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The One Man One Vote Benin Rally
Oshiomhole's Unfair Critics
By Comrade Victor Oshioke (Vienna 8/05/10)

In the past few days, the web has been inundated with articles, discussions and commentaries on the just concluded "One Man One Vote" rally organized by the Edo State government at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium in Benin-City. Incidentally, most of the discussion has been centered on the wisdom or otherwise, of the decision by the Edo State Governor Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to invite erstwhile Dictator, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida to the occasion and the subsequent decision by Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and a host of other progressive minded dignitaries to boycott the event. Some commentators have seized this controversy to engage in wild speculations on the motives of Comrade Oshiomhole, with spurious claims like, the event being a launch for Gen. Babangida's presidential ambition and Oshiomhole warming up to run with Babangida on the same ticket, gaining currency in the forum of public opinion. In an attempt to create premise for these jaundiced conclusions, others have tried to draw a correlation between every single action Comrade Oshiomhole has taken since assuming the governorship of the Edo State, including the appointment of Kassim Afegbua, as CPS earlier in the life of the administration.

It is appalling to observe, how an event which in concept was meant to be a rallying point for Nigerians, who desperately need a reorientation on the universal norms of democracy, has suddenly become an avenue to ridicule, embarrass and impugn on the integrity of one of the most consistent activists our nation has ever known. Though a few of the myriad articles bothering on this subject have attempted to maintain a level of objectivity; a majority of them, goaded by their abhorrence for any thing Babangida, have gone beyond acceptable limits of journalistic license with bogus headlines screaming "Insult Upon Injury: Oshiomhole Tries To Lure Wole Soyinka, AC Leaders To IBB Rally In Benin City! And Please, say it ain't true, Oshiomole!

It is jejune assumption and a crude understanding of the mentality of Nigerian politicians, to conclude, as most commentators have done, that all who boycotted the Benin rally did so to protest Babangida's presence. While I find it comfortable to give Prof. Wole Soyinka benefit of the doubt, considering his historical consistency as a principled activist and a contented professional, I am inclined to suspect that a majority of politicians who boycotted the event did so because they lacked the courage to stand up in public, face to face with Babangida and criticize him, or considered the consequences of doing same.

Two wrongs they say do not make a right. Prof. Wole Soyinka is not a man of prepared speeches; he is a genius who thrives even in the most bizarre circumstances. His boycott of the rally certainly did more harm than good, in the sense that a rare opportunity where he could have articulated the general feeling of Nigerians and eloquently offload it on Babangida was missed, perhaps forever.

It is pertinent to concede that I am a passionate supporter of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and his broad developmental efforts in Edo State. I also want to state that in my candid opinion, General Ibrahim Babangida belongs to a repugnant past in our political adventure that should be packaged along with the Abacha era and thrown into the garbage dump of history, if we must move ahead as a nation. Naturally, there should be no space for Babangida in the political future of Nigeria, except in the mere constitutional provision which non-discriminatorily allows all Nigerians to vote and be voted for.

Irrespective of my support, I was one of those silent critics of Oshiomhole when he appointed Kassim Afegbua as his Chief Press Secretary, not because I had any cause to doubt Kassim's ability as CPS, but because I saw him as someone who, in spite of his brilliance and professional resourcefulness, was ever ready to stand truth on its head, in a desperate attempt to launder General Babangida's putrid image. It was my belief that Kassim was inclined to bring into Osadebey House, aspects of the stench that has become the inalienable DNA of all Babangida loyalists. Predictably, Kassim resigned his position under circumstances that have never been fully explained. In spite of my dislike by association for Kassim, one could not deny the fact that first and foremost, he is a resourceful free born Edo son, a scion of the Afegbua family, one of the most enduring political clans in Nigeria, and above all, one who was adequately equipped to fill the vacuum created with the unfortunate death of Chris Nwachukwu, the pioneer CPS of the Oshiomhole administration.

The important point to note here is that, entrenching a culture of tolerance is one of the most vital steps towards reaching a free and democratic society. How can we hope to reach a society where every individual vote counts, if we cannot accept that all Nigerians are qualified to preach the gospel of one man one vote?

If we as a nation truly desire durable democratic principles in Nigeria, then we must be prepared to observe and emulate the tolerant political atmosphere in more successful democracies of the world, rather than a subjective obsession with good or bad personalities.

Oshiomhole is a man driven by his humble pedigree; he is saddled with the onerous task of playing the double role of delivering the dividends of democracy to a long deprived Edo people, while at the same time championing the cause to engender a sustainable political culture for the entire Nigerian masses who still see him as one of the few leaders they can count on to protect their interest.

When he declared his intention to contest the Edo State governorship race in 2006, the late foremost human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehimi was unequivocally critical of the decision, specifically because according to him" the decision of Oshiomhole to become the governor of one, out of the 36 states of the federation, has limited his chances of impacting on the remaining 35 states". It is unfortunate that Gani is not alive today to witness Oshiomhole effectively deliver as a state governor while at the same time leading national initiatives to free the Nigerian masses from institutionalized attitudes that perpetuate political and economic enslavement, one of the many causes that Gani lived and died for.

I observe an inherent contradiction in Oshiomhole being called upon to play a more proactive role at the national level while at the same time he is being rebuffed for reaching out to all sections of the Nigerian society.

As one generally accepted of being capable to offer national direction, Oshiomhole was right to rise above the fray of ideological snobbery by attempting to bring together on a single podium, politicians, activists and ex dictators to advocate a respect for the sanctity of one man one vote. No matter how one feels about Babangida's antecedents, the fact remains that he is a Nigerian, eligible to vote and be voted for, and as someone who has once occupied the highest office in the land, his presence at any event will always be a big deal. Have we suddenly forgotten that the greatest message of all messages is the gospel of atonement, forgiveness and redemption? If the gospel is both for the righteous and for sinners why should the message of one man one vote be reserved for those who fit into a certain profile?

If the statement widely credited to Comrade Oshiomhole, that while he respected the decision of some of the dignitaries to boycott the rally, he at the same time did not agree with them and had no regrets inviting Babangida to the rally and that Nigerians should do away with politics of exclusion, is true, then that to me is where the misapprehension lies.

A more pacifying statement accepting responsibility for the communication failure between him and his invited guests, who boycotted the rally, would have been a more appropriate response to reassure his supporters both at home and in the Diaspora that he has realized that Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida is "bad market" and this would have gone a long way to normalize the relationship with his progressive constituency.

My word of advice for the indomitable Comrade Oshiomhole, is that there is broad agreement even amongst his political foes that he is a rare breed; vocal, intelligent, articulate, progressively minded though sometimes obdurate. There is massive local and international interest in any statement that he makes, and with the present political environment in Edo State, the opposition is always ready to put a spin to his most genial actions and utterances, if only to inflict whatever dent they can on his towering public profile. In the final analysis, my take is that the hullabaloo generated by this relatively mild incident was fired up in part, by the media attention given to the boycott, in comparison to the importance of the rally itself.

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