Beyond clenched fists and solidarity slogans
Always dressed, even as a governor, in khaki drills looking like a crossbreed of Fidel Castro and Samora Michel, Oshiomhole, a leftist ideologue became synonymous with the workers’ endless struggle for better life under various military regimes after his emergence in 1982 as the Secretary-General of the 75,000-strong National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria at a time the country’s economy commenced a downward slide that eventually annihilated the sector.
A powerful speaker with a crowd-stirring oratory prowess, the former Edo governor’s image in the minds of many Nigerians especially before he ventured into partisan politics, was that of a socialist campaigner who is ready to sacrifice his life for the downtrodden in a complex society where the rich and powerful take delight in continuously milking the commonwealth to the detriment of the weak and vulnerable.
With his emergence as the governor however, Oshiomhole cut the picture of hunting with the hounds and running with the hare as he was able to still retain his leftist credentials while still playing high wire politics with those who control the power lever in Nigeria, prompting the labour movement to confer on him, the title of Comrade Governor.
The dexterity of his politics played out last weekend at the Eagle Square Abuja venue of the National Convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) when he emerged by affirmation, as the National Chairman to put an end to the controversial tenure of his fellow Edo-born politician and former governor, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
Seen by many as the opening of a new chapter in APC internal politics where erstwhile ‘rejected’ leaders like the strongman of Southwest politics and National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will henceforth play prominent roles, Oshiomhole’s emergence was achieved despite strong opposition by some powerful forces even within the presidency who allegedly found in Odigie-Oyegun an instrument to checkmate the growing influence of some leaders in the party.
The post-victory crisis within the APC, which centered on the two flanks of space-grabbing by the various groups that made up the platform and the desire of some forces to prevent other influences to override that of the presidency, had caused so much internal wrangling within the party that it became aptly described as “a gathering of strange bedfellows” with negative effects on overall performance of a government that came to power with the mantra of change.
Even while the Tinubu group, which had all along been calling for Odigie-Oyegun’s removal may be jubilating over their success in preventing tenure elongation for the former National Working Committee (NWC), those who initially mooted and supported the idea are believed to be nursing their grudges and waiting in the wings to have their pound of flesh as the party’s internal politics continue to unfold.
A convention of confusion
Although the arguments of proponents of tenure elongation for the former NWC was that the APC cannot afford a fresh round of crisis that is likely to follow internal politicking and contestations for offices less than a year to elections, the need to follow the party’s constitution became the overriding issue especially when the anti-Odigie-Oyegun forces got the support of President Muhammadu Buhari.
But the wards, council and state congresses that preceded the national convention further revealed that there were more cracks at the local levels than at the federal as parallel congresses were held at most of the states of the federation with a few ending in violence and loss of lives and general chaos.
The convention did not depart from that course of confusion as those who won and lost at the earlier congresses all came to Abuja to create further crisis that a stable opposition can feast on to decimate the capacity of the ruling party to continue in office.
While the accredited delegates assembled at designated stands for each of the states, those who had lost out in the local; congresses also made their ways into the arena causing confusion and creating scenes to attract attentions of others.
Many known members of the party who are having running battles with their governors, like Senators Dino Melaye of Kogi West and Rabiu Kwankwanso of Kano Central, stayed away from the convention because they would not be welcomed by delegates from their home states.
When asked why Melaye was absent at the gathering, his successor on Kogi West seat, Senator Smart Adeyemi replied, “We are talking about the gathering of political elephants you are referring to a mosquito.”
The Senator representing Ondo North District, Ajayi Boroffice who parted ways with the governor, Rotimi Akeredolu during the in-fighting that characterized the gubernatorial primary of the party in the state, and who has been declared persona non grata by the state branch of the APC, was seen sitting alone at the Jigawa State stand.
When The Guardian sought to know why he was not sitting among the Ondo delegates, the Senator replied, “Do you want me to go and stay there for your brother to molest me?” referring to Akeredolu and alluding to the coordinated attacks on his faction during the parallel congress in Akure when many of his supporters were beaten up by armed hoodlums.
Boroffice said he was neither accredited not issued a tag and that he only secured entry into the venue with his identification as a Senator.
When asked why the Senator was not allowed into the midst of Ondo delegates, the state party chairman, Ade Adetimehin told The Guardian, “He is not one of us. He is not a member of our party and we don’t know him.”
Like Boroffice, Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, also stayed away from the stand of Oyo State delegates and was seen with the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, who also did not move near Kwara State stand. Both ministers do not belong to the factions that control the party in their respective states.
Those who dared to go to their states’ stand as unwanted guests like Senator Magnus Abe of Rivers State, were booed by the delegates and were only protected from being manhandled by security operatives.
But there were those who chose the path of confrontation that led to free-for-all at the convention ground like the faction loyal to Chief O’tega Emerhor, which made an unsuccessful attempt to replace that of Chief Great Ogboru at the stand of Delta State.
The Ogboru faction had arrived early and took over the stand on the East Wing of the pavilion and was preparing to take part in electing the few available contestable positions at the convention. Obviously it was the faction that was accredited by the organisers of the event.
However supporters of Emerhor who came in uniform attires assembled at an unoccupied stand on the West Wing and from there, launched an attack on the Ogboru faction while President Buhari was reading his speech, causing mayhem for about thirty minutes during which members of the Ogboru faction repelled them causing bodily injuries to many before security personnel were able to restore normalcy.
Even after the attackers had been driven away, four tough-looking guys stationed themselves around Ogboru and one of the party leaders was heard telling them to “break the legs of anyone coming near the chief. Nothing is going to happen.”
Interestingly while the governors and in the case of Rivers, ministers, took total control of delegates from their states, the case of Imo was different, as other forces had hijacked the state party machinery from Governor Rochas Okorocha.
Supporters of Uche Nwosu, who were identified by their vests emblazoned with his picture, were prevented from staying among Imo delegates.
Nwosu is Okorocha’s son-in-law who the governor is positioning to succeed him.
Navigating a labyrinth of crises
From the reaction of many party members to the emergence of Oshiomhole, it appeared that the best credential of the new chairman that qualified him for the job was his labour activism.
Many of those who spoke with The Guardian at the convention venue eulogized the former unionist’s ability to galvanise the workforce to make demands from the authorities.
Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON) Osita Okechukwu said Oshiomhole is “a dynamic leader who will be able to achieve victory for the APC as he did for Nigeria’s workforce.”
Speaking in the same vein, Adeyemi described Oshiomhole as an action leader saying, “I knew him as a member of the NLC when he was the president and I was the NUJ chairman. The opposition is in trouble. He will fight them.”
According to Ogboru, the new chairman “is an action man, an action comrade and activist. He will be an action chairman. We are going to see leadership in action.”
But beyond being an activist in the turf of unionism where “action” is needed to enforce demand of a workforce from reluctant employers, what the APC needed most at this time is a chairman with the cool temperament of a smooth operator to achieve the badly-needed reconciliation in a platform with widening fault lines.
Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi however told The Guardian that Oshiomhole would be able to surmount the hurdles of building a united party saying, “I don’t think he has bad temperament as some people think. There are principles and Oshiomhole is a man of solid principles.”
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