NIGERIA: Oshiomhole, From factory to Government House

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SIXTY years ago, in Iyamoh,Edo state, Hadjia Aishetu and Alhaji Aliyu Oshiomhole were blessed with a baby boy whom they named Adams Aliyu  Aihanegboye Oshiomhole.  Those familiar with the names say Aihanegboye means “The wicked will not catch up with you”.

The young Adams as if in a hurry to fulfill his destiny, in 1969, took up a job with Arewa Textiles Company Kaduna.   He got the job after he convinced the personnel manager that though he was small in stature, he was physically and mentally fit for the job.

From then on, there was no stopping Adams Oshiomhole.  In 1971, his colleagues at work saw in him, the qualities of a selfless leader when he organized a shop floor revolution. Consequently, he  was elected  union secretary.  His determination to   improve the lot of fellow workers, led him to become a full time trade unionist with the Textile Workers union in 1975.

During his activities as a shop floor worker, he met a beautiful lady, Clara at the union’s office.   Clara was then a secretary with the trade union. Adams got help from Clara who helped to type his letters to employers.  Within the struggle, he found time to propose to Clara who married him.

The trade union movement provided him   opportunities for further educational studies and he was educated at Ruskin College, Oxford where he studied Economics and Industrial Relations.

Oshiomhole’s activities saw him detained in Kaduna for organizing a workers strike but he remained unshaken though his young wife, Clara was then pregnant. A courageous leader, he often says , “ I conquered  fear at the age of 18”.

Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole rose to become the general secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers Union in 1982. By this time the union’s membership had risen to 75,000. He was not only loved by workers, even employers could not but acknowledge his skills in handling workers grievances and negotiating skills.

He also serviced workers in Peugeot Automobile Nigeria Limited and other manufacturing companies in the northern part of Nigeria. Oshiomhole   who believes that trade unions must be financially independent, led his union to invest in property   just as he ensured that the union was rich in infrastructure.   He also changed the face of the labour movement when his union adopted a policy of employing young graduates.

He also   made a conscious effort to attract women  to the labour movement.  He supported all efforts to mainstream women into the trade unions. It will surprise many that he took his fighting spirit from his mother.  He once said, “My father will not go on strike for anything but my mother can fight a village”.  This perhaps explains his female gender friendly disposition.

The dissolution of the national executive of the Nigeria Labour Congress in 1988 saw Adams and his Comrades play a more active role in the central labour organization. They spoke against and fought the dissolution of the Congress and in December 1988, he was elected deputy president of the reconstituted NLC.

He played similar roles in 1995 when the NLC leadership was sacked by the Abacha regime.  In the course of his struggles, he was detained. The military government subsequently promulgated Decree  4 of 1996 to stop Adams Oshiomhole from contesting the leadership of the NLC but  with the demise of General Abacha in 1998, the NLC executive was reconstituted in 1999 and Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole was elected  the fourth   president of the NLC.

His tenure saw the NLC shift focus from simply defending workers’ rights to defending the rights of the people of Nigeria. Oshiomhole’s leadership of the NLC saw a review of the 10year old national minimum age, periodically increase in salaries and  the struggle against the removal of petroleum subsidy by the federal government.

Adams Oshiomhole is on record as the first  labour leader to lead a protest to Aso Rock Abuja; the seat  of the presidency in 1999.  President Obasanjo described Oshiomhole’s invasion of Aso rock as “Bravado Action”.

He was not done.  He led series of strikes against President Obasanjo’s government attempts to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.

During one of such strikes, the President accused him of running a “parallel government”. Obasanjo even threatened to vacate Aso rock for Oshiomhole . Oshiomhole after two terms of eight years as president of the NLC was elected Governor of Edo state in 2007 but had his mandate stolen.  For 18 months he fought relentlessly at the election tribunal and the court of Appeal and his mandate was restored on Nov. 11 , 2008. Consequently, he was sworn in as Governor on Nov. 12, 2008.

Oshiomhole is the first labour leader in Nigeria to be elected into an executive post.

With the slogan, “ Let the People lead”, and his achievements,  Oshiomhole wormed his way into the heart of the electorate . His  re-election  was rewarded with an unprecedented victory in all the 18 local governments  on July 14, 2012.  He was sworn in for the second term on Nov. 12, 2012. Oshiomhole who believes that elections must reflect the wishes of the people introduced the slogan “One Man/ Woman, One Vote”.

International reputation

About two months ago, President Obasanjo was in Edo state where he commended Oshiomhole (now governor of Edo states) for the development of Edo state and the transformation of Benin  from the  ancient city of Benin to the modern city of Benin. Oshiomhole acquired his international reputation  as  elected vice president ( workers) at the International Labour Organisation ( ILO). He also served on the executive  of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions ( ICFTU) and the executive board of  the African Regional  Organisation of the ICFTU.

As governor of Edo state, he has received commendations from the World Bank and the United States of America Consul for his remarkable achievements in Edo state.

Former military head of state, General Yakubu Gowon has also given Oshiomhole a pat on the back for his achievements in Edo state. Oshiomhole   received several awards from organizations and universities and is also a recipient of the Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON) presented by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on   November 14, 2011. He also has numerous traditional titles from communities in Okpella Kingdom, Esan land etc.

Adams Aliyu  Oshiomhole ,  is a devout Catholic .  He and Clara (now deceased) are blessed with five children. At 60, he is a grandfather of two. Congratulations.  It is your day. Congratulations!  Congratulations!

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