Peter Esele, former president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and former All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship aspirant in 2016 in Edo, was among South-South leaders that asked for the national chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole, to be replaced with Victor Giadom, the acting chairman.
In this interview, Esele says Oshiomhole’s faults include disrespecting institutions, not being exemplary in his conduct and that he has disappointed the labour movement as the custodian of its patrimony, hence he should leave the scene.
Why do you think Oshiomhole should not be forgiven?
Well, for me whatever I say, whatever I do has to be tagged around principle. My first take was his comment. You are aware of what I wrote on his comment about the judgement of the Supreme Court. For me, I just feel that was it. I think what we need for our country is to build institutions, it is also to ensure that people have respect for our institutions.
I will give you an example. I have four children, two boys and two girls. Something happened in the last APC primaries, my daughter watched it till about 1am; as at that time she was 10 or 11 years. Then she asked me why people were shouting. There were heated exchange of words, I sat down quietly and I felt she was watching. Issues happened around the then deputy governor and somebody disrespected the governor and I stood up to the guy and I said you don’t do that, it is not about the person it is about the office. Then she asked, why was the governor walking around, that she heard the announcement that everybody should remain where they were seated. To cut the whole story short, she was very disappointed at how we adults conducted ourselves. Immediately I left the stadium and got to the hotel, her mum called and said, talk to your daughter. She raised a lot of these questions and then she said, Daddy I’m proud of you, you just kept your cool. Now, if I don’t have that interface with her to say okay this is democracy and I have this conversation with her, it is possible she would grow up thinking that was the right way to behave.
My second daughter, who is much younger, also made reference one day about insecurity, because I try to make them know that this is their country. And I wondered, where is this coming from? I asked her, is anybody chasing you? And she asked, where are the Chibok girls? This was way back when we had President Jonathan in office. We all think that this children don’t know anything or they are too young but they know so much, they look at us and copy us.
If you look at the current leaders that we have, take your mind back and imagine how old they were in the time of the military government. So when you take your mind back and now look at how 80 to 90 per cent of them are conducting themselves, you will know it is a fallout from those times. My dad used to tell me that after the age of nine, maximum 12, there is nothing else anybody is going to do about you, you are formed. The only thing they can do is try to control you either through reading, spiritual interaction, that is it.
So, the people we need in office in this country are people who will conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. Let us leave sentiments apart, if we do not do that in this country, we will keep playing politics of ethnicity, religion, he/she is my friend and the principle that binds society, binds people to grow, we will lose it all and at the end we will also lose our children and our country because the demographics right now is about 70 per cent young ones. And if you ask yourself why are they conducting themselves they way they are doing, just take look at their leaders. So, for me, that is why I said that the comrade was not being exemplary and this is not how we conduct ourselves in the labour movement.
Being a comrade, what efforts have you made to reach out to him rather than talking in the media?
Of course, I did, you wouldn’t think I didn’t. I made calls, sent messages but no response. Even if he had responded, we would still have had conversations around all of these. I am also aware that labour leaders have met with him and have had this conversation. I don’t want to mention their names because I don’t have their permission to do so, but he probably just doesn’t listen. Someone said he was running the party the same way he was running the union, I said no. I said the bottomline is the way politicians conduct themselves because, in a labour union or federation, you can’t go one year without calling a national executive council meeting, there is no way you will survive it. A couple of governors have asked me, is this what you people do in the union? I said no, it is how you people conduct yourselves. When the guy was dancing to your tune at that particular time, you all kept quiet, forgetting that the constitution of the party must be respected at all times. The bottomline is, if you see me doing the wrong thing, call me out because you will be doing me a favour. It is not just about the physical aspect of it, it is also to make me a better person. You hold office not because of your personal aggrandizement, the office you hold must be total, meaning it must be good for you physically and spiritually. That is the way you learn. But if everybody around you is keeping quiet and you are doing the wrong thing then the society suffers and that is what we must prevent.
A federal high court in Kano has insisted Oshiomhole be allowed to return to office, pending when the case is determined, but your party is not respecting that…
I am not a lawyer but the party also has its lawyers and the consensus is that a court of equal jurisdiction cannot evacuate the order. So, they all know how these things work. If that is what it is, the party itself will not be seen to not respect laws. The party has a legal team and it knows that the only way the chairman can go over this is to go to the appeal court and appeal against the judgement. I know that he is doing that. That is basically what it is. But one thing we must tell ourselves, because he called me and we spoke, I think if it were to be in a sane society, whoever made those comments about the Supreme Court judgement would resign. There were a lot of demonstrations and what have you in Bayelsa over the Supreme Court judgement. And when you make such inciting comments, those are things you expect. At the end of the day, when Timipre Sylva and David Lyon started appealing to the people, the thing started dying down. There were no riots, no protests. I think we should learn to take the decision of the court whether it goes our way or not.
