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Oshiomhole Goes Full Cycle

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By Francis Ehigiator
Let me first admit that I am one of those who admired Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole as the nation's Labour leader, when he was in the saddle. His leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was inspiring. He effectively represented the aspirations of Nigeria's struggling workers and was able to squeeze out from government, amazing concessions and improvement in wages. In his usual all-khaki attire, he typified simplicity, truth and honesty.

His decision to veer into politics in the 2007 electoral transition elicited mixed reactions from his admirers. Such decent men, we thought, had no business with politics which is believed to be characterized by dishonesty. We were persuaded, however, that only decent men could sanitize the system. Oshiomhole would make a difference, so we thought.

Sadly, he has proved us wrong-sadly, because his tenure so far as Edo state governor has continued to disappoint with the series of controversies associated with him. Although, Edo state, as one of the nation's melting pots of politics, is usually in the news, the state's media portrayal has largely been negative since November 12, 2008, when Oshiomhole stepped in the saddle as its governor.

All through his first term, Edo was prominent in the news for the wrong reasons: there were several contentions over his style of governance, disputes over his government's policies and projects as well as arguments over alleged contract costs inflation. For those of us who live outside of the state, we easily dismissed such scandals as the handiwork of the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). We were wrong. Now it is easy to conclude that if his first term was stormy, recent reports of scandals coming out from Benin suggest that his second term which kicked off in November 2012, promises to be even more controversial. We wonder in amazement how the labour leader-turned politician has turned full cycle.

The age falsification controversy is easily the most disquieting about a serving governor. Oshiomhole was accused by the state PDP of having lied under oath that he was born on April 4, 1952 whereas records show his actual date of birth was April 4, 1953.  The party said the 1953 date of birth appears in his voter's card, with serial number PU12/06/10/001 and the INEC form CF001 which he filled himself prior to his election.

The twist came last April 4, when the governor threw a lavish party in Benin to celebrate his 60th birthday!  The bash was attended by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal and President Goodluck Jonathan's representative, Senator Ben Obi while the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah was guest speaker at the lecture organized to commemorate the event. Tongues had started wagging about the obvious fraud, one by a man who has consistently dressed himself in saintly robes.

It didn't take long to dig out the facts: Adams Oshiomhole, prior to the July 14, 2012 governorship election, had gone to the High Court in Benin, precisely on May 4, 2012 to swear to an oath that he was born on the 4th of April 1952.  Perhaps, he had forgotten that on November, 12, 2008 at his swearing in as Governor for his first tenure, his citation which stated his date of birth as April 4th, 1953 was read in his presence and in the presence of the Edo state Chief Judge. In a similar event at his inauguration for his second term in 2012 his citation with April 4th, 1953 as date of birth was also read in his presence and the presence of the Edo state Chief Judge.

What then propelled him to rush to the Benin High Court ahead of the July 14, 2012 governroship election to depose to an affidavit in which he claimed for a fact that he was born on April 4, 1952?  Curiously, this was about the period when the opposition PDP raked up allegations about how he had falsified his primary school leaving certificate.  Was he trying to make some adjustments in the light of the allegation so as to be in a comfort zone?  Unfortunately, these would appear to have worsened the situation as the opposition has continued to dig in.

Consequently, the nation has been riveted by the disclosure which bothers on fraudulent conduct and the propriety of the governor's continued stay in office, having lied about his age under oath. Indeed, the governor's response has been amazing. For a man accused of such dishonest and shameful conduct, Oshiomhole has been elusive and his response has been less than typical of him. He only dispatched his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Kassim  Afegbua, to try papering the cracks with a response that sidestepped the issue. Afegbua who said the issue had been over-flogged, described the allegation as laughable and meaningless. According to him, those accusing Oshiomhole of perjury lacked the competence to discuss issues of honour and morality.

When Afegbua found that his response did not convince anyone, he changed tactics and admitted that the governor is indeed 61 and not 60 years old. He said the governor's true age, which is 61, is reflected on all his traveling documents and credentials. When did he realize this and why were the good people of Edo being deceived?

The PDP in Edo State which had drawn the attention of President Goodluck Jonathan to the glaring case of age falsification, asked the President to strip Oshiomhole of the national honour (Commander of the Order of Nigeria (CON) bestowed on him.  It also petitioned the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar demanding an investigation into the allegation of perjury against the governor.

To say that the matter has brought so much discredit to Oshiomhole himself, and diminished his status as governor, is to make a clear understatement.  For a man who prides himself as an icon of sincerity, his elusiveness on the age falsification controversy speaks volumes.  It goes to a great length to bring his true nature as a man who does not practise what he preaches, to the fore. Many of us, who held him in high esteem, are still at odds coming to terms with the controversy, especially since he has so far refused to address it satisfactorily.

Governor Oshiomhole needs to come out in the open. If indeed he has lived a lie and willingly fed his subjects and his admirers with falsehood all these years, then it is difficult to believe it was an honest faux pas. He needs to show courage and admit the deceit. Only then will he restore the badly eroded moral authority which a governor requires in the discharge of his duties. The issue hardly calls for subterfuge and his present stance reduces from whatever is left of his democratic credentials.

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