By Kayode Ojo
A leader whose people are not following behind is merely taking a walk – an African proverb.
The Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, came to office with perhaps a rich populist reputation. He was regarded as “man of the people” by many who spoke of his unflinching commitment to the masses and the down trodden in society. This opinion about the governor must have been influenced by the fact that he was involved in unionism and other labour issues in the country. As a matter of fact, Oshiomhole was President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). It is on record that he led the union fairly well, judging by the number of strike actions the workers embarked upon nationwide during his tenure. It is rather trite here to begin to question the propriety and the eventual utility of those strikes or whether the Comrade Governor compromised on some of them against the very workers he led out on the streets. What is, however, unquestionable is that Oshiomhole became popular as a result of the NLC platform.
Thus when the governor began to nurse his ambition to govern his state, it was more than settled that as a labour activist, he will naturally join the Labour Party. But what did this enigmatic labour leader do? He ran straightaway to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he assiduously toiled to demonise in his Labour days. It was when the PDP read out the rulebook to him, how he needed to join the party first before being a candidate that his ambition ferried him with a lightning speed to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). When the former labour leader met with another hurdle in the ANPP, he eventually knocked on the doors of Action Congress (AC), which transformed to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). With his pretence, feigned populism and mouthed commitment to democratic freedom with which he continually traded off workers during the strike days, Oshiomhole was able to convince the like of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and other vibrant politicians in Edo State, who provided him with the AC platform, working to enthrone a new political order devoid of god-fatherism and autocracy.
Everything seemed to be moving smoothly in the Oshiomhole political empire especially after the courts awarded him electoral victory. With a famous gift of the garb and array of media friends he picked along the way from the labour days, Oshiomhole’s performance as governor was hyperbolised and it got in his head as well. Now in his second term in office, the truth is now coming home that after all, the comrade governor is more ordinary than previously thought. Questions about the reality of the so-called projects he has been boasting about and their cost effectiveness have begun to gain currency in his state. There are now new doubts about the integrity of the governor, not by outsiders but by the very people who are close to him, his own associates. The governor’s sense of fairness, equity and justice in the authoritative allocation of values in his state is not only questioned but has become a topical issue amongst stakeholders in the politics of Edo State. There are loud allegations of concentrating projects in one area of the state and neglecting others.
Even more denting to Oshiomhole’s image is the perception among many people that their governor is unfeeling and harbours a streak of wickedness. His encounter with the widow whom he told to “go and die” without any human feelings perhaps represents the true denouement of the Edo State governor. Not even the afterthought employment given to the widow can redeem Oshiomhole in the sight of his people who are shocked that such callous statement could come from their governor who daily mouths populist sentiments. The second time Governor Oshiomhole lowered his guard and allowed his true anti-people self to openly play out was when the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu was hosted by the South-south region in Edo State as part of its nationwide consultation with the people. On that occasion, the governor kept rambling against the position of his people on the need for the conference so much so that he had to be shouted down by the people themselves who felt they could no longer stomach his arrogance and selfish interests.
If the people found their voice that day at the venue of the consultative meeting in Benin City to tell their governor that they were the ones that elected him and therefore should not pursue any other interests opposed to theirs, today they are courageously parting ways with him and leaving an empty party behind. Yes, the current news in Edo State is clearly about the mass defection that has hit Oshiomhole and his party, APC. At the last count, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, former Secretary to the State Government and Oshiomhole’s campaign director-general; Chief Tony Omoaghe, former State Chairman of the ACN (now APC) in Edo State; Chief Amos Osunbor, a former Senatorial leader in Edo South, and Alhaji Usman Shagadi, former Deputy Chairman of the party and leader of the party in Governor Oshiomhole’s own Senatorial District have since moved to the PDP. There are also Rt. Hon. Bright Omokhodion, a former Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. West Idahosa, a three-time member of the House of Representatives, and not less than four serving members of the Edo State House of Assembly. Earlier, Senator Ehigie Uzamere had shown his governor and APC a clean pair of heels when he joined the PDP in April with his supporters. The bigger trouble is that many more stalwarts like Tom Ikimi, Julius Ihonvbere are said to be waiting for the end of the APC national convention to move over to the PDP.
It is noteworthy, however, that all these former henchmen of the governor who have defected to the PDP all cite Oshiomhole’s politics of deceit, injustice, arrogance and high-handedness. There is talk of, not creeping, but muscular dictatorship by a governor who makes the most noise about democratic principles and freedom for equal participation in governance. But those who know the governor better swear of his mastery of doublespeak and hypocrisy, talents that served him well in the double-dealings with unsuspecting workers and the government, those days. But for other watchers, Oshiomhole’s dishonesty and the manipulation of the recent local government elections in his state provided dizzying credence to all the allegations against him.
Never mind the bold face the governor is putting out in the public, the truth is that the very people who lifted him up have left him and he is just suspended in the air being supported only by the force of his office. It is only a matter of time and for the law of gravity to take its course, more so that his occupancy of the State Government House expires in November 2016. And when this happens what a crash it would be! It is sad that a governor who came to power with the people behind him is now taking a mere walk because “nobody” is behind him. All said, Governor Oshiomhole is a smart man; he may rise to the occasion by also plotting his way to the PDP! In the Nigerian kind of politics, such things are not difficult to accomplish. So, how will Oshiomhole finish up?
* Ojo, a public affairs commentator, contributed this piece from Ketu, Lagos State.