A party chair should be a respected conciliator, not a hot-headed labour militant who enjoys stoking fires in his own party. Paradoxically, Oshiomhole’s public conduct should not surprise anyone.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has just recruited a new sergeant-at-arms called Adams Oshiomhole. He was the former governor of Edo State. His definition of his job as party chair is a bit wacky, to get critics of the party and the President to toe the line or be thrown out. And he has approached the job with characteristic panache mixed with a dash of arrogance.
Although in office for a few weeks, Oshiomhole has demonstrated little regard for the democratic principle of freedom of expression. So too is his contempt for the libertarian philosophy which states: “Let all who have something to say be free to express themselves.” With Oshiomhole in power, the new creed he wants party members to recite regularly is: “Let all who have something to say be wise to shut their mouth.”
Oshiomhole kick-started last week a controversy with Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige when he ordered the minister to swear in board members of four agencies and parastatal within his ministry. Not only did Oshiomhole order the minister to inaugurate the boards within seven days, he also threatened the minister with suspension from the party if the minister failed to comply with the order. But it was the disrespectful language and militant tone with which Oshiomhole communicated to a minister of the federal republic that drew public condemnation.
Ngige clarified in his reply to the party chair’s letter that he had in fact constituted three boards of the four agencies he was directed to constitute. He also explained in his letter that the board of the fourth agency was not constituted yet because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was investigating the board following allegations of large-scale fraud. Oshiomhole would have none of that. He told journalists: “If the minister refuses, we will suspend him from the party … And if the President condones disrespect for his office, I will not condone disrespect for the party.”
By dragging the President’s name into the controversy, Oshiomhole suggested the President was weak and was not respected by his own ministers. A situation in which a party chair could threaten to sack a minister appointed by the President shows clearly the party chair has assumed powers he did not possess. It is also indicative of the indiscipline within the party.
In his response to Oshiomhole, Ngige said categorically he was not fazed by one man’s threat of suspending him from a party he helped to establish. He attributed Oshiomhole’s haughtiness to the party chairperson’s ignorance of government policies and procedures. When journalists asked Ngige pointedly whether he would obey Oshiomhole’s order to constitute the boards within seven days or risk being sacked, Ngige retorted: “How? In a party that we formed and brought them in? The man is talking out of ignorance. I’m not afraid of suspension.” In Ngige, Oshiomhole has met his match. He cannot threaten to dismiss or suspend a federal minister. The party chair just does not have that power.
Certainly, Oshiomhole has exceeded the limits of his powers by threatening to throw out a minister appointed by the President. Chairing a party is not the same thing as providing effective leadership. An effective and constructive party chair should have the capacity to listen; he should be decorous in behaviour and demonstrate ability to mediate in disputes. He should be able to communicate respectfully to ministers and ordinary members of the party. Indeed, a respected party chair should be able to carry every member along. Unfortunately, Oshiomhole uses hostile language and radiates authority or power he does not have. That is his major character flaw. Obviously, he is yet to purge himself of that baggage of a radical and quarrelsome labour leader for which he was known for a long time.
Oshiomhole’s antecedents are not particularly appealing or thrilling or stimulating. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), we must be reminded, was the platform on which he rose to become Edo State governor. But both as labour leader and governor, Oshiomhole carved out an uncanny reputation as a man who likes to engage in melodramatic or over-the-top performances that undermined rather than enhanced his public image.
You would think that a man who is always critical of other people would be immaculate in behaviour. That is not the case. As governor in 2013, Oshiomhole exposed his temperament badly when he was involved in an embarrassing stoush with a poor widow who was struggling to earn a living by selling her goods along a highway in Benin. On sighting the woman, Oshiomhole dismounted from his VIP car and headed straight to the woman. There, in full view of the public and television cameras, the almighty governor exploded in a rage and used offensive and inappropriate language against the woman, an outburst that shredded his personality. Not done with his angry remarks, Oshiomhole ordered his assistants to confiscate the woman’s products and to lead her away from the location.
Oshiomhole’s steely character was uncovered when the woman knelt down and appealed to him to show sympathy. That appeal did not touch Oshiomhole’s heart. Believe it or not, when the woman mentioned to Oshiomhole that she was widowed and that he should pardon her, Oshiomhole shouted at the woman: “You are a widow. Go and die!”
That insensitive remark shocked the entire nation. Some government officials in Oshiomhole’s convoy moved back in disbelief at what their governor said.
In his current position as APC chair, Oshiomhole has been speaking like a certified activist, a peripatetic disciplinarian, and an anti-corruption watchdog of his party and our society. Some people have asked the question: “What is it about Oshiomhole that compels him to carry himself around with the superiority of a knowledge dispenser, notwithstanding his small frame?”
Following the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election, Oshiomhole shifted his anger to the former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whom he accused endlessly of mishandling the economy. He used malicious, unpleasant, and derogatory words to criticise her. In an interview published in the Vanguard of Sunday, August 23, 2015, Oshiomhole viciously attacked the character of Okonjo-Iweala. He said scathingly of the former finance minister: “Okonjo-Iweala is a failure; there is no question about that. She cannot withstand rigorous public scrutiny.”
Oshiomhole, who projects himself as a public prosecutor and defender of the nation’s conscience, should be examined closely so we can understand the true character of the man the APC crowned as party chair. Since his election as party chair, he speaks as though he is Nigeria’s President. He might be party chair but he ought to show restraint in his utterances and respect for the office he occupies.
A party chair should be a respected conciliator, not a hot-headed labour militant who enjoys stoking fires in his own party. Paradoxically, Oshiomhole’s public conduct should not surprise anyone. In Nigerian politics, people in positions of authority often portray themselves as little gods whom everyone must worship.