By Nnanna Ochereome
SINCE the petrol subsidy removal crisis began, two public officers have been on the spotlight for moving from where they were before to where they are now. These are Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the Governor of Edo State and Dr. Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media.
Before his appointment as presidential spokesman, Abati was the Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Guardian Newspapers and columnist. At the height of the street protests, his critics who called him a “turncoat” quoted profusely from his writings in the past where he condemned the subsidy removal he now fiercely promotes as government spokesman. As a journalist, Abati was a fluent communicator both in writing and verbal delivery.
However, he tended to play to the gallery and often canvassed populist and “politically correct” viewpoints, rather than examine issues dispassionately and analytically before taking his position. That was his style, anyway, and like every good writer he had his fans. But it sometimes led him to make pedestrian and improperly chewed assumptions about some groups in this country that some found immature and unwholesome. That was why it was so easy to catch him when he changed positions.
Be that as it may, he earned a call by the President to serve his country. He has the right to heed the call and move on in life. And as presidential spokesman, you cannot expect Abati to work as if he is still the newspaper columnist.
His primary duty now is to his principal, the President. Moving from populism to a perceived “executive hardliner” (who dismissed lawmakers’ intervention to douse tension as “mere advice”) will come to many as a shock treatment to some.
The lesson here is that as we work today let us know that tomorrow will come. The world is not as flat as it looks!
Oshiomhole was also on the spot, as usual. I say “as usual” because since he was elected as governor, he has always been the bridge between Labour and the Federal Government.
He played prominent roles in the negotiations that led to the resolution of the prolonged Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) strike in 2010 and also the intensive dialogue between organised Labour and the Presidency that produced the N18,000 as national minimum wage.
In the moves by the Federal Government and the Governors’ Forum towards the removal of petrol subsidy and deregulation of the downstream of the petroleum industry, Oshiomhole has also been a central figure. As the most successful Labour leader (since Michael Imoudu) and the only one ever to be elected governor, Oshiomhole has a unique and challenging task of balancing between his past and his present.
I have been a keen watcher of Oshiomhole as a public figure since his days as the Secretary General of textile workers union in the early 1990s, and I am in no position to pronounce him a “radical” in the Nigerian sense or even “leftist” as some may put it. Oshiomhole is actually, in my view, “left-of-centre”; in other words a “pragmatist”. It was this quality of his that have made it possible for him to navigate through stormy waters to emerge as an elected governor.
Oshomhole went to the Constitutional Conference convened by General Abacha in 1994 when some Labour leaders like Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (PENGASSAN) leader, Chief Frank Kokori, were jailed by the same Abacha regime.
Labour officially boycotted the Conference. But Oshiomhole came out of that odyssey to be elected President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
He rebuilt Labour and used it to fight all six fuel price increases carried out by the Obasanjo regime, during one of which his life was openly threatened during a dialogue session with the Federal government. In my view, Oshiomhole’s battles were never against the increases per se, but the arbitrariness, lack of accountability and the fact that no gains came of the increases as government promised.
It will also interest readers to remember how Oshiomhole was able to weave an unlikely alliance between a faction of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the Labour Party (LP) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to emerge as the Governor of Edo State.
Oshiomhole’s successes is based on his strategy of going for whatever he knows will produce results. He does not believe in playing a loser’s game. Oshiomhole knows where to draw the line. There was once a time, as NLC President that he called off a strike because he saw that taking the action beyond that point might lead to military intervention.
I am, therefore, not surprised that Oshiomhole now believes it is time to do away with fuel subsidy once and for all, while benefits must diverted to the people and corruption in the oil industry arrested. That is my own stand. As a governor whose primary concern is for the people of his state, it is out of point to expect him to support continuation of subsidy. Governors need the money to provide capital development to their states after the recent minimum wage took almost everything from their monthly revenue.
The relationship between Labour and their former president has remained intact even after the slight difference in opinion between them over this issue, which shows the matured posture of Abdulwaheed Omar and Peter Esele and their comrades. Oshiomhole’s sense of balance and reason is his major key to success and will maintain him as a man for all seasons, in war and peace.