Though time worn, the saying that “charity begins at home” is still a relevant standard for measuring the generosity or goodness of a man. Over time, many a man of public acclaim for goodness have failed the test in their responsibility to their own family, kith or kin. Of such a kind it seems Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Governor of Edo State and erstwhile labour leader agitator typifies.
This kind of man is only too ready to rise up to the occasion to help other people negotiate difficult situations. He is quick to design dispute resolution options so long as his personal comforts are not affected, and there is a prospect of public acknowledgement and glory.
Recently, President Goodluck Jonathan’s alleged private communication of appreciation of Governor Oshiomhole for his role in averting a national strike action by planned Labour has been an item of media celebration. No doubt, Oshiomhole’s propagandist machinery is well-oiled to take advantage of every gesture, external or internal, to elevate the former labour leader in the eye of the public. Oshiomhole has demonstrated great capacity for manipulating situations to the benefit or satisfaction of his employer at any given time.
The irony of Oshiomhole though, is his inability to make concessions without selfish conditions in extreme situation, which he has always cajoled or convinced others to make. In the present circumstance, it is funny to note that while Oshiomhole was able to help the President of Nigeria to prevent a strike action by workers he has failed to do that for himself as the Governor of Edo State.
For over three weeks the teachers in public schools in Edo State have been on strike because of Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s refusal to include them among the potential beneficiaries of the national minimum wage increase. They were followed by public servants in the State House of Assembly. Now, the entire state civil service is on strike, virtually grinding Edo State to a halt and bringing suffering in subtle ways upon the generality of the people.
The most perplexing aspect of the ironic drama is Mr. Oshiomhole’s display of insensitivity and arrogance. In the midst of the hue and cry, he went abroad, to do only heaven knows what. And while the fire rages he has stayed back, aloof and probably monitoring situation with disdain through his aides.
It is relevant to note that while Oshiomhole was fighting the government then as a labour leader, as he claimed, he was always of the opinion that the workers, no matter the category, could not be wrong in their demands. Though in practical terms he achieved little in the long run, for his doggedness and determination, he is today celebrated as a worthy fighter for the cause of the average Nigerian. But now the table has turned, Oshiomhole cannot take steps to satisfy the poor workers in his domain.
It was convenient for Oshiomhole to say then, for example, that if the governors and President could maintain a vast retinue of political aides and embark on countless trips within and overseas with grave cost implications, he could not see why the workers could not be given a little comfort. But instead of pruning down for the sake of the workers, Oshiomhole went the other way when he assumed office. For instance, he increased the size of the commissioners from 16 to 18; he increased special advisers from 12 to over 20, more than 50 special assistants without offices and vertically so with other positions, and maintaining over 57 boards fully staffed. This article would not be adequate to enumerate Oshiomhole’s hyper-inflation of political offices and patronage.
It would suffice to say that the consequence of his imperialist tendency has been the emasculation of the civil servants and teachers whom he represented with perhaps dubious vigour when he was asking others to liberate the workers from the clutches of under- payment and draconian economic decisions. His disproportionate and arbitrary tax imposition on the same workers, which he would have resisted for whatever reasons, when he was a unionist is a subject for another day.
Back to the subject of charity beginning at home. Oshiomhole has never really been keen on representing the workers in Edo State directly even when he was the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress. Their benefits, so to say, had always been of collateral effect. It is evident that Oshiomhole never made any effort to reason with Chief Lucky Igbinedion, who is one of his godfathers today, to ameliorate the sufferings of the workers even by improving on their welfare package. At the time Igbinedion was a governor and Oshiomhole was a labour leader, whereas Oshiomhole intervened in labour government disputes in other states he never considered it important to do same in Edo State.
The assault started with a punitive tax imposition on the workers in the guile of “an unprecedented” development agenda, which has seen to the unfinished “expansion” of four visible but faultless roads in Benin City in four years. But the workers were ready to bear the burden because they did not want to be seen as being against their “worthy leader”, the Comrade Governor.
But with the apparent neglect and a consignment to perpetual servitude and humiliation staring them in the face, the workers have rebelled against insensitivity and arrogance and declared the historic “every man to his tent”.Now that the die is cast and the rebellion against the oppression of his own has become a reality, what will Oshiomhole do? Will he compromise his principle of never to be outdone in a negotiation and thus bring satisfaction to Edo State workers?
And if so, will he let the reprieve last by not taking back the benefits through unprecedented and unrivaled taxation, and probably in the long run a cancellation if he gets a second term that he has started campaigning for? Whichever way the matter goes, the workers are waiting for his Excellency the Comrade Governor.
Mr Nosa Omorodion, a civil servant , wrote from Benin, Edo State.