Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Like Obama, Like Oshiomole

It is no longer news how Barrack Obama, like a roller-coaster on wheels ran a presidential campaign which swept across the global political landscape leaving behind him indelible footprints in the sands of time. For whatever it is worth, the emergence of Obama as the first Black-American elected to the exalted position of President of the United States of America has redefined the history of the Black race world over. We cannot forget in a hurry the long tortuous journey of Blacks in America towards socio-political emancipation. Rosa Parks fought gallantly for it. The revered Rev. Jesse Jackson took a bold step in 1984 when he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the White House. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr. lived and died for this cause and there is yet a long list of many more heroes and heroines of the struggle. However, a far more interesting aspect of the Obama phenomenon is that away from the racial sentiments attached to his emergence, he ran a campaign visibly rooted in great passion and patriotism and then came to represent a new thinking in an overwhelmingly acceptable manner among Whites and Blacks alike. For this alone, the name ‘Obama’ will remain for a long time to come, a redefining reference point in the psychodynamics of global history and politics.

Barely eight days after the historic victory of Obama at the US presidential polls, somewhere here in the political climes of our country Nigeria – in the ancient city of Benin, former president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), a man popularly referred to as ‘the Peoples’ President’, Comrade Adams Oshiomole was sworn in as the Governor-elect of Edo State on Wednesday 12 November, 2008. Earlier the day before, the Court of Appeal sitting in Benin, Edo State, had declared Oshiomole who was the candidate of the Action Congress (AC), as the rightful winner of the April 2007 gubernatorial election in the state, a landmark ruling which affirmed the judgment of the lower Election Petitions Tribunal in the matter. For the people of Edo North Senatorial district, and by extension the impoverished and oppressed people of Edo State, this represents the desired change, a paradigm shift from the old order of corruption and godfatherism, indeed a new order of things! The emergence of a man like Oshiomole as governor of Edo State is significant in so many ways and draws great inspiration from the Obama experience. How?

Let me take us a little way back in the history of the nation’s Heartbeat State. As it has been since the creation of the state from the old Bendel state, you have the Edo majority tribes of the South, the Esan minority tribes of Edo Central and the Afenmai minority tribes of the North. When it comes to decisive political issues, the latter two put together are no equal match to the formidable force of the southern majority whose nerve centre and political Mecca had been the Benin Kingdom and palace of the Omo N’Oba respectively. Hence, Edo South has over the years taken the largest chunk in the political power sharing process. Edo South has so far produced three governors in persons of Sam Ogbemudia, John Odigie Oyegun, and Lucky Igbinedion who served a two-tenured eight years in office. On its own part, Edo Central has been lucky to produce the late Governor Ambrose Alli. But just like the politically repressed Blacks of America, Edo North (Afenmailand) had over the years been reduced to a second fiddle. For years, it remained the only part of the state that had never been privileged to produce at least one governor! Obviously, this was not because there were no capable or competent persons of Afenmai origin. But the truth is, politics is the name of the game, and the Nigerian factor always had its way.

In 1999, Alhaji Aziz Garuba, an eminent Nigerian from Edo North lost in his gubernatorial bid. What was his offence? He failed to get the blessings of ‘the Southern kingmakers.’Meanwhile, as the 2007 elections drew near, there was a lot of activity among politicians of Edo North extraction. Within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – the then ruling party several brilliant minds from Edo North including the then Deputy-Governor Chief Mike Oghiadome emerged. In an interview granted Afenmai Voice (a local newspaper) and published in its December 2004 edition, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, one of Nigeria’s finest politicians and an illustrious son of Edo North in the 2007 gubernatorial race under the PDP had declared: “The people of Edo North have never produced an elected civilian governor for this state and other zones have done so. So, it is only natural that while we have supported other zones to produce the governor, they should support us to produce the governor in 2007.” As political an appeal as this appeared, he had hit the nail on the head. The people of Edo North had been marginalised for years both in infrastructural development and political appointments. 2007 was the time to turn the tables. But it was not to be. The PDP political machine engineered a political process which saw Professor Oseiriehmen Osunbor from Edo Central emerging as governor-elect in an election where it was clear even to the blind that Action Congress (AC) candidate Comrade Adams Oshiomole (a worthy son of Edo North) had a landslide win! Immediately, Oshiomole, reputed for his doggedness as a fighter of tyrannical governments from the hey-days of Abacha to the Obasanjo era proceeded to the Elections Petitions Tribunal in pursuit of justice. After several months of a rigorous judicial exercise, the tribunal declared Oshiomole winner in the April 2007 polls. The PDP party, perhaps anticipating the possibility of a re-run refused to abide by the tribunal’s order. Prof. Osunbor, a distinguished professor of Law filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal in Benin seeking to invalidate the ruling of the tribunal. However, on Tuesday 11 November 2008, in a unanimous order, the Court of Appeal declared Comrade Adams Oshiomole winner in the April 2007 gubernatorial elections in Edo State. He has since been sworn in as Executive Governor of Edo State and the rest has become history.

Today, it is instructive for those who care enough that the long desired change has visited Edo State. Oshiomole, just like Obama represents a change the people of Edo State can believe in and more importantly, he has the right disposition and pedigree required to deliver hope and service to the people. He has shown this commitment and service to humanity right from his days as president of the NLC. When in April 2007, the people of Edo State trooped out to vote him as governor, you could feel the synergy which was activated between him and the masses, from the civil servants, market women, Okada riders, to the farmers. It was genuine and away from the rent-a-crowd syndrome which has beclouded our political space today. And as he delivered his inaugural speech amidst deafening cries of “Obama! Obama!”, the Peoples’ President did not mince words about the new ethical revolution he was bringing to the state. Truly, in the last few years, governance in Edo State has been reduced to the politics of mediocrity, roguery, and acrimony. Thus, the emergence of Oshiomole represents a paradigm shift, not only for Edo State, but for the people of Nigeria.

