Judging by the way Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole has been speaking in the public space, the language he uses, the authoritative air he exudes, the ease with which he has been pouring scorn on everybody associated with former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, you could see that Oshiomhole is yet to rid himself of that baggage of a militant labour leader for which he was known. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), you must remember, is the platform through which Oshiomhole rose to become governor.
Ever since the election of Muhammadu Buhari as president on 28 March 2015, Oshiomhole has been speaking like a certified activist, an itinerant campaigner for the All Progressives Congress (APC), and an anti-corruption watchdog of our society. This has prompted the question: What is it about Oshiomhole that makes him carry himself with the swagger of a knowledge dispenser?
Ever since the onset of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the Edo State governor has used spiteful, angry, uncomplimentary, and harsh words to criticise former Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala whom Oshiomhole has accused endlessly of mismanaging the economy. Oshiomhole’s allegations have become a part of the ongoing attempt to demonise everyone who served in the previous government. Those allegations fit nicely into the mood of the nation following the APC mantra of change and anti-corruption campaign.
In an interview published in the Vanguard of last Sunday, 23 August 2015, Oshiomhole continued his attack on the integrity of Okonjo-Iweala. Oshiomhole said caustically about the former Finance Minister: “Okonjo-Iweala is a failure; there is no question about that. She cannot withstand rigorous public scrutiny and those she was having these transactions with they are alive and they are all talking, some of them are even singing. So she should know that the umbrella is no more there to cover and everything is open now. More revelations will come out; much more will come out.”
Elsewhere in that interview, Oshiomhole said of Okonjo-Iweala: “She just pretends because she worked in the World Bank and that does not mean angels work in the World Bank. The World Bank has had cause to sack some of its officials, so what the hell are people saying just because she worked at the World Bank.”
I think it is a bit irresponsible for a privileged man to sully the image and uprightness of a woman who served her fatherland to the best of her abilities. Even if Okonjo-Iweala erred as Finance Minister, Oshiomhole should not dismiss with a tar brush and in a sweeping and rash manner all her positive contributions to the nation.
In making all the allegations against former federal officials, Oshiomhole has cast himself as the only virtuous person in the country. And that cannot be. Although Oshiomhole sees himself as a public prosecutor and defender of the nation’s conscience, one problem with that presumptuous image is that a public prosecutor who makes running allegations in the media without furnishing the public with irrefutable evidence to back his claims, or without initiating action to prosecute those officials he deems to be corrupt, could be seen to be attempting to influence the outcomes of a government’s probe panel that is investigating financial misconduct against top officials of the Jonathan administration.
Sardonically, Oshiomhole’s comments against officials of the Jonathan government must be regarded as prejudicial because he is a member of a four-person committee set up by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in late June to critically examine the accounts of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Excess Crude Account (ECA) managed by the Jonathan administration. The investigation is aimed to sort out what happened to the staggering N3.8 trillion that was not paid into the Federation Account by the NNPC between 2012 and May 2015, as well as the $2.1 billion that was alleged to have been taken away from the ECA without authorisation.
By his endless criticisms of former officials, Oshiomhole may have foreclosed what the committee to which he belongs is likely to find even before investigations have commenced or concluded. This is quite odd. It is unthinkable that a member of an investigating committee should make comments that are likely to play into the hands of former officials who could be found culpable. Even at that, a committee lacks the power to pronounce former officials guilty of corruption until the allegations have been tested in a proper court of law. That is why we are a democracy, not in a military dictatorship.
Not done with trading allegations and counter-allegations with Okonjo-Iweala, Oshiomhole has shifted his critical searchlight to fall on Dr Akinwumi Adesina, former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Jonathan’s government, whose Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) was criticised by Oshiomhole as a swindle. Now Oshiomhole has met his match in Adesina, who is president-elect of the African Development Bank (ADB). Adesina did not hold back in matching Oshiomhole measure for measure, insult for insult, hard feelings for hard feelings.
