adams-oshiomohole

Activists have been very successful in opposing military rule and successfully struggling for democracy in Nigeria… The problem however was that whenever the transition to civilian rule occurs, those who fought against military rule are rarely on the table. The politicians who dined and wined with the military become the beneficiaries of democratic transition.


Last week, the Kukah Centre organised its flagship programme, The Podium, in Abuja. The Podium is part of their “Fixing Nigeria initiative”, which provides a platform of engagement between public officials and citizens. The objective is to open communication lines between public officials and citizens that could lead to the deepening of democracy and the building of public trust. The guest lecturer for the occasion was Comrade Oshiomhole; the labour activist turned Edo State Governor.

In his opening remarks, the Chair of the occasion, former Cross River State Governor Donald Duke rejected the appellation of comrade for the former trade unionist. He asserted that the French suit worn by the Governor that appears to be khaki is in reality high quality silk so we should be careful of appearances. On a more serious note, Donald Duke anchored his argument that Adams was closer to the ruling class than to the workers by recalling how his intervention on the minimum wage struggle helped him calm workers demands. When the minimum wage was fixed by law at 5,500 naira, Cross River State workers insisted that as a major oil producing State, at that time, theirs should be raised to 6,500 naira. Just as he was about to cave into accepting to pay the additional 1000 Naira, Adams entered the fray, “negotiated” a 100 naira increase to 5,600, organised a massive rally in which he insulted Donald Duke for his meanness but pleaded with the workers to accept the victory of the slight increase. A grateful Donald Duke then informed the occasion that he organised a State Banquet to thank Comrade Adams for saving him 900 naira on each worker.

Comrade Adams responded with the argument that trade unionists are not revolutionaries; they are reformers seeking incremental changes. He explained that during the demonstrations in the same year over the hike of fuel prices by President Obasanjo, the late Gani Fawehinmi had called him to say that the situation was ripe to bring down the government but he opted for compromise as the objective was to create gains for the people and a face saving gesture for the government so that everyone gains. Activism for him, he argued, is not being a one-man riot squad agitating as an individual but creating conditions for collective action that leads to gradual progressive change. The strategic objective according to him is policy rather than regime change.

Comrade Adams then gave a long two-hour lecture on the great achievements he has made in improving the lives and livelihoods of the ordinary people in Edo State, improving education and health and building roads. In addition, he has paid salaries regularly because government has a contractual obligation to pay workers who had delivered their own part of the contract by working. He admitted however that pensions had been a challenge because he found a huge pensions backlog out of which he had been able to pay the arrears of 2008 to 2011. He also admitted that local government salaries were not being paid regularly but argued that it is not his fault as he gives local governments their allocations so its up to them to carry out their responsibilities by paying their workers. Former Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu joined the debate about the generalised non-payment of salaries by state governments arguing that many of the state governors in the country today have a background in business rather than public service and have no understanding of the value of salaries to workers who have no other source of incomes. He insisted that during his time, he prioritised the payment of salaries over all other expenditure items.

In his conclusion, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole argued that if you were a genuine progressive and you transit into governance, you would certainly use your mandate to leave society better than you found it and that’s the reason more activists should enter politics.


Comrade Adams responded also to a comment on the “go and die” statement he made to a widow who was “dirtying” a newly constructed pavement he had constructed. He attributed his comment to stress and said that after the event, he felt very bad over his unacceptable comment, sought out the women, atoned for his action by apologising profusely, giving her two million naira and a job as his special assistant against street trading. We should all understand that governors too are human and can sometimes make mistakes but the important thing is to correct mistakes made.

In my remarks, I argued that change occurs in society because change agents struggle for it at a time in which most members of society are largely apathetic. The tipping point for change is however the moments when the activists, the progressives are able to generate wide support within society that things cannot continue the way they are. Activists have been very successful in opposing military rule and successfully struggling for democracy in Nigeria.

Indeed Nigerian activists and progressives have been engaged in the struggle against authoritarianism since the moment General Gowon announced in 1974 that he was no longer handing over power to a democratic government in 1976 as he had been forced to promise earlier on. The problem however was that whenever the transition to civilian rule occurs, those who fought against military rule are rarely on the table. The politicians who dined and wined with the military become the beneficiaries of democratic transition.

In 1998, Professor Julius Ihonvbere had organised a series of workshops urging activists and progressive to join the political fray but very few took up the challenge. Many were afraid they would be soiled by dirty politics. Most of those who agreed to join did so on the platforms of godfathers and were therefore not there to advance the cause of progressive change.

In his conclusion, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole argued that if you were a genuine progressive and you transit into governance, you would certainly use your mandate to leave society better than you found it and that’s the reason more activists should enter politics.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of Premium Times.