Opinion

The Women Around Oshiomhole’s Neck

by Abimbola Adelakun

PHOTO: PUNCH NG
PHOTO: PUNCH NG

The image of Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, sitting with Mrs. Joy Ifije, and her son, Bright, reminds me of President Barack Obama’s “Beer Summit.” After Obama jumped into a matter he was ill-informed about and received severe lashing from “post-racial” America, he called the protagonists of his own drama to a beer summit.

Oshiomhole’s  “tea summit” has a rather different tilt. He abused a widow by unleashing violent anger on her in the course of an environmental inspection in Benin City. The governor’s apologists think we should let the matter die since he apologised –a long rambling tale about his spoonless upbringing, as if Nigeria has not had enough of replica shoeless stories.

In the so-called lengthy apology, he even let slip that he was concerned about his political opponents’ taking advantage of the situation. Who knows if the way the Peoples Democratic Party, another clueless collective, has quickly latched on the issue is what induced his desperate act of mea culpa rather than genuine remorse. Who knows what his heart is truly like?

Hopefully, he does not stop at a “tea summit” but engages himself in a deep soul searching because, really, the issue was not all about the combustible rhetoric. Oshiomhole’s “Go-and-Die” statement to Mrs. Ifije typifies the condescending attitude of Nigeria’s ruling class to its poor. Like Oshiomhole, Nigerian leaders will be happy to sanitise the country of the poor so they will not have to engage their conscience on why they exist in the first place. How is “Go-and-Die” in Edo State worse than Operation KAI’s methods perpetuated in Lagos State, for instance?

The reason for the public outcry against Oshiomhole, if his pleaders must know, is the man’s pretensions. Nothing could be more ironical than a man who dons the garb of a labour activist — a mirage of the fire-breathing Oshiohmole we used to know — superintending the dehumanisation and repression of a poor widow. Oshiomhole was costumed to identify with the working class but the truth is, he is far from the universe where the poor exist.

“Go-and-Die” is not a goof like his minions would have us believe, it was a window into his soul. That moment, thankfully, revealed his wretched hypocrisy. Where was the Oshiomhole who built a career on the back of folk like Ifije?

Oshiomhole has reinforced the bias with which Nigerians view activists/advocates who pretend they are agitating on behalf of the people but in reality, are working to join the tribe of the corruptly rich. For me, the conclusion of Oshiomhole’s denigration of Ifije is that Animal Farm should be beatified as a Holy Book as its message of the workings of class repression is more eternal than any sermon.

Oshiomhole might have bought back the widow’s dignity — and the mouth of the public — with N2m and a contrite demeanour, but “Go-and-Die” will remain his scarlet letter for as long as possible. By the way, where is the money for Ifije’s settlement coming from? His personal funds or from Edo State purse?

Make no mistake; Ifije was at fault for flouting the law. But should her dignity and humanity be eroded in the process of enforcing the law? Isn’t this type of executive zealousness the reason the law presumes everyone –including those caught in the act — innocent until proved guilty? Why did Oshiomhole the labour activist have to watch this poor woman grovel before his majestic ego; pleading for mercy? What could be more dehumanising?

And would Oshiomhole pretend he didn’t know that his presence at the scene would ginger his men’s sycophantic zeal? Why did he not restrain them? Come on, can all those policemen upsetting the woman’s wares swear that their wives or their relatives have never traded by the roadside? You could tell that the curse of the masses was at work again: poor people eating up ne another to the voyeuristic delight of the “Oga-at-the-top”.

This is not a case of judging Oshiomhole by one isolated incident. It is not his first time of using the paraphernalia of democracy to mow down people whose sins cannot be excised from his own shortcomings as an administrator.

Back in August, Oshiomhole, along with a camera crew, went to a public school to barrack a teacher who could barely read. He, surrounded by his aides and other spectators, dragged the teacher, also a woman, through the sewers for nothing. Excuse me, at what point in Oshiomhole’s career — as a labour leader, a politician and a governor — did he discover that Edo State teachers could not read? If he didn’t know that there are teachers who have problems, it goes to show that he himself does not patronise public services. Because, if he were ever a “comrade”, his children would have attended public schools and he would have been aware of the problem long before now.

Did it even occur to Oshiomhole that by publicly shaming a teacher, he was, comprehensively, destroying the faith of all the children who subscribe to public education? Did the governor make any effort to restore the faith of children in that school back in their teachers or he simply went home feeling self-righteous?

Did he and his aides that were jointly guffawing at the teacher’s helplessness ask themselves if the teacher was the problem or a symptom of graver malady?

To them, it was hilarious watching the teacher struggle to read after 20 years of her career, yet, the joke was on Oshiomhole. He became a labour leader in 1982 and governor in 2007. So, if in 2013, the teachers in his constituency cannot read, he should be the one publicly crucified, not the teacher.

One final thing Oshiomhole ought to know is this: We cannot remove gender dynamics from his treatment of those poor women. Of course, it is about class but there is a gender bend to it as well. When a male governor takes a retinue of aides – mostly men- to either a school or a public place, along with a camera – which, in the age of social media means you cannot control the number of potential witnesses — and proceeds to harry a woman, he is more than being zealous. There are plenty of words to describe that kind of behaviour but today, I shall settle for “bully.”

Article read in PUNCH

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