Oshiomhole: “Swiss Bank Account” Socialism and the Art of Betrayal

oshiomole soyinka

When the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari announced an increase in fuel price, from N87 to N145 litre of petrol, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, did what Comrade Adams Oshiomhole would have unfailingly done in the same position. Call for a “people’s strike/protest” as a means of curtailing “excessive profiteering” favoured by capitalists and free marketeers in the country and make life fairer for the common man. Oshiomhole as NLC president had vehemently and publicly rejected the notions; (a) striking workers shall not be paid work-related incomes and (b) courts do not have a right to enforce judgments that can criminalise a strike/protest action.

Now in government and enjoying plutocratic-style governance, Oshiomhole spectacularly declared striking workers must not be paid, and it is criminal for trade unions to violate court judgements that are anti-strike. An undaunted foe of government became a fearless foe of labour when he got into government. Oshiomhole has pulled off one of the most visible pragmatic socialist-capitalist reversals in Nigeria history; a socialist prescribing, a capitalist self-medicating.
George Ayittey, a U.S. based Ghanaian economist, is an unrelenting critic of socialism in Africa. The more substantial part of Ayittey’s critique is that socialism was introduced uncritically into Africa and that African leaders who practised it, intended or ended-up channelling money meant for “the workers” and “the people” into their private foreign accounts. Such practices were leaving the continent and its people more wretched by the day.[1] Ayittey would vigorously argue that it is mostly self-proclaimed socialists who stole and banked the money President Buhari is asking foreign nations to be returned to Nigeria. That Ayittey would call Oshiomhole “Swiss Bank Account Socialist“, is very likely.
George Mayuku postulated recently on Facebook that while Karl Marx articulated that capitalism will end up producing socialism, recent events appear to prove the opposite; socialism ends up creating capitalism. Mayuku cited Francis Fukuyama’s End of History as a point of reference [2] and the persons involved were Comrade Oshiomhole and Wole Soyinka, exemplar “plutocratic socialists”, the wealth-loving end of the socialism spectrum in Nigeria. This trend is seen all over the world, e.g. former socialists who became neoconservatives and neoliberals in the USA and New Labour in the U.K. but it may pertain more to individuals than the evolutionary direction of society. On the other side, the closest thing Nigeria has to socialism is manifest in “trade unionism” and the “hopeful socialists” [those who still believe despite the odds].
Trade unionism is an integral part of socialism. Oshiomhole, now Governor of Edo State, is Nigeria’s most famous socialist in government. Oshiomhole, as the then persuasive president of the (NLC) successfully orchestrated eye-catching protests/strikes and was the poster boy for socialism in Nigeria at the turn-of-the-century. He was a star in the “pro-democracy” era; khaki-wearing, motorbike-riding, austere-living and tough-talking, all [contrived] to make him look like he was standing up for the common man and a “People’s Hero.[3] No more days like those.
Jon Elster provides an analysis by way of “Analytical Marxism” that can suggest how Oshiomhole presented dangers to Nigerians and their socialist movement. Primarily, Elster contends that [socialist] revolution (inclusive of riots, protests and strikes) is ‘dangerous business’.[4] It is dangerous because lives are lost, bodies bruised, limbs broken, incarceration tasted, police / military brutality taken, jobs lost. Therefore, even those who believe in the revolution would not want to risk their “lot”. Nevertheless, Oshiomhole was very skilful in making the masses forget the risks involved in supporting his actions, opium-style. Another aspect of the danger is that when the working class personality achieves significant parvenu through politics, inheritance or winning the lottery and becomes a bourgeois, he rejects revolution because he suddenly has so much to lose and therefore betrays it.
Let us imagine how many people lost their lives, jobs, health and well-being by supporting the strikes and protests “organised” by Oshiomhole and his cohorts in the NLC. Add those arrested/detained (some tortured), those that had road accidents while organising (many fatalities), those forced out of their jobs (into hunger or Diaspora). Then add the many who betrayed the struggle (but got dealt with anyway). Then imagine how these people, their families and friends, and critics now see Oshiomhole as he wallows in plutocracy and promotes pro-plutocratic politics. Oshiomhole cannot tell them “it is the struggle that… yields its own reward” persuasively anymore. Oshiomhole had proven that he is pragmatic enough to “free ride” on the back of the socialist struggle then betray it when he started to have far too much to lose.[5]
Ultimately, capitalism has won over Comrade Oshiomhole entirely; that is his lasting legacy as much as he will try to be seen otherwise as a true socialist and a hero of the masses. Bianimikaley! Treachery mostly vitiates all [good] actions that precede it. It is not too good to want to be seen as a true socialist who started with nothing then becoming one of the richest men in the land when 110 million people live in abject poverty.
Grimot Nane


[1] Ayittey, George (2006), Indigenous African Institutions (2nd Ed.), Brill – Nijhoff
[2] Fukuyama, Francis (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press
[3] Imoru, Austin (2011), The Man Adams Oshiomhole and His Leadership Skills, EsteemWorld Publications: London
[4] Elster, Jon (1982), The Case for Methodological IndividualismTheory and Society, 11: 453–482.
[5] Olson, Mancur (1965), The Logic of Collective Action, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

3 responses

  1. With due regards to the author of this write up I wish to state categorically that governor Adams Oshiomhole has never as shop food trade union activist, as general secretary of one the larger trade unions, as President of Nigeria Labour Congress, or as governor of Edo state pretended to be a socialist talk less of Marxian socialist


    • Thank you for your response, which I find interesting. I have never heard of a keen capitalist or pro-capitalist rise through ranks to the very top of a national umbrella trade union unless as an infiltrating agent. Oshiomhole’s core rhetoric is completely congruent with scocialist rhetoric; workers rights, worker’s revolt, the struggle, the interest of the masses, anti-capitalism, anti-globalisation, anti-GATT. anti-WTO, minimum wage, radicalism etc. And people believed it uncritically especially after his success against General Abacha. His life-style had a distinct African socialist identity to it; the khakis, the motorbikes, the “I am just another member of the masses” persona were all his choice. His relationship with internationalist socialist organisations particularly the International Socialist Tendency cannot be denied. In fact, social publications, many that are online today, wrote that they saw Oshiomhole as a major socialist governance opportunity in Africa; were they delusional? The current incarnation of Oshiomhole cannot reject his recorded past rhetoric or recorded past lifestyle or recorded organisational alliances that were irrefutably socialist. The lightest description of Oshiomhole as a trade unionist and ideologue is that he was very far-left leaning. I wonder what such can be best called. That is how I see it.


  2. A very interesting read. True not just of Gov Oshiomole but of many who falsely potrayed themselves as the people’s saviour.


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