Why have South-South stakeholders not been able to reconcile Oshiomhole and his political son, Governor Godwin Obaseki?
That is another aspect of what people are saying, if somebody is not listening what you can you do? This whole problem started from the congress, the imposition of candidates. When you impose candidates, you use red biro to change this one, elections are conducted at unit, at ward, and they are referred to your table and, without discussions, you change the names. Those things create their own chain of problems. Nobody would disagree with the fact that Oshiomhole brought Obaseki and stood by him to become governor. That one is clear. The same Oshiomhole also told us that when he was still nursing the idea about whether to contest the election or not, the same Obaseki raised money that gave him the muscle to contest. So, what you have is a case of quid pro quo. That must have been part of it but, whatever differences they must have had, I have always said when two people are in a room whatever people agree you cannot tell what they agreed on. So, I think that both sides will be in the best position to want to talk about it. I have spoken to both sides but whatever conservation I had with them it would be unfair to bring it to the pages of newspapers. I thought they would be able to reconcile their differences but, the way it is now, I think it has gone over the top because when you take yourselves before the king’s palace, the possibility of reconciliation is very slim. We are back to the principles I keep talking about. You brought this guy, it becomes a question mark on your decision making process and so, ordinarily, you should swallow it, in the sense that you don’t have to come out and begin to speak bad. I did not completely agree with Oshiomhole’s eight years as a governor, his principles, policies, but I know I took the mic to campaign for him in the whole of Edo State. So, whatever grievances I have, I go to him. But to come into the open after you have endorsed this person, go through the process and now you are fighting dirty in the open, I think it raises an issue on your morality.
Again, you go to the Edo State House of Assembly and you have 14 members who are not there, you ask yourself, what is that all about? I think it is also an indictment on the party not being able to rein things in. It is also important to tell the party that we must not be seen to take Edo people for granted. We won the entire 18 local governments, all the members of the House of Assembly are from Edo State; then why fight? I think these are things you expect leaders to deal with but there is a whole lot of ego problem going on. It is always dangerous when ego enters what you are doing.
I also think at this particular time in our country, the party shouldn’t be seen to be talking about national chairman or no national chairman, these are things the constitution of the party should deal with directly and let the party deal with something more serious.
We have coronavirus issues before us now, we have the price of crude oil going down, we have the naira-to-dollar going down, we have the Central Bank of Nigeria telling us that the foreign reserves have fallen to $36 billion, although $30,000 is three months of savings, things are going down. I think these are the areas that the party should support the President so that he can have the full attention on how to navigate the very difficult times befalling the country, instead of distractions coming from the party on matters like this.
What do you think Oshiomhole could have done differently to avoid this crisis?
What he should have done differently would have been to take attention off himself. When he was elected as party chairman, I went to him in his office and suggested that we have research and development team, organising team, let’s know who our members are across the length and breadth of the country. Because, when you are going for an election, you already know these are your members, you have an idea of the number of votes you are expecting and then let’s digitalised everything that we are doing. That way, our primaries will become very transparent so much so that even if one loses, you will be very happy to shake hands with the winner because it’s all about service. I always believe that, if you really want to serve and you turn it to a do-or-die affair, then you don’t really want to serve but are after your stomach infrastructure. While we were having that conversation, fortunately, the SGF walked in and he said, please, repeat all you have just said to the hearing of the SGF, and I did. I also said we could also stop delegate primaries because it is easy to capture delegates, depending on your financial war chest, but if we do this delegate primaries and you have the data of who is who in the party, you would know the number of APC members in this unit, ward, and then you create a polling booth and make it as seamless as possible. Look at the primaries going on in the United States right now, the next thing someone will say that their democracy is 200 years old. Do we have to wait till we are 200 years old to get there? If you get all these things right, all you do is copy and paste, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
If we had done all these things, the party would be focused on discussing ideology, manifesto and cascade it down and get our youths involved. I go for meetings in the village, unit meetings, ward meetings, you don’t see anybody that is 24 years old. This is our future. I am no longer a youth but this is our future. So, if we want people to belong to the political space, to see Nigeria as a country, they have to contribute at that age, they should be involved. At age 19, I already knew where I was going, even at age 12 you already know what is happening around you. As a teenager I already new about NPN, UPN because my father aligned with that. It was also very easy for me to follow progressive politics, free education, healthcare, these are things that drive me. When you lay all these things down, when the young ones want to talk they will discuss ideology. But because we have created that vacuum, they have nothing to discuss. Instead, they discuss ethnicity, religion, and the rest who don’t fall into these two discuss how they can be pepper them gang, others discuss how to hammer in whatever way they want to hammer, ‘Yahoo-yahoo’ now becomes the way of life and to top it all they now see how politicians live. So these are the things they copy as a result of a vacuum.