A former National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole at the weekend recounted how he would have been an ex-convict in Nigeria were it not for the courage of the Nigerian judiciary in upholding the rule of law.
He explained that in spite of his traumatic experiences as President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, he still rallied the labour union against the planned removal of the then president from office in 2002.
Oshiomhole who was speaking when he received the leadership of Law Students Association of Nigeria (LAWSAN) led by its president, Mr. Blessing Agbonmhere, said Nigeria cannot afford to negate the rule of law in its dealings.
The association had informed Oshiomhole of its decision to invite him as a guest speaker to its rule of law conference slated to hold later in the year.
Addressing the delegation, Oshiomhole said; “I am delighted to welcome you. I thank you for considering me worthy to be a guest speaker in which the issue of the rule of law will take centre stage knowing very well that I am not a lawyer even though in the course of my journey in life, I realised that I wished I had read law but I know it is too late for me now. I know nothing is ever late but I didn’t want to read law for reading sake but that I can practice.
However, given my age, it would have been embarrassing to graduate, go through Law School, only to be carrying bag for my grandchildren’s mates to the court. I guess that it is too late for me.
“I always say that I have been a beneficiary of very courageous judiciary and for a courageous judiciary, I would have been a convict because in the course of my work as a trade union leader, when I stepped on government’s redline, of course they deployed all the weapons including the police, had me arrested countless times, arraigned before magistrates and high court for all kinds of charges, including unlawful assembly, incitement and all the things you can think of.
But each time they did that, I have been fortunate to appear before judges with courage. I have been defended by lawyers, who most of the time provided their knowledge of the law and intellectual sagacity to defend me from government after government – whether it was military and later civilian. I cannot count how many times I was prosecuted and even persecuted.
“I am a beneficiary of the rule of law. Perhaps the most outstanding which most Nigerians will readily remember was the fact that I was rigged out of election in Edo State when I contested for Governorship in 2007 and thanks to a very courageous judiciary and the industry of very learned senior members of the bar, not only was the fact of rigging established before the court and at the appeal level, I think, I am in history as the only person who has been rigged out of election and courtesy of a courageous judiciary, I was declared the winner and INEC was ordered to swear me in rather than simply cancelling the election and ask me to go and repeat for an examination I did not fail but because somebody else did not do his part. “All my life, I remain every appreciative of the role of judiciary in our society not withstanding whatever criticism anybody may have. For me, I will say without fear or favour that I am a beneficiary of a courageous judiciary”.
Oshiomhole also gave reasons why the labour movement under him opposed the National Assembly in its bid to sack the then President Obasanjo in 2002.
He said; “Sometimes I am worried. What I have found out in the course of my activism both before government and even after I left government is that when Nigeria faces challenges, some people who should know better get so carried away and angry that they do not care about the position of the law. It is like they want to resort to self-help or if you like, pursue what seems to be a simplistic escape route.
“When I was president of the NLC, nobody fought President Obasanjo like I did, providing leadership for Nigerian workers and Nigerian working families who were negatively affected by the choice of economic policies that the then president pursued.
“The president having just retired or being a former military head of state may not have known the difference between being a head of state and being an elected president and I am proud to say that it was my lot to provide leadership for constructive engagements and to legally challenge him and using the democratic space to interrogate his actions and get him to recognise that we were now to be ruled by our consent not by decrees anymore and if you think anybody had done anything wrong, all you could do as president was to go to court, that he no longer had the powers to put me away the way he was able to do when he was military head of state. It was a challenge to get him to go through some kind of reorientation and the rest is history.
“At a point, the National Assembly decided to sponsor a motion and they were already collecting signatures to impeach President Obasanjo but they were shocked when the NLC under my leadership said no. We said to impeach the president at this time when our democracy was just growing would tantamount to short-circuiting the process. No short cut. Obasanjo was PDP and I was Labour.
He neutralized the opposition but I can say the organised labour was the main opposition and I said even as we fought him and would continue to fight him on those policy issues, we must make a decision between the person, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and the president of Nigeria and the government that he heads.
Those are two different things. So, people shouldn’t see me that because I fight against policy, I am an enemy of the Chief of State. We opposed the impeachment and told them to wait, during the next election, look at him and whoever is opposing him and let the Nigerian people make their decision. That is the promise of democracy. I remember then that the PDP leader, I think Chief Tony Anenih was on national television and said even the NLC does not support the impeachment of President Obasanjo even as we opposed his policies which were inimical to the country. For me, it was about the rule of law because if you resort to short cut, you will create a bigger problem”, he added.