In a tone of indignation, he made some weighty and instructive statements in the appreciation of the tensions that have underscored interactions between and among party leaders and government officials since the inauguration of the Buhari administration in 2015. The statements found anchorage in the context of the refusal by certain ministers to inaugurate some boards of agencies under their ministries even after he had weighed in the party’s authority in the circumstance to ensure compliance with extant presidential directives.
Expectedly, the statements have continued to generate a rash of reactions in and outside the party. But to be sure, the party’s umbrage, as verbalized by Oshiomhole, was directed at the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, for refusing to inaugurate the board of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), whose newly-appointed members, including Mr. Frank Kokori as chair, have been left out in the cold while their tenure is running. That could not have been the intention of President Muhammadu Buhari for appointing them.
Whatever strategic politics that Kokori’s appointment, in particular, was designed to play is not the focus of this piece. The critical interest of this intervention is to deconstruct what I consider as Oshiomhole’s epiphany of the reprehensible level of disrespect and indiscipline by party leaders and administration officials that have conspired not only to dilate the business of government but also to portray the administration as incompetent and undisciplined.
Read the specifics of the statements: “If the minister refuses (to inaugurate the board), we will suspend him from the party. You know we must return to internal discipline. For me, it is the height of mischief for any minister; you cannot purport to be honourable minister and you act dishonourably; and, nobody is greater than the party. And, if the president condones disrespect for his office, I will not condone disrespect for the party.
“And, when we expel the minister, we will prevail on the president that he can’t keep in his cabinet people who have neither respect for his own decisions nor have respect for the party without which they would not have been ministers. There is no independent candidate in our system; nobody, I emphasise, no minister is above the party and they have taken undue advantage of the president’s fatherly disposition.”
I have read some articles, which set out to deconstruct the statements supra, in ways intended to discount the import of the garb of fatherly and, if I may add, avuncular disposition, with which Oshiomhole dressed President Buhari. Nevertheless, the essential summation that it is not about Buhari’s fatherly disposition but weakness is moot. This, to boot, is not the crux of this piece.
My concern is also not to draw unsavoury inferences, arising from some understanding of the atmosphere of indiscipline and disrespect in the ecology of government, about the dispositions of the president or administration officials whose responsibility it is to assist in the running of a smart government but who have failed the critical test. Rather, it is to reappraise the issue of party discipline and supremacy on which Oshiomhole harped.
The revered place of discipline and supremacy in the administration of political parties is a cosmopolitan reality, a universal concept by which the gravitas of parties and the governments they produce in advanced democracies are assessed. The established political parties in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Germany, et al, are the superintending organs that provide the ideological frameworks and substructures on which their governments drive governance.
A good example on the African continent is South Africa’s African National Congress, ANC, which is supreme in ensuring obedience to party lines. Even in Nigeria, albeit, it has become a mere historical reference, was the ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in the second republic whose supremacy was a matter of fact. Meredith Adisa Akinloye, the party’s national chair, deployed the supremacy of the party to, stricto sensu, rein in both party and administration officials, including President Shehu Shagari.
Since that episodic era, obligation to party supremacy has become empty verbal exhortations offered at the convenient whimsicalness of successive presidents of the ruling party or parties, especially in the fourth republic. It is in this context that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led administrations from 1999 to 2015 cannot escape essential indictment. Rather than build the party as a supreme institution for regulating conducts of elected and appointed officials, the leadership and membership, in an appalling show of collective misguidance, chose to pander to the “powerful” office of the president in some sickening genuflection, servitude and deification. Had the PDP got it right, it would have become a compass of sorts and reference point for other parties.
Therefore, it was not much of a surprise that the leadership of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun in the APC could not philosophically define itself in about three years in office because there was no enduring history and legacy of party supremacy and discipline from which to draw inspiration. But with Oshiomhole in the saddle, there is an expressed commitment to entrench a culture of party discipline and supremacy in the APC-controlled federal government. All the president has to do is to ensure that the party becomes the enforcer of discipline in the government.
Once that is the case, it becomes easier to compel party and administration officials to toe party lines. Such enforced compliance conduces to loyalty which is expectedly an important part of the character of a party that craves an enduring legacy of discipline. This is obviously the untapped possibility that the Oshiomhole leadership has committed to exploit. That he made his point forcefully and magisterially does not validate the perception in some quarters that he was condescending about it.
The disingenuousness by some persons in their perception and interpretation of Oshiomhole’s position about his unpreparedness to condone disrespect for the party from those who are wont to disrespect the office of the president as an admission of weakness by Buhari was writ large.
Nevertheless, the president is human with strengths, frailties and foibles. Like anyone else, he is not perfect. He needs to be supported with the authority of a very strong party and Oshiomhole has shown energetic commitment to building one that will be supreme in providing both front and rearguard defence for the president, policy choices and decisions as well as party lines.