Exactly three years ago in this space, I took a bet.
Adams Oshiomhole, the former labour leader who became Edo State governor, could be the ace in the hole — wildcard was my exact word in the Nigeria story.
- I didn’t ask anyone to insult Buhari, Oshiomhole – Oba of Benin
- Oshiomhole’s camp backtracks, accepts Buni’s committee
That was not my first bet about the leadership of my home state.
In 1999, I had taken another: that by 2003, Lucky Igbinedion, my former Edo College and soccer school mate, would emerge the nation’s best governor by performing great feats in office.
I lost that first bet. Igbinedion turned in an embarrassing tenure, something he admitted as he pleaded for a second term.
He got that, but still turned in an awful performance, as he seemed to see the governorship as an extension of his family’s business.
His extensive corruption formed part of a memorable 2011 report by Human Rights Watch.
In Oshiomhole’s case in 2017, the immediate subject was the controversial severance package offered to him by the state government, which he had accepted.
It was a difficult decision for me, but I supported the departing governor, given the history of the matter in Edo State, and of the man.
But my support depended on the former governor being found to have been honest, and that the wild rumours about his secret wealth were not proved to be true.
Given what had happened in some other states where departing governors had plundered the commonwealth and then added the insult of awarding themselves incredible “pensions” thereafter, I drew attention to the dangers of the Edo Assembly choosing the ad hoc path.
Towards encouraging probity, I argued, “What the Assembly should do is establish a law which would provide every departing governor and deputy with the same level of compensation, leaving no room for manipulation, especially when a new party takes over.”
Better still, I called for a federal response to the question, given that Oshiomhole’s All Progressives Congress (APC) claimed to be combating corruption.
I had had prior encounters with Mr Oshiomhole, first through his battle to win the governorship, and then while he was on the job.
But as he departed the governorship and looked set to play a role in the party or federal set up, this was my bet: “Can Oshiomhole rise above narrow interests and fight for his country, bringing his brand of scorched-earth justice on every false tree and every withering branch?”
One year later, in June 2018, Oshiomhole indeed became APC chairman and seemed set for, and perhaps even capable of the historic role of the change agent I hoped he would seize.
In one previous encounter in this column in which I upbraided him, I had asked of him, “How do we help the poor so they are not murdered by poverty?
It followed his famous explosive encounter with a widow on a major Benin City street which went viral, telling her to “Go and die,” leading to his having to issue a public apology and giving her some money to start a business.
I urged him to go further than that and to set an example in systematic and creative ways of responding to the challenge of poverty, citing Brazil’s Bolsa Familia system by which that country had lifted about 20 million people out of poverty.
Oshiomhole appeared to work hard as governor, particularly when there were television cameras present, but it is unclear what he did when they were not.
The idea of lifting entire communities or entire peoples out of poverty, indeed, the idea of commitment to a principle, did not appear to attract him.
The APC runs the same advertising campaign, but APC is a shameless liar.
That is why it is difficult to identify any policy the party has implemented or any promise it has honoured, including the one to lift millions out of poverty.
That is why corruption is flourishing with greater vigour under the APC’s President Muhammadu Buhari than in the PDP administrations he has lampooned for years.
That is why unemployment is worse.
Oshiomhole is a proof of the APC at its worst, somehow driving it into such infamy he was found out within one year.
Oshiomhole’s small package became symbolic of the arrogance and emptiness of his party.
And beginning with being routinely embarrassed at both ward and state levels, Oshiomhole was finally exposed as an operative last month, and routed by the courts and the party machinery.
But the bigger tragedy for this man is not political, it is personal.
Oshiomhole made his mark by attacking the presence and practice of corruption and godfathers in politics, for which Edo was, at the hands of Mr Fix-It, Anthony Anenih, a terrible case.
It is a fight that Oshiomhole won, and a cause that he pursued with such vigour that Anenih, the strongman of the PDP, began to lose elections even in Uromi, his hometown.
Oshiomhole vowed that never again would there be godfathers in politics, implying that anyone who had merit would enjoy political opportunity.
Oshiomhole was both right and wrong.
He was right because he had defeated Anenih.
He was wrong because he had become the new Anenih.
What was worse, Oshiomhole not only tried to re-define state politics in his own image, he seemed to think he was Governor Emeritus.
Had Mr Anenih been alive, he might have sent a small Edo statue of Oshiomhole to him as a gift.
Part of that bigger tragedy is the story that has emerged since Oshiomhole left the governorship: that contrary to the impression he offered as governor, he may have served himself well beyond the palace he built in his hometown.
There are many published allegations about his perfidies in office.
In 2017, I was one of those who gave the former governor the benefit of the doubt, arguing that unless he was proved to be fake, he had it in his hands to do something bigger than neutralising Anenih: fight poverty by addressing the subject of governors fleecing their states.
He did not. He could not.
Which leads to one final point, one important battle, that Oshiomhole ought to fight for his family: a good name.
Now unburdened at national party level and enriched with all the time in the world, he should return to Edo State and publicly defend his name.
I say this not to the former party chairman or the former governor.
I say it to Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, the labour leader.
This is because despite all the money and power in Abuja, the labours of those who labour have multiplied.
Indeed, because of all the money and power and privilege and hypocrisy in Abuja, the pains of Nigeria’s poor continue to multiply.
Will the real Oshiomhole stand up?
[This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials].