Not many, especially living witnesses to the eight-year progressive administration of former Edo State Governor and the national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole will disagree with this writer that he left indelible legacies in the sands of time while at the helms of affairs in the Heartbeat State and the labour movement in the country.
But some critics may quickly counter such positive assessment on the ground that those heights were attained at great cost considering that it is an election year, when the voters in Edo are expected to decide the next occupant of Dennis Osadebey Avenue seat of power in Benin City which will be vacant from November 12th 2020.
However, the focus of this piece is honouring ‘a prophet’ who turns 68 Saturday even in his community and not the intrigues, mudslinging and crises that had rocked the Edo chapter of the APC ahead of the governorship poll in September in which the incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki has declared his interest to seek re-election.
It is a truism that Oshiomhole, as national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, is no stranger to most Nigerians especially those who were old enough during the titanic struggle for appropriate pricing for fuel in the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007.
Though not born with a silver spoon on 4 April 1952 at Iyamho, in the current Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State, Adams after his secondary education obtained a job with the Arewa Textiles Company, in Kaduna where he was first elected union secretary thus laying the foundation for full blown union activities. For his tertiary education, he proceeded to Ruskin College, Oxford in the United Kingdom where he majored in economics and industrial relations before attending the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru near Jos in Plateau State.
But his meteoric rise to becoming the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, a union with over 75,000 workers then, was made possible by dint of hard work, integrity, forthrightness, intelligence and diligence in discharging his onerous responsibilities. Subsequently, he had an unblemished career while holding sway from 1982 to 1999 and thereafter when he shot to national limelight following his election as the national president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
His tenure as the nation’s number one labour, leader this writer recalls, was not only eventful and rewarding for the working class alone but often compared with the famed late Pa Michael Imoudu’s golden era, a unionist par excellence whose sterling leadership qualities and several battles with Nigeria’s former colonial masters Britain till date remain an inspiration and a reference point in trade union history.
More importantly, since his emergence coincided with the nation’s return to democracy in 1999, after many years of dictatorship, expectations were high that Oshiomhole and his cohorts in the organized labour should vigorously defend not only the interest of the working class and its allies but that of the entire citizenry who had been at the receiving end of successive military regimes.
Among his major attainments in office was a successful negotiation by the NLC of over 100 percent increase from N3000 national minimum wage in 1999 to N7500 in year 2000 and personally led mass rallies and protests against obnoxious federal government’s socio-economic policies at the time especially incessant hikes in prices of fuel by the Obasanjo administration.
Similarly, apart from regularly demanding good governance and insisting that the welfare of citizens should always count and form the basis of government policies, Oshiomhole, other union and human rights campaigners like renowned lawyer late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti also of blessed memory, during such struggles were prime target of brutality, arrests, tear gas and temporary blockades of union offices by uniform men.
But the Comrade footprints loomed larger as Governor of Edo State, where he served from November 12, 2008 to November 12, 2016. Elected in 2007 under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, one of the coalition parties that later metamorphosed into the ruling All Progressives Congress, in 2014, the mandate freely given to Oshiomhole by the electorate was hijacked for over a year after the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC declared Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as the winner. It took a fierce legal battle in the courts for him to recover the stolen mandate and subsequently assumed the mantle of leadership.
Today, he is best remembered not only for the transformational strides across the 18 local government areas in the Heartbeat state but the massive investment in education, human capital, security and changing the narrative of past governors that Edo was receiving only paltry allocation from Abuja and therefore couldn’t execute major development projects.
Together with his cabinet the government overhauled the state’s internally generated revenue system through tax reforms and plugged all loopholes such that the government could rake in sufficient revenue to pay workers’ salaries and allowances without recourse to monthly statutory allocation from the Federation Account. This created a pool of funds to execute capital projects unlike what obtained in the past, when payment of public servants salaries was a major challenge.
Besides, money was borrowed from the capital market for the government to successfully implement its people-oriented projects that brought smiles to the faces of millions of citizens including this writer whose Iyora, Uzairue community in the Etsako West Local Government Area became a major beneficiary of road and electricity projects that had withstood the test of time.
The people of three North Ibies in Etsako East council who for several decades had great difficulty assessing their communities by road during rainy season heaved a sigh of relief courtesy of massive road networks linking Apana, Okpekpe, Imiegba and Imiakebu. This later gave birth to Okpekpe Marathon Race that has become a major international sporting event.
It is also no longer news that Benin City the state capital neglected by most past administrations received unprecedented infrastructural transformation such as construction of dual carriage ways, pedestrian walk ways and drainages under the administration of the Comrade Governor. Security of lives and property also received priority attention.
Again, history was made on 23 June 2018, when Oshiomhole emerged as the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) following a voice vote by delegates at the party national convention to succeed a former governor of Edo State Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Though his coming ruffled some feathers among the APC heavy weights given its timing- less than one year to a general election, the former labour leader certainly did not disappoint his backers as his party again triumphed over the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP by a wider margin of votes in the 2019 presidential election which returned President Muhammadu Buhari.
It also recorded landslide victory in the National Assembly election with majority seats in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Prior to that, the APC had won the governorship polls in Ekiti and Osun states. But the battle for the party’s gubernatorial tickets had polarized members of the party in some states such as Rivers, Ogun, Imo and Zamfara states ahead the 2019 general election even though the APC retained Ogun and Imo states against the anointed candidates of the governors. It lost Zamfara to the PDP.
The APC further retained the governorship seat in Kogi following Yaya Bello’s re-election and won the governorship election in Bayelsa state before it as upturned by the Supreme Court in favour of the PDP candidate, Senator Duoye Diri. But Oshiomhole’s political career faced the greatest turbulence when late last year he was suspended by a faction of the party in his ward 10 in Etsako West council and 18 local government chairmen of the APC in his native state of Edo passed a vote of no confidence on him for allegedly trying to disintegrate the party.
A faction of the party loyal to Oshiomhole swiftly declared his suspension null and void and then suspended Governor Godwin Obaseki of the state whom they claimed orchestrated Oshiomhole’s suspension. The APC stands divided in Edo till date.
The crisis deepened however, when a High Court sitting in Abuja ruled that Oshiomhole be suspended from office of the national chairman pending the determination of the suit, that having been suspended from the APC, Oshiomhole was no longer a member of the party and could not possibly continue to discharge his official functions as national chairman of the party. A Federal High Court sitting in Kano the following day gave another judgment which vacated the judgment of the FCT High Court and restored Oshiomhole as the national chairman of APC thereby creating confusion as to which judgment to obey since both courts (FCT High Court and Federal High Court Kano) are of equal jurisdiction and none of them could vacate the judgment of the other.
However, reprieve came the way of the national chairman when the Appeal Court sitting in Abuja recently ordered a stay of execution on the judgment of the lower court for Oshiomhole to continue in office as national chairman thus staving off what could have amounted to his political’ Waterloo’. This seems to have triggered fresh meaningful reconciliation in the party while only time will tell the success or otherwise of such move. This writer therefore joins the teeming admirers and supporters of the former Comrade Governor in wishing him happy birthday.
*Imonikhe, General Manager, Publications, Champion Newspapers writes from Lagos.