By Pat Onukwuli

Senator Adams Oshiomhole, the representative of Edo North Senatorial District, made a surprising entrance at a recent conference hosted by The Kukah Centre. His unexpected presence, coupled with his characteristic rhythmic tone, drew attention. He delved into various socio-economic issues, including the uneven application of legal principles, resource allocation for elementary education, the collaboration of the clergy in corruption, the view of Nigerians on homosexuality, and the economic downturn due to ineffective policies.

Oshiomhole’s declaration that he is not just a southern senator but a representative of the entire Federal Republic of Nigeria was a significant departure from the norm. In a country often divided by regionalism and ethnic tensions, this stance is refreshing. Nigeria’s political history is marred by leaders who prioritized their regional constituencies over national unity. By asserting his role as a national representative, Oshiomhole is challenging this status quo and advocating for a more inclusive and unified approach to governance.

By gate-crashing into the conference, he demonstrated a willingness to break norms and engage directly with the public, which can be seen as daring and democratic. It shows a readiness to step out of traditional political arenas and address broader audiences, a tactic that could inspire greater public engagement and accountability. With this, Oshiomhole portrays himself as a river that flows from the south but nourishes the entire national landscape with its waters. He sees himself not merely representing a specific region but as a beacon of unity and service for Nigeria.

However, it is imperative to scrutinise the substance behind such bold proclamations.Federalism emphasisesdecentralisation and power distribution among subnational entities; these entities frequently gravitate towards the central government, profoundly shaping governance dynamics. Therefore, the constituent parts are the active players and engines propelling the federal system. Far from being mere cogs in government machinery, these subnational entities arethe dynamic drivers shaping federal systems’ direction, vitality, and strength worldwide. Oshiomhole, therefore, missed the mark becausethe convergence of constituent parts is the centralising force that often goes unnoticed in the intricate web of federal governance at the centre.

Hence, Oshiomhole’s claim of being a “national” senator undermines the very essence of Nigeria’s federal system. Nigeria’s political structure is designed to ensure that regional interests are adequately represented nationally. Senators are elected to advocate for the needs and concerns of their specific constituencies. By dismissing his role as a regional representative, he essentially ignores the mandate given to him by his constituents, who expect him to address their local issues. It raises the question: how effectively can he serve his people if he is quick to abandon their unique needs in favour of a vague national agenda?

Moreover, his statement fails to acknowledge the complexities and diversities that define Nigeria. The notion of a “national” senator sounds noble, but it oversimplifies the intricate labyrinth of ethnic, cultural, and regional identities that make up the country. Authentic leadership lies in recognising and valuing these differences, not in homogenising them under the guise of national unity. It is about finding a balance where regional interests are not seen as antithetical to national progress but as integral components.

Similarly, Oshiomhole’sdramatic entrance into the conference and subsequent declaration reek of political grandstanding. Rather than genuinely bridging regional divides, this may be a calculated move to garner attention and reposition himself nationally. In a country where political credibility is often in short supply, such theatrics do little to build trust. Instead, they contribute to the growing cynicism among citizens tired of empty promises and performative politics.

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This rhetoric also diverts attention from pressing issues that require immediate and localised interventions. While having a vision for national unity is crucial, it should not come at the expense of addressing specific problems individual regions face. From infrastructural deficits to security challenges, many areas of Nigeria grapple with issues that demand focused and sustained attention. A senator who dilutes his regional responsibilities favouring an ambiguous national focus risks neglecting these critical areas.

Oshiomhole should not refuse to acknowledge that charity begins at home like a gardener who neglects to tend to the roots of his garden while tirelessly planting seeds in distant fields, oblivious to the withering foliage at his doorstep. He should neither symbolise a lighthouse with a beacon shining brightly for distant ships, while at the same time, its foundation remains neglected and in darkness.

Senator Oshiomhole’s roots in Edo State run deep. He served as its Governor and left a legacy of development and progress. By prioritising his role as an Edo State Senator, he can ensure that the needs and aspirations of his constituents remain at the forefront of his agenda. Direct engagement with local communities, addressing their concerns, and championing initiatives that promote growth and prosperity within the state are essential steps in fulfilling his mandate as their representative.

Expanding his scope of representation to encompass the interests of the Southern region is the next logical step. The Southern Senators Forumof Nigeria (SSF) provides a platform for collaboration and advocacy on issues pertinent to the Southern states by actively participating in the forum and aligning his priorities with those of his Southern counterparts. The SSF is a collective of senators representing the country’s southern states. It comprises 51 senators from the 17 southern states. Like its counterpart, the Northern Senators Forum (NSF), the forum has existed since the Ninth Senate.On March 13, 2024, Senator Mukhail Adetokunbo Abiru (Lagos East) was elected its new Chairman and Senator Victor Umeh (Anambra Central) Deputy Chairman.

The SSF aimsto discuss, analyse, and dissect national issues to move Nigeria forward. It serves as a platform for Southern senators to deliberate on matters affecting the region and the country. The SSF’s Chairmanrecently stated that the Forum aims to champion the course of Nigeria and Nigerians. It plans to work in partnership with the Northern Senators Forum to advance the collective interests of the nation and roll out plans for the betterment of the Southern region and Nigeria as a whole.

The revival of the SSF and the election of new leadership indicate a commitment to fostering unity and collaboration among senators from the Southern states, intending to contribute positively to Nigeria’s legislative process and national development. Oshiomhole can amplify his influence and advance collective interests such as infrastructural development, environmental conservation, and social welfare programs from the purview of this Forum.

Finally, by embracing his identity as an Edo State Senator, a Southern senator, and a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in this order, Senator Oshiomhole can leverage his experience, leadership, and influence to effect positive change at all levels of governance. His commitment to inclusive representation, grounded in the realities and aspirations of the Nigerian people, holds the key to unlocking the country’s full potential and ushering in a new era of prosperity and progress.

•Onukwuli PhD writes from Bolton, UK, via [email protected]

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