Oshiomhole at 69: A hero’s celebration

APRIL 3, 2021

By John Mayaki

Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the people’s Comrade whose fearlessness and uncompromising devotion to social justice seared the soul of corrupt administrators and endeared him to millions across the globe, resulting in a successful political career that rekindled hopes and faith in democracy as a government of the people, by the people and for the people, has turned 69.

Born on this day, the 4th of April, in 1952 at Iyamho, a town in Etsako West Local Government Area in Edo North, Adams Oshiomhole rose from a humble background, proverbially picking himself up by the bootstraps, defying difficult odds and exceeding all expectations to become a celebrated national icon, the defender of the downtrodden, and a hero of democracy.

His parents, themselves the product of personal industry and strong character, placed Adams Oshiomhole on the path of education and imparted important values of hard work, uncompromising integrity, resilience in the face of tribulations, and ambitious strive for greatness guard-railed by contentment to ward off the familiar temptation of greed and unprincipled opportunism. No doubt Oshiomhole learned and imbibed these lessons.

As a young pupil in primary and secondary school, Adams Oshiomhole fast gained a reputation as an honest, smart, tireless and strong-willed individual whose resolve to acquire knowledge and get more out of life than what his immediate environment had to offer was insurmountable. He was irrepressible, eager to know and never defeated, no matter what.

After completing his secondary school education, he took a job at the Arewa Textiles company where his personal charisma, leadership qualities, and largeness of heart to look out for the interests of others, especially the small man, even at great personal costs, saw him elected as the union secretary of the union.

He went on to become a full-time trade organizer in 1975, the same time he fulfilled his dream of securing higher learning by attending the Ruskin College at Oxford, United Kingdom to study Industrial Relations, majoring in Labor Economics. After graduating from the respected institution, Adams Oshiomhole proceeded to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies [NIPSS] in Plateau state thus becoming a member of the National Institute.

As a union leader in the textile industry, Adams Oshiomhole advocated and inspired several internal and external reforms that improved working conditions, welfare and trade regulations that spelled a period of unprecedented growth and productivity in the industry.

Few were surprised in 1982 when Adams Oshiomhole emerged as the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, a union with a membership strength of over 75,000 members.

With democracy restored in 1999 and the vast majority of Nigerian workers in need of an honest, conscientious leader to advance and protect their interests against the excesses and corruption of government, Adams Oshiomhole once again was a unanimous choice, emerging as the President of the Nigeria Labor Congress [NLC], a position that burnished his image as a man of the and the people’s comrade!

In ‘Adamant Adams’ as Adams Oshiomhole was called in press reports that praised his stubborn refusal to compromise on the demands of Nigerian workers across the country, the Obasanjo-administration found more than its match as the Oshiomhole-led NLC went toe-to-toe with the government on several crucial grounds.

Convinced that resources of state should be used primarily in the service of the people and that Nigerians deserved a better deal than what the government was offering, Oshiomhole took on the Federal Government and pressed for an increase in the minimum wage, opposed arbitrary fuel price hikes, demanded a raft of actions as outlined by Nigerians workers following nationwide consultations to improve standard of living and revive industries that were left comatose to the detriment of the country’s economy and the people that worked there.

Notably, and with renewed prescient value now, Adams Oshiomhole as the NLC President queried the neglect of the country’s local oil refineries, and tasked the Obasanjo-administration to end the country’s reliance on refined crude products, a problem that birthed the subsidy racket and Nigeria’s inability to take maximal advantage of high crude prices given that it spent just as much refining the products for local consumption abroad.

Expectedly, the Obasanjo-administration did not take kindly to Oshiomhole’s consistent challenges and unyielding insistence on complete service to the people. Perhaps it troubled the administration that Adams Oshiomhole gained national and global acclamation as the “People’s President” who better felt and understood the pulse of everyday Nigerians and articulated their yearnings with unmatched eloquence.

He posed a unique problem to the government because of his high and unflinching integrity. He could not be talked out of his demands neither could he be induced into abandoning the people. For the government, he was a problem money could not solve; he was steadfast, smart and above underhand deals that meant compromising on the errands of the people.

