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Insurgency against Oshiomhole and implications for Nigeria’s democracy

By Armsfree Ajanaku
15 March 2020   |   4:19 am
A quick rewind back to June 2018, when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole cruised his way to the chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would definitely bring to the fore key issues...

A quick rewind back to June 2018, when Comrade Adams Oshiomhole cruised his way to the chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress (APC) would definitely bring to the fore key issues about the character of the party, and the mindset of those who have been piloting its affairs. Like it is with leadership in other segments of society, the argument could be made that every political party deserves the kind of leaders its gets. The APC, just like the PDP, which it competes, and contrasts itself with, has largely nurtured a party structure and philosophy likely to produce dictators as party chairmen. Looking at the many battles and the unending controversies, which have dogged his tenure, many will argue that Oshiomhole is a reflection of his party’s lack of a proper democratic philosophy.

As it has been with the PDP, the lack of irreducible principles, and a common set of ideas as to what the APC stands for, and what its mission in the governance of Nigeria is, has led to the emergence of party leaders who manifest an anti-democratic streak. In place of strong party institutions, Nigeria’s two major parties prefer strong men who would browbeat contending factions into line, and dispense largesse. This reality is apparent in the fact that the current contestation within the APC is not about any disagreement around policy or details about governance. To put it another way, those on both sides of the divide in the fight to oust Oshiomhole are not driven by factors immediately or remotely connected to the critical governance issues, which affect citizens. Rather, the current war of attrition within the ruling party is more about the quest for position and power as ends in themselves.

This is apparently the anti-democratic, and ideas-deficient political climate, which produced Chairman Oshiomhole, and much of Nigeria’s political leadership at all levels. This point is critical to make because at the time Oshiomhole emerged at the party’s national convention in 2018, the stakeholders who spearheaded the project gave the fallacious impression that there was unanimous support for his candidacy. To give effect to narrative of unanimous endorsement, much score was placed on the voice vote in the face of no opposition to his candidacy. All the political henchmen of the ruling party shook hands and patted backs, celebrating what was showcased as popular endorsement by the generality of APC members.

It is therefore the biggest of all ironies that a party leader who supposedly had the groundswell of popular support, and was therefore elected unopposed at the party’s convention just two years ago, would be facing the very nasty opposition he is confronted with today. In other words, what the current insurgency within the APC ranks indicates is that the façade of unanimous endorsement, two years ago was the outcome of a narrow agenda by a dominant party faction. It would appear the other interest groups in the party merely acquiesced to Oshiomhole’s emergence to consider their options. Later on, upon realizing that the Chairman was not ready to make inclusive dialogue and consultation the basis of his tenure, factions which had sheathed their swords drew them out again, and the result is that the civil war within the APC has gathered intensity.

Notwithstanding the contradictions in the character and formation of the APC, a leader with a different philosophy could have been able to bring all factions together, restore calm and give a new direction to the party. In the case of Oshiomhole however, it was clear right from day one that his style of leadership would be an albatross not just for himself, but also for the entire party. As a leader, Oshiomhole possesses some great traits, mainly his resilience, and the uncanny ability to mobilise his base for critical battles. The former Edo State governor knows the value of drama, and he used it all through his time as a labour leader to fire the imagination of the masses, and get them on the streets for the battles against the establishment. So too is his witty rhetoric, which he deployed as a tool for many campaigns on the side of the people. These skills served him so well that they propelled him to the governorship of Edo State.

Nonetheless, Oshiomhole also has many personal flaws, which have led many to question his commitment to the democratic process, and the collective character of decision-making in a system of majority rule. Oshiomhole’s skill as strategist and mobiliser is pockmarked by his tendency of always wanting to win every argument. Such overbearing tendencies serve no one well in the political arena, where negotiation and compromise is the name of the game. For the two crisis-ridden years he has spent at the helm of the party have portrayed him as a leader who would not even want others to have their say, even if the dominant group insists on having its way.

On most issues, he would come out blazing with the guns, even where tact and conciliatory approaches are needed. Even those who would have ordinarily worked as his allies to build the party were wary of Oshiohmole’s abrasive “my way or the high way style.” This style has not helped the party, and has further polarized interest groups, which erroneously believed his coming would lead to inclusion, and a diversity of voices within the party. These traits forced many to draw contrasts with other leaders who piloted the affairs of the APC even in its very recent history. The tenure of Interim National Chairman, Bisi Akande, for instance, was generally very compact and efficient. Akande deployed the wisdom of an elder to galvanise the many political factions which eventually coalesced to form the APC. Akande helped in prepping this group, embracing disgruntled elements from the PDP to ensure APC clinched the victory it so desperately wanted in 2015. After it defeated the PDP to win the Presidency, the APC still needed the kind of strategic leadership provided by Akande to navigate the murky reality of managing the huge political success it had achieved. The party unfortunately ended up with a bare-knuckled leadership style which has generated a lot of crisis for it.

On the other hand, many Nigerians would have been inclined to let Oshiomhole, and his co-brawlers in the APC fry in own stew. The problem however is that the crisis in the APC has serious implications for governance. As the party currently piloting the affairs of the country, the welfare and well being of 200 million citizens is directly or indirectly determined by the party. With leaders like Oshiomhole who have the tendency of wanting to win every argument, the challenge is that citizens’ voices are ignored in the governance debate. The dictatorial thinking in the APC has meant that its leaders have woefully failed to give listening ears to the cries of citizens. Rather than listen, reflect and take feedback from the people, APC like the PDP before it would rather take potshots at citizens expressing their views about the below par governance, which has been on offer.

Where they should have calmed the frayed nerves of long suffering citizens, they aggravate the injuries with snarls and poisonous words. In the end, Oshiomhole is only a symbolism of the typical Nigerian public official who sees himself as a Sheriff, not a servant of the people. The leadership culture is to whip everyone into line.

Consequently, while Oshiomhole continues his tug of war with his sworn enemies, which seem to be gaining the upper hand in the struggle to oust him, the eventual shame for the rudderless state of the APC, and the country at large belongs to the Buhari Presidency. In the face of the squabbles within the party, President Buhari has shown no capacity to engage. The President has not acted as the overall leader of the party to modulate the competing interests, and re-direct the energies of the party away from mundane catfights driven by the self interest of the political actors. The aloofness of the President is has given vent to all manner of interests to contest the space without any restraint. It can therefore be reckoned that if the APC collapses or becomes too weakened by its internal strife to be of substantial electoral value, the factors to blame would not only be the internal contradictions, which chracterised its formation, but also the lack of leadership even at the level of the Presidency.