In a season of partisan frenzy, with many red-eyed politicians focused on various power-grab projects, discipline, party supremacy and rule-governed processes become threatened, as it was in the enclave of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) until recently when a decisive presidential intervention was brought into the mix. President Muhammadu Buhari’s intervention had reduced the entire crisis to a mere storm in a tea cup, which was adroitly quieted, thus bringing the governing party’s blues to a terminus. The June 25 meeting of the APC National Executive Committee (NEC) at the Presidential Villa; the dissolution of the party’s National Working Committee (NWC); and, the appointment of Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State as acting party chairman, effectively ended the reign of Comrade Adam’s Oshiomhole as national chairman, but certainly not his political career. The development, for which his traducers had unnecessarily rolled out the drums in festivity was, to put it simply, the end of just an era and the beginning of yet another for the activist-politician, who had been burnished in the blistering furnace of the (labour) struggle. The philosophy of struggles all over the world is immutable: it is the story of no retreat; no surrender. After all, Oshiomhole was readying himself for the Senate, as learnt, before he was tapped by the President himself to assist in the mission to rescue the party. Against that backdrop, Oshiomhole has yet to come to the end of the road. There are other options for him in politics.
But it is quite significant that in the aftermath of the dissolution of the NWC, Oshiomhole, with unparalleled equanimity, which probably surprised both friends and foe, said he had accepted in good faith the disbanding of NWC, which he led, by the party’s NEC. Not one to speak from both sides of his mouth, he immediately told the party faithful, at a news conference in Abuja, that he had no regrets for the actions he took while serving as APC National Chairman, as they were in the interest of the party. He placed on record the fact that the president had invited him two years earlier to come and reposition the APC, an invitation he accepted with all sense of responsibility. Without putting words into his mouth or taking them out of it, he probably must have indicated that since the president invited him in the first instance, there was nothing wrong for the president to have a change of mind amid the escalated tension in order to end the crisis created around his leadership by relentless traducers. Oshiomhole must be applauded for one thing: his sagacity in declaring that he remains loyal to President Buhari as the leader of the party and therefore would not act irresponsibly. That had taken the sail out of the threatening storm by the majority of the NWC members to challenge the process of the committee’s dissolution in court.
Oshiomhole had stepped in the saddle to replace John Odigie Oyegun at the June 2018 elective nation al convention of the party. Many may have easily or conveniently forgotten that much of the internal political landmines that ruffled APC primary elections ahead of the 2019 poll were laid well before Oshiomhole’s ascendancy as national chairman. Instructively, he was never heard to grumble about these but set about defining a new direction. That is leadership. Like other leaders of note, Oshiomhole disdains hazy journeys and consequently prefers to define a clear direction. Without buck-passing, he took the bull by the horns. Before his coming, the governors had hijacked the party, creating serious crisis between themselves and National Assembly members in their states. Oshiomhole decided to hand over the party to the people so as to bring the party back to life. He introduced direct primary election to deepen democracy and ensure that the masses produced candidates of their choice, not candidates of the godfathers. Beside the fact that the direct primary election satisfied certain longings and gave party members the feeling of belonging, it helped in checking the numerous legal issues which arose during the congresses held by the Oyegun-led NWC. To a large extent, direct primary elections were a huge success apart from states where the governors were hell-bent on producing their successors against the wishes of party members. Oshiomhole changed the narrative such that the common party members, and not the governors or leaders, were the supreme commanders.
In no small way, this gung-ho approach played a crucial role in APC’s victory in one of the keenest presidential electoral contests in the nation’s history when Muhammadu Buhari defeated Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, with 15,191,847 to 11,262,978 votes. Little wonder, a hugely grateful Buhari specifically commended Oshiomhole, in his post-victory speech then, in Abuja. By effectively overhauling the party’s internal governance template and processes and resolutely standing down party spoil-sports, Oshiomhole simply proved he was, indeed, a sublime command room guru. Without the enforcement of party discipline, a political party’s journey becomes an unduly hazardous enterprise. Oshiomhole made it clear then that the era of petulant, rambunctious anti-party intrigues to achieve personal interests was over. He had insisted that members of the APC must submit to orderly, disciplined conduct and use prescribed channels to seek redress of any grievances. These positions positively impacted the APC. Even his topsy-turvy scrap with his erstwhile protégé, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, could not shift his position on due process.
Clearly, the position of national chairman of a political party should be appreciated because it carries considerable weight, especially in charting the course of informed engagements with the critical elements in a democratic mix. That the inherent power of that office, its responsibility and authority have been watered down and often caged by forces out of sync with transformative politics doesn’t mean the occupant must jettison plucky, principled and disciplined conduct.
With principle, pluck and discipline as watchwords, Oshiomhole drove the party in power, trying to keep the driver’s seat in a battle of wits and grits. His truncated tenure significantly evoked the days of Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye, national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria in the Second Republic who ran a disciplined party that commanded the obedience of President Shehu Shagari. Oshiomhole’s moves, not surprisingly spawned internal resistance. He unambiguously signaled a total break from the old way of doing things to help reposition the ruling party and align it with 21st Century best practices. He quickly reminded his party stakeholders that the dinosaurs died out because they could not work smart and adapt quickly to critical changes in their environment then. Even when some miffed APC governors went as far as weaponising dissent, Oshiomhole never backed down.
Drawing from a history of tough, diverse labour and political engagements, Oshiomhole unquestionably provided nimble guidance, intellectual spunk and bold party governance leadership for the ruling APC. It’s worth recalling that significant, unresolved deficits in these areas led to the sacking of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from power in the 2015 poll and its rejection again in 2019.bClearly, Oshiomhole is not a saint. But the parameters for electing the national chairmen of political parties in Nigeria do not specify sainthood as a key requirement. He has his foibles like every other human being. His choice simply acknowledged the capacity of focused individuals to change their society for the better. For decades, both as labour leader and politician, he has provided clear, pragmatic leadership during periods of self-doubt by a challenged citizenry. He has apparently enlisted that alchemy as an untiring catalyst for progressive change to transform the APC, force the opposition PDP to revise its gratuitous assumptions and finally hugely aid the re-election of President Buhari. Against this background, what happened to the erstwhile Oshiomhole-led APC’s NWC, even though he was the target, is certainly not a denouement. It rather represents an important milestone on the political path of a personality who is being readied for a higher responsibility in the socio-political evolution of the Nigerian nation-state.
The diminutive dynamite from Edo State did his best under the quirky circumstance of imperial disposition by governors and the cloak-and-dagger politics that has consumed great politicians in the past and will continue to do so simply because the terrain is fluid and tendencies cannot be pigeonholed. Finally, did APC’s Oshiomhole lose out? Certainly not. He had only defined his eon with the magnitude of his politics, with the wisdom, the errors and all. Perhaps, in a milieu sorely lacking philosopher kings, critical deficiencies in the understanding of the ultimate mortality of power by dim-witted politicians can be excused. On this score, with the knowledge that he is not perfect and the wisdom to know when not to fight, Oshiomhole towers above many of them.