And so another tactic was hatched, Oshiomhole was marked for extermination, with well-funded security agents, including the secret State Security Service, unleashed on him to break his spirit and intimidate him into silence and oblivion. But the tactic turned out a mistake. Adams Oshiomhole was a man forged by fire – he was never going to bow to bullies!

He fought until the very end, enduring personal losses, including his freedom, but he remained undeterred. His motivation fueled by the many successes he scored for the common man and the hopes he gave them in the power of democracy and the strength of the people when they mobilize and rally together to pursue a united and common goal.

Adams was a terrific mobilizer, a charismatic figure who spoke the language of the masses. And so he won, his victory underscored by none other than by the head of the same government he battled into the ground, President Olusegun Obasanjo who attested and expressed respect for the courage and personal integrity of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.

Beyond impressed by this, Adams Oshiomhole was called home to Edo State to lead his people. And in 2007, he contested and won the Edo State Governorship election on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria. But his victory would be delayed and he returned to the trenches with the people who freely gave him their mandate.

The PDP grabbed a victory they never earned until the courts ordered a reversal a year later and Oshiomhole was finally propelled to Osadebey Avenue. In the history of Edo State politics, perhaps nothing compared to the organic and statewide outpour of joy, frenzy and celebrations that trailed the restoration of Oshiomhole’s mandate. It was seismic, with tremors felt all across the country. “Hurricane Adams” swept away the PDP and unclasped its grip on the state since 1999.

As Governor, Adams Oshiomhole rewarded the faith of the people with people-focused policies and unprecedented infrastructure drive that transformed the three senatorial districts of the state. Roads were repaired and constructed, schools were built and equipped with modern facilities, security was improved and peace restored, jobs were created and sustained, investors were invited and seduced into staying by the good, responsive governance on show.

Little wonder his re-election campaign in 2012 smashed all records as he became the only Governor to be returned to office with a definitive conquest in all 192 wards of the state. His victory was total and complete. It was a rousing rout. The people made a statement; Adams Oshiomhole was no ordinary leader and so he deserves to be returned back to office with a rare feat no one has been able to repeat to date.

He continued his good works in his second term, particularly a systemic tackling of floods ravaging most parts of the state with a Water Storm Project that earned global commendation for its design and execution.

In his last days as Governor, Adams Oshiomhole had invited leaders of the All Progressives Congress, the party his initial Action Congress had mutated to in a merger process, to the state to join in the inauguration of key projects as part of events to draw the curtains on a very successful two terms as Governor and to provide an account of his stewardship to the people of Edo State and other interested parties across the country, as he had become a model for effective and transformational governance.

President Muhammadu Buhari, then the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, was part of the APC leaders that visited the state to join in the inauguration. So impressed was President Buhari at what he saw and the fanatical love of Oshiomhole in the state that he told him he would be needed for continuous and advanced national service after completing his tenure as governor.

President Buhari made good his promise when in 2018, he rallied behind Adams Oshiomhole to emerge as the National Chairman of the APC. Typical of him, Oshiomhole brought his talents to bear, reforming and repositioning the party, repairing broken ties and resolving internal contentions, and organizing all organs of the party behind its original ideological origins and electoral promise to the Nigerian people. Under his leadership, the party expanded its base of support in the next general elections, with President Buhari winning re-election as President with even greater numbers than he did in the previous election.

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole’s life is a long and captivating story of resilience, hard work and rewards of integrity. He got his own fair share of life’s tribulations, one of the lowest depths being a painful loss of his first wife, Clara Oshiomhole, to cancer. But each time, he rose again, emerging from the ashes like a phoenix, with broader and adversity-tested wings, flying to even greater heights.

To his followers, he is a guiding light, a shining example, and rich source of life and professional lessons. Indeed, his doors are open to all anywhere he finds himself in the country and beyond. He is a patriot and statesman who believes that those who love their country can change it.

“Every country has its own problems and our task is to remind ourselves that Nigeria is for all of us to build,” he once famously said.

Adams Oshiomhole is nothing short of a hero and as he turns 69 today, we congratulate and celebrate him, even as we pray to God to grant him good health so he continues his service to country and mankind.

SOURCE: THE NATION

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