By: Alkali Tsoho
Adams Oshiomhole grew to have a larger-than-life personality, though he is of diminutive stature. He is a native of Iyamho in Etsako land of Edo State. Iyamho used to be a sleepy community on both sides of the Auchi-Okpella section of Benin to Okene Federal Highway. It has now become the envy of Igolo, the neighbouring community..
It is said that the only profession that you start from the top is in grave digging. So his life started as a humble beginning in tailoring and textile in the then capital of Northern Nigeria where he rose through the ranks as a trade unionist to emerge at the top of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) as President.
He succeeded such personalities as Pascal Bafyau and Hassan Sumonu of Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) fame. His fortune may have been bolstered by the antecedents of his kinsman, Comrade Pa Michael Imoudu. As a labour activist, he succeeded more than his competitors, serving as President NLC from 1999 to 2007. He had his highs and lows which included his “kidnap” or call it arrest at the tarmac of Abuja International Airport in October 2004 on his way to the burial ceremony of the mother of the then Governor James Ibori of Delta State in Oghara. At the time of his arrest, he was leading a nationwide strike action. Some political leaders in the opposition had to intervene for his release by the ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo government so that they could continue negotiations.
In party politics, his journey has been full of booby traps. He started his journey in 2003, as NLC President. He thought to run on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform but in his native Edo State, he was instructed to join a queue that was superintended by Chief Anthony Anenih of Uromi in Esan land, with the popular appellation ” Mr. Fix it.” He moved over to have a discussion with All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) whose Chairman of Board of Trustees was a former Vice President of Nigeria, Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, a revered Naval Officer, from Irrua in Esan land, Edo State. He couldn’t make much progress because, despite Oshiomhole’s goodwill, finance was going to be his greatest challenge.
The emergence of Action Congress (AC) from the ruins of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) gave him hope. The party was driven by Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who at the time was incumbent Lagos governor. Oshiomhole’s quest was brightened. With the cash from Lagos, the NADECO, and Social Democratic Party (SDP) antecedents in Edo State, they were able to forge ahead.
The failure of PDP in Edo, led by Chief Lucky Igbinedion and the resentment of the Binis towards a governor candidate of Esan extraction made Oshiomhole’s journey easier. Since the late Prof. Ambrose Alli as Governor of Bendel State established the then Bendel State University at Ekpoma, his home town, the Binis have chosen to align politically with the numerous minority groups of Edo North Senatorial district namely Etsako/Afemai, Owan/Ora and Akoko Edo. It is interesting to know that Edo State with 18 local government areas is distributed into three Senatorial districts of which the Binis have 7, Esan has 5 and Edo North, 6. More notable is the fact that the Binis have about 57% of the state’s population while Esan has 17%, the remaining is shared between Etsako, Owan and Akoko Edo in 12%, 7% and 5.7% respectively.
The PDP fielded an Esan son, Prof Oserhiemen Osunbor, a lawyer by profession and a sitting Senator at the 2007 Governorship election. Osunbor’s choice was predicated on the sentiment of President Obasanjo to honour his in-laws in Iruekpen, Esan land for the loss of his wife Stella (nee Abebe). The PDP went into the election with a divided house and Oshiomhole travelling in the Action Congress vehicle won the election of April 14, 2007 in the field. But the powers that be declared Professor Osunbor after computation as a winner.
Taking a cue from the statement of the newly elected President Umaru Yar’adua that the processes that brought him to power was flawed and had decided to right wrongs, and being stoutly supported by Bola Ahmed Tinubu financially and otherwise, he approached the Governorship Elections Petition Tribunal in Benin City and got a favourable judgment but his opponent appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Strangely, the panel constituted to hear the appeal in Benin City had the then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi an indigene of Katsina like Umaru Yar’adua, as Chairman. He had other four Justices. On November 11, 2008, judgment on the appeal was given in favour of Oshiomhole of the defunct Action Congress. He was sworn in as Governor of Edo State on November 12, 2008. He began to bear the appellation of the “Obama of Edo” in reference to President Obama of the US.