The Appeal Court ruling which pronounced him governor-elect has shown that amidst the institutional weaknesses of a troubled polity, we can still have faith in a critical arm of government as the judiciary. Oshiomole, recognizing the historical significance of his emergence at an auspicious time as this could not conclude his inaugural speech without alluding to Obama when he noted that we cannot really celebrate Obama in a country where we still hold on to primitive politics. He however declared that such debasement of the political process is not in our genes, observing that we can do better than the Americans. I concur with the Comrade Governor. Yes we can!

The Mission to Ibadan

For nearly five decades, the Nigerian experience has been a potpourri of events orchestrated by the actions and inactions of her citizenry. Within several narratives, the stories have been told from different perspectives, leading to the emergence of a crowd of voices, ideas, and initiatives proclaiming and advocating for the rebirth of a new order. However, in the midst of the mounting consensus for change, the prevailing paradox is a flurry of excitement about the dream of a new Nigeria, an overwhelming zeal without knowledge, activity without productivity, glamour devoid of substance - a mere dissipation of passion without action. The truth is, in this journey towards national greatness, talk is cheap and will never be enough. So much has been said recently about what could be done to properly reward, honour and empower our national flag designer Pa Taiwo Akinkunmi. His story has been told over and over again. Over the years, numerous promises have been made by government, a few corporate bodies and individuals about how the old man and his family can be given a befitting treatment with a lasting impact on his health, welfare and the essence of our national heritage which he and many others who have also added value represent. A few good men and women have kept their promises and this has been helpful to Pa Akinkunmi. But to what extent?

Hence, upon the realisation of the need to match words with action, a team of young Nigerians led by renowned IT expert and social entrepreneur ‘Gbenga Sesan, visited the Ibadan home of Pa Akinkunmi on the eve of the October 1st Independence Day celebration in a bid to set the tone for a constructive agenda that will put an end to the unpleasant tales of indigence currently surrounding the unsung national hero. The meeting with Pa Akinkunmi and his family was hinged on a two-fold agenda:

1. A Nigerian Flag Foundation that will promote patriotic values among Nigerians while ensuring that no national hero (regardless of how minute his/her contribution) is forgotten. The Foundation may also cater for health and other welfare matters affecting Pa Akinkunmi, his family and other “forgotten heroes”.

2. A book on the life and times of the national flag designer, the proceeds of which will go to the Foundation (Trust) managed by a proper Governing Council or Board of Trustees.

Although Pa Akinkunmi was unavoidably absent as he had to leave earlier than planned for Benin City on that day, his eldest son Akin Akinkunmi stood in his place. It was a deeply emotional meeting which revealed how much help the family needed from well-meaning Nigerians who would be willing to assist. Akin, a 33-year old HND graduate of Building Technology is still unemployed and practically stays at home with Baba. He also recanted details of how early this year, his father was invited by the Governor of Oyo state, Otunba Alao Akala, on the premise that though he was an indigene of Ogun state residing in Oyo State, plans were being made to give him a deserving reward and honour soonest. Akin, his eldest son who accompanied him to the meeting was also promised a gainful employment by the governor. That was in February 2008. To date, several efforts by Akin Akinkunmi to reach the governor on behalf of his father have proved abortive.

He also spoke about how resources from a popular TV game show have helped them procure and renovate a property in Ibadan. As the meeting progressed, it became apparent that for any meaningful and sustained repositioning of the Akinkunmi family to occur, the first son of the family would need to be established on the pathway of responsibility and enterprise. Without probing further to get more information about why he hasn’t been able to apply his hands to work in a bid to help his dad and family, we knew it would be impossible to suggest anything constructive about empowering this young man – who can in turn build and sustain his family’s legacy. It was then with great relief and a unanimous bodily expression of ‘eureka!’ that we all jumped up the moment Akin revealed to us his passion. What was it about? He loves machines and would love to build capacity in the repair of generators, and has had plans to resume apprenticeship with a “generator house” but was held back by the need for funds to take care of his family while learning more about generators. We were happy that Akin opened up to us in a way that helped define what next needed to be done. At this point, we had spent about two (2) hours deliberating with him on the purpose of our visit to his family and the need to help him find purpose.

As the meeting drew to a close, the gathering resolved as follows:

1. That the “delegation”, working with others with interest in this cause, will commence work on the book project and, the Nigerian Flag Foundation initiative;

2. To help connect Akin with an employer (and mentor) who will provide him an environment where he can pursue his passion (generators);

3. That one thousand (1,000) letters be written and signed by one thousand (1,000) concerned Nigerians addressed to the Executive Governor of Oyo State, reminding him of his promises to assist Pa Taiwo Akinkunmi and his family. The letters should be sent on or before November 31st, 2008.

The following persons were in attendance at this historic meeting:
1. ‘Gbenga Sesan – Convener
2. Jide Adeyemi
3. Ohimai Godwin Amaize
4. Tayo Opatayo
5. Femi Giwa
6. Ferdinand Adimefe
7. Oreoluwa Ladokun
8. Akin Akinkunmi