Nigeria is the world’s fifth largest federation after India, the United States, Brazil and Russia. Almost 60 years after independence, Nigeria’s political leadership has rather been incapable or unwilling to make the necessary effort to respond to the challenges encapsulated in her peculiar history. This history actually positions the Muhammadu Buhari presidency at a crucial crossroads from which Nigeria and Africa must be rescued and reinvented.
It’s against this backdrop that 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, former governor of Edo State and national chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, is clearly, merrily driving the party in power. What’s more, this significantly evokes the days of Chief Meredith Adisa Akinloye, national chairman of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in the Second Republic.
It’s worth recalling that eight months ago, amid contrived internal dissonances and significant party governance deficits that hobbled the APC, Comrade Oshiomhole, was elected into the position of national chairman to rein in the unseemly dissidence and provide a new trajectory. As it were, in a season of partisan rage, with many red-eyed politicians focused on various power-grab projects often dressed up as patriotic ventures, discipline, party supremacy and rule-governed processes had become threatened.
Many APC members then were already losing faith in the party. That might have been understandable; but history shows that mere loss of faith, a pathway to surrender, is taking the easy course. The path of courage was to interrogate the party leadership’s vision and related issues that encumbered the party, using reasoned, temperate logic, courage and candour. Next was to offer alternative vision and strategies to resolve extant dilemma and clear the fog. This was the path Oshiomhole chose and is walking.
Although much of the internal political landmines that ruffled APC primaries were laid well before his 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 direction clearly.
Without buck-passing, he seized the bull by the horns. Before his coming, the governors had hijacked the party, creating serious crisis between governors 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 mode of primary election so as to deepen democracy and ensure that the masses produce candidates of their choice not that of the godfathers. Apart from the fact that the direct primary election gave party members the feeling of belonging, it helped in checking the numerous legal issues which arose during the congresses held by the NWC before his.
To a large extent, direct primary election was a huge success apart from states where the governors were hell-bent on producing their successors against the wishes of party members in their states. Oshiomhole changed the narrative such that the common party members and not the governors or leaders are 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 on Saturday, February 23. APC’s candidate, President Muhammadu Buhari defeated Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president and candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), with 15,191,847 to 11,262,978 votes. Little wonder, a hugely grateful Buhari specifically commended Oshiomhole, in his post-victory speech, in Abuja.
By effectively overhauling the party’s internal governance template and processes and resolutely standing down party spoil-sports, the APC national chairman simply proved he is indeed a transcendent command room guru. Without the enforcement of party discipline, a political party’s journey becomes an unduly hazardous enterprise. Oshiomhole made it clear that the era of petulant, rambunctious anti-party intrigues to achieve personal interests were over.
To the inimitable public orator, members of the APC must submit to orderly, disciplined conduct and use prescribed channels to seek redress of any grievances. 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.
It is instructive that moving forward in the task of consolidating the APC’s leading edge, Oshiomhole is initiating a comprehensive, computerised membership data-base that would make it much easier to peg real members and ensure they are meeting party membership obligations. His moves not surprisingly, spawned internal resistance. But Oshiomhole 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 has 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.
Tracking back, on Saturday, February 23, Nigerians stood at a uniquely crucial moment in their history, a time they must choose their future. Given that all generations face complex, interconnected challenges, Nigerians had a historic opportunity to support the change that has already gained root, in the electoral choice they made on that day. February 23 was indeed a moment in time when something big, something transformative – already happening – could continue.
Nigerians made their choice by returning President Muhammadu Buhari for a second presidential term. The Buhari victory of course was actualised not by one individual but by many committed stakeholders. But it is not out of place to single out Comrade Oshiomhole, the APC national chairman, as a key pivotal figure in the big picture.
Clearly, Oshiomhole may not be a saint. There is no need to fret. It is a fact that the parameters for electing the national chairmen of political parties in Nigeria do not specify sainthood as a key requirement. His choice, simply acknowledges 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 reelection of President Buhari. Where are his famous dancing shoes? Ask the peoples’ Comrade!
· Hon. Obahiagbon, the son of Igodomigodo, contributed this piece from Benin.