At Ogbe Stadium, Oshiomhole said in his inaugural speech, he wanted to be addressed as Comrade Governor and not His Excellency. He promised to run an inclusive government by assembling a crack team that would provide purposeful leadership for Edo people especially as he had no godfather to distract him. The extent to which he lived up to this pledge is debatable. He also said, “Today you can go anywhere and boast that you chose your governor and not the godfathers.” These very words have come to haunt him in 2020 as he sought to become a godfather of Edo politics.
He put up stumbling blocks on the way of Godwin Obaseki while clearing almost every blockade on the path of Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, a lawyer trained at the University of Benin. Interestingly both men were part of his journey into entrenching himself in Edo politics until the centre could not hold as professed in the book: Things fall Apart. He used his office as National Chairman to deconstruct himself.
It should be noted that his decision to take the Edo University to the backwaters of Iyamho, his community infuriated the Binis in the same way that they were unhappy with Ambrose Alli, former Governor of Bendel State and a professor of Morbid Anatomy. Throughout his tenure as Governor, he failed to question himself why Edo South always was represented by an opposition party Senator. In 2011, Ehigie Uzamere was PDP Senator. In 2015 Pharmacist Matthew Uroghide was PDP Senator, and even as National Chairman of APC the Binis returned Uroghide, a former President of the University of Benin Students Union (1982/83), as Senator in 2019. Oshiomhole’s divide and rule politics has not been helpful in the long run. Party politics is certainly different from trade union activism. Flowing in the stream of national politics is easier than in the backwater of local politics. His water loo was taking the Binis for granted.
Following the forceful dethronement of Oba Ovonramwen by the British expeditionists in 1897 and his consequent banishment in exile to Calabar, a certain Chief Obaseki was appointed by the British to oversee the kingdom during the interregnum (1897-1914) until the installation of Eweka 11. It is, therefore, preposterous for a minority from the Kukuruku hills to want to arrogate to himself the godfather figure in Edo/Bini politics. In the wake of the Oshiomhole vs Obaseki crisis, the Omo n Oba ne Edo Uku Akpolokpolo was right to say ‘no to money bags and godfathers.’
It could be recalled that towards the end of Oshiomhole’s tenure as Governor, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Edo State and having taken a good look around the state, remarked that Oshiomhole was needed in Abuja after his tenure as governor. So the plan to make him National Chairman began, although some had interpreted it to mean he would be made Secretary to Government of the Federation. Chief John Odigie Oyegun, a Bini man, was serving out his first term as party chairman but was interested in a second term. While Oyegun was struggling to retain the position of National Chairman of APC, the powers that be had mobilised to install Adams Oshiomhole at the 2018 Convention of the party. With certain defeat staring him in the face, Oyegun withdrew from the race rather than be humiliated. The Binis noted this against Oshiomhole.
Having been elected National Chairman at the 2018 convention, he swung into business as the 2019 general election was approaching. His choice of trade union tactics to approach the political crisis he met in the party began his slide into infamy. He had a dismal outing at the General elections of 2019. The party lost some states due to technicalities. His failure or refusal to differentiate between trade union activism and party politics administration cost him and the party fortunes.
In the end, the party lost Rivers and Zamfara through poor conduct of party primaries, Sokoto and Benue through defections, Bauchi and Oyo for the poor choice of candidates. The Achilles heel that led to his loss of seat of National Chairman started with his handling of the Lagos State governorship primaries and the subsequent repeat in Edo primaries and in preparation for Ondo primary election. The lack of transparency in the primaries that led to the loss of Akinwunmi Ambode to Babajide Sanwo-Olu despite several interventions by the presidency. It is told that as the panel for the primaries was waiting in the Governor’s office to collate the list of participants for the primary election, voting had already commenced in the field by Tinubu’s loyalists supported by the then National Chairman, Oshiomhole. The Lagos state party chairman was sending the lists in fits and start. The Jagaban Borgu would not learn a lesson from that episode and so went on to support Oshiomhole to do the same in Edo State. Little wonder, why the Omo’ n’ Oba n’ Edo issued a statement condemning money bags and godfathers in Edo politics.
