenure as president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo dethroned three party chairmen- Solomon Lar, Barnabas Gemade and Audu Ogbeh.
There was no way Comrade Oshiomhole was not going to have a dialectical roforofo with entrenched machiavellian and mephistophelian political forces given his Oto Von Bismarck determination to stamp democratic authority in the running of party affairs and thus wean it from the asphyxiating and expansionist ozone of entrenched forces. We ought to understand that remaining as party chairman is not dependent on his good performance alone. It also depends humongously on how other stakeholders are willing to drop their egoistic and megalomaniacal habiliments for the greater interest of the party and the nation but a majority of the governors, (certainly not all of them) on their part, in my opinion, have become the greatest impedimenta since 1999, to any democratic consolidation in the land. Once elected, they assume the powers of an emperor, deciding who can become anything in their states.
State governors appoint new state party chairmen if the ones they met are not malleable; they put members of the state assembly in their chest pockets; nominate ministers and other federal appointees; hand-pick candidates for all the elective positions in their parties; and if the national chairman of their party objects, then they congregate at the coven of their Governors’ Forum to table his matter.
Oshiomhole, being a former governor and particularly because he had genuine and coruscating intentions to cleanse the Augean stables, had perhaps, thought that his sincerity of purpose would be a leverage for him in dealing with his former colleagues; but not exactly so because he was living ahead of his time and age. Entrenched forces of conservatism were not yet ready for a gadfly and revolutionary party administrator in his mould, bent and predilection. Bamanga Tukur, a former PDP national chairman and others have also had their story to tell even though for varied factors. What has been a common denominator has been the misreading of the viciousness of this new power centre in Nigerian politics. Tukur, as a former governor and an elder statesman must have said to himself, “surely they will respect me if not for anything, my age”. So, he tried to clip their wings and started with Governor Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto State and the fire started.
Tukur forgot the unspoken code in the PDP, which is “don’t dare the governors”. In the PDP, as it were, if a governor complains that he wants to take your wife, the NWC will support him to take your wife and add your daughter as well. Turkur did not know this. Oshiomhole certinaly knew but he was single-minded to undertake the rescue mission in the APC without caring whose ox was gored. While for Tukur, it was their tragic flaw.; not so for Oshiomhole whose gravitas, recusancy, capacity to take up the gauntlet with the spirit of a practised salamander set him apart. But for the President, it would have taken Armageddon to displace him from the top of Mount Olympus where he was already sizing up the oppositional elements like a victorious conquistador.
And talking about Oshiomhole’s performance, nobody will deny that he was a successful national chairman. Remember Oshiomhole inherited a faltering party. After the 2015 election, the leadership of the party lost itself in the frenzy of victory celebrations, forgetting it had a government to form. Thus, from underneath its armpit, the opposition party, PDP, stole the exalted position of the deputy senate president and ultimately the senate president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.
Even more scandalous was the fact that elected APC members who were in the majority in the National Assembly aligned with the opposition to torment the presidency. PDP did not have to do much as an opposition party as members of the ruling party helped out in the opposition business. But all that changed with the emergence of Oshiomhole as national chairman. He started in earnest to refocus APC as a ruling party by reintroducing party discipline and party supremacy.
Oshiomhole’s heat helped in quickening the exit of fifth columnists in the APC rank whose stratagem was to stay as long as possible to decapitate the party from within. It is to Oshiomhole’s credit that the APC was rejuvenated as a party going into the 2019 general election. And the result of the election has the full imprimatur of Oshiomhole’s ebullience and diligent planning; and, of course, together with other party men and women. So, if the main purpose of a political party is to win elections, nobody would deny Oshiomhole his place in history.
Even before the 2019 general election, with Oshiomhole leading the line, APC defeated Ayo Fayose-inspired PDP in Ekiti State to reclaim the state. He also led the party to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Osun State. His sagacity in causing last-minute political realignments in Osun state was, perhaps, the masterstroke that turned a bad situation around for the APC. Although the Comrade delights more in winning Kwara State in 2019, denying PDP a foothold in the heart of the Southwest was, perhaps, a more devastating blow to the opposition party.
It has been interesting reading all manner of sneering remarks and analyses on the ouster of Comrade Oshiomhole as the national chairman of APC. Some of the comments have postulated, almost with vatic certainty, the end of the Comrade’s career as a politician. I find some of these conclusions derisory and infantile to say the least. Even if his career were to end as it is now, Oshiomhole has done well enough. From being a factory worker, the Comrade rose to lead the mass of Nigerian workers. From leading the Labour, he was elected governor twice and served his Edo State people for eight years and thereafter he stepped in the saddle as the national chairman of a ruling party. You cannot have it better than that!
Yet knowing the person Comrade is, what has happened to him may just be a temporary setback. He has all the qualities to bounce back and, indeed, he has started the process of recovery by accepting the decisions of his party’s NEC and pledging his loyalty to the President and his party. As one capable of laughing at himself, Oshiomhole will take all that has happened in his strides and, as usual, will find the strength he needs.
The game that played out leading to the dissolution of the NWC led by Oshiomhole is all geared towards 2023 permutations much more than the ranting of some elements in his home state. A lot more games will be played in the days ahead and those who are laughing now and clinking their glasses may have started their celebrations a bit too early because 2023 is still far off from now. And, to boot, Edo governorship is September 19, 2020.
•Hon. Obahiagbon contributed this piece from Benin City.