By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Dateline: June 11, 2018. Abuja. Artificial barriers and shared prejudices crumbled like a pack of cards at the Ladi Kwali Hall of Sheraton Hotel and Towers when I met, for the first time, former governor of Edo state, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. The truth is: my paths never crossed his when I was pounding the streets plying my trade as a reporter. Validation: I did not cover the labour beat when he was president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). And, when he was in Edo state for eight years, I was in Abuja from where I was monitoring the affairs of my state under his stewardship.
In the course of that journalistic exertion, I had written, just like I had done about the previous administrations, a number of analyses and opinions in the media about the Oshiomhole government and his politics. Amid the tension of misconstrued objectives harboured and nurtured by some overzealous officials and friends who had the privilege of working in his administration, an otherwise altruistic enterprise, geared towards the process of promoting good governance in my state, suffered critical stereotype. I could, therefore, not escape unwarrantable condemnation.
My momentous meeting with Oshiomhole, albeit short and sharp like the angel’s visit, took place on the neutral ground of Ladi Kwali Hall. Oshiomhole’s former Chief of Staff, Honourable Patrick Obahiagbon, made it possible. He had invited me to attend a dinner being hosted by his boss in celebration of the posthumous national honours conferred by President Muhammadu Buhari on the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election, the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and human rights lawyer, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who played a frontline role in the struggle for the revalidation of the June 12 mandate.
At the venue, I shared a table with Obahiagbon at the end of the hall. He had excused himself to conduct his boss from table to table to greet guests that were already seated and I was left alone on the table. However, that did not diminish the weight of the courtesy by Oshiomhole when he got to me. The tenor of the pleasantries changed when Obahiagbon introduced me; on hearing my name, Oshiomhole could not hold back his excitement. “Oh yes, Sufuyan Ojeifo. Good to meet you at last. You are a brilliant and gifted writer. I read your writings. I know you are sitting at the back here so you can capture everything that happens here today”, he said as we pumped hands. He cracked a joke bordering on the use of bombasts with Obahiagbon as the butt of it.
After we were photographed, he gave Obahiagbon a carte blanche to arrange a subsequent get-together for us to meet minds on issues. I left with some impressions. I saw through the veneer of combustibility and combativeness that have become parts of his writ-large identity, as a dogged labour activist, a streak of amiableness and affection. Obahiagbon would later tell me something that I found difficult to believe: that Oshiomhole is naturally a shy person who, most times, finds it difficult to look into people’s eyes during conversations. He, however, gave a caveat: but do not assault his sensibilities or attack his convictions otherwise, you will awaken the lion in him. I was able to deconstruct and rationalise the ramifications of the Oshiomhole phenomenon within that context.
Significantly, Oshiomhole is defined by his antecedents and pedigree, and not by his diminutive physical stature or height. Even though, the weight of evidence -size and height- is heavily not in his favour, yet, wherever he goes countrywide, his presence is elephantine and he enjoys essential approbation. Journalists are wont to deploy the two words to describe the highly fecund labour leader, restless political aficionado and inimitable public space man. It is indeed interesting to know that he is aware of journalists’ pleasure to engage in the seemingly ludicrous pigeonholing.
Oshiomhole called attention to this at the dinner while making his speech. According to him, “some say I am short but fail to tell the world what I am short of.” There is no doubt that he has the capacity to take on anyone who dares to accuse him of any character flaws. It is, indeed, obvious that Oshiomhole is not short of brilliance, sharpness, wittiness, patriotism, commitment and conviction. Besides, he is sure-footed in his fidelity to integrity even though his traducers are always quick to disagree with him on that score.
That is not all; whenever he seizes the centre stage, he would always leave behind strong impressions, defining footprints and clear courses for national conversations and agenda. The Oshiomhole persona had contoured his trajectory in labour activism and has continued to do so in politics. Historically, he had intrepidly defended the causes of workers while in the saddle as president of the NLC, providing leadership during strikes against government’s policy choices that were anti-workers and anti-people. In the process, he had had his fair shares of blackmail, intimidation and detention in the hands of the powers-that-be. In his homily at the dinner, he announced that the late Fawehinmi had always defended him and the NLC pro bono.
Oshiomhole is sui generis. He speaks truth to power, not minding whose ox is gored. He speaks forcefully to issues. Imbued with the power of oration, his voice ricochets in a familiar pro-people, pro-poor refrain, reinforcing his declarations in affirmative gestures. Presently, he is rolling up his sleeves to step in as national chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). His ambition, which enjoys the endorsement of President Buhari and governors of the party, will be legitimated on June 23 at the national convention of the party at the Eagles Square in Abuja. Suffice to declare that the APC has a fait accompli in a man that is robustly capacitated to lead it into the crucial 2019 general election.
He goes into the job with intimidating credentials; and, at an intersection that the APC needs someone with energy, oratorical prowess and legerdemain to beat back the rambunctious opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that has become an irritant to the Buhari presidency. Oshiomhole is expected to mount the soap box during electioneering to remind the PDP of its contentious 16-year records in power. Public space domination and verbal onslaughts against identified political opponents are Oshiomhole’s fortes. Besides, he has the requisite intellectual magnitude to reinforce the policy choices of the Buhari presidency and to defend the actions and inactions of the administration per time.
Political dispensations provide and identify their respective objective conditions. They also define and select the persona that is suitable to superintend them. Those who are positioned to take positive actions are thus expected to act in accordance. This explicates the philosophical underpinning of Oshiomhole’s choice. The era of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun required the placid persona of the former permanent secretary and one-time governor of Edo state. The APC at that time enjoyed an obligatory nationwide support by Nigerians who yearned for change. But now, the character, contents, shape and texture of governance have changed. The socio-economic conditions are undergoing critical changes such that the people are finding it difficult to appreciate the patriotic commitment that the Buhari presidency is investing in the mission to redeem Nigeria.
The ramifications of the change that the administration is undertaking have exposed the political capital of the Buhari presidency to serious interrogation and pressure. To provide answers and relieve pressure, the APC and the Buhari presidency will benefit a great deal from Oshiomhole’s nimbleness and profound elucidation of issues, especially during the forthcoming electioneering and after should the presidential mandate be renewed by Nigerians.
Ojeifo, an Abuja-based journalist, writes [email protected]