Oshiomhole’s poor understanding of the intrigues of party politics made him underestimate the weight of the suspension handed him in his ward and left it unchallenged in court or by use of party instruments until he was embarrassed by an FCT High Court. Thus his descent into ignominy started.
The window given him through a stay of execution until a final determination by the Court of Appeal in Abuja was misused. At the time of his initial suspension, the then Deputy National Secretary, was soon declared Acting Chairman because of the vacancies that had existed in the National Working Committee (NWC) owing to Oshiomhole’s egocentric disposition. He had failed or refused to take steps to fill the relevant vacant positions in the hierarchy of the party. The Deputy National Chairman (South) Otunba Niyi Adebayo, had been appointed a Federal Cabinet Minister, the Deputy National Chairman (North) Senator Lawali Shuaibu, a former General Secretary in Bola Tinubu’s ACN was on suspension because of the Zamfara crisis, and the National Secretary had won election as Governor of Yobe State.
Following the reprieve Oshiomhole got at the Court of Appeal, he hurriedly tried to fill the vacancies without reading the minds of the powers that be. He accentuated the schism in his party in Edo State and created harsh and difficult hurdles to frustrate Godwin Obaseki. The refusal to allow Obaseki to be cleared to participate in the party primaries infuriated the Governors and Ministers who were sympathetic to Obaseki and became his greatest undoing.
Suddenly, the Court of Appeal in Abuja gave judgment on the appeal filed by Oshiomhole challenging his suspension and affirmed the decision of the FCT High Court by Justice Senchi from Kebbi State. Consequently, several persons began to lay claims to the leadership (Chairmanship) of the party. There were several calls for intervention by the President to save the party from disintegration.
The Chairman, Progressive Governors Forum and Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu and the chairman, Northern Governors Forum, Simon Lalong accompanied by the Governor of Jigawa State, Badaru Abubakar (mni) a former President of National Association of Chambers of Commerce Industries Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) sought audience with President Muhammadu Buhari . Many had wondered what he was doing in that meeting. Even the Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Governor Kayode Fayemi of the APC Ekiti State was not in attendance. Few will understand or appreciate the raison d’etre for the presence of Alhaji Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, who was an ACN Governorship candidate in Jigawa in 2011 heavily backed by Senator Saminu Turaki.
In the days when Buhari was in and out of hospitals in Europe, Alhaji Badaru was deeply considered as a stand-in candidate. He is still being reportedly tipped to get into Buhari’s shoes come 2023. His input was instrumental to the decision of the President to ask for the virtual NEC meeting that was called by Victor Giadom on the basis of his previously obtained court order for an NEC meeting that was postponed. That was why the statutory seven days for an emergency NEC meeting was considered unnecessary.
Following the decision between the president and the three governors, the Chairman of NGF, Dr. Fayemi was mandated to take Victor Giadom to meet with the Presidential officials. The virtual NEC meeting held with President Muhammadu Buhari attending the Federal Executive Chamber in the Presidential Villa, Abuja. It was resolved that the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party be dissolved and a National Caretaker Committee appointed with the former National Secretary and now Governor of Yobe State as Chairman while Senator John James Akpan Udoedeghe as Member/Secretary in addition 11 other members. They are to prepare the party for a national convention within six months.
Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole has since accepted his fate, the court case at the FCT High Court has been withdrawn. He has been nominated into the National Campaign Council for the Edo Governorship election of September 2020.
Throughout his life trajectory, he rarely seems to be beaten flat. He may appear to have fallen, but after careful planning and strategic re-alignment of priorities in life, he could come out from the ashes of failure to the table of victory. As a member of the APC team to campaign and restore governorship seat to Pastor Iza-Iyamu, his success lies in his ability and adroitness to do a yeoman’s job and put another successor in office despite the seemingly difficult terrain to Edo Government House. Like a cat with nine lives, he has to lay aside his tempestuous but inglorious exit as APC National Chairman to spring a roomy political or otherwise reckoning once again.
This opinion was first published by Straightnews on July 5, 2020.