Of Osinbajo and fresh permutations in presidency
Prior to the 2019 elections, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was seen and regarded as the “star boy” in the camp of the All Progressives Congress (APC). This was in recognition of the significant roles he played in shoring up the image of the ruling party in view of the challenges posed by the opposition in the “battle” for the soul of the country. Without mincing words, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)unexpectedly gave the APC a run for its money ahead the elections.
It was in the midst of all the calculations that the vice president rose to expectations as he was visible in all spheres and spaces doing what can be regarded as diplomatic politicking across boards, taking the APC gospel to the grassroots. He was most visible with the TraderMoni programme as he took financial palliatives to the poor.
Indeed, in words and body language, President Muhammadu Buhari did not hide his love for his second-in-command, in recognising of the yeoman jobs Osinbajo did to project the present administration and the APC in a positive light before the people. At various fora, the president attested to the person of the vice president as he frequently made reference to Osinbajo’s loyalty, genuine faith in Jesus Christ and commitment to the service of the nation.
However, recent happenings within the corridor of power has left many people wondering what could have gone wrong between the president and his deputy. Recent developments in the presidency have set the rumour mill agog that things have fallen apart between the two most senior elective public office holders in the country. Undeniably, rumours are doing the round that the vice president may have been used and dumped after the February presidential election. While some observers are of the opinion that the president must have applied his military training to push the vice president aside, either people who are close to the seat of power are insisting that the development has no hand of Buhari but that of cabals within.
The story between Buhari and Osinbajo began to change after the inauguration of the federal cabinet but things did not really take shape until after President Buhari named his ministers and it was discovered that neither Osinbajo nor former governor of Lagos State and APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, had substantial input into who got what in the new cabinet. Then came the announcement of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development which, though new, was considered necessary.
The ministry was conceived to provide solutions to the plight of millions of internalty displaced persons as well as co-ordinate humanitarian affairs and social development in the country, including the N-Power, Trader money and market money. Indeed, Vice- -President Osinbajo, as the “star boy”, leveraged on these programmes during the build-up to the presidential election to approach the grassroots. At the peak of the campaign, President Buhari was so impressed that he confessed that his deputy’s activities, through the house-to-house campaign and market activations, boosted the popularity of the APC and its candidates. In another development, the president had felicitated well with his deputy, praising him to the high heavens when the latter and nine others survived a helicopter crash during the party’s campaign in Kabba, Kogi State.
While a section of the country celebrated the new ministry and the minister in-charge, those who understood the undercurrents chuckled. Knowing well that the decision to create the ministry was primarily to move out some of the functions from the purview of the office of the vice president, critics considered it an affront, but the deed had been done.
Another signal that pointed to the fact that Osinbajo was being ‘relegated’ was when the president announced at the close of the two-day retreat organised for the then newly-appointed ministers that they should always go through his Chief-of-Staff, Abba Kyari, for meeting requests and through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, for issues relating to the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Many pundits were quick to insinuate that things had fallen apart between the leaders.
The president further proved his critics right as he restated the following day after the retreat, while inaugurating the ministers that: “As I said yesterday (Tuesday), in terms of coordinating communication, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channeled through the Chief of Staff, while all Federal Executive Council matters be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in order to speed up the process of decision-making.”
Immediately the announcement was made, not a few Nigerians came out to criticise the president. Efforts by the spin doctors of the administration to water down the issue with the argument that it was a global practice notwithstanding, a section of the country and opposition voices believed the statement was expressly made to slight Osinbajo.
In what looked like a final straw that broke the camel’s back, Nigerians were stunned, last Monday, when President Buhari dissolved the Osinbajo-led economic team, the Economic Management Team (EMT) and announced the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) as its replacement. Despite the explanations to the contrary, the announcement of the new economic body also came with a caveat namely, that the EAC should report directly to the president and not the vice president, as obtained in the previous arrangement.
According to a statement issued to announce the appointment, it was stated that the 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. “The EAC 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 statement further stated.
Before the furore generated by the appointment could settle, the president threw another salvo as he reportedly directed the vice president to henceforth seek presidential approvals for agencies under his supervision. According to a report published by TheCable, an online news portal, under the laws setting up the agencies, the president is empowered to give final approvals but the provisions were not followed during the first term as his deputy was virtually in control.
Currently, Osinbajo is the chairman of the governing boards of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Boundary Commission (NBC) and the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA). He is also the chairman of the board of directors of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), a limited liability company owned by the Federal Government and the states in the Niger Delta region.
With the new memo, the vice president will now have to seek approvals for contract awards, annual reports, annual accounts, power to borrow and power to make regulations, among other key functions. How else does one prove the fact that Vice-President Osinbajo has been stripped of all his powers and functions, especially as they relate to and with the economy?
However, he has reacted to the report by TheCable. Oinbajo, through a statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Office of the Vice President, Laolu Akande, dismissed the report as false and an attempt to sow the seeds of discord between him and Buhari. But does the denial hold any water?
With the new development, panic may have gripped the aides of the vice president many of who seem not to know what the future holds for them. By Monday evening, the speculation and were rife that most of those working in the office of the nation’s number two citizen might be redeployed to ministries and parastatals. Will this not be in furtherance of the hidden (but now obvious) desire to further strip Osinbajo bare?
The question agitating the minds of concerned Nigerians, especially the supporters and loyalists of the vice president now is not about whether Osinbajo remains in the good book of his boss but what could have caused the sudden disaffection between the duo.
The insinuation may be true or otherwise, but many people believed that the problem started when a few dissenting voices started mouthing what they have come to term “Osinbajo 2023 or Tinubu 2023”, a veiled indication that either Osinbajo or his political godfather, Senator Tinubu, may succeed the president at the expiration of his second-term tenure in May 2023. What happens between now and then?
- Otitoju is a Lagos-based public affairs analyst.