By Eric Elezuo
Much as Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the pastor-Vice President and his team try to hide it, it is obvious, as observers have noted that this is not the best of times for the legal luminary, who was against all odds, chosen to be President Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate in the run off to the 2015 Presidential election.
As presented to the average onlooker, things appeared to have gone down well as the rappour between the Vice President and his principal was classic, necessitating the Vice President to describe Buhari ‘like a father to him’. The President’s men have never hesitated to transmute power properly to the Vice president each time there is a reason for the President to be away from duty. In fact, between 2016 and 2017, Osinbajo assumed the exalted position of Acting President when Buhari was in and out of the hospital. This was for a whopping 150 days cumulatively. Within this period, Osinbajo took far reaching decisions that changed game plan, and surprisingly achieved results that endeared him in the hearts of not a few Nigerians.
Most of his far reaching policy decisions included ordering the Central Bank of Nigeria to pump in more foreign currency into the money market, thereby helping to douse the biting recession the country went into, albeit unnecessarily. Again, Osinbajo was instrumental in wielding the big stick leading to the sacking of the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Lawal Daura in August 2018; a man who hails from the same area as President Buhari. Daura’s men in hoods had invaded the National Assembly; an action that was intolerable to democratic principles. Many had believed that the super spy was untouchable. But Osinbajo did the unexpected though desirable. Daura was booted out of office and replaced by Mr. Matthew Seiyefa from the Niger Delta (South South) region. Mr. Seiyefa was unceremoniously removed and retired immediately Buhari stepped foot back into the country.
Not standing for injustice, he saw to the confirmation of Justice Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria after the retirement of his predecessor. It is worthy of note that every action taken then, save for the economic decision that took the country out of recession, has been revoked, or persons involved sacked, retired or both.
The actions of the Vice President have not only been thwarted, but stakeholders believed that it has turned around, many months after, to hunt the number two citizen.
Penultimate Tuesday, the nation woke to the news that the Osinbajo-led Economic Management Team, has been disbanded, and in its stead is the Prof Doyin Salami-led Economic Advisory Council with Prof. Charles Soludo, Bismark Rewane and others as members. This committee draws its mandate straight from the President and reports directly to him. Other members are Dr Mohammed Sagagi (vice-chairman); Prof Ode Ojowu; Dr Shehu Yahaya; Dr Iyabo Masha; and Dr Mohammed Adaya Salisu (secretary).
A presidential spokesperson, in defence, said the change was made to bring “a new energy to refocus government to revamp the economy”. However, in other quarters, it was said that the vice president was underperforming, and that necessitated the sudden hammer.
But before that could die down, Buhari followed it up with an order mandating the Vice President to desist from direct supervision of all agencies under him. All instruction must henceforth pass through the President. The VP was once more stripped of his oversight functions; two of the major constitutional functions he performs. The VP’s office however, denied the issue as false. The VP may just be saddled with the responsibility of chairing the National Economic Council (NEC).
Some of these agencies which Osinbajo oversees are the National Emergency Management Agency; the National Boundary Commission; the Border Communities Development Agency, NEMA and the Niger Delta Power Holding Company.
Presidential source, which craves anonymity confirmed to the Boss that there may be plans on the way to further strip the VP of some of his initiatives such as the Social Investment Programme which comprises the Trader Moni initiative, N-Power, school feeding programme.
“Why do you think the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development headed by Sadiya Umar, was created. Osinbajo’s welfare programmes will soon be fused into the ministry, and then, he will go back to the markets to distribute money again.
“I may not know what preempted the sudden attacks on the VP but I can say that it is capable of ending his stewardship in the Buhari administration,” the source said.
Unconfirmed reports have suggested however, that some prominent South West sons are being pencilled down to replace Osinbajo in the case of eventual resignation or impeachment.
However, facts emerging from various sources have not faulted intimidation of the VP as reason for the ‘witch hunt’. It hinted that the cabal in Aso Rock is bent on rubbishing Mr. Vice President for his decisions, and how he came about them. A source posited that one of such decision was the sacking of Daura. It said that the vice President had ‘blackmailed’ the cabal with resignation if he was not allowed to fire Daura. Recall that the resignation of the Vice President at the time (Buhari was away and terribly sick) would have created room for the then Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to smell the Presidency, even in acting capacity. And that was one risk the cabal would never take. And so they gave in to Osinbajo’s demand, allowed him to fire Daura, and waited patiently for pay day.