Adesina told Oshiomhole that he committed an executive blunder in his misunderstanding of the impact of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda of the Jonathan government. In his response to Oshiomhole’s criticisms, Adesina said: “It is grossly unfair for Governor Oshiomhole not to recognise that ATA of 2011 to 2014 was Nigeria’s equivalent of the ‘green revolution’ that took place in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s, where new highly productive varieties of rice and wheat, and the chemical fertilisers that helped them achieve their potential, led to a doubling and tripling of yield and self-sufficiency. Particularly troubling is the fact that a political leader of a State as enlightened as Edo State could feign ignorance at the fact that the number of integrated rice mills, needed to produce parboiled rice, preferred by Nigerians, has grown from just one in 2010 to 24 in 2014.”
Adesina continued: “Equally worrisome is the fact that he (Oshiomhole) is unaware that our parboiled rice milling capacity increased from 70,000 metric tons to 800,000 metric tons… As the chief executive of a state so blessed with natural resources so highly favourable to productive agriculture, Governor Oshiomhole ought to think rather on how to make Edo more enterprising. In doing so, an area he is expected to be more interested in, should be agriculture.”
Adesina has done well to advise Oshiomhole to focus on effective administration of Edo State, to empower the people, to curb poverty, to renovate decrepit infrastructure in the state, to boost agricultural production, to assist medium scale businesses, and to undertake industrialisation of the state. These issues constitute an agenda for the remaining few months of Oshiomhole’s tenure.
By taking on Adesina, a man who is highly regarded and respected as one of the ministers who performed productively in Jonathan’s administration, Oshiomhole has made a big mistake and exposed his inadequacies, and indeed his character flaws. His attacks on other public officials is not about raising accountability in government to a higher level but a deliberate tactic to divert public attention from the failures of his government in Edo State. Surely, shouting and criticising previous government officials is not the best way to kick-start Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign.
There are laws in our society that stipulate how people suspected of corrupt practices should be apprehended and prosecuted. That is how things ought to be done in a government that proclaims itself as a respecter of the rule of law. State governors are expected to act and reflect the huge responsibilities assigned to them by the high office they occupy.
Although it has become fashionable for everyone to criticise Jonathan and his officials since Jonathan was defeated in the last presidential election, it will be misleading to sully the image of everyone who served in that government. Yes, corruption was rife in Jonathan’s government. Yes, there was unprecedented abuse of office by many members of that government. Yes, there are questions about poor financial accountability and impropriety by officials of Jonathan’s government. But all these and more should not imply that everyone who served in Jonathan’s administration was a thief, a swindler, a fraud, or a pretender. To reach that conclusion is to expose the level of hollowness into which the accuser has fallen.
It is often said that people who live in glass houses should never cast stones. Let me end this by refreshing Oshiomhole’s memory with something he did in the public sphere nearly two years ago that raised questions about his capacity to govern a state. In late 2013, Oshiomhole yelled at a woman who was selling her goods along a major road in Benin, the state capital. He was outraged that the woman, Joy Ifijeh, hindered traffic by displaying her wares on the kerbside. He accused the woman of breaching Edo State’s laws against street trading.
The woman was so shaken by Oshiomhole’s anger that she went down on her knees to plead for leniency. Oshiomhole snubbed the woman’s pleas. When the poor woman told the governor that she was a widow who deserved to be pitied, Oshiomhole’s response shocked the entire world. He hollered at the woman in one moment of uncontrolled anger: “You are a widow. Go and die!”
A few days after the terrible impact of that moment of lack of judgment sank in, Oshiomhole and his aides rallied quickly to invite the woman to Government House to rectify the damage through a hastily organised morning tea. During the tea drinking session, Oshiomhole said to the woman in a remorseful tone: “When you put your things on the road, a vehicle can run into you and they have killed some people like that and that was why I said if you are a widow do you want more people to be widowed? But when I said go and die, that one was said in a fit of anger. And I am really sorry.”
This goes to show that Oshiomhole, even in his attempt to project himself as a symbol of righteousness in Nigeria, is fallible and not exactly as immaculate as he would like the public to perceive him.