The story of Onnoghen also added another twist to the problems bedeviling the VP. Another source had said that it was never in the agenda of the Buhari administration to appoint or confirm the ousted CJN, the recommendation of the Nigeria Judicial Council notwithstanding. That, according to the source, made the government swear him in on acting capacity even as he was the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court. Without much ado, Osinbajo as Acting President had forwarded Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation in February on the dot of the three months period allowed for acting, and swore him as substantive CJN a month later. This was an action the President refused to perform despite public clamour. The cabal took note, and waited.
It was obvious the VP was kept in the dark prior to the trial of Onnoghen, and his attempt to defend the President as not being aware was punctuated by the suspension handed down by the President himself even as the trial was yet to be concluded.
Buhari had justified his action, saying that “Although the allegations in the petition are grievous enough in themselves, the security agencies have since then traced other suspicious transactions running into millions of dollars to the CJN’s personal accounts, all undeclared or improperly declared as required by law.”
Quoting a source, The Punch wrote, “The VP underestimated the level of vindictiveness some of these people have towards him.
“They accused Osinbajo of sidelining them when he took critical decisions during Buhari’s medical leave. If you remember, there was a lot of drama surrounding the confirmation hearing of (Walter) Onoghen and the removal of Daura.
“They were also not happy about the issue of the presidential panel on recovery of public assets. Obono-Obla developed a life of his own in handling the assignment given to him. They thought the VP was supposed to have checked him.”
But the Vice President is still carrying on as if nothing happened. He boldly posted on his twitter account of how he chaired the meeting of the NEC on Wednesday. This is as most of his personal aides have been redeployed out of the Villa, to ministries and parastatals. It is believed there’s a grand design to make the VP irrelevant.
The Office of the Vice-President has however, insisted that governance was not affected in any way by Monday’s scrapping of the Economic Management Team by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Most respondents to The Boss opinion poll said nothing has gone wrong as the Vice President still performs his constitutional role. Some believe some people are trying to create a rift between the Vice-President and his principal.
The newly created EAC will advise the President on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth and a range of internal and global economic issues working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies.
Again, it will have monthly technical sessions as well as scheduled quarterly meetings with the President. The Chairman may, however, request for unscheduled meetings if the need arises.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, has dismissed the controversy arising from the disbandment of Osinbajo’s team and many other issues as unnecessary, saying the presidency remains one. He hinted that the presidency has no plans to remove the Social Investment Programme from Osinbajo’s control.
“Nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Governance continues and the Presidency remains one. And this Presidency just wants to do what’s best for Nigeria,” he said.
He lambasted some Nigerians for trying to create another meaning to the issue on the ground and create enmity the President and the Vice-President.
But the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, believes Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s office has been rendered useless, impotent and irrelevant though it cautions against hasty decision.
“For now we will not jump into any premature conclusion that this is about 2023 alone. We will need to know if we will need more information to know whether it is political or whether there was abuse of office or process.
“But the barrage of the last 48 hours shows that there is something wrong. We will wait to have all the facts because we don’t want to say a Yoruba man is being attacked.
“They may have had a justifiable reason to do so. But we are taking note of every development and at the appropriate time, we will make our position known. But clearly, what has happened is that the VP’s office has been rendered impotent, useless and irrelevant,” the group said.
The Nigeria Vice President is empowered by the Constitution to participate in all cabinet meetings and, by statute, membership of the National Security Council, the National Defence Council, Federal Executive Council, and the Chairman of National Economic Council.
His other duties are as determined by the President. Going by how vice presidents are chosen in Nigeria, it is not surprising that most of them are not given juicy functions. They sit and wait upon the whims and caprices of Mr. President. The selection of the vice presidential running mates most of the time are by arrangement, with or without the presidential candidate’s express permission, and Osinbajo was no exception. His emergence was a product of the alliance of three parties the CPC, ACN, and ANPP with a minute fraction of APGA led former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha.
Political watchers are of the opinion that if Buhari was in need of a vice president, it would definitely not be an Osibanjo. Many had believed that former President Goodluck Jonathan is the typical example of a badly treated vice president, but Osinbajo is fast overtaking the trend.
It must not be forgotten that only last month, Buhari had instructed that all ministerial authorities be channeled through his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, for approval just as issues concerning the Federal Executive Council were also instructed to go through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. Observers have questioned ‘wherein lies the vice president in all these.
Osinbajo, according to a respondent, may just have to make do with sharing tradermoni for now, attending condolence visits and enjoying the pleasures that come with being a VP while it lasts. And only God knows how soon it will last.
By Eric